Felton Institute is proud to continue the criminal justice reform work of Vice President Elect-Kamala Harris through the Young Adult Court Program (YAC).

Established in San Francisco in 2005, the Back on Track program was created by then District Attorney Kamala Harris to address the needs of low-level drug offenders and interrupt a cycle of incarceration and release that did not address underlying behavioral health and substance use issues. Now one of the preeminent collaborative courts in the county, San Francisco’s Young Adult Collaborative Court has evolved out of Harris’ vision to serve as a diversion program for eligible young adults, ages 18-25 who have charges ranging from misdemeanor to felony.

“This program has been adopted and implemented in cities across America. Back on Track is just the start of what real criminal justice reform looks like in this country.” – Kamala Harris, on Twitter, April 2019

Rooted in research and science on the young adult brain, the YAC Collaborative Court acknowledges the unique challenges that the 18 to 25-year-old age group presents – great impulsivity, less planful behavior and advance problem-solving – which can lead to interactions with a justice system that may disproportionately impact young men of color.

Over the past 15 years, Felton Institute has continued to innovate and expand on the initial services of Back on Track, now providing a clinical case management model that addresses essential social service needs, behavioral health and substance use issues, and building supportive family relationships, among other challenges in conjunction with our key partners: Goodwill Industries and Sunset Youth Services.

Engagement in and graduation from Young Adult Court can substantially improve the developmental and life trajectory for a young person accused of an offense. Beginning or continuing young adulthood with a criminal record imposes incredible challenges on a young person, from limiting their housing options to negatively impacting their opportunities for education and employment. In contrast, graduation from YAC can allow the same young person options beyond these limitations, as well as a tremendous growth in skills. For example, engagement with the Young Adult Court provides an opportunity for the young person to improve their daily functioning (time management, problem-solving), emotional wellbeing, and relationships with others. There’s no one-size-fits-all template for engagement in YAC. Each participant has a plan catered to their individual needs and abilities. Typical goals to graduate from YAC may include securing and maintaining employment or enrolling in education or training opportunities.

Nationally, 87% of the 18-to-24 years old who are incarcerated are rearrested after release, and half go to prison. The goal of YAC is to break the cycle of recidivism.

For many YAC clients, Felton is their first contact with a mental health clinician, and this opportunity can open doors to addressing issues that may have roots in previous traumatic events that have gone unattended.

As of September 2020, YAC has produced 120 graduates, and approximately 84% of graduates avoid rearrest.

Young Adult Court Graduation, January 2019. (left to right) Felton Institute Case Manager Ashli Rocha, TAC graduate Alonso, and YAC Judge Bruce E. Chan

Judge Bruce Chan was the Supervising Judge of San Francisco’s Criminal Court in 2014-2015 and has presided over YAC since it began as Back on Track. Per Judge Chan, the revolutionary aspect of the program is consolidating clinical case management, vocational and life skills case management accompanied by judicial oversight all in the same place. He said, “The court is here to support the clinicians, and the clinicians are here to support the legal professionals. The accountability comes through the court aspect. Everyone is willing to step out of their traditional role to make the program work.”

Partner agencies include the Superior Court, Office of the District Attorney, Office of the Public Defender, the Department of Public Health, Adult Probation Department, Department of Children, Youth and their Families, the San Francisco Police Department, and Leaders in Community Alternatives. The court strives to align opportunities for accountability and transformation with this age group’s unique needs and developmental stage.


Celina Hennessey, LMFT
Program Manager, Young Adult Court Case Management

Photo caption: Young Adult Court Graduation, January 2019. (left to right) Felton Institute Case Manager Ashli Rocha, YAC graduate Alonso, and YAC Judge Bruce E. Chan

Felton Institute’s Young Adult Court Program is Funded by the Children and Youth Fund (DCYF).

About Felton Institute: Founded in 1889, Felton Institute responds to human needs by providing cutting edge, evidence-based mental health and social services that transform lives. Felton Institute is a tax-exempt organization registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit under EIN 94-1156530.

Offering more than 50 acclaimed and honored programs that address homelessness, mental health, prenatal, adolescent, adult and senior needs, Felton Institute provides services in San Francisco, Alameda, San Mateo, Marin, and Monterey counties.

Felton is named for its social services pioneer and executive director Dr. Katharine “Kitty” Felton who was called the ”conscience of San Francisco” and was committed to ensuring that children and families in crisis have access to social services and resources in order to help them build upon their inherent strengths and develop self-sufficiency. www.felton.org