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LOS ANGELES (AP) — An attempt to keep California juvenile offenders out of detention centers has thrust them into a system with differing and overly strict rules that send many back behind bars for minor violations, according to a report released Wednesday.
Rules for juveniles who are sentenced to wear GPS ankle monitors are "unrealistically onerous" and "undermine the rehabilitative purpose of the juvenile justice system," said researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and the East Bay Community Law Center in a report .
After juveniles are accused of crimes, a judge can choose to sentence them to juvenile detention or require them to wear GPS ankle monitor and abide by a set of rules set by probation officials. Because there are no statewide policies in place, it is left to individual counties to establish the rules for juvenile probationers.
In Northern California's Lassen County, juveniles are required to follow a set of 56 rules, but in San Francisco County, they are only subject to 10 rules, according to the report. The rules also vary from county to county.
"People in one county didn't even know what the county next door's policies were," said Catherine Crump, an assistant clinical professor at the UC Berkeley School of Law.
It is difficult to determine how the rules in California counties compare across the U.S. because in other large states, including Florida and Texas, the rules also vary from county to county, said Laura Abrams, who chairs the social welfare department at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Some smaller states have centralized probation systems, meaning all offenders need to follow the same set of rules, she said.
"I'm not sure disparities are this large in other states, partly because California is so diverse," Abrams said.
The researchers also found that the system disproportionately affects youths of color.
Some counties require a parent be home at all times, that schedules be approved weeks in advance, or that landline phones be set up in the home, which could prove to be a hurdle for a child from a poorer home, said Kate Weisburd, a supervising attorney at the East Bay Community Law Center.
If they violate the rules, a judge could order the juvenile offender behind bars, often leading to a repetitive cycle in and out of juvenile detention facilities.
In several counties, families are required to pay for the monitoring and are charged monthly fees. Several California counties also bill families if their children are incarcerated in juvenile detention centers.
A measure wading through the state Legislature would prohibit counties from charging parents for their children's incarceration.
Weisburd, who defends juveniles in court, said one of her teenage clients was arrested for trying to steal a classmate's backpack and was sentenced to probation with electronic monitoring.
The teenager, who has attention deficit hyperactivity order, couldn't just stay in his house and repeatedly violated the monitoring rules, she said. The teen cycled in and out of juvenile detention centers seven times.
The system is "undermining rather than supporting and helping" juvenile offenders, Weisburd said.
Follow Michael Balsamo on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MikeBalsamo1 .