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Counties ready to handle state's juvenile offenders, study says

David Gross/KQEDA group therapy session is held at Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility, one of three state-run institutions facing possible closure.

County governments have invested nearly a half-billion dollars over the past 15 years to modernize juvenile lockups and now have the capacity to absorb offenders currently housed in the state’s youth prisons, if those facilities are closed, a new study contends. 

The report [PDF] by the San Francisco-based Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice offers fresh data in support of Gov. Jerry Brown’s renewed push to shutter the state’s three remaining youth prisons as part of a historic realignment of California’s criminal justice system.

A total of $455,779,103 was allocated to renovate county facilities, according to the report, with 96 percent going to new maximum-security juvenile halls in 41 jurisdictions.

“These state-of-the-art buildings stand in stark contrast to the dilapidated and archaic 19th-century relics that DJF (Division of Juvenile Facilities) utilizes to house its remaining wards,” reads the report. “The review demonstrates that local secure county-based facilities currently surpass existing state youth correctional facilities in architectural design and structural integrity.”

Counties that allocated the most money for construction of juvenile facilities as of November 2007 include:

  • San Mateo: $21,105,000
  • Fresno: $24,120,000
  • San Bernardino: $27,187,727
  • Alameda: $33,113,670
  • San Diego: $39,198,000
  • Ventura: $40,500,000
  • Los Angeles: $49,465,625

As a measure of progress, the study highlights facilities in Alameda and San Francisco counties that are “easily adaptable for long-term commitments as all necessary programming space exists on-site.”

Alameda County’s juvenile justice center includes 24-hour secure housing, full educational services, on-site community-based programming and a specialized mental health treatment unit, according to the report.

Under a plan [PDF] released in January as part of Brown’s budget blueprint, the Division of Juvenile Justice would stop accepting new admissions by 2013 and the entire system would shut down in 2014. The Brown administration pledged to hand counties $10 million and allow up to a year to manage the transition.

But there is opposition to the plan. Some youth advocates, judges and district attorneys contend that many counties do not have the resources to manage youths convicted of violent crimes like murder and rape and might be forced to send such offenders to state lockups. What’s more, as a result of a 2004 court settlement, California already has spent millions of dollars upgrading its youth prisons and invested heavily in special programming.

Still, some counties have managed to stop sending high-risk offenders to the state by housing them away from the general population and developing specialized programming.

The report contends that even county facilities with no long-term programming in place “serve as a significantly improved living environment for youth who would otherwise face custodial time in the extremely isolated and dilapidated state facilities.”

The state’s youth prison population has dropped to fewer than 1,100 from more than 10,000 in the mid-1990s. While classified as juveniles, 59 percent of the offenders housed in state youth prisons are between 19 and 25, according to state figures. Annual costs at state institutions have topped $200,000 per ward.

Filed under: Public Safety, Daily Report

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