Juvenile Justice System: Quick Facts for Parents Who Get the Phone Call From Law Enforcement

The juvenile justice system can seem like a black box to people who don’t work within it or have contact with it. 

The Deputy Sheriffs’ Association of Santa Clara County understands the system because many of our members are part of it. We would like to offer some background from the State of California and the County Superior Court on how it works. 

Most parents or guardians in Santa Clara County will never receive a telephone call from a law enforcement agency telling them that their son or daughter has been arrested for committing a crime. But if they do get the call, or think they might, then this information will be useful. 

Counties in California are almost entirely responsible for housing and supervising young people who commit crimes. Locked state facilities house about 1% of juveniles convicted of serious, violent or sex offenses. 

The juvenile justice system’s goal is treatment and rehabilitation of young offenders.  This is in contrast to the adult system, which has adds punishment to its goals along with rehabilitation. 

The Santa Clara County Superior Court adjudicates the cases and assesses penalties while the county Probation Dept. provides rehabilitation services and community supervision. 

For criminal offenders under the age of 18: Police e officers or sheriff’s deputies will fill out a report on any crime allegedly committed by someone up to 18 years old documenting the criminal actions by the offender.   

For less-serious crimes: The child goes home: The County’s current policy is to encourage rehabilitation and avoid incarceration whenever possible.  If the suspected crime is a misdemeanor or, in other words, not a serious crime, most felonies not involving serious violence, the deputy or officer will usually cite and release the child to parents. The child’s probation officer will make an appointment with the parent and child. 

If the case is handled informally, here is what can happen: 

• Restorative Justice Program: The probation officer can assign the parent and child to talk with neighborhood group that will decide what the child must do and what rules will need to be followed. The Probation Dept. record disappears when the child successfully completes the program. 

• Informal Supervision: Under this, the parent, child and the probation officer will agree to what the young person will do and how often he or she will have to meet with the probation officer. This lasts from six months to a year. 

Serious Crimes: Juvenile Hall: If law enforcement believes a child has committed a serious crime, police will take him or her to Juvenile Hall, a locked facility. Parents get a telephone call when the child is admitted. The child may be able to come home within a day or two. Visits are possible under certain rules, and the child may phone the parent. 

In serious crimes, the county Superior Court handles the case. Parents will get a call with the date and time of the court hearing at the Juvenile Justice Courthouse on Guadalupe Parkway in San Jose. 

If a parent would like a lawyer for the child and can’t afford one, the court will assign a public defender at no cost. 

There are two to four hearings, depending on the case. 

In the first one, the judge decides if the child can go home from Juvenile Hall or if the young person has to stay. In the second, the judge decides if the charges against the child are true. In the third, the judge decides if the child will be charged as an adult. 

In the rare fourth hearing, the judge has already decided that the charges against the child are true, and he or she will decide what the sanctions will be. 

These sanctions can include being placed on formal supervision with a probation officer and serious rules. They could also include the child staying in Juvenile Hall, living in a foster home, staying at a Juvenile Probation Ranch or being sent to the California Youth Authority, where the child is locked up for a sentence determined by the judge. 

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