Policy Advocacy

Haywood Burns Institute remains at the forefront of policy reforms to reduce the number of youth harmed by the justice system, focusing on the disparate impact of system decision-making on youth of color. Over the past seven years, BI has co-sponsored numerous bill and other legislative efforts to promote equity in the administration of justice in our home state of California including:


Calif. Assembly Bill 503:

This bill would create a presumptive termination of probation for youth under community supervision after six (6) months. A judge can extend probation for a youth after six months if a judge finds by a preponderance of the evidence that it is in the youth’s best interest to do so.  AB 503 also codifies a recent California Supreme Court case that requires probations conditions are individually tailored, developmentally appropriate and proportional.

Every year, thousands of youth in California are placed on wardship probation by judges that have determined these youth can be supervised in their community. However, there is no standard process or system for accountability to allow youth on probation’s cases to be reviewed by the courts. Youth of color are disproportionately impacted by extended probation periods, spending an average of two years on probation. The amount of time youth spend on probation and the number of conditions that youth are subjected to vary widely jurisdiction by jurisdiction, resulting in justice by geography. Adolescent psychology research shows that keeping youth on probation longer than six months does not result in public safety gains. Endless probation further harms youth who are already dealing with trauma, from extremely unrealistic requirements that lead to technical violations, increasing stigma and lack of confidence, and limiting ability to pursue positive activities.

BI Co-authored a report highlighting the need for AB 503:  End Endless Probation.

Download a Fact Sheet on AB 503


Calif. Assembly Bill 2417 (Youth Bill of Rights):

California’s 2022 Youth Bill of Rights legislation would ensure that youth who are incarcerated know their rights and are informed of the newly-established state ombudsperson office in the Office of Youth and Community Restoration.

A Youth Bill of Rights exists in current California law, but it will soon be rendered meaningless. Existing law applies only to youth incarcerated at the state’s youth prison for youth, Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), and legislation enacted in 2020 will close DJJ in June 2023. Soon, counties will have full responsibility for youth incarceration. This shift to a wholly county-based youth justice system, along with mandates to support youth in a health-based, rather than correctional framework, represent an unprecedented transformation of the state’s youth justice system.  Assembly Bill 2417 will ensure that youth incarcerated in any of the state’s 58 counties will understand their rights and know how to proceed with complaints if their rights are violated.




CA Proposition 57: The Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016.

BI worked with a statewide coalition of grassroots organizations to draft and advocate for a ballot initiative that ends the power of prosecutors to transfer youth as young as 14 years-old into adult court without a hearing before a juvenile court judge. Youth are now guaranteed a hearing to determine whether their case should be transferred to criminal court, and the burden falls on the prosecutors to prove why a youth should be charged as an adult. Proposition 57 also permits parole for people who are incarcerated in state prison with a “nonviolent” conviction and provides incentives for incarcerated people to complete rehabilitative programs inside.

Read Our Report on Youth Prosecuted in California


CA Senate Bill 190 (2017)

A bill that successfully repealed a county’s authority to charge administrative fees to parents and guardians for their child’s detention, legal representation, probation supervision, electronic monitoring and drug testing in the juvenile system.  The passage of SB 190 was a victory for reducing the negative financial impact justice system involvement has on youth of color in California. It made California the first state to eliminate all juvenile administrative fees and set a precedent for advocacy organizations across the country to address this important issue in their respective states.  BI assisted University of California, Berkeley School of Law with a publication highlighting the harmful and inequitable consequences of administrative fees.


CA Senate Bill 1391 (2018):

 This legislation put an end to the adult court prosecution of 14- and 15-year-olds. After decades of dealing with youth 15 years and younger in its rehabilitation-focused juvenile justice system, in 1995 California discarded its longstanding approach and adopted a new law allowing 14- and 15-year-olds to be tried in adult criminal court. Prior to SB 1391, a young teenager in criminal court in California was treated in every way just like an adult: the same procedures, laws, and sentences—including adult prison—are applied with virtually no exception. When a young person is tried as an adult, it means they are denied the full services and treatment of the legal system for youth The decision to try a young person as an adult is undeniably a decision to give up on that youth. The 1995 law was the product of a “tough on crime” period of racialized fear-mongering and false predictions of increased crime and the rise of the “super-predator” youth.  The legacy of the biases played out which youth were prosecuted as adults. Black 14- and 15- year-olds were 11 times more likely, and Latino teens five times more likely, to be prosecuted in adult court for similar crimes as white children.  BI published a report, Futures Denied, which outlined the need for a change in law and which was instrumental in educating legislators.  In addition, BI published numerous reports highlighting racial and ethnic disparities in the prosecution of youth as adults including a 2015 report, Ending Adult Prosecution, a 2016 update to that report; and a 2017 report, Youth Prosecuted as Adults.

