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San Bernardino County's model program for youth offenders

Since 2007, San Bernardino County's Probation Department has made strategic, bold changes in order to align their systems with modern and effective best practices for the rehabilitation and reentry of youth offenders.  Prior to 2007, San Bernardino had a history of state-dependency for their youthful offender population and was the subject of a lawsuit for facility conditions and practices.  Over the last four years, the county has demonstrated admirable leadership and innovation in utilizing SB 81 realignment funding to lay the groundwork for their 21st century juvenile justice system.  

The San Bernardino "Gateway Program" has tiered levels of programming, security, and supervision to serve both medium-level offenders and serious or high-risk youth offenders.  The facility provides a viable alternative for judges and prosecutors to sending their juveniles to the state's youth corrections facilities (DJF). Currently 36% of the Gateway Program's youth are juvenile 707(b) offenders, according to San Bernardino Probation Department's evaluation entitled "Gateway: Charting Progress, 4th Edition".

Probation staff create individualized treatment plan through interviews with each youth.  These individualized client-specific case plans allow staff to assess and evaluate for special needs and to develop treatment strategies to assist in their adjustment to the program.  The Gateway Program prides itself in the multi-disciplinary collaboration between staff working with the youth on education, mental health treatment, programming, and medical needs.  

Gateway Director Brenda Perez and Deputy Chief Kirk Dayton speak enthusiastically about the county's embrace of evidence-based best practices and the results they are seeing in their youth population. All Gateway youth receive basic life skills training, Aggression Replacement Training, and job training skills. When needed, gang intervention curriculum, psychiatric services, and parenting skills are also provided.  

Youth in the Gateway Program have a 36% recidivism rate, less than half of the state's 80% rate.  They are serving youth at 79% of the cost of the state's DJF facilities, while dramatically increasing long-term public safety of county residents. Even more importantly the Gateway Program, through the strong leadership of probation senior staff, is creating new pathways of hope and opportunity for youth offenders.

The county is already anticipating that additional youth offenders will return to the county from the state youth correctional system.  Deputy Probation Chief Kirk Dayton asserts that they would be able to adequately house and provide resources for serious youth offenders, as long as there is sufficient funding realigned to counties.  "We could create a program similar to the Gateway model that would be better suited for long-term commitments", he said in an interview last week.  He agreed with the assessment and research findings that counties are better suited for rehabilitating serious youth offenders than the state and can do a more effective job.

San Bernardino is a demonstration of what smart investments look like in modernizing juvenile justice systems congruent with best practices.  With Governor Brown proposing a full closure of DJF in his 2012-13 budget proposal announced last week, the urgency increases for counties to exercise bold leadership and move their juvenile systems into the 21st century.

Keywords: best practices, Brian Heller de Leon, San Bernardino County, youth

Posted in Blog, Model Local Practices

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