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Should one County obstruct the juvenile justice reform efforts of the other 57 counties?

On February 10, 2011, CJCJ's Executive Director Daniel Macallair and UC Berkeley's Lecturer in Residence, Barry Krisberg were featured on KCRW's Which Way, L.A.? alongside Connie Rice, Co-Director of the Advancement Project in Los Angeles, and Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, to discuss how Governor Brown's proposal to eliminate the DJF will effect Los Angeles County's juvenile justice practices.

Ms. Rice described the current L.A. County juvenile justice system as "disastrous."  It has been under a federal civil rights consent decree for several years due to abominable treatment of the youths in its care.  Although it has reduced its ward population considerably, Ms. Rice notes that "we absolutely refuse to deal with these kids... the whole system exists for the convenience of the employees."  For example, L.A. County still struggles to ensure a sober work force in its juvenile halls and camps. 

In Mr. Yaroslavsky's opinion, L.A. County's juvenile justice system needs an entire cultural overhaul at all levels of the system.  He describes the current system as a "work in progress" and one that is hindered by political apathy, and a punitive institutional mindset.  In terms of the realignment, he expressed concern that money allocated in the Governor's budget to support the counties only covers the first five-year period.  In order to successfully realign L.A. County's juvenile justice practices, he says it will require a "Constitutional guarantee that ensures we won't be left holding the bag in year six."

Ms. Rice, on the other hand, emphasized that "there is enough money; it's just that we're wasting it."  For her, true reform requires intensive technical assistance from outside sources, "we need to get an outside task force... an expert task force along with the feds and along with the best people in L.A.'s academies and universities to implement that executive change plan."  Dr. Krisberg agrees with the need for outside oversight.  In his opinion, the biggest concern with the proposed realignment is that "counties are almost totally unregulated."  For him, the solution requires a State-operated mechanism for ensuring county accountability. 

On this point, Dan Macallair has a similar vision.  He is a long-time of the harsh reality of L.A. County juvenile justice practices, but notes "reforming L.A. is not going to happen unless they are provided with the necessary resources to do it.  If we keep dual systems this won't happen."  His recommendation is to give L.A. county the choice:  to utilize the $200,000 per ward that it costs to house youths at DJF and reform its system, or pay DJF to continue to house the 370 L.A. county youths currently confined within its facilities.  In his opinion, counties should be held accountable by a State agency that focuses entirely on oversight and supervision. 

Moreover, he emphasizes that in the debate about elimination of DJF, "L.A. County is not the entire State." While L.A. County has struggled to reform its practices, several other counties are successfully developing model juvenile justice practices.  If the State continues to operate a dual system, needed resources will not reach these counties.  Should one county hinder the reform efforts of all?

Listen to the Which Way, L.A.? broadcast here.

~Selena Teji

Sentencing Service Program Case Specialist

Keywords: DJF/DJJ, fiscal policy, Los Angeles County, Selena Teji, state policy

Posted in Blog, Realignment, Juvenile Justice

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