Criminal/Juvenile Justice System Primer

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1 This primer provides an overview of the key roles and responsibilities of justice system actors both adult and juvenile - within LA County. It also provides insight into some of the key challenges and opportunities that currently exist, highlighting ways TCE may be able to most impact these sectors and systems. A. Juvenile Justice System 1. Arrest/Cite: Any patrolling law enforcement agency within its jurisdiction can detain/cite/arrest a youth for illegal conduct (e.g. LAPD, LA Sheriff s Department, local police force). Although there are no official diversion policies, individual officers have discretion as to whether to cite a youth at all for a crime, particularly low-level crimes, and to some extent have the option to make a service referral. Therefore, whether a youth enters the juvenile justice system or not largely depends on an individual officer s mindset and attitude. Officers who are trained in the root causes of adolescent behavior, who understand the communities and youth they police, and who are made aware of alternative programming or other resolution options can become key stopblocks to the cradle-to-prison pipeline. Since officers choices at this early stage in the process are less about laws and policies and much more about approach, officer training and education can be a crucial lever to prevent youth entry into the juvenile justice system. 2. Charges Filed: Arrest report is forwarded directly to the LA District Attorney s (DA s) office to file charges; the DA has discretion as to what charges to file and whether to file charges at all in the juvenile court. 3. Pre-trial Detention or Release: While case is pending, youth can be held at the local juvenile hall (detained) or allowed to remain at home (non-detained); this decision is made by the juvenile court judge at the first court appearance. 4. Juvenile Court: In the juvenile court, the DA s office prosecutes and the public defender represents the youth. Probation department also has a strong presence, providing background information to the court and making recommendations as to how a youth s case should be resolved. The vast majority of juvenile matters are resolved through plea negotiations in which the DA holds the majority of the power; only a tiny percentage of juvenile cases are decided by a judge via court trial. 5. Juvenile Case Dispositions: Possible resolutions for juvenile court cases (in order of ascending severity) include: Diversion (various forms); Home on Probation (youth remains at home, but is under supervision); Suitable Placement (youth is placed in a group home); Camp 1

2 (youth is placed in a Probation camp, a secured facility like a youth jail); and, Department of Juvenile Justice(DJJ) (state-run youth prisons; only a tiny percentage of system involved youth are sentenced to DJJ). B. Criminal Justice System (Adult 18 years+) 1. Arrest/Cite: Any patrolling law enforcement can detain/cite/arrest an individual for illegal conduct within their jurisdiction (e.g. LAPD, LASD, local police force). As with youth, law enforcement have discretion whether to even cite individuals for lower level crimes or just warn and divert. 2. Charges Filed: Law enforcement then forwards the police report to the appropriate prosecuting agency to file charges; the prosecuting agency has discretion as to what charges to file and whether to file charges at all. In the City of LA, the LA City Attorney (CA) 1 prosecutes all misdemeanor crimes. The Los Angeles District Attorney (DA) prosecutes all felonies across LA County. 3. Pre-trial Detention or Release: At the first court date, the arraignment, a determination is made by the judge as to whether a person may be released from custody while they await resolution of their case or whether to set bail. 4. Plea Bargaining: Every criminal defendant has a right to a jury trial on their charges, however over 90% of all cases resolve through plea bargains. In plea negotiations, the prosecution decides what type of deal to offer the defendant; the prosecutor holds the majority of the power in this situation 5. Trial: If a criminal defendant elects to go to trial (tiny percentage of actual cases) and if convicted at trial, the judge then determines the sentence with input from both the DA and the defense attorney. 1 Gang Injunctions Gang injunctions cross the normal jurisdictional lines of prosecuting agencies. The various gang injunctions across the County of Los Angeles have been put in place by multiple prosecutorial agencies, including the LA City Attorney, the LA District Attorney, and various smaller City Attorneys, like Inglewood. While these City Attorney offices do not have jurisdiction to prosecute juveniles for crime, they impact youth directly through the creation, service, and enforcement of gang injunctions, many of which cover youth. 2

