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Members from CJCJ’s Sentencing Service Program recently had the opportunity to attend San Francisco and Alameda counties’ discussions on realignment. Key players in juvenile justice, from the courts, probation and the community sat down together to discuss how the realignment will affect their counties’ youth at the May 17th San Francisco Reentry Council meeting and the June 9th panel sponsored by the National Council on Crime and Deliquency on, Keeping our Children Home: How Realigning the State Juvenile Justice System Will Affect Alameda County.” While budget allocations remain unknown, the passage of AB109 will force counties to handle all justice-involved youth at the county level. 

Even though AB109 is ultimately a budget saving measure, the concept of transferring responsibility of justice involved juveniles from state to the county level is not new. Since 2009, CJCJ has recommended to end the dual system in order to best utilize services at the local level. In addition to CJCJ, two non-partisan research bureaus, the Legislative Analyst Office and the Little Hoover Commission, in 2008, recommended the closure of DJF. Now, in 2011, more counties are preparing for this change. The main question is: What are the counties’ capacities and how can they provide both rehabilitative services to the youth and ensure public safety?” 

Sending youth to the Division of Juvenile Facilities (DJF) is not the only way to serve California’s highest risk youth, as San Francisco and Alameda counties have already recognized by significantly reducing their reliance on DJF, despite high crime rates: DJF houses 58 Alameda county youth and only 6 San Francisco County youth. However, with the eventual abolishment of DJF, many are concerned more youth will be directly filed in adult criminal court instead of seeking viable alternatives in the juvenile system. The use of direct filing has already doubled in Alameda County. District attorney, Matt Golde stated, I wouldn’t direct file if I had an alternative;” however, he remains unsure about how to best handle the youth with the most serious offenses, particularly individuals 18-years-old and over. 

Alameda County Chief Probation Officer, David Muhammad, has the answer. With four empty units, Alameda county juvenile hall has the capacity to serve 100 high need/​high risk youth until the age of 21 and is even more secure than DJF facilities (its readiness is dependent on funding to hire staff). CJCJ’s October 2010 study discovered San Francisco county juvenile facilities have more than enough capacity with approximately 100 empty beds. Current practices such as home-based supervision and electronic monitoring, further serve as alternatives to secure detention for low-level, low-risk offenders, freeing up more bed space for youths requiring residential intensive treatment. 

Educating judges and district attorneys on credible alternatives, including county camps, group homes, community based services, and juvenile halls will be crucial in preventing the direct adult criminal court filing of youth. Additionally, improving communication between courts, probation, and community service providers will ensure resources are utilized for youth that are currently poorly handled by DJF: high-need/high-risk, mental health, and female youth. 

CJCJ continues to advocate for local level services because returning responsibilities to counties for the remaining l% of California’s juvenile justice system youths will promote a more unified system of coordinated services.

~Emily LuhrsSentencing Service Program Case Specialist