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Momentum growing for juvenile realignment

Consensus is growing in the Capitol that California's youth correctional facilities need to be closed, with funding and supervision responsibilities realigned to the counties.

Building on Past Policy Recommendations:

In 2008 the Little Hoover Commission recommended that the state's Division of Juvenile Facilities (DJF) close its doors and for California to move towards a county-based juvenile system.

In early 2011, the Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO) concluded , "Less than 1 percent of juvenile arrests result in commitment to DJF, and counties have recently taken on responsibility for DJF parolees. Thus, under the Governor's proposal, funding and responsibility for all juvenile offenders would be maintained at one level of government."

Moving Towards the Future:
Governor Brown's office and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) are calling for DJF closure and full juvenile justice realignment.  Governor Brown again called for a closure of DJF in his 2012-13 budget proposal released in January.   Law enforcement groups blocked his juvenile realignment efforts last year.  His proposal states, "The Budget proposes to expand on previous successful efforts to reform the state's juvenile justice system by eventually transferring the responsibility for managing all youthful offenders to local jurisdictions. The Budget proposes to stop intake of new juvenile offenders effective January1, 2013."

CDCR Secretary Cate was quoted in an Oakland Tribune and Contra Costa Times article last month: "Matthew Cate, California's corrections chief, predicted Brown's plan would be a boon to public safety. 'The biggest benefit is it keeps wards close to home,' Cate said.  'The evidence shows, especially with young people, that it eases the return to communities and reduces victimization.'"

A Consistent Call for Reform:
The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice has been calling for the closure of California's juvenile youth correctional facilities for over 25 years through policy briefs, legislative advocacy, and public testimony.  The data shows the way.   County-based systems are already providing better mental health treatment, community reintegration, reduced recidivism, and improved long-term outcomes for youth offenders like educational attainment and preparation for the job market.   

Counties already have ample capacity to house current DJF youth, with a surplus of 4,090 maximum, medium, and minimum-security beds across the state.   Several counties have already begun to implement localized programming for high-risk offenders previously sent to DJF.

From members of the Black Legislative Caucus, to the Latino Legislative Caucus; from Speaker Perez's office and the office of Senate President Darrell Steinberg, support is growing for a well-designed, staggered juvenile justice realignment process that gives counties the resources they need to succeed with these youthful offenders.  

The question in front of California's decision makers is not "if" DJF closure will happen, but rather "how".  Key stakeholders like the Chief Probation Officers of California have a critical role in shaping juvenile realignment moving forward.  Several challenging issues still need to be resolved, but California is clearly past the point of no return.  Full juvenile justice realignment will happen.  What remains to be seen is if California's leaders can chart out a successful path forward.

Keywords: Brian Heller de Leon, DJF/DJJ, fiscal policy, state policy, youth

Posted in Blog, Realignment, Juvenile Justice

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