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May 1995

Please note:
See our January 2007 publication, California’s Criminal Justice System: A Primer, which provides updated data related to the juvenile justice system as well as answers to the following questions: Who Are Juvenile Offenders? How Prevalent Is Juvenile Crime in California? What Happens to Juvenile Offenders? It also discusses (a) reforming the division of juvenile justice and (a) defining state and local responsibilities for juvenile offenders.

Juvenile Crime--Outlook for California
Part V



How Does California's Juvenile Justice System Work?

Goals of the Juvenile Justice System. Both California's adult and juvenile justice systems have as one of their goals public safety. California's adult system also has punishment of offenders as a goal, while California's juvenile justice system has a different goal--treatment and rehabilitation of juvenile offenders. To this end, the state's juvenile justice system has a broad array of methods and programs for addressing juvenile crime, taking into account the severity of the offense and the background of the offender. These include treatment programs, detention, incarceration, and community supervision. Generally, the system provides for escalating responses to offenses of increasing severity, such as informal probation, formal probation, detention, and incarceration. And, because the system has as a goal rehabilitation, many more agencies have a role to play in California's juvenile justice system than in the adult system, including schools, social services agencies, and community-based orga nizations.

The Juvenile Justice Process. Following the arrest of a juvenile offender, a law enforcement officer has the discretion to release the juvenile to his or her parents, or take the offender to juvenile hall. The county probation department, the agency responsible for the juvenile hall, has the discretion to accept and "book" the offender or not, in which case, the disposition of the juvenile is left to the police. Because most of the state's juvenile halls are overcrowded, mainly with juveniles being held for violent offenses, juvenile halls may accept only the most violent arrestees, turning away most other arrestees.

If the offender is placed in juvenile hall, the probation department and/or the district attorney can choose to file a "petition" with the juvenile court, which is similar to filing charges in adult court. Or, the district attorney may request that the juvenile be "remanded" to adult court because the juvenile is "unfit" to be adjudicated as a juvenile due to the nature of his or her offense. For a juvenile who is adjudicated and whose petition is sustained (tried and convicted) in juvenile court, the offender can be placed on probation in the community, placed in a foster care or group home, incarcerated in the county's juvenile ranch or camp, or sent to the Youth Authority as a ward of the state. For a juvenile tried and convicted in adult court, the offender can be sentenced to the Department of Corrections, but can be placed in the Youth Authority through age 24.

The Prominent Role of County Probation Departments. County probation departments supervise 97 percent of all juvenile offenders; the remaining 3 percent are committed to the Youth Authority and become a state responsibility. In contrast, about 18 percent of convicted adults are sent to state prison and become a state responsibility. County probation departments make recommendations to judges on placements and sentencing of juveniles, supervise these offenders in the community, provide rehabilitation and training services to probationers, and operate juvenile halls and county ranches and camps.


Wide Variety of Treatment Services for Juvenile Offenders


Who Exercises Discretion in the Juvenile Justice System?



Typical Outcomes of 1,000 Juvenile Contacts With Police


Profile of Juvenile Offenders


Counties With Juvenile Detention Facilities


California Youth Authority Facilities


Youth Authority Institutions Are Overcrowded


Who Is in the Youth Authority?

June 30, 1994


Most Youth Authority Wards Are Older Than Age 17

June 30, 1994


Return Juvenile Crime Table of Contents

Visit the 2007 Publication, California’s Criminal Justice System: A Primer

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