URGENT Letters Needed Today for Three Important Youth Justice Bills

Please fax in an organizational letter ASAP today to support these three bills that will be up in their first committee next week. Fax numbers are included in the body of each sample letter. Please e-mail us a copy of your letters and we can also make sure they are delivered next week. Thank you!
 
Sample letters for these bills are listed below:
 
SB 607 – Ends Suspensions for Willful Defiance, K – 12, Statewide
 
SB 439 – To establish a minimum age of 12 for youth who can be charged with a crime and processed through the juvenile court system. Currently, California has no minimum age, and very young children can be prosecuted and detained.
 
AB 1639 – Eliminates Barriers for people with convictions, undocumented people, people who are allegedly “gang affiliated,” and people who are unable to cooperate with police investigations – as well as their family members – from accessing victim compensation and supports.
  1. CUT AND PASTE THIS LETTER ONTO YOUR ORGANIZATION’S LETTERHEAD TO END WILLFUL DEFIANCE SUSPENSIONS. 

March 30, 2017

The Honorable Benjamin Allen
Chair, Senate Standing Committee on Education
State Capitol
Sacramento, CA 95814

Fax: (916) 445-7799

RE:  SUPPORT: SB 607 (Skinner) – As Amended
Reducing Suspensions/Expulsions for Minor Incidents

Dear Senator Allen:

NAME OF ORGANIZATION is honored to be a Co-Sponsor of SB 607 as amended, a bill that would amend the Education Code to address the overuse of suspensions and expulsions for minor and subjectively imposed offenses pursuant to Educ. Code § 48900(k). Currently, Section 48900(k) allows students in grades 4-12 to be suspended from school for disruption or defiance. Neither disruption nor defiance is defined anywhere in the Education Code; as such, Section 48900(k) is largely left to the subjective judgment of school personnel. It is estimated that this category was identified as the most “severe” grounds for some 129,835 suspensions or 31% of all suspensions in the state during the 2014-15 school year.

In 2014, AB 420 was chaptered into law prohibiting the use of disruption/defiance as grounds for K-3 suspensions and K-12 expulsions but it is scheduled to sunset on July 1, 2018. AB 420 resulted in a 60% drop in defiance/disruption suspensions in elementary schools during 2013-2015. More than 15,000 suspensions of K-3 students were prevented, incentivizing school districts to adopt non-punitive alternatives to suspensions and expulsions.

SB 607 would permanently eliminate suspensions and expulsions for all grade levels and keep more students in school. If SB 607 is not passed, all students will again be subject to suspension and expulsion based on “disruption/defiance,” which means students will be suspended or expelled from school and denied valuable learning time for anything from failing to turn in homework, not paying attention or refusing to follow directions — and even for just one isolated incident.

Because it is so subjective, suspensions and expulsions based on Section 48900(k) raise serious concerns about their disproportionate impact on students of color and other vulnerable student groups—including students with disabilities and/or those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT), and/or gender non-conforming. Research confirms that there is even greater disproportionality for students in these groups suspended and expelled for low level, subjective offenses like defiance/disruption, compared to higher level, more objective offenses.  Data made available by the California Department of Education reveals that African-American students in California face nearly 4 times more suspensions per 100 students than white students for disruption/defiance.

More than two decades of research has confirmed that suspensions do not work.  They do not improve student behavior and, in fact, often exacerbate the problem, as the children who are disciplined for these offenses often come from homes with the least supervision and have themselves experienced violence and other trauma that they are struggling to address without support. The research is clear that suspended and expelled students who are subjected are far more likely than their peers to drop out of school and enter the juvenile delinquency system, at great cost to the state. Research also shows that alternatives to suspension and expulsion—such as Restorative Practices, tiered interventions through Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, and social emotional learning—reduce suspensions, improve behavior, and improve academic outcomes.

This bill does not limit other Education Code provisions that are more clearly defined, including the ability to suspend or expel students in grades 4 to 12 for harassment, threats, and intimidation that rise to the level of materially disrupting classwork, creating substantial disorder, and invading the rights of students and school personnel by creating a hostile education environment (Educ. Code § 48900.4). Overall, the bill leaves in place more than 20 other reasons a student may be suspended from school or recommended for expulsion.

This measure will result in an overall reduction in suspensions and expulsions and an increase in positive outcomes for students and the communities in which they live.

ADD A PARAGRAPH HERE ABOUT YOUR ORGANIZATION AND WHY YOU CARE ABOUT THIS ISSUE.

