June 5, 2008

Prompt Juvenile Parolee Hearings to Be Held

By Bob Egelko  |  San Francisco Chronicle  —  

The state agreed Wednesday to hold prompt hearings and protect the rights of juvenile parolees who are sometimes held for months while awaiting rulings on whether they violated their parole.

The California Division of Juvenile Justice also agreed to limit sentences for juvenile parole violations to one year and to refrain from routinely shackling youths at parole revocation hearings as part of a settlement of a class-action lawsuit.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton of Sacramento had already ruled that the state's extended detention of the juveniles violated their constitutional right to a quick hearing. Karlton also told state authorities to provide lawyers at those hearings, an order that took effect Feb. 15.

Bernard Warner, the state agency's chief deputy secretary, said Wednesday's settlement should benefit all sides. "We've agreed that we want to have a fair and just process," he said.

He said California has about 2,300 juveniles who are on parole after completing sentences at state institutions. When accused of violating parole – by committing crimes, or by disregarding a requirement such as reporting to a parole officer – they have been held for up to 60 days without a hearing.

Under the settlement, the agency must hold a hearing within 13 business days of a youth's arrest to determine whether there is any basis for revoking parole. If so, another hearing must be held within 35 calendar days of the arrest for a final decision, at which the youth's lawyer can present evidence and call witnesses.
The settlement also allows parole officials to hold a juvenile in shackles at revocation hearings only if there are grounds to believe the youth is dangerous.

If the parole board finds a violation and orders a youth into custody, officials will have three days to arrange a new placement. In the past, parole violators have been kept in detention for up to 30 days, without any reduction in their sentence, while parole officers determine where to put them.

Youths have been "warehoused at facilities for months before they received a hearing, even for technical violations of parole such as drinking alcohol or traffic violations," said Geoffrey Holtz, a lawyer for parolees who filed the suit.

"Our clients, who will be provided with attorneys and with rights to a fair and just hearing, will gain respect for the legal process," said Michael Bien, another lawyer for the plaintiffs. "In addition, the settlement will result in shorter, less expensive incarcerations and increased access to community programs."

E-mail Bob Egelko at begelko@sfchronicle.com.

This article appeared on page B – 2 of the San Francisco Chronicle.