3 6. Sentencing: Upon conviction, either through a negotiated plea or a guilty verdict at trial, the judge sentences a defendant. For misdemeanor cases, sentences usually involve unsupervised probation, some small amount of jail time and/or community labor, and potentially treatment or classes, For felony cases, realignment has increased the possible sentencing options: Probation supervised probation (i.e. defendant must check-in with a Probation Department officer) which can include county jail time and/or community labor, and potentially mandated treatment or classes. Realigned, county jail sentence those convicted of non-violent, nonserious felonies (and who have no serious felonies on their record) now serve a sentence in the local county jail instead of prison. Prison sentence those convicted of more serious felonies and/or those with more serious felonies on their record serve time in prison. C. The Los Angeles Criminal Justice Landscape: Challenges 1. Lack of diversion for low-level offenders 2. Gang injunctions 3. Pretrial detention o Too many low level offenses are filed in criminal/juvenile courts that could be better handled through treatment or diversion. This is particularly true for the mentally ill population, those with substance abuse problems, and youth of color. o Non-violent and non-serious offenders are unnecessarily branded with a crippling criminal record that inhibits employment, housing, and educational options o Overbroad enforcement of gang injunctions has a chilling effect on entire communities and fuel community-law enforcement mistrust. Negative impact on youth, preventing them from participating in positive prevention and intervention programming and often reinforcing, rather than reducing, gang cohesion. o Many individuals charged with non-violent, non-serious crimes (including many charged with just misdemeanors) remain in jail while waiting for a court date because they cannot afford bail. 3

4 Many people who have not been convicted of anything end up losing jobs, housing, and other opportunities while they sit in custody. Holding people in custody pressures defendants to plead guilty to get out, resulting in unjust levels of criminal convictions. 4. Underuse of alternatives to incarceration o With the current budget situation, many alternative courts (e.g. drug, veterans) are underfunded and others have been shuttered. 5. Inadequacy of rehabilitation and reentry programming for youth o While improvements have been made in recent years, the treatment, education, and rehabilitative programming offered to youth under the Probation Department s care are still deficient. D. The Los Angeles Criminal Justice Landscape: Current Opportunities Promising, New Leadership. New leadership in key Los Angeles County justice-related departments means LA is primed for progressive movement around the challenges outlined above. This leadership includes: o City Attorney Mike Feuer - As the most progressive City Attorney in decades, Feuer has made clear he is ready to focus on youth, has begun efforts to expand diversion programs, and has indicated a desire to address problematic gang injunction policies. o District Attorney Jackie Lacey - More reform minded than her tough on crime predecessor, Lacey has made a commitment to rethink juvenile prosecutions. She also is familiar with/a proponent of alternative courts. o Public Defender Ron Brown - LA s fairly new head public defender is receptive to innovation and re-thinking traditional justice system practices, including alterna o Probation Chief Jerry Powers Due to ongoing pressure from various US Department of Justice MOAs, Chief Powers and his key leadership staff recognize changes need to be made in how their department serves youth in their care. o Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald The challenges of ongoing population issues combined with new jail leadership under Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald mean a certain level of receptivity within the Sheriff s Department to alternatives to custody, community release, and possible pretrial alternatives. 4

5 New Initiatives. o The VERA Youth Futures initiative and Aspen Opportunity Youth Initiative each will provide money for employment, education, mentoring, and other supports for system- involved youth, thereby providing a safety net that can help make diversion possible. However, impact of Vera initiative may be limited in scope and geography as only one agency will be funded to serve a particular community. o Through LA County, various Restorative Justice Initiatives are bubbling up such as CYS, the Center for Restorative Justice at Loyola Law School, and a restorative justice pilot program in Long Beach. o Through Promise Neighborhoods, the DOE is granting $30 million, coordinated by YPI. Although heavily focused on educational outcomes, there are elements of community support outcomes that must be met including safety. The YPI has chosen Pacoima and Hollywood as their target neighborhood and therefore does not overlap with TCE sites. o The California Attorney General recently announced the launch of a statewide Reentry/Alternative Sentencing Initiative that plans to pull in federal funds and foster local innovation. 5

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