Los Angeles County officials last week were notified by Judge Michael Nash, presiding juvenile court judge for Los Angeles Superior Court, that currently proposed state budget cuts would heavily impact the county juvenile court system. Among current proposals are the elimination of all 13 Informal Juvenile and Traffic Courts (IJTC) across the county as well as the closure of four delinquency courts, in Sylmar, Inglewood, Eastlake and Pomona.
In response, David Sapp, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, issued the following statement: “Even now, delinquency courts are struggling with an enormous caseload -- this would dump some 65,000 additional cases a year into that system, a more than 200-percent increase over their current caseload.
“The Informal Juvenile and Traffic Courts were set up to handle minor infractions so that delinquency courts could handle felony offenses. Eliminating them would mean that victimless crimes like underage tobacco possession and jaywalking would be funneled into a criminal court system that does nothing to address the behavior that led to the offenses in the first place.
“Delinquency courts are structured as adversarial criminal courts, with district attorneys, public defenders, and probation officers stationed in each. That system was designed to handle cases where youth face being placed on formal probation, which carries the possibility of being removed from their home and placed in a locked probation camp. That system is simply not suited to the types of offenses currently handled by Informal Juvenile and Traffic Courts. Overly-harsh sentencing is a distinct possibility.
“The probation system is just now implementing a court-ordered realignment of the state prison population, and adding an additional 65,000 cases to the mix would pose a logistical nightmare. The closure of the IJTC system would be an administrative trainwreck for courts, probation, DA and law enforcement agencies.”
In 2011, IJTCs heard some 77,000 cases, including 12,000 traffic violations. Those cases would be sent to adult traffic courts. The 24 remaining delinquency courts would be left to handle the remaining cases. Last year, the 28 delinquency courts handled approximately 17,000 cases.