ACLU Sues Riverside Over Youth Diversion Program
The American Civil Liberties Union is suing Riverside County over an early youth diversion program which it says ‘criminalizes’ normal acts of rebellion, sets children up to fail, and violates their constitutional rights.
The informal program is a product of the probation department’s “Youth Accountability Team,” which is aimed at identifying troubled youth before they enter the juvenile justice system. Each year, nearly 400 students in Riverside County are placed under YAT’s supervision, entering into contracts that allow for monitoring and home visits, drug testing, community services, tours of the local jail, and more.
In its complaint, the ACLU argues that even the most minor infractions can land a child in the YAT program. One black child, the suit alleges, was placed on YAT probation for “pulling the race card.” Children as young as the first grade have also been referred to the YAT, the suit claims.
Once in the program, the civil rights organization says law enforcement personnel have carte blanche to take actions that would typically require a warrant. The lawsuit quotes former Senior Probation Officer Debbie Waddell as saying, “what we’re really doing is using this program to get them into the system by fingerprinting and photographing them. We can search their homes any time we want and work to obtain evidence against them so that when we can get ‘em, we can really get ‘em!” According to the suit, “former Riverside County Deputy District Attorney Anthony Villalobos followed these statements, explaining, ‘We can do all kinds of surveillance, including wire taps on phones, without having to get permission from a judge.’”
In addition to being counterproductive, the ACLU alleges the YAT program violates the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and Article I, sections 2a, 3, 7, and 13 of the California Constitution, as well as the California Government Code.
The suit was filed on behalf of four plaintiffs: a 15-year-old student of Valley View High School in the Moreno Valley Unified School District; a 16-year-old student of Riverside Education Academy, a military academy associated with the Riverside County Office of Education; a 17-year-old student of Val Verde High School in the Val Verde Unified School District; and a local non-profit organization which services struggling youth.
Read the entire complaint here.