For all of these reasons, we urge your support of SB 607.

Sincerely,
Signature
Name
Title

  1. CUT AND PASTE THIS LETTER ONTO YOUR ORGANIZATION’S LETTERHEAD TO RAISE THE AGE FOR JUTSICE SYSTEM INVOLVEMENT TO 12 AND UP.

March 27, 2017

Honorable Nancy Skinner
Chair, Senate Public Safety Committee California State Senate
State Capitol, Room 5064
Sacramento, CA 95814
Fax: (916) 445-4688

RE: Support for SB 439 (Mitchell, Lara)

Dear Chairperson Skinner:

NAME OF ORGANIZATION is writing to indicate our strong support of Senate Bill 439 (Mitchell, Lara), which will establish a minimum age of juvenile court jurisdiction for status and delinquency offenses in California, protecting children under 12 years old from the harms and adverse consequences of justice system involvement and encouraging more effective alternatives to prosecution.

We support the establishment of a minimum age of juvenile delinquency jurisdiction for the following reasons:

  1. Formal justice processing is harmful to children’s health and development, exposing them, unnecessarily, to a system that they do not fully understand;
  2. Early-age involvement in the justice system is increasingly rare and characterized by high rates of case dismissal, meaning that counties are spending wastefully on these cases;
  3. Early-age court processing in California is beset with geographic, racial, and ethnic disparities;
  4. There is increasing national and international support for minimum age laws;
  5. Alternative services outside of the juvenile justice system – such as community-and family-
  6. based health and mental health, education, and child welfare services – can better meet the needs of young children while maintaining public safety.

Background

Currently, California has no law specifying a minimum age for prosecution in juvenile court, which allows young children of any age to be prosecuted in juvenile court. SB 439 would exclude children 11 years old and younger from prosecution in juvenile court, protecting them from the negative impacts of formal justice system involvement and even initial processing; promoting their rights, health, and well-being through alternative child-serving systems; and reducing wasteful spending on unnecessary juvenile justice proceedings where the evidence rarely rises to the level of an offense worth sustaining as true.

Specifically, SB 439 would amend California Welfare & Institutions Code section 602 to establish a minimum age of juvenile court jurisdiction of 12 years old for delinquency cases. It would also amend California Welfare & Institutions Code section 601 to exclude children 11 and younger from prosecution and formal processing through juvenile court for status offenses.

  1. Juvenile Court Prosecution is Unnecessary and Harmful to Young Children

Prosecuting young children in juvenile court runs contrary to scientific research and court decisions that recognize children are inherently less culpable than adults and that the very young are the least able to engage meaningfully with the justice system, including with their own attorneys. The United States Supreme Court and scientists alike have specifically observed that the hallmark characteristics of children – including immaturity, impulsivity, and a lesser ability to foresee the consequences of their decisions – render them more vulnerable in criminal justice processes and necessitate different treatment accounting for their age and developmental limits.

As compared to older adolescents and young adults, children are more vulnerable to influence and have a diminished ability to understand court proceedings. A 2003 study found that almost 60 percent of 11- to 13-year-olds demonstrated insufficient understanding of court proceedings. Even when they may comprehend, younger adolescents and children are more likely to defer to the influence of their attorney when making consequential decisions. For example, youth under the age of 15 are more likely than older adolescents to comply with adult directives when determining whether to speak to the police, accept a prosecutor’s plea offer, or agree to a consultation with a defense attorney.

In addition to concerns about young people’s vulnerabilities in navigating the justice system, research shows that contact with the juvenile justice system can have lasting and negative psychological and health impacts for youth and young children. Research also shows that formally processing youth in the juvenile justice system does not thwart future crime, but instead can increase the likelihood of future criminal behavior.

  1. Early-age Involvement in the Justice System Is Rare and Declining, and Ultimately Resource Draining

Despite our growing understanding of the diminished culpability and capacities of children in the context of the justice system, 874 referrals were made to prosecute children under 12 in California in 2015, including one five-year-old and 13 seven-year-olds. Fortunately, justice system contact for children under 12 is increasingly rare, with arrests of children ages 11 and younger declining by more than 50 percent since 2010. Of the approximately 87,000 juvenile arrests that occurred in 2015, just one percent involved children under age 12.

