The two-year bill was filed as inactive in August, but will be picked up by California lawmakers in 2022.
“My skin was raw and cut open from the GPS being too tight.”
Evelyn Canal remembers one of the Oakland, California, police officers taunting her, “You’ll be back here in a week,” as he tightened the GPS bracelet on her ankle. He ignored her complaints of it being too tight. Canal was 15 when she was first placed on probation. It felt like a bribe to get her out of Alameda County Juvenile Hall, where she was told it was a voluntary condition required for release. Canal remembers violations for charging her bracelet one minute late and breaking curfew. So the officer was right, because each probation violation resulted in a two-week stay in juvenile hall.
Assemblymember Mark Stone introduced Assembly Bill 503 in February to prevent this kind of cycle. Known by advocates as “The End Endless Probation Act,” this legislation limits the conditions of juvenile probation to what is deemed developmentally appropriate. It requires status reviews every six months to ensure that young people are dismissed from probation’s supervision and connected with supportive services as soon as that is in their best interest. The goal is to avoid recidivism associated with probation violations that often have nothing to do with the original probation order, and to meet youths’ needs. Furthermore, the six-month mark ensures young people are regularly checking in and connecting to services.
Canal recalls a multitude of officers and their relationships being punitive. When she was at the hospital with her grandmother providing translation services, an officer called to demand that she turn herself in for a recent probation violation regarding curfew. She said the officer was screaming and cussing at her on the phone.
The bill was ordered inactive less than two weeks before the last day of the legislative session, Sept. 10. Since it is a two-year bill, it will be picked up during California’s 2022 legislative session. Unlike most bills which have to pass through appropriations committees in both the Assembly and Senate, this is not a fiscal bill. In fact, the bill is likely to save county probation departments money by reducing the number and length of time youth are under their supervision. It would also answer the growing calls for less punitive responses to youth who commit crimes.
The burden on families who have youth under probation supervision is high as well. Canal pointed out that having to get transportation from where she lived in Oakland to the juvenile hall in San Leandro every time she was required to report was challenging for her family. “It was hard for my dad to drive me, and you have to remember some families don’t even have cars.”
Last year, a similar bill, Assembly Bill 1950, was signed into law limiting adult probation terms to one and two years for misdemeanors and felonies, respectively. In California, youth spend an average of two years on probation, and the racial disparities are stark.
In 2019, about 19,000 youth were under the supervision of juvenile probation departments in California, and 87% of them were youth of color. Black youth are nearly nine times more likely to be placed on probation than white youth, and Latinx youth are more than twice as likely. The racial disparities are also evident in the length of time youth spend on probation, with Latinx youth serving an average of 693 days, Asian youth at 662 days, Black youth at 630, and white youth at 485 days. According to the data from Santa Clara County, Latino youth spent on average 208 days more than white youth on probation. Asian youth spent 177 days longer than white youth, and Black youth spent 145 days longer.
When Canal was arrested, incarcerated and supervised by probation, she experienced these systemic inequities and the very personal consequences. She recalls an intake officer commenting and joking about “the Mexican kids” always being locked up. She is Peruvian and noticed the racial tension of mostly white officers.
In some places in the U.S., courts can order more than 30 conditions of probation in legal jargon that can be hard for youth to understand and even remember. These conditions remain in effect throughout the entire course of a young person’s probation sentence. This means that each additional day spent on probation puts them at greater risk of violation, which could lead to longer probation sentences or incarceration. According to a report from the National Juvenile Defender Center, 17% of youth in residential placement facility detention in 2013 were held on probation violations. Most of these violations are status offenses, which means they would not be considered a crime if the youth was a legal adult. Some examples of status offenses include staying out past curfew, underage drinking or marijuana use, running away from home and school truancy. Together, this data tells the story of how racial disparity in probation length and requirements provide a direct link to disproportionate incarceration.
Even if this bill becomes a law, there is a lot of work to be done to ensure counties adhere to its terms. Since it allows for probation extensions in six-month increments if the court determines it is in the youth’s best interest to do so, implementation efforts are particularly crucial in counties where youth are already spending long periods of time on probation, such as San Joaquin County. There should be a concerted effort to educate all parties about adolescent brain development and the need to connect youth to community services rather than continue surveillance under probation.
As for Canal, she is now a 20-year-old college student with ambitions of obtaining a business degree. She works as a Dream Beyond Bars Fellow at Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ) in Oakland. She is passionate about creating pathways for justice-involved youth to receive the healing they need. That is why she supported the bill. “The officers made it particularly hard for me when they were supposed to be the same ones rehabilitating me,” she said. “They were keeping me on GPS and keeping me in the hall. What I really needed was somebody who was in my best interest.”