Last summer, we wrote about the Riverside County Youth Accountability Team Program (YAT) and how it treated teens, never convicted of crimes, as criminals. The program was designed to scare kids, mostly black and Latinos, straight. However, all the initiative did was contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline. Kids whose only infractions were a failure to cooperate with school faculty members found themselves on probation.
As we pointed out last year, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, Northern California, San Diego, and the National Center for Youth Law filed a lawsuit to end the YAT program. In July, the ACLU announced that their efforts paid off; a settlement was reached with the federal district court that severs the relationship between Riverside County school districts and the probation department.
The YAT program has been in place since 2001; thousands of young people have been needlessly affected and had their rights violated since its inception. Probation is not an effective way to address the needs of children who have bad grades or struggle with trauma and mental health issues. The proposed settlement will hopefully lead to kids getting much-needed resources.
Setting an Example for the Nation
Even though research shows that juvenile probation is ineffective and even harmful to young people, that was the model for the last 18 years. Youths who were unable to stay on track in school found themselves in the criminal justice system.
The ACLU was able to show the court that the YAT program subjected kids to lengthy lists of conditions with zero-tolerance consequences. Young people in the program were regularly drug tested and had to deal with surprise searches of their home and person.
Rather than diverting students to law enforcement for non-criminal offenses like truancy and defiance, they will now receive counseling and other school and community-based supports. The ACLU writes that the county has committed reinvesting millions of dollars in community organizations that will better serve young people than the criminal justice system.
Students who commit crimes will be guaranteed the right to legal representation throughout the entirety of diversion. They will no longer be subject to rules and restrictions that violate their rights. What’s more, probation officers will undergo specialized training to ensure they comply with the new protocols.
The ACLU hopes that Riverside County’s new approach will one day serve as a model for juvenile justice nationwide.
Orange County, CA Juvenile Criminal Attorney
If your son or daughter is facing criminal charges or a school expulsion hearing in California, then The Law Offices of Katie Walsh can help. Attorney Walsh has the experience and knowledge to advocate for your family effectively. Please contact us today to learn more.