Data on the underlying offenses for which children under 12 are referred to the juvenile delinquency courts, indicates that a large share of referrals are for relatively minor offenses. In 2015, five percent of referrals were for a status offense, such as truancy or a curfew violation, which are not considered criminal if committed by an adult. Another 59 percent of children were referred to probation for misdemeanor offenses, such as petty theft. The most common offense type for which children under 12 were referred was “assault and battery,” which can encompass schoolyard fights and other similar behaviors. In 2015, there were no referrals of children under 12 for rape, homicide, or manslaughter.

When children are referred to juvenile delinquency court, over 70 percent of their cases are closed or dismissed, and fewer than eight percent of children ultimately have their petitions sustained by the court. SB 439 would further these positive trends by ensuring that all young children in need of services are managed through alternatives to the justice system. In light of current practices, which prioritize case diversion and dismissal over sustained system involvement for children under 12, counties that continue to expend justice system resources on the prosecution of young children are needlessly and wastefully diverting local funds away from other child-serving systems. These vital resources would be better spent on services that can provide immediate and long-term benefits to children and their families.

  1. Disparity Pervades California’s Reliance on Early-age Court Processing

Though children ages 11 and younger comprise a small share of the juvenile justice system in California, their prosecution occurs unevenly across the state. The absence of a minimum age law in the state has produced stark differences in the treatment of children under 12, by location, race, and ethnicity.

In 2015, 12 of California’s 58 counties referred no young children to juvenile probation, and 38 referred 10 or fewer. In fact, just six counties made up nearly half of all referrals: Kern, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Joaquin, and Tulare. The high concentration of cases suggests that for some children, the likelihood of early-age involvement in the juvenile justice system can be a function of geography rather than a result of the circumstances of their case. These geographic differences also suggest that in counties with few referrals, young children are already routinely diverted out of the justice system and into alternative, child-serving systems.

Data also indicate that children of color are referred to probation at higher rates than white youth. In 2015, youth of color comprised 77 percent of total referrals across California.

  1. There is Increasing National and International Support for Minimum Age Laws

SB 439 would bring California into compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which declares that all nations must establish a minimum age for their justice systems. The Committee on the Rights of Child further encouraged nations to increase their lower MACR to the age of 12 years as the absolute minimum age and to continue to increase it to a higher age level. Article 40 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) declared that all nations set a minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) below which no child would be subject to formal prosecution. Subsequently, article 4 of the Beijing Rules specified that this MACR be no younger than 12, and encouraged countries not to lower their MACR to 12 if theirs was set higher.

Currently, 19 states in the United States have established a minimum age for juvenile court jurisdiction, which range from age 6 to 11. In Texas, for example, children under the age of 10 cannot be prosecuted in a juvenile or criminal court, while New York sets its minimum at age seven. Over the past several decades the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Bar Association, and the National Academy of Sciences have each recommended that states adopt minimum age reforms that consider the science of child development.

Establishing a minimum of juvenile delinquency court jurisdiction at age 12 would align California with international human rights standards and allow the state to serve as a leader nationwide in advancing more humane and effective means of addressing the needs of children 11 and younger.

  1. Alternative Systems Can Better Meet the Needs of Young Children

Many youth who experience early justice system contact have histories of early-age maltreatment, trauma, learning problems, or other underlying and unaddressed behavioral and environmental conditions. When young children engage in problematic behaviors, it can signal deeper, unaddressed needs. For young children, these needs are not adequately addressed through the juvenile justice system, which can exacerbate existing trauma. Rather, children’s underlying behavioral needs are better addressed through alternative child-serving systems, such as community- and family-based health and mental health, education, child welfare services, and other community- based services and programs. By first considering the root causes of a problematic behavior, local service providers can devise targeted interventions that meaningfully engage a child’s family, friends, school, and community, placing youth on the path to healing.

There are also many childhood behaviors that do not require any intervention. For some youth, common lapses such as violating curfew or participating in a schoolyard fight can result in needless and harmful juvenile justice system involvement. These are common adolescent behaviors that are not suggestive of an unmet need. Rather, they reflect a child’s age, maturity, and decision-making ability. As evidenced by the number of cases that are referred and rejected for prosecution outright each year, California’s court and probation systems largely recognize that the juvenile justice system is not suitable for young children, whether they are acting on an unaddressed need or exhibiting a common childhood behavior.

Our Organizations Urge Support for SB 439

Each year, hundreds of children are needlessly subjected to the adverse consequences of formal juvenile justice processing. These harms disparately impact children of color and children in certain California counties. Research shows that early exposure to the justice system can exacerbate underlying vulnerabilities and hinder the delivery of needed services.

