Lawsuit Charges San Francisco with Unlawfully Incarcerating Black 15-Year-Old

Categories: Homepage, Litigation, News

June 20, 2018 – For Immediate Release
Media Contact: media@baylegal.org

Juvenile Probation Department held minor in custody for days after court ordered his release

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Yesterday, Bay Area Legal Aid filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City and County of San Francisco, the San Francisco Juvenile Probation Department, Chief Allen Nance, and three individual officers for unlawful incarceration of a minor. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Tureko Straughter and her son, K.R., who at fifteen years old was held in locked custody for days after a judge had ordered him released.

“A child was unjustly and unnecessarily locked up for days,” said Meredith Desautels, who is representing Ms. Straughter and K.R. on behalf of Bay Area Legal Aid. “This case is emblematic of a systemic problem we have here in San Francisco and around the state. Too often, incarceration is a default response to youthful behavior, even though we know that incarceration is harmful and disproportionately impacts young people of color. Our young people deserve to be treated with fairness and respect for their fundamental rights.”

The suit alleges that on June 29, 2017, K.R. was detained by San Francisco Police Department officers on charges related to a non-violent property offense. Under the law, K.R. should have been released to his mother that evening. Instead, officers of the Juvenile Probation Department booked K.R. into custody. A judge reviewed K.R.’s case the next day and ordered K.R. to be released. Despite receiving that court order, the Juvenile Probation Department did not release K.R., keeping him incarcerated for days in the county’s locked juvenile facility. Only when his case was again brought before a judge, on July 3, did the Department finally release him.

“Finding out my son was supposed to be released really hurt,” said Ms. Straughter. “He could have been home with me and his brothers. I was scared for him. My son had never been in trouble before and you hear all these stories about what goes on in there. To know my child was there, and didn’t have to be is just not right. I honestly feel it’s a waste of our tax dollars – that money could be put back into the community for positive things.”

Research shows that incarceration of youth is associated with negative impacts, including reduced educational attainment and poor long-term health and psychosocial outcomes. Incarceration rates for African-American youth are disproportionate in jurisdictions across the country, placing them at the greatest risk of harm. This is especially true in San Francisco, where in 2017 more than half of youth booked into juvenile hall were African-American—in a city where African Americans make up less than
6% of the population. In light of these facts, there is a need for greater scrutiny of the detention practices of the San Francisco Juvenile Probation Department, and particularly their disproportional impact on African-American youth.

Incarceration of youth is also expensive. The budget for San Francisco’s juvenile hall for fiscal year 2017-2018 was over $13 million. In 2017, the average daily population of young people incarcerated in juvenile hall was 45 youth. On average, San Francisco spends almost $300,000 per youth it incarcerates.

“Instead of juvenile hall, I think the City should invest in the community,” said K.R. “Youth community centers provide important support to young people. If $13 million went to our community centers, I think we’d see young people doing positive things, and not going to jail.”

“My organization has worked for years with the young people in San Francisco who are most impacted by racism, poverty, and system-involvement,” said Jessica Nowlan, Executive Director of the Young Women’s Freedom Center. “When youth are heard, supported, and given opportunities in a safe and healing environment, they thrive. Investing in such supports for youth, rather than relying on punishment, would promote true well-being, both for our young people and our entire community.”

Read the complaint

Read coverage of this case in the San Francisco Chronicle