New Legislation Reforms State Juvenile System, ‘Tailoring Conditions’ to Help Youth

By Max Kennedy

STATE CAPITOL – Today, the average length of probation for youth in California is nearly two years, and probation typically includes a list of up to 50 conditions that must be followed.

However, new legislation introduced by Assemblymember Mark Stone (D-29th Dist.) would reform the state juvenile justice system by limiting youth probation to six months and tailoring conditions to emphasize rehabilitation and growth.

Juvenile arrests have declined over the past decade, but probation is still widely used as a sentence for youth in California. And, in 2019, the state made 43,181 juvenile arrests and more than 80 percent of those arrestees were referred to probation, according to the Juvenile Justice in California 2019 report.

Stone’s bill, formally AB 503, aims to reduce the length of probation for youth and apply conditions that are “reasonable and developmentally appropriate,” according to a statement from his office.

“By establishing standards for the terms and conditions of probation, we can ensure that young people are getting the support and programming they need for as long as they need it, without subjecting them to a long list of burdensome probation conditions for an indeterminate length of time,” said Stone.

The bill appears to match findings from the latest research, which indicate onerous conditions are unlikely to reduce recidivism and can in fact lead to worse outcomes for system-impacted youth.

“Juvenile courts should cease imposing long, standardized conditions of probation,” said Transforming Juvenile Probation, a 2018 study published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

And similarly, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges recommends that “courts cease imposing ‘conditions of probation’ and instead support… individualized case plans that set expectations and goals.”

Mark Stone’s office highlighted this same issue.

“It is unreasonable to expect a youth to recall, understand, and comply with a list of fifty rules during their term of supervision,” according to the statement promoting the bill, adding, “AB 503 will limit probation conditions so that they are individually tailored, developmentally appropriate and not excessive.”

Lengthy probation sentences, too, have faced criticism from a number of juvenile justice studies for failing to improve outcomes and wasting resources.

“[Research] indicates there are not likely to be public safety gains from keeping youth on supervision for longer than six months,” maintained the final 2017 report from the Joint Ad-Hoc Tennessee Blue Ribbon Task Force on Juvenile Justice.

“The limited research that exists suggests that traditional probation models that employ intensive surveillance do not reduce recidivism,” said a 2018 report Bridging Research and Practice in Juvenile Probation.

The statement from Mark Stone’s office also featured personal testimony from Jacob “Blacc” Jackson, a Youth Outreach Coordinator for the Youth Justice Coalition who struggled to graduate due to the strict requirements he faced under probation.

“Limiting probation terms and individualizing conditions are important because lengthy probation terms and overbearing conditions often hinder youth from completing school, maintaining jobs, and supporting our families as in my experience,” he said.

AB 503 is currently awaiting referral to a policy committee.

Max Kennedy graduated from Harvard in 2016 with a degree in history. He is an intern with the San Francisco Public Defender and most recently worked as a digital organizer with Joe Biden for President.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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