June 5, 2008

LA Times Article re L.H. Settlement

State OKs Changes for Juvenile Parole Violators -Settlement Promises Attorneys and Timely Hearings for Youths

By Michael Rothfeld  |  Los Angeles Times  —

SACRAMENTO — — The state has agreed to provide attorneys and timely hearings for juveniles accused of violating parole, in a settlement of a federal class-action lawsuit by youths who said prison officials infringed on their constitutional rights.

The lawsuit, filed nearly two years ago by former wards of the state’s Division of Juvenile Justice, alleged that the state was violating youths’ rights to due process by detaining them for months without legal counsel or a hearing on the charges and by failing to offer assistance for those who were disabled, as required by federal law.

In some cases, youths would be held for so-called technical violations of the terms of their release, such as consuming alcohol or traffic offenses.

“It was just part and parcel of a system that has been out of public view for a long time,” said Sue Burrell, an attorney with the Youth Law Center in San Francisco, which represented juveniles in the suit called L.H. vs. Schwarzenegger, using the initials of one of the plaintiffs. “It was sloppy, and it lacked rules and standards and time limits” for the revocation proceedings.

The agreement announced Wednesday, which must be approved by U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton, gives the state until December to eliminate those problems.

“This is really a big step in terms of having a parole system that ensures we protect the rights of youth, and also ensures public safety,” said Bernard Warner, the chief deputy secretary for juvenile justice.

The state has 2,300 youthful offenders on parole and an additional 2,000 in its youth prisons.

The deal builds on a 2003 legal settlement in Valdivia vs. Schwarzenegger, in which the state agreed to make similar changes to the parole process for adults accused of violations.

The new rules for juveniles would require that they be served with notice of an alleged parole violation within three business days of detention, and given a lawyer within eight business days and a hearing within 35 calendar days.

The state would have to spell out its parole revocation standards, allow youths to present witnesses and evidence at hearings, and provide assistance for the mentally and physically disabled and non-English speakers.

Andrea Lynn Hoch, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s legal affairs secretary, called the agreement “fair and equitable.”

In a separate case, an Alameda County Superior Court judge is considering a request by lawyers for juveniles to place state youth prisons in receivership.

The lawyers say the state has failed to make required improvements to conditions in the facilities.

Also on Wednesday, judges in the state’s 3rd District Court of Appeal upheld Schwarzenegger’s decision to transfer inmates to prisons in other states because of overcrowding. The ruling affirmed the governor’s authority to declare a prison overcrowding emergency, which allowed him to make the transfers.

As of May 21, the state had 3,891 inmates in out-of-state facilities, according to the governor’s office.

The “out-of-state transfers and other population reductions have provided much needed breathing space in our prisons and improved safety and conditions for staff and inmates,” Schwarzenegger said in a statement.

The California Correctional Peace Officers Assn., which represents prison guards, challenged the governor’s authority to declare an emergency and said the transfers violated the state Constitution and civil service rules. In a statement, the union said it disagreed with the decision and anticipated filing an appeal.