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State spent millions on youth facilities despite drop in crime

Originally posted in The Union Democrat by Alex MacLean

The Union Democrat quotes CJCJ’s Erica Webster and Mike Males regarding community concerns about the size of Tuolumne County’s new, 30-bed juvenile hall that currently confines only four young people. Through funding allocated to counties by Senate Bill (SB) 81, Tuolumne County was awarded $16 million in 2009 to build a youth facility, which opened in April 2017

When counties were applying for SB 81 funding, many failed to consider California’s dramatic decreases in youth crime and proposed to build large facilities that did not match the county’s need for juvenile hall beds. Now, county residents must foot the bill for operating the large facilities.

From the article: 

Tuolumne, Shasta, San Luis Obispo and Stanislaus counties are four counties that have completed construction of new or expanded facilities since SB 81 passed, adding 144 beds to the statewide total at a combined cost of more than $65 million.

The 2016 – 17 San Luis Obispo Grand Jury Report released earlier this month stated the $20 million expansion of that county’s juvenile hall from 45 to 65 beds may not have been necessary, given the facility’s average daily population of 23 kids throughout the previous year.

Another factor involved in the surplus of beds has to do with a decades-long downward trend in the arrest rates of Californians under the age of 25, according to a 2016 study by Mike Males, a senior research fellow at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.

The study found that arrests of children and young adults from 2014 to 2015 decreased by 31,500 arrests, or 8 percent. That’s also 66 percent below the level reported in 1978, when there were 415,000 more arrests.

Arrest rates for children younger than 12 and those 12 to 14 since 1978 have fallen by 95 percent and 82 percent, respectively.

The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice believes that counties failed to take into account the dramatic drop in juvenile crimes and ended up building facilities with more beds than necessary, Erica Webster, communications and policy analyst for the nonprofit advocacy organization based in San Francisco, said.

The incongruity between what the counties propose they’ll do and the cost it will take to operate are oftentimes not looked at with a very keen eye,” Webster said. As a result, citizens in those counties will have to foot the bill for those costs.”

Webster said another potential negative result of empty beds could be the need to validate their existence by filling them.

If you build it, you will fill it,” Webster said. The bigger the facility, the bigger the need county law enforcement will have for validating it by filling it with youth.”

Related Links:

Funding Local Juvenile Facilities that Meet the Needs of the Future

Building a New Juvenile Justice System

Building a local foundation for state juvenile justice success