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On the subject of the Governor’s juvenile justice budget triggers, the California District Attorney’s Association (CDAA) announced in the New York Times on Sunday, Obviously we would like him to drop that cut, and cut from other places,” said Scott Thorpe, chief executive of the California District Attorneys Association. 

On January 1, 2012 Governor Brown’s budget triggers came into effect. Among many deep cuts across government agencies, the triggers require counties to pay approximately 65% of their state juvenile justice tab (a large sum compared to the minor sliding scale fees they had been paying). Of course, this did not affect all counties — in fact as of June 2011, 14 counties had no youth in the state youth correctional facilities at all. However, some state-dependent counties did voice concern that the bill would be too high for them to bear and they would be forced to serve their highest-risk youth at the county level without adequate resources. 

One wonders where CDAA would prefer the cut to take place. Why should the state’s youth correctional facilities be exempt from the triggers while all other areas of social services are being cut so severely? Especially when the cost of maintaining the state facilities is so high ($193,111 per youth per year) and the state, who has been under a consent decree to remedy their unconstitutional conditions for seven years, provides notoriously minimal services, including documented inadequate mental health treatment and special education, to this high-risk population with very little to show for it. 

CDAA’s spokesperson continues, If it’s going to be so prohibitive to send young people to D.J.J., the reality is that with the cost factor we should file those cases in adult court.” 

That’s presumably because when a prosecutor files a youth in adult court, counties are not charged for housing that youth in state youth correctional facilities, thus they can subvert the $125,000 trigger cost, while keeping the youth in the broken youth facilities until the age of 18 or 21

Which poses another interesting question: Why are prosecutors not considering the lack of adequate rehabilitative programming, the 80% re-arrest rate, the decrepit and inappropriate architecture, or the lack of re-entry services provided by the state facilities as factors in keeping a youth local under juvenile court jurisdiction, rather than filing them in adult court? 

While it is not tenable to continue supporting such a large irreparable and failed state institutional system when every other facet of social services is experiencing such deep fiscal cuts; the state must provide counties with an opportunity to offer an appropriate local alternative. In fact, if a full juvenile justice realignment plan is brought back on the table — as was proposed in June 2011 — counties could benefit from funding to serve their high-risk population, and state taxpayers would not continue to shoulder the egregious cost of maintaining an expensive and archaic state system for a select few counties that still overuse the facilities.