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Counties' responses to the budget triggers

While it costs approximately $193,111 per ward annually to house youth in California's state youth correctional system (Division of Juvenile Facilities: DJF), under the budget triggers (implemented Jan 1, 2012) counties would pick up approx. 65% of that tab ($125,000 per youth), while the rest continues to be paid for by California taxpayers.

Counties like Monterey, Stanislaus, Tulare, and Kings have voiced concerns that they would not be able to pay for the 20+ youth they each have in DJF currently, and they do not have the resources at the county level to serve them locally.

However, the triggers must be considered within the context of individual county sentencing practices and the conditions and cost of the state system.  Monterey County, for example, is one of the most state-dependent counties in California -- they rely heavily on the state institutions as a solution to local problems.  According to 2010-11 data, the County sent juveniles to DJF at the highest rate per felony arrest of all populous counties (population 100,000+).  Also, more than one-third of the juveniles Monterey County sent to DJF in 2010 were considered category 4-6 offenders (the least severe offenses DJF accepts, eg. concealable firearms, possession of explosives) -- just 1 was category 1 (the most serious, eg. murder, kidnapping).  Most counties in California serve category 4-6 offenders at the local level already.  The same trends of state-dependence can be seen in Stanislaus, Tulare and Kings Counties. It is this historical overuse of DJF that helped create the crisis that led to state juvenile justice realignment in the first place, first in 1996 with the establishment of sliding scale fees and then in 2007 with Senate Bill 81.

In addition, DJF provides notoriously minimal services, including documented inadequate mental health treatment and special education, to this high-needs population.  The cost of the facilities is so high because the state is involved in a consent decree and has to maintain high staff ratios, bureaucratic and legal costs associated with its attempts at compliance.  Currently, DJF has an 80% failure rate of juveniles being rearrested within 3 years of release.

While it is true that some counties would encounter a self-created struggle to serve all of the youth they currently house at DJF because of their historically state-dependent practices; they are not representative of the majority of California counties, and in fact stand as particularly state-dependent outliers.  Other counties already serve this high-needs population at the local level in accordance with best practices and would largely not be affected by the budget triggers. 

Now, with the Governor's proposed budget including a new juvenile justice realignment plan that would give the counties a grace on the triggers, in exchange for full closure of DJF with no new commitments as of Jan. 1, 2013, it seems as though either way the counties will be faced with the decision to serve an increased number of youthful offenders locally.

It is not tenable to continue supporting such a large irreparable and failed institutional state system when every other facet of social services is experiencing such deep fiscal cuts.  In fact, if full juvenile justice realignment is adopted -- as was proposed in June 2011, aswell as in the FY 2012-13 budget -- counties could benefit from funding to serve this population.  This in fact would allow counties, such as Monterey, to implement local best practices while securing a stable funding stream.  Wouldn't this ensure long-term public rather than investing state taxpayers' dollars in an archaic system with demonstrated failure?

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

Posted in Blog, Juvenile Justice

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