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There are currently 1,262 youths confined in DJF facilities (Dec. 2010). Recent plans to close Preston YCF by June 2011 will result in a further reduction of the population. Moreover, plans to transfer all parole responsibilities to the counties will be in place by January 282011

With those changes already in motion, how big is the next step proposed by Governor Brown: the elimination of DJF by June 2014? In a recent New York Times article, Executive Director Daniel Macallair discusses the benefit of serving youthful offenders at the local level: 

In county juvenile halls, you don’t have the entrenched gang culture and violence you have at the state youth authority,” Macallair said. The counties can offer a continuum of options — maximum security, minimum security, intensive services in the community — that the state could never come close to matching.” 

However, a debate has ensued as to the capacity of the counties to manage this hard-to-handle population. Among concerns are a lack of funding for improving local facilities and equipping them to serve high-risk youths, a potential increase in adult filings resulting in more adult prison time for youths, and new responsibilities for local probation officers. 

As demonstrated in both CJCJ’s and reports, counties have already expanded their institutional capacity over the past ten years to provide sufficient modern, high-security bed space to absorb the current DJF population, virtually negating the need for the construction of additional facilities. Many of the newly renovated facilities, including county ranches and camps, provide a breadth of individualized programming opportunities and re-entry planning that is unheard of at the state level. 

Moreover, the CJCJ report found that recent increases in transfers and remands of juveniles to adult court have not led to increased imprisonments; rather, adult courts seem to be sentencing more youth to county supervision. 

In addition, regardless of the proposed closure of DJF, parole responsibilities will be realigned to the county level by the end of this month, and according to the California Probation Officers of California (CPOC), they are prepared for the new responsibilities provided the funding follows the youths. 

Finally, several California counties have already enhanced their programming and currently serve youths who would otherwise be committed to DJF facilities. (See previous for example). These counties serve as model examples that can be replicated across the state if given the appropriate funding. As Daniel Macallair points out: 

The state system is not set up for major change,” he said. If the money won’t be flowing to counties, counties won’t get any better, and you’ll be left with the status quo.” 

Youthful offenders are best served at the local level allowing for increased access to attorneys, families, and community-based organizations. By establishing this continuity of care at the local level many of the challenges of reentry are minimized. Many of California’s counties have demonstrated the capacity to serve the current DJF population. 

By maintaining dual youth correctional systems, at the State and county level, the State will not have the funds available to improve conditions or services at either level. By following the Governor’s proposal and eliminating the archaic State youth correctional system, counties will be provided with the incentive and funding to enhance their services and adequately serve this high-needs population. 

~Selena Teji

Sentencing Service Program Case Specialist