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Do counties have the capacity to absorb the DJF population?

As of March 31, 2011, there are 1,232 youths housed in DJF, yet according to the Corrections Standards Authority (CSA) in 2009 there were over 4,000 available beds at the county-level. Why then are counties resisting the Governor's proposal to eliminate DJF?   

In February 2011, CJCJ launched a publication series investigating some of the concerns about the Governor's proposed juvenile justice realignment (See Part One).  Part Two of the series was an update of two previous reports (see here and here) on the counties ability to absorb the current DJF population.  CJCJ's position is similar to the previous recommendations made by the Little Hoover Commission and the Legislative Analyst's Office recommendations to eliminate the DJF (in July 2008 and January 2009 respectively).  Based on the data above, CJCJ concluded that counties have the bed capacity to absorb the current DJF population.  However, several Probation Departments have opposed the realignment based on a lack of capacity at the county level.  CJCJ's report was intended as a county-wide overview of capacity and of course, does not represent the full nuanced picture of the individual capacity of each county. 

For example, in Tulare County, CSA reports an available bed capacity of 188 (with a rated capacity of 345) which would easily absorb the 38 youths housed at DJF from that county (Dec. 2010).  However, the bed capacity reported by CSA includes both juvenile hall and county camp and ranch facilities.  As Jan Honadle, Chief Probation Officer for Tulare County explained to CJCJ staff recently, currently the Tulare camp facility is a non-secure facility for low-level offenders, and would be inappropriate for housing high-needs 707(b) offenders.  The Juvenile Hall on the other hand, has a rated capacity of 210 beds and a budgeted capacity of 150 beds.  Within the Juvenile Hall, 45 beds are dedicated to long-term commitments for 707(b) offenders.  These are all currently occupied.

Thus, Tulare County is in a quandary.  Tulare County's Jan Hondle indicated she is 100% supportive of serving all Tulare County juvenile offenders at the county level; however, she currently does not have adequate resources to do so.  If given the necessary funding to develop appropriate community-based programs to serve low-level offenders, freeing up its camp to possible renovation (perhaps to mimic Santa Clara County's James Ranch which successfully serves 707(b) offenders), and reserving those 45 juvenile hall beds for the most high-needs offenders, Tulare County may support the Governor's proposed realignment.  Even those offenders that it cannot adequately serve in its facilities (eg. youths with intensive mental health issues) could be served in regional facilities, utilizing federal funding streams (similar to recent pursuits by Humboldt County).

However, without a secured funding stream and adequate support, Tulare County, like many other counties remains concerned that, despite its surplus of bed capacity, it could not adequately serve its most serious offenders at the county level.  While the trepidation felt by county Probation Departments toward the realignment proposal is a legitimate and reasonable response, there are several innovative approaches to the realignment that could address these concerns.  These include tapping in to underutilized funding streams to create regional specialized treatment centers, enhancing existing ranch and camp facilities, and developing model programming in Juvenile Halls.  Moreover, counties do not have to do this alone.  Several counties have already implemented these kinds of programs successfully and can provide blueprints and technical assistance to counties that are willing to employ best juvenile justice practices.

Keywords: DJF/DJJ, fiscal policy, Selena Teji, state policy

Posted in Blog, Realignment, Juvenile Justice

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