To understand how the juvenile system of California works, it is important to understand that the primary goal of California juvenile law is the treatment and rehabilitation of juvenile offenders. To meet this goal, the Juvenile Justice System of California has a broad array of programs and methods used to address juvenile crime. The manner in which each case is handled depends on the offender’s background and the severity of the offense.

The methods and programs used to treat and rehabilitate juveniles in the system include:

  • Treatment programs
  • Probation
  • Detention
  • Parole
  • Community supervision

In the event of an escalating severity of offenses, the severity of the penalties escalates as well, with formal or informal probation, detention, and incarceration.

The juvenile justice system works with many other institutions, including social services agencies, community-based organizations, schools, and other community entities, to work toward its goal of reforming the juveniles in the system. To get the most successful result out of juvenile justice system treatment and rehabilitation services, any juvenile facing charges should consult with a juvenile defense attorney.

The Juvenile Justice Process

After a juvenile is arrested, law enforcement officers have the discretion to return the juvenile to their parents. Alternatively, they can take the juvenile offender to juvenile hall. Juvenile hall is under the county probation department, which has the discretion to book offenders or release them back to law enforcement. Most juveniles arrested for nonviolent offenses are typically released due to overcrowding in the juvenile hall facilities, which are currently full of violent offenders.

If the offender is placed in the juvenile hall facility, the district attorney and/or probation department may elect to petition the juvenile court, which is similar to filing charges against an adult. Juveniles may also be transferred to adult court. Offenders who stay in juvenile court and are tried and convicted may then be:

  • Put on probation
  • Placed in a group home
  • Placed in a foster home
  • Incarcerated in a juvenile ranch or camp within their county
  • Designated a ward of the state and sent to the Youth Authority

If a juvenile is tried in adult court and sent to the Department of Corrections, they can remain in the Youth Authority until the age of 24. Only about 3% of juveniles are sent to the Youth Authority to become the responsibility of the state. The remainder of juvenile offenders are handled by county probation departments.

These county probation departments recommend placements and sentencing for juveniles to judges.They also:

  • Supervise the juvenile offenders within the community.
  • Provide training and rehabilitation programs to juveniles on probation.
  • Placed in a foster home
  • Run the county juvenile ranches, juvenile camps, and juvenile halls.

Entities That Maintain the Juvenile Justice System of California

The juvenile justice system depends on a collective effort from law enforcement, community-based organizations, social service agencies, and schools to keep juveniles out of the system. Intervention and prevention are key to identifying troubled juveniles and getting them the services they need before they turn to criminal acts.

Below are the responsibilities of the various key entities in maintaining success within the Juvenile Justice System of California.

  • Schools – Identifies truancy and suspends or expels students who commit crimes on the school grounds; may or may not notify police at their discretion
  • Law Enforcement – Warns, cites, releases, detains, arrests, and transports juvenile offenders at their own discretion
  • Probation Department – Determines if it is necessary to book juvenile offenders in juvenile hall, determines if a juvenile offender should be tried as a juvenile or as an adult, makes placement recommendations for juvenile offenders, supervises juveniles in the community and in their placement locations
  • District Attorney – Files, reduces, modifies, or drops charges; requests transfers of juveniles to be tried in adult court
  • Youth Authority – Incarcerates those juveniles deemed a ward of the state and inmates; supervises parolees up to the age of 24
  • Youthful Offender Parole Board – Orders treatment programs for juvenile wards and determines parole eligibility or revocation for juvenile offenders and parole violators


Q: How Are Juvenile Cases Handled in California?

A: In California, juvenile cases do not have a jury trial. Rather, the district attorney must show proof to the court that the juvenile is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. There is an opportunity for the defendant’s attorney to present a defense on behalf of the youth. The judge presiding over the case makes the final ruling for juvenile case verdicts.

Q: How Are Juveniles Currently Sentenced in California?

A: Once a juvenile goes through juvenile court and is tried and convicted, the offender is typically given one of the following sentences:

  • Placed on probation
  • Put in foster care or a group home
  • Incarcerated at a county juvenile camp or ranch
  • Deemed a ward of the state and sent to the Youth Authority

Q: What Is the Age Limit for Juveniles in California?

A: Although California’s legal adult age is 18, juvenile defendants can have their charges transferred to adult criminal court at 16. However, if an individual was a minor when their case originated, and their case originated in juvenile court, they can remain in a juvenile facility to complete their sentence until they are 25 years old.

Q: Do Juvenile Records Go Away in California?

A: Juvenile criminal records will be cleared once the offender turns 18 and after five years have passed since the juvenile court held jurisdiction. However, the offender must avoid being convicted of a moral turpitude misdemeanor or felony as an adult.

In fact, once the juvenile requests that their records be sealed, a copy of the offender’s record is sent to the agencies named in the record, with directions to seal the records and then destroy them in five years unless subsequent crimes are committed that would revoke the sealing of the record.

Requesting the Help of a CA Juvenile Law Attorney

Whether you are just now being introduced to the juvenile justice system or you’ve had previous dealings with California juvenile law, My SoCal Lawyers can help. We have extensive experience defending juvenile cases of all levels of severity. Our practice is very focused on California juvenile law and can help you navigate through the Juvenile Justice System of California. Contact My SoCal Lawyers to learn more about how our services can benefit your juvenile’s case.