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Last week, Governor Brown signed his sixteenth and final state budget with total spending set at more than $200 billion. The fiscal year (FY) 2018 – 19 budget, which was developed in collaboration with Senate and Assembly budget committees and leadership, delivered both wins and losses for proponents of youth justice reform. While it made prudent new investments in community-based youth diversion, it failed to modernize the state’s juvenile justice data bank and needlessly expanded the troubled state youth correctional system, the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ).

Prudent Investment in Youth Diversion 

California spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year on local juvenile justice programs through the Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act and the Youthful Offender Block Grant. Though these funds are statutorily earmarked for youth, they are typically funneled directly into probation department budgets with little allocated to community-based organizations that provide direct services. The Youth Reinvestment Fund, a $37.3 million investment in youth diversion, seeks to increase support for community-based organizations that are diverting youth out of the justice system and into alternative programs and treatment.

CJCJ’s strong support for the Youth Reinvestment Fund is rooted in the understanding that children are best served by organizations with established community ties that can provide an alternative to justice system involvement. As co-sponsors of Senate Bill (SB) 439, which seeks to establish a minimum age of juvenile court jurisdiction in California at age 12, we see the Youth Reinvestment Fund as key to developing counties’ community-based diversion infrastructure. The fund will allow young children to receive needed treatment and services in the context of community and family rather than through the court. The Governor’s approval of the Youth Reinvestment Fund, with its 90 percent allocation to community-based organizations, is a first step in reversing the resource dominance of probation departments and ensuring that state dollars are delivered directly to youth and families.

Missed Opportunity for Juvenile Justice Data Reform

California’s central juvenile justice data repository, the Juvenile Court and Probation Statistical System (JCPSS) is woefully out of date. Managed by the Department of Justice (DOJ), JCPSS cannot track case outcomes, measure recidivism, or evaluate major juvenile justice reforms. In 2014 and 2015, in an attempt to remedy some of the state’s juvenile justice data collection deficiencies, including a lack of information about youth who were direct filed into adult criminal court, CJCJ partnered with a number of youth justice organizations to co-sponsor SB 1198 and SB 498. Despite the overwhelming need for data to guide critical policy decision-making, both bills were held in Senate Appropriations due to substantial limitations in the JCPSS.

This year, advocates advanced a plan to begin overhauling the JCPSS by requiring DOJ to produce an estimate of the cost of redesigning the system. The budget ask, though modest, would have been a first step in ensuring that California can properly assess the outcomes of juvenile justice programs that receive substantial investment from the state. Unfortunately, state leadership declined to include the proposal in the budget, further delaying overdue data reform.

Misguided Expansion of the Troubled Division of Juvenile Justice 

In Governor Brown’s January budget proposal, he called for an across-the-board increase in the age of confinement at DJJ — from age 23 to 25 — and sought to establish a Young Adult Program for a new population of youth sentenced by a superior court. The proposal coincided with steep declines in the population of DJJ, average costs that topped $300,000 per year, and 25 percent increase in the average rate of youth involvement in fights, group disturbances, or batteries at the facilities (May 2017-April 2018 vs. the prior year). The DJJ budget proposals appeared to be shoring up a rapidly shrinking and poorly performing system.

Youth justice advocates from across the state united to push for modifications to the Governor’s budget proposal. When the budget committees considered the proposal in May, they incorporated several of these recommendations, modifying the language to strictly narrow the population of youth who could be held beyond age 23 and establishing a sunset and evaluation for the Young Adult Program. However, the core of the proposal remained unchanged. With the inclusion of the DJJ proposals in the final budget, California deepens its reliance on a system that is fundamentally unsuitable for young people and fails to offer effective rehabilitation.

Next year’s budget offers an opportunity for California to further advance juvenile justice reform. To ensure that the FY 2019 – 20 budget reflects California’s values, the next administration must prioritize improvements in the allocation of juvenile justice funding streams, data system modernization, and divestment from the antiquated and inherently traumatizing DJJ system.

Related Links:

New Report: California Juvenile Justice Funding in Five Bay Area Counties Shows Opportunity for Reinvestment

2018 – 19 Budget Proposal Would Expand California’s Youth Correctional System at a Time of Falling Populations

New Fact Sheet: Local Juvenile Justice Facilities Can Absorb State Youth Correctional Population