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Monday 9th of December 2019

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The Digital Privacy of Young People on Probation Matters

Tuesday 27th of August 2019 | North America, United States
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An estimated 4.5 million people in the U.S. are under “community supervision” — subject to supervision as a condition of probation or release on parole. These people deal with a multitude of supervision requirements and conditions that in their sheer number and their poor design can often inhibit, rather than support, stability, growth, and community engagement. The demand for compliance with these conditions has made community supervision systems a major pipeline to incarceration, rather than an effective alternative to it: “technical violations” are responsible for a quarter of all state prison admissions.

Community supervision looms large in the youth justice system as well. After a long trend of decarceration, probation is now the single most common disposition in juvenile justice cases. Nearly half of all children with juvenile justice system involvement, close to 300,000 young people, are placed on probation each year. As with the adult system, juvenile probation is also a major feeder of youth incarceration with 18 percent of young people in youth jails or prisons there due to “technical violations” — purported failures to comply with conditions imposed by probation officers.

As with the adult system, probation conditions can be onerous and counterproductive. And too often they grant probation officers sweeping powers of surveillance over the young people subject to supervision.

This month, the California Supreme Court delivered an important ruling that pushes back against these blanket powers. (The Intercept reported in 2016 on cases involving the digital privacy of youth on probation against the backdrop of the passage of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.) Specifically, the court ruled that the government cannot subject a young person on probation, as a condition of release, to random searches of his electronic devices and social media accounts. The trial court imposed the condition on Ricardo P., a teenager being placed on probation, merely on the belief that teenagers “typically will brag” about drug use on the internet despite a complete lack of evidence that he had ever used electronic devices in connection with any drugs or illegal activity, or ever previously bragged about drug use online. The condition was upheld by an appellate court.

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  • International Juvenile Justice Observatory (IJJO). Belgian Public Utility Foundation

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  • Head Office: Rue Mercelis, nº 50. 1050. Brussels. Belgium

    Phone: 00 32 262 988 90. Fax: 00 32 262 988 99. oijj@oijj.org

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