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California is a very diverse state, with 58 counties potentially acting as laboratories” of policy innovation in the field of juvenile justice. County and state-level practitioners, and policy makers can learn from these successes and model similar programs in their respective jurisdictions. However, these same counties also vary in their ability to address complex pressing challenges, specifically as relates to youth offenders. County-level data-analysis is a necessary building block in the examination of local practices. 

CJCJ’s new juvenile justice interactive map offers a detailed snapshot of California’s juvenile justice system. This tool surveys county juvenile statistics across a variety of traditional metrics including, juvenile felony arrest rates, state confinement rate, and state confinement cost. Such analysis builds from the success of CJCJ’s earlier adult criminal justice map. The new map also highlights particular areas in juvenile justice that have garnered increasing attention, specifically mental health and child welfare data. 

Mental health issues are a significant challenge for all youth, particularly those involved in the juvenile justice system. A 2006 study of Louisiana, Texas, and Washington, by the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice, found that approximately 70% of justice-involved youth suffered from mental health issues. This data demonstrates there is significant need for properly funded community-based care. In California, this challenge is particularly acute. A May 2010 report by the Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice, titled Mental Health Issues in California’s Juvenile Justice System, outlines the deficiencies in mental health care. In particular, counties suffer a lack of reliable identification and tracking methods. Current Los Angeles County Chief Probation Officer Jerry Power, formerly of Stanislaus County, notes in the report: 

Youth with mental health issues are our biggest challenge. Delinquency we know; mental health we don’t.”

According to CJCJ’s map, the 2010 state average for open mental health cases in the juvenile justice population is 34%. However, the top three counties (i.e. San Bernardino, Ventura, and Riverside) are above 75%. This demands further scrutiny of nuances specific to the county. Moreover, how are these counties addressing this disproportionately high number of open mental health cases in their local juvenile justice facilities? 

The juvenile justice map also presents key socio-economic data for each county, specifically the youth poverty rate and youth in out-of-home placement. Both data metrics inform county-level analysis of crossover youth, which are juveniles involved in the both the welfare and justice systems. Crossover youth struggle with education and mental health issues, and may suffer increased recidivism rates. 

CJCJ’s map lists the 2010 state average for youth living in households with incomes below poverty guidelines at 19%, with the top three counties (i.e. Del Norte, Fresno, Tulare) above 30%. The 2010 state average for youth (ages 10 – 17) in out-of-home placement is 590.5 per 100,000 youth, with the top three counties including Del Norte (1,498.9), Plumas (1638.4), and Trinity (1,746). These data might lead one to question how county-level rates of poverty and out-of-home placement affect other metrics (e.g. felony arrest rate). A 2001 Vera Institute of Justice study concluded that foster youth were more likely to face pre-trial detention for less serious offenses than non-foster care youth. Does the map show a similar trend? Given the aforementioned data, how do socio-economic conditions affect the execution of youth justice in California’s counties? 

CJCJ’s juvenile justice map offers much-needed perspective. The map may initially prompt more questions than answers, but data-driven reform remains an ongoing process. The next step is to build from these data and frame appropriate policy solutions necessary for a 21st-century approach to juvenile justice. As the map makes clear, this approach will have to include services that address the significant number of California’s most vulnerable youth. 

~Brian GoldsteinCJCJ Communications and Policy