Note: Following SB 1391, numerous counties challenged its constitutionality. In a case that went to the CA Supreme Court, BI submitted an Amicus Brief in support of SB 1931 that highlighted inequities in the prosecution of youth adults.  The California Supreme Court ultimately upheld the constitutionality of SB 1391.


CA Senate Bill 439 (2018):

This legislation put an end to the prosecution of children under 12, except in the most serious cases of murder and forcible rape. Instead, counties will refer young children to appropriate services in response to youthful misbehavior. Prior to SB 439, California had no law specifying a minimum age for prosecution in juvenile court. Children as young as five had been referred to the justice system and subject to prosecution before the legislation. Young children of color were significantly more likely than young white children to face prosecution. Nearly 80 percent of children under 12 referred for prosecution were Latino or Black.  The intent of the law is to protect young children from the harms and adverse consequences of the juvenile justice system and encourage more effective interventions, if appropriate, to improve both children’s well-being and public safety. SB 439 will ensure that young children of color are no longer subjected, disproportionately, to the harm and stigma of the juvenile court system.


Watch: BI Policy Director Laura Ridolfi testify on behalf on the bill at the Assembly Public Safety Committee on June 12, 2018. You can find the footage here [at the 43:30 mark]

Note: Following the enactment of SB 439, In 2019, BI co-authored an Implementation Guide to help jurisdictions with their legal mandate to develop a county protocol for referring youth under the age of 12 to community-based resources outside of the justice system.


CA Assembly Bill 901 (2020):

AB 901 ensures that youth who have not been accused of breaking the law are not subject to harmful justice system interventions. This bill supports a new vision for youth development and system diversion throughout California – one that recognizes youth by their strengths, promotes meaningful community and school-based interventions to support youth in their development and educational success, eliminates “voluntary probation supervision,” and reduces the high economic and emotional costs of youth arrest, court involvement, detention and incarceration that occur much more often once youth come into contact with probation and other law enforcement.


CA Senate Bill 823 (2020) and Senate Bill 92 (2021).:

This legislative package ultimately leads to dissolution of California’s Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) and transfers the responsibility for the custody, treatment, and supervision of youth to the counties.


SB 823 accomplished the following:

  • Ended intake to DJJ on July 1, 2020 except in limited cases where a youth may be transferred to adult court.
  • Established the first ever state agency to oversee youth involved in the justice system, the Office of Youth and Community Restoration (OYCR). This critical agency is charged with a bold mission “to promote trauma responsive, culturally informed services for youth involved in the juvenile justice system that support the youths’ successful transition into adulthood and help them become responsible, thriving and engaged members of their communities.”
  • Created Ombudsman authority in the OYCR to investigate complaints from local jurisdictions, investigate and resolve complaints collaborating with state and local authorities.
  • Established a Juvenile Justice Realignment Block Grant (JJRBG) that allocates over $200 million to counties for the care of youth.
  • Extended the age of juvenile court jurisdiction and age of confinement in local juvenile facilities.
  • Required the California Department of Justice to develop and submit a plan to the Legislature for replacing the state juvenile justice data collection and reporting system with a new system by January 2023.


SB 92 accomplished some of the following:

  • Established what is colloquially referred to a “secure track” for youth who would otherwise be committed to DJJ. The “secure track” is a critical component of the closure of DJJ to prevent an increase in adult court prosecutions.  Numerous protections are afforded youth who are considered for the “secure track,” including but not limited to:
    • Individual Rehabilitation plans, which must be developed with input from the young person and their family
    • Progress review hearings every six months, at which the court reviews the youth’s progress with their IRP and may reduce the youth’s baseline confinement time and at which the court may consider transferring the youth to a less restrictive program, in a residential setting or in the community, for the remainder of their baseline time (as modified).

Read: BI-produced a fact sheet outlining the significant racial and ethnic disparities in commitments to DJJ and adult court prosecutions.


Youth Reinvestment Fund (2017-2019) : 

This budgetary bill establishes a $37 million fund for community-based alternatives to juvenile incarceration. BI partnered with several youth-serving organizations to raise visibility of the legislation.