BayLegal Lawsuit Helps Spotlight Systemic Problems with Juvenile Detention in 4 Bay Area Counties

Categories: Homepage, News, Other

A November 9th story on NBC Bay Area by Liz Wagner, Michael Bott, and Jeremy Carroll finds that 4 of 5 Bay Area counties investigated are deciding in a majority of cases to hold kids in pre-trial juvenile detention when their own assessment tools indicate pre-trial release. This investigative report emerged from discussions between BayLegal and reporters that began in June 2018 around the case of Straughter v. City and County of San Franciso et al.

In this federal civil rights lawsuit, Tureko Straughter and her son K.R. hold that the City and County of San Francisco, the San Francisco Juvenile Probation Department, Chief Allen Nance, and three individual officers unlawfully incarcerated K.R., who was 15 years old at the time. K.R. was arrested and charged with a nonviolent property offense, and then held for several days even though the Juvenile Probation Department’s own risk assessment indicated he should be released and a judge had ordered his release. Ms. Straughter and K.R. are represented by BayLegal Youth Justice attorney Meredith Desautels.

Risk assessment instruments for juvenile pre-trial detention are supposed to help alleviate sometimes-extreme disproportionality in detention practices for African American youth and other youth of color as compared to white youth, and to establish clear and objective standards for juvenile detention practices. The possibility that Juvenile Probation departments might be using discretionary overrides of these assessments more broadly is thus deeply concerning, and was raised as an issue by reporters with whom BayLegal staff spoke around the time of the initial filing in the case. The subsequent reporting by the NBC Bay Area team has surfaced a disturbing pattern in four counties, where overrides occur in more than 60% of juvenile detention cases. The counties of San Francisco, Alameda, Sonoma, and Santa Clara are holding majorities of arrested juveniles in detention based on individual decisions that disagree with their own assessments, and despite the extensive research documenting the negative impacts of incarceration on youth and the disproportionate incarceration of African American youth. Of the five counties that released data to the investigative team, Solano County was the sole exception, overriding its assessment instrument in only 1.6% of cases. (Five other Bay Area counties either do not use assessment instruments, or would not release data to the investigative team).

We are grateful to NBC Bay Area and to Liz Wagner, Michael Bott, and Jeremy Carroll for their detailed and extensive investigative reporting. We hope that this report opens a public conversation about changing the systems by which juveniles charged with nonviolent offenses are incarcerated, and helps create greater accountability and equity around this process. We have learned through this work that K.R.’s case is in many respects the case of thousands of other young people in the Bay Area, and we hope that Meredith’s and BayLegal’s work to secure justice for him can also bring justice to them.