SACRAMENTO, CA – This past weekend California Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 1276 Youth Offenders: Security Placement authored by Assemblymember Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica). Members and leaders of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC) co-sponsored this bill with Human Rights Watch and Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey.

AB 1276 requires the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to conduct committee-based, specialized review for persons under the age of 22 entering prison.  This allows for special consideration of young people to be placed at a lower security level facility with increased access to education, self-help, and supportive programs.  This bill has the potential to dramatically change the lives of thousands of young people entering prison prevent the state’s youngest prisoners from being initiated into incarceration with these experiences that only push them further into trauma and negative outcomes.

“Whether living in a college dorm or a prison cell, young adults have to make important decisions about their identity and path in life,” says Elizabeth Calvin of Human Rights Watch. “Young people are more susceptible than older adults to influences around them, both good and bad. This new law is an opportunity to positively shape the direction of a young person’s life.”

In California, an estimated 4,800 people under the age of 22 are admitted to prisons each year.  Current practice routinely sends these young prisoners to maximum-security units, known as “Level IV yards,” where they are most vulnerable to assault, violence, and a lack of hope or positive programs.  AB 1276 supports an investment in inmates that boasts an even bigger return.  In over 50 studies conducted by RAND, prisoners who participated in education and supportive programs were 43 percent less likely to recidivate.  Investing in education then becomes an issue of public safety and costs the state less.

“We were more subject to getting lost in the system than what we would be if we were placed in a lower level unit,” says ARC Member Manny Velasco, “this bill is so important in giving young people a chance at rehabilitation.”

AB 1276 recognizes the vulnerability of young people, while also highlighting their potential.  In Level IV yards, “your mindset isn’t adult yet.  You aren’t thinking the same way you would as an adult and you are the youngest one in there,” says ARC Member Adrian Vasquez who was incarcerated for 22 years and housed in a Level IV yard for three years, “I would have gotten my AA degree and started programming much earlier.  I’m still working on getting over some of the negative experiences.”

Under the new law, California recognizes that young people have a huge capacity to change and should have access to educational opportunities, drug treatment programs, self-help groups, job training and positive skill development.  Fewer young adults will be made worse by the culture of the prison system. This bill will have a tremendous impact on the lives of young people, especially the role education, positive mentors and rehabilitation play in reducing recidivism and increasing success upon release.