April is a fast-paced period in California’s state legislative cycle, as policymakers and advocates push legislation through their initial round of committee hearings. The scope of policy is daunting, with over 4,600 bills introduced in the two-year 2013-14 legislative cycle alone. To sit in any committee hearing is to be humbled by the problems facing California.
Public safety issues are especially challenging given the state’s ongoing prison overcrowding crisis and the ever-evolving juvenile justice system. The state passed a number of successful reforms in 2013. Yet, 2014 already brings some exceptional juvenile justice legislation that is worthy of recognition and support.
First, San Francisco’s State Senator Mark Leno has introduced Senate Bill (SB) 1296 that would help curb the School to Prison Pipeline. The policy will end the practice of incarceration for truant youth who violate a court order to attend school or through contempt charges. To confine a young person for truancy does not fully consider social and environmental factors limiting school attendance, let alone address their educational and developmental challenges. Instead, it only further exacerbates these issues.
Next, SB 1038 (Leno) and Assemblymember Nancy Skinner’s Assembly Bill (AB) 1756address the significant challenges justice-involved youth have with reentry. A juvenile record can limit a youth’s ability to find the stable housing and employment necessary for successful reentry. SB1038 creates a pathway for automatic sealing of a juvenile’s record for those who have complied with all necessary requirements. AB 1776 would eliminate the fee for record sealing for youth under the age of twenty-six.
Finally, Senator Hancock has introduced SB 1198, which improves the data collected and subsequently disseminated regarding youth who are under adult court jurisdiction. California’s Proposition 21, which passed in 2000, mandated that youth charged with specific crimes be mandatorily tried as adults. The question remains what impact this policy has had on young people and public safety across the state. Unfortunately, existing reporting requirements are minimal, specifically as relates to county-level data. This is highly problematic given accurate data is necessary if policymakers, researchers, and all Californians are to best understand the broader economic, social, and public safety conditions for these type of cases.
These bills signify an opportunity for California to adopt key juvenile justice reforms necessary for young people to enjoy improved educational outcomes, reentry, and stable employment. Moreover, SB 1198 helps the state better understand the implications of Proposition 21. Hopefully, policymakers in the state capitol will recognize their importance and all Californians can benefit from their implementation.
Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice