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California’s Juvenile Halls Are Supposed To Hold Just The Worst Young Offenders. The Truth Is A Different Story

Probation chiefs and other officials in many counties across California say juvenile halls, which stand mostly empty following years of steep declines in youth crime, primarily hold the most serious and violent criminals. But a Chronicle investigation found that is not true: Thousands of teens like Marie are held for minor offenses.

State law prohibits the detention of children and teenagers in juvenile halls unless they pose a danger to themselves or the community, are a flight risk or would not be safe if released. Yet probation officers and judges broadly interpret that standard, often holding young people in cells for low-level crimes, even if they pose little risk to the public.

State data show that nearly a third of kids held in California’s juvenile halls in the past two years were accused of misdemeanor crimes or probation violations related to those offenses.

One in 5 – roughly 550 a month – were booked solely on technical probation violations — mostly noncriminal offenses such as habitually skipping school, breaking curfew or drinking alcohol.