Herald Salinas Article re L.H. Settlement

June 6, 2008

Lawsuit Gives Paroled Youths New Set of Rules – Arrested Juvenile to Get Hearing in 13 Days

By Julia Reynolds  |  Herald Salinas Bureau  —

Youths facing a return to prison on parole violations will be awarded the same rights as adults after the state settled a landmark class-action lawsuit this week.

“The juvenile system has always been very different. This gives them rights … and saves the state money,” said Michael Bien, a lawyer whose firm worked on the case with the the nonprofit Youth Law Center, a Bay Area-based youth advocacy group. The suit was filed in 2006 in federal district court in Sacramento.

Attorneys in the case argued that practices of the state’s Division of Juvenile Justice, formerly known as the California Youth Authority, are violating youths’ constitutional right to due process.

Young people suspected of violating parole are often “warehoused” in local jails for up to three months before receiving a hearing, the attorneys said, even for less-serious violations such as missing a rehab meeting or for a traffic violation.

Juveniles will now have a preliminary hearing with an attorney within 13 business days of being arrested, and a new system will be set up to allow more access to community-based alternatives to prison.

Officials with the Division of Juvenile Justice have praised the settlement, calling the new system “good for everyone.”

Monterey County Juvenile Hall officials have been vocal advocates of keeping more young offenders in local programs instead of sending them to the state-run youth facilities.

Probation chief Manuel Real said in a recent interview that several years ago, the county had one of the highest per capita youth commitment rates to the state’s youth prisons.
“Kids have been paroling out little by little. We’d rather keep them here,” he said.

The shorter jail time brought about by the settlement will save taxpayers money, Bien said.

“No one’s more expensive to incarcerate than these (state-held youths) right now,” he said. “For $250,000 a year, you could send your kid to Harvard several times over.”

Extensions common

Unlike adults in prison, Bien said, incarcerated youths often have their sentences extended up to six months per year of sentence, for a variety of reasons.

One of the case’s plaintiffs was a young pregnant woman from the East Bay Area whose parole was about to be revoked after she got into a fight with her boyfriend, he said.

Bien said youth authorities essentially told her, “‘We’ll keep you (locked up) until you have the baby, since your drug program won’t take pregnant women.’ We thought she’d rather go to another treatment program at home. They wanted her to have the baby in prison.”

The settlement does away with those kinds of extensions.

The case was heard in the federal courtroom of Judge Lawrence Karlton, who in 2003 presided over a similar agreement — known as the Valdivia settlement — that granted similar rights to adult parolees and overhauled the state’s parole revocation system, which has been under the eye of prison reform groups and federal judges for several years.

The new rules will apply to the state’s current juvenile prison population, as well as youths on parole.

The state’s youth prisons, many of them antiquated, were built to house more serious young offenders age 12 to 25, who today number slightly more than 2,500.

Many local youths have called the Youth Authority prisons little more than “gang factories,” where older, sophisticated gangsters “school” county youngsters in criminal philosophy and techniques.

Changing the environment

After news reports of dismal conditions in Youth Authority prisons several years ago, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger folded the agency into the state’s adult corrections department, renaming it the Division of Juvenile Justice.

In 2005, state officials and the San Quentin-based Prison Law Office, which sued over conditions in the division, reached an agreement to reform the youth prison system and create a therapeutic environment more conducive to rehabilitation.

Last year, a team of national experts was called in to assess conditions. They declared the system “broken,” too expensive and ineffective, leading some to suggest that the division should be dismantled.

Officials have since announced that two of the eight youth prisons in the state are scheduled to close by July 31, including the El Paso de Robles Youth Correctional Facility just south of the Monterey County line, which houses fewer than 150 wards.

In addition to the closures, counties are now “opting in” to house youths instead of sending them off to the state.

Monterey County has been participating in the opt-in program since September. The state pays the county up to $125,000 per year for each ward.

“In our county in 2002 to 2004, we were one of the mightier committers to the California Youth Authority,” said probation chief Real. “Since then, we’ve been trying to take care of kids locally.”

Bien said the state has until December to fully implement the settlement’s changes, although some parts are already in effect.
Julia Reynolds can be reached at 648-1187 or jreynolds@montereyherald.com.

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New youth parole rules
Key elements of the new agreement include:
· Within eight business days of detention on a parole violation, an attorney will be appointed to every youth charged.
· Youths will receive a preliminary probable cause hearing within 13 business days of the parole hold.
· Youths will have the right to present evidence and witnesses at the hearings.
· Youths not revoked are to be released promptly.
· Youths will have more access to alternatives to prison, such as county-run rehabilitation programs.
· Accommodations will be provided for mental and physical disabilities, as well as translation for non-English speakers.
· Youths will no longer automatically be shackled during parole proceedings.
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