June 4, 2008

California Settles Lawsuit Over Young Parolees' Rights

By Don Thompson  |  AP National Story  —  

SACRAMENTO, Calif.—California announced the settlement of a federal lawsuit Wednesday that accused the state of violating juvenile offenders' constitutional rights.
The settlement requires the state to begin giving young offenders the same swift hearings that are given adults who are accused of violating their parole.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton of Sacramento ruled in September that the state violated some juvenile offenders' due process rights by keeping them in custody for months before they received a hearing on whether they should be sent back to a state juvenile facility.

More than half were accused of technical violations of their parole, Karlton found, and in most cases the offenders were eventually released to simply continue their parole.

The settlement requires that the alleged offenders be given a probable cause hearing within three weeks and a final decision within another 35 days on whether they violated their parole.

It requires that all alleged juvenile parole violators be represented by an attorney. It also includes special provisions for juveniles with disabilities. Karlton must still approve the agreement.

In a statement, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's legal affairs secretary, Andrea Hoch, called the settlement "fair and equitable."

Attorneys alleged in the class-action lawsuit that young offenders often were not told of the exact charges against them until they had been incarcerated for weeks or months.

Often those charges would change unexpectedly, and juveniles were routinely denied the right to present witnesses or other evidence, the suit alleged.

"We believe that this agreement will end up saving the state money, as juveniles will no longer spend months on end in DJJ (Division of Juvenile Justice) facilities awaiting hearings," one of the inmates' attorneys, Geoffrey Holtz, said in a statement.

"Youth were warehoused at facilities for months before they received a hearing, even for technical violations of parole such as drinking alcohol or traffic violations."