(Sacramento, CA – June 21, 2006) – A class action lawsuit filed today in federal district court in Sacramento charges that the California Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) and Board of Parole systematically violate the constitutional rights of juvenile parolees in revocation proceedings. Attorneys from three law firms, Rosen, Bien & Asaro, LLP, Youth Law Center, and Bingham McCutchen, LLP, filed on behalf of some 4,000 California juveniles who have been or are at risk of being deprived of their liberty without fundamental due process, including representation by counsel.
The action was filed as a supplemental complaint to Valdivia v. Schwarzenegger, Case No. 94-0671 (E.D. Cal.), which resulted in an injunction requiring the State to provide adult offenders undergoing parole revocation proceedings with counsel, prompt probable cause hearings, consideration of alternative sanctions, and significant due process protections.
“It is particularly deplorable that these youth are denied the very basic constitutional rights that are guaranteed to adults in the California correctional system,” said Michael Bien, of Rosen, Bien & Asaro, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs. “The same defendants who have agreed to provide timely preliminary hearings and attorneys to adult parolees have refused to provide the same constitutional protections to juveniles, who by their nature are more vulnerable and less able to advocate on their own behalf. As a result of the state’s illogical position, youth can be warehoused at one of the terrible juvenile detention facilities for months before they receive any hearing, even for technical violations of parole such as drinking alcohol. The process is flawed and unfair.”
The suit charges that lengthy parole holds are routinely imposed without proper or timely notice to the juveniles of the reasons for the detention. Juvenile parolees often do not learn of the reasons why parole is being revoked until they have been in custody for weeks or months. Nor does the State provide youth with preliminary or probable cause hearings. In the vast majority of revocations, the defendants also deny juveniles the right to have witnesses testify on their behalf, to present evidence to defend or mitigate the charges, or to have an attorney. In addition, the State fails to provide language translators, sign language interpreters, hearing devices, and other accommodations to assure that youth can understand and participate in the parole revocation hearings.
“Our clients include youth with serious educational deficiencies, developmental disabilities, and mental health disorders, which leave them ill-equipped to represent themselves at hearings or to decipher the complex written forms that the state puts in front of them,” said Sue Burrell, a Youth Law Center attorney. “Meanwhile, the defendants hold these youth in DJJ institutions that the State itself has acknowledged are violent and unable to provide needed mental health, educational, and other rehabilitative services. So the irony is that youth are released without having been rehabilitated, but later are returned to the same unsuccessful system for technical violations like dirty drug tests or drinking alcohol, where they sit for months, still not receiving needed services. They wind up losing jobs, jeopardizing relationships, and wiping out whatever supports they tenuously built up in the community.”
“The Supreme Court has clearly held that parolees are entitled to a fair revocation process, including a prompt preliminary hearing, a timely final revocation hearing and representation by counsel. We secured these fundamental rights for adult parolees in the original Valdivia lawsuit,” said Karen Kennard, an attorney with the law firm Bingham McCutchen. “It is shocking that the State refuses to extend these fundamental rights to juvenile parolees, who need them even more than adults.”
The court filing includes three named plaintiffs, who are suing the state in pseudonym on behalf of all juvenile parolees. Among them are:
L.H., who has been in special education since childhood, and who needs assistance with reading. He was detained on a parole hold for being drinking alcohol while living at a substance abuse center. After more than a month in DJJ custody without a preliminary hearing, the wrong file was brought to his revocation hearing by the parole officer. The hearing was postponed for another three weeks due to the file mix-up, and L.H. spent more than two months in custody before it was held. When his case was eventually heard by the parole board, he was forced to represent himself, was given inadequate time to contact witnesses to testify on his behalf, and was sentenced to several more months in custody to complete a substance abuse program. L.H. had been working in the community while on parole, was already in a substance abuse program, was involved in his church, and had strong support from his girlfriend, mentor, and family.
D.K., who has a history of substance abuse and does not have a high school diploma or G.E.D. despite spending most of his high school years in DJJ. He was detained on an allegedly positive drug test and brought to a DJJ detention facility. He did not receive a copy of the drug test results nor a preliminary hearing. At his revocation hearing, D.K. was not allowed to have his mentor testify on his behalf. D.K. also specifically asked for the assistance of an attorney, and his request was denied by the parole board. He was released from custody at his revocation hearing for time served, but he lost his job as a result of the time spent in custody.
The named plaintiffs represent situations that are common. Close to half of all DJJ parolees will be returned to the institutions within two years. Jeff Adachi, the Public Defender of the City and County of San Francisco, recently fought with the State over the right to represent a juvenile at a parole revocation proceeding. He stated that this lawsuit is “long overdue” and will bring necessary changes to the juvenile parole process.
Representing the plaintiffs are attorneys Michael Bien, Gay Crosthwait Grunfeld, and Meghan Lang of the law firm Rosen, Bien & Asaro, LLP; Karen Kennard of the law firm Bingham McCutchen; LLP; and Sue Burrell and Corene Kendrick of the Youth Law Center, a nonprofit legal organization that advocates for the rights of children in foster care and juvenile justice systems.