By establishing a minimum age of juvenile delinquency court jurisdiction, SB 439 presents California with an opportunity to recognize the unique needs and vulnerabilities of youth, better meet their needs and promote public safety through more effective child-serving agencies, and to align our treatment of children with science, court decisions and international standards. For these reasons, we are proud to sponsor SB 439, and respectfully request your support.

Sincerely,
Signature
Name
Title

  1. CUT AND PASTE THIS LETTER ONTO YOUR ORGANIZATION’S LETTERHEAD TO ENSURE ELIGIBILITY AND END DISCRIMINATION FOR VICTIM COMPENSATION AND SERVICES.

 

DATE

 

The Honorable Reginald Jones-Sawyer

State Capitol, Room 2117

Sacramento, California 95814

Fax: (916) 319-3745

 

RE: AB 1639 (Garcia) Victim Compensation Fund Eligibility – SUPPORT

 

Dear Assembly Member Jones-Sawyer,

Organization is writing to indicate our strong support for Assembly Bill 1639 (Garcia): Victim Compensation Fund Eligibility.  AB 1639 would prohibit the board from denying an application for a claim solely because the victim or derivative victim is a person who is listed in a gang database including the CalGang system, has been convicted, is undocumented, or is unable to cooperate with an investigation.

Excluding formerly incarcerated, “gang-affiliated,” or undocumented individuals and their family members from receiving clinical mental health treatment and victim of crime resources results in their systemic re-traumatization – in that, “trauma-informed practices are supposed to provide a new paradigm for organizing services and supports that recognize the central role that trauma plays in people’s lives, and shifts the focus from “what is wrong with you?” to “what happened to you?”

Furthermore, this practice traps people in further desperation, unresolved hurt and anger – the very circumstances that can lead to retaliation and further victimization of oneself or others.

ADD HERE ON YOUR ORGANIZATION AND WHY THIS BILL IS IMPORTANT TO YOU

The California Victim Compensation Board (Cal VCB) provides support to communities by promoting access to services that support healing for crime survivors. Cal VCB can help pay bills and expenses that result from certain crimes including funeral and burial expenses, income loss, medical treatment, and residential security. In addition, Cal VCB supports communities in accessing services that support healing by funding Trauma Recovery Centers.  Trauma Recovery Centers were created through the federal Victims of Crime Act (1984) to offer a greater resource of safety, healing, accountability, and empowerment to the most vulnerable communities in states across the country that are susceptible to increased exposure to and encounters with crime and violence.

While the California Victim Compensation Board (Cal VCB) has helped thousands of crime survivors to re-build their lives following trauma, many Californians that may identify as crime survivors are still currently ineligible or excluded from receiving crime survivor services through Cal VCB due to such things as being identified as “on probation/parole” or “gang-affiliated,” leaving many struggling to remain resilient in the wake of structural and systemic barriers that prevent them from sustaining their livelihoods, and recovering from unresolved traumas.

A comprehensive and holistic, trauma-informed approach to Cal VCB eligibility expansion encompasses a broad, system-wide effort that challenges notions of victimization which discriminate against the recovery of ALL individuals of our communities impacted by crime and violence; in other words, trauma-recovery and crime survivor coordination of care must include those most at risk to perpetuate crime & violence in order to embody a holistic solution that sustains long-term violence prevention and crime reduction efforts which address the benefits of restorative practices that utilize and expand access to healing resources while re-investing in disadvantaged communities that have suffered socio-economic consequences due to high rates of crime & violence.

The safety-driven approach to crime and violence prevention focuses on strengthening a community’s ability to ensure the safety of its citizens, by first ensuring systemic investment in their livelihoods and neighborhoods so that educational, health, and socio-economic opportunities can thrive, thus, mitigating the spread of crime and violence through greenlining and equitable access to behavioral health resources. Interrupting cycles of violence requires short-term mediation of violent circumstances; whereas, preventing cycles of violence from continuing requires holistic rehabilitation and systemic reconciliation for those at highest risk to co-produce violence. Thus, to foster and strengthen accessible connections to crime survivor services for high-risk populations strengthens the community’s connections to each other, and offers a potential long-term solution to reducing crime and preventing violence from being normalized in California’s neighborhoods any longer.

NAME OF ORGANIZATION is in strong support of this bill to expand the Victim Compensation Fund and respectfully requests your “aye” vote.

 

Sincerely,

Name, Signature

Title, Organization

 

Again, please e-mail us a copy of your letters and we can also make sure they are delivered next week.  Thank you your support on these bills!

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