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Legislature, Governor Brown advance historic juvenile justice reforms

Just days after the deadline, the Governor signed the $92 billion 2012-13 California budget into law on June 27th. The budget includes some of the most significant reforms in state juvenile justice policy since the passage of Senate Bill 81 in 2007. 

In his May 14th revised budget proposal, Governor Brown had retracted his plan to close the state's youth correctional facilities, Division of Juvenile Facilities (DJF), under intense and well-coordinated law enforcement and county pressure.   As an alternative he proposed several smaller reforms such as a much higher per ward fee structure for counties.  Although short of a staggered realignment that CJCJ and other groups were calling for, the Governor's proposal implements significant reform that result in a reduced reliance on the state's youth correctional system.  

It is clear that the Governor's administration advanced the DJF reforms because of the sustained pressure from advocacy, community-based, and policy advocacy groups, such as CJCJ, the National Center for Youth Law, Children's Defense Fund, W. Hayward Burns Institute, PICO California, Youth Justice Coalition, and the San Francisco Public Defenders office, among others.   The reform highlights include three features.  

1. New $24,000 per youth fee structure:  Charges counties $24,000 for each future ward in DJF that is sentenced in juvenile court, 10 times the amount that counties paid previously.  This fee change will increase disincentives for use of DJF, particularly those state-dependent counties who send juvenile offenders to the state system far above the statewide average, based on their juvenile felony arrest rates.   CJCJ and other policy organizations will be analyzing further mechanisms in increase the incentives for counties to use best practices in serving both their 707a and significantly more of their 707b more serious youth offenders locally.  

2. Elimination of "Projected Board Date Extensions" (otherwise known as Time-Adds):  Youth correctional officers can no longer extend back the date of parole board consideration to discipline wards in DJF.    This practice was adding an average of 22% time to the length of stay for an average DJF ward, despite any research showing positive disciplinary outcomes.   Books Not Bars (Ella Baker Center) had passed time-add elimination with Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner as AB 999 a few years ago, but it was vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger under pressure from the prison guards union (CCPOA).  

3. Reduction of the maximum age of jurisdiction from 25 to 23-years-old:  This policy will cut down on excessive lengths of stay in DJF, which were resulting in 7-8 years extended sentences.  It will not affect the current DJF population dramatically as the most recent data from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) shows that there are current only 38 wards ages 23 and older in the state system.

These reforms will provide key opportunities for counties to show leadership in improving juvenile justice outcomes, especially with their highest-needs populations.  Capacity building within local counties is still required as an essential component to full juvenile justice realignment.  A recent initiative by health-focused private foundations creates historic opportunities for counties to improve their juvenile justice practices with high-need/high-risk youth offenders.  These initiatives highlight the vast array of state and federal funding to provide wraparound services and mental health interventions for juvenile offenders.  As counties implement model practices from across the state, they will be come less reliant on an outdated and ineffective state system.

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

Posted in Blog, Realignment, Juvenile Justice

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