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Study: Certain CA Counties Charge Youth as Adults More Often

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A new study shows that the practice of charging youth as adults varies widely across the state. (Youth Justice Coalition)
A new study shows that the practice of charging youth as adults varies widely across the state. (Youth Justice Coalition)
June 8, 2016

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The practice of "direct file," in which a prosecutor decides to file adult criminal charges against a youth, varies widely by county and disproportionately affects young people of color, according to a new report.

Researchers from three nonprofit groups that work on juvenile justice also found that Yuba, Kings, Sutter, Napa and San Joaquin counties have the highest rates of direct file and San Francisco has the lowest -- because there, all juveniles are granted a fitness hearing before a juvenile-system judge.

"What this highlights is that it's not being used consistently by prosecutors," said Maureen Washburn, one of the report's co-authors and a policy analyst for the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, "that it's being used kind of at the discretion of a prosecutor and doesn't align with rates of crime that are happening in that county."

An initiative on the November ballot called the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016 would eliminate direct file for youth. It would extend opportunities for good time credits and parole to adult prisoners. The ballot measure is the subject of a joint hearing of the Public Safety Committees of the state Senate and Assembly today in Sacramento.

Washburn said youthful defendants deserve a fitness hearing because the juvenile system offers a much better chance of rehabilitation.

"It touches both the juvenile and the adult system in ways that will make it much more just," she said.

On Monday, the state Supreme Court rejected a challenge to the ballot initiative, so voters will have a chance to weigh in this November.

The report is online at burnsinstitute.org.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CA