In early 2021, the state of California began to shut down its juvenile prisons. This has been cause for much celebration among advocates. They have long argued that a prison environment is no place for minors. Prison life tends to perpetuate itself. It’s no secret that incarcerated people have a high recidivism rate. This means that prisoners find themselves in trouble with the law even after they’ve been released.
Regardless of the severity of the crime, activists believe that kids need a second chance. They worry that putting kids in a prison environment can permanently place them into a life of crime with little chance of escape.
California is now in the process of shutting down the DJJ, Division of Juvenile Justice, and creating the YCR, Youth and Community Restoration, program. It won’t happen overnight. The DJJ has been in place for around 80 years and is deeply rooted. In that time, it has gone through several adjustments. Just a couple decades ago, California passed Proposition 21. This created a punishing program that was tougher on juvenile offenders, not lighter. The transition to the YCR is scheduled to be complete in July of 2023.
As of now, we don’t have any direct answers on how juvenile offenders will be treated in the immediate future. One major change is that each local government will be handling the matter on their own, rather than having a centralized state plan. L.A. County, for example, is immediately in the process of taking kids out of the probation system and creating a “Department of Youth Development.” Rather than locking kids up for their crimes, this organization will be focused on reeducating young convicts. Kids will be given counseling and recreational activities as part of a rehabilitation effort.
Across the state, the discussion is moving toward finding housing and care for juvenile offenders. Moving away from a system of punishment to a system of rehabilitation, funding will go to places more akin to halfway homes than jails. The aim is also to put these facilities closer to kids’ actual homes to make them feel less isolated and “locked away.”
The DJJ is not over yet, but its purpose is being redefined. Serious offenders, minors convicted of crimes like murder and rape, can still be sentenced to incarceration. For now, this is an attempt to prevent the state from trying them as adults. Even though the prison system hasn’t been completely obliterated, the trend is moving toward compassion and protection.
In the spirit of helping minors, there are some who worry that the removal of the DJJ could cause other problems. With no other options, judges will have to decide what to do with serious offenders once the juvenile prison system is gone. It could lead to kids being sent back to adult prisons, an option that is meant to be abolished. Representatives of the DJJ also argue that they had been making strides in trauma counseling and rehabilitative programs within the organization. There are no direct answers right now about how to handle kids convicted of severe crimes.
So, what does the future hold for the juvenile justice system, and where will offenders go under the YCR? Those answers are still being determined by local governments, so we all must wait and see.
Defense for Juvenile Crime
Regardless of where juvenile offenders will end up, they still need representation. Our constitution grants all U.S. citizens the right to a defense, no matter their age. Everyone deserves their day in court, and everyone should have their story heard. If your child has been accused of a crime, secure the services of a good lawyer, and let them help you keep your child free.
Attorney Jacqueline Goodman works hard to defend minors accused of a crime. She will be keeping a close eye on the fluctuating laws in Orange County and continue fighting to get kids the justice they deserve. If your child has been accused of a crime, call (714) 733-1737 for a free consultation, or reach out online.