06/29/2012 05:22 pm ET Updated Aug 29, 2012

A Glimmer of Hope in the CA Budget

Finally, there was a silver lining amid the bad news of the California budget. With the Governor's signing of the new budget, the controversial practice of time adds in our youth prisons will finally end bringing a sliver of justice and hope to California youth and families.

I don't want to gloss over the bad news and big cuts that also came with the approved budget. For example, our State Legislature decided to eliminate the Healthy Families program which has provided health coverage for over 880,000 young Californians. The cuts will be felt deeply, and if the tax revenue ballot initiative--the 1% tax--fails to pass in November, even more cuts will hit our most vulnerable communities.

But yesterday, the Legislature finally listened to what we have been saying for years -- time adds in the DJJ do not work, they cost Californians money we can not afford and only contribute to the failure of our juvenile system.

Time adds are a process where guards and other staff can delay youths' parole consideration hearings without judicial review. These delays are so overused that on average they add an entire year to youths' sentences, which is one reason why California youth serve the longest average sentences in the country.

Time Adds are an arbitrary way of robbing hope from DJJ youth and their families. With no judge to review them, or other system of accountability, prison guards use this disciplinary measure for a wide range of offenses. Yet, research demonstrates that time adds do not lead to desired behavior, and do not contribute to institutional safety.

For many years, the amount of time you serve in the DJJ has no relation to your readiness for release, nor to your initial offense and sentencing. The predominance of time adds has left youth and their families hopeless, feeling like they will be caught in the system forever. And for many of them, that is true.

Think about the worst mistake you have ever made. For some of us it's something small. But for many of us, it was when we were at our worst. Now imagine that for the rest of your life you would only be seen as that worst mistake- unworthy of a second chance, a lost cause. That is how our juvenile justice system too often treats youth.

Thanks to this reform, youth will now receive timely opportunities for parole consideration. Though the warehouse prisons of the DJJ still fail to help youth get their lives back on track, at least now young people will spend less overall time locked up being abused and harmed- saving millions for our cash-strapped state.

And while it's a small silver lining, after more than 6 years of trying to eliminate time ads with our Books Not Bars campaign, it is one I'm thrilled to celebrate. Join our Books Not Bars campaign today to stand with us and celebrate this important step forward for California.