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California’s counties are one step closer to having more resources to treat and rehabilitate youth who have committed serious or violent offenses. On Tuesday, the Youth Community Incentives Act (AB 915) was approved by the state’s Assembly Public Safety Committee, with five Assemblymembers in support and only two in opposition.

California’s counties are uniquely positioned to administer successful programming for high need and high-risk youth offenders that is culturally competent and trauma-informed,” stated the bill’s author, Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer.

AB 915 would provide counties with the financial resources to serve youth offenders using best practices, including case management and community-based treatment and reentry programs. The bill provides these funds by capturing some of the savings from the state’s shrinking youth correctional system, the Division of Juvenile Facilities (DJF).

In recent years, counties have been treating increasing numbers of young offenders locally in lieu of sending them to DJF; a recent CJCJ report shows the state’s juvenile facilities are ineffective at treating and rehabilitating youth. The decreased admissions have resulted in $75 million in savings in the past two years alone, none of which has been used to aid counties in building capacity, a concern presented over the past two years.

At the hearing, San Francisco’s Chief Juvenile Probation Officer William Siffermann described San Francisco’s extensive use of effective community-based programming and out-of-home placements,” including CJCJ’s Juvenile Collaborative Reentry Team, and said he hoped AB 915 would allow other counties to follow in San Francisco’s path. Sokha Kaz” Lek, a resource specialist at Fathers and Families of San Joaquin and former ward of DJF, provided a heartfelt testimony about the need to give struggling youth a chance for success. For Lek, that second chance was possible because of the reentry services he received locally.

The bill is sponsored by CJCJ and Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ), and is supported by more than a dozen other organizations, including Drug Policy Alliance, California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and the Children’s Defense Fund.

The bill’s lone opponent was the California District Attorneys Association, whose representative said he was concerned that the bill would discourage the use of DJF — implying that youth who have committed violent or serious crimes are best served by DJF. However, research shows (pdf) the opposite is true: Youth with the highest needs are best served in the community, where they can maintain contact with their families and access individualized services provided by community-based organizations.

CJCJ’s Brian Goldstein and Lizzie Buchen at the State Capitol on Tuesday, April 23.

CJCJ also voiced support for two other bills on Tuesday:

  • SB 61 (Yee), which would restrict the use of solitary confinement for juveniles
  • SB 649 (Leno), which would allow prosecutors to charge drug possession for personal use as a felony or a misdemeanor, making the offense a wobbler.” (Currently, possession of heroin or cocaine is a felony, while possession of methamphetamine is a wobbler.)