UPDATE, April 3, 2012: California needs a Division of Juvenile Justice, states an editorial in the Los Angeles Times, published on March 27, "smaller, to be sure, and more enlightened and more effective — to house, supervise and treat a reduced population of violent young offenders.
"There are only two other alternatives, and neither is acceptable: The state must not send its dangerous and damaged minors to probation departments that are not yet equipped to handle the most difficult cases; nor should it abandon them, along with any chance for their rehabilitation, to the adult penal system.
"Let's be clear: [The actions of several years ago that dismantled] the California Youth Authority was the right move. So were the follow-up components of the state-to-county process known as juvenile justice "realignment." And the changes are working: Juvenile crime numbers continue to fall. The state must do a better job of tracking former probationers into adulthood to see whether they are staying out of trouble, but the anecdotal data are encouraging.
"It's smart and effective, it turns out, to keep young offenders in their home communities, close to local rehabilitative programming and mentors but with probation-officer monitoring to help them resist the lure of bad influences; or, when more direct supervision is needed, in local probation camps within visiting distance of family. More rigorous data tracking from across the nation shows, not surprisingly, that wards who committed lower-level crimes do best when kept apart from more violent offenders. The two populations respond best to different kinds of supervision and living conditions.
"But most smaller and mid-size counties don't even have so-called ranches where more violent offenders are supervised and treated; minors who otherwise would go to the three remaining state facilities would be crammed into juvenile halls, which were designed merely to hold youngsters awaiting hearings. Probation departments are just now turning a very important corner, recognizing the benefits and seeing the good results of a treatment-oriented model for lower and mid-level offenders. The state shouldn't undermine the departments' progress by forcing them to also absorb the worst cases — at least not right away....
Previously reported on this topic:
February 22, 2012: Governor Brown's proposed 2012-13 budget, under the category of realignment -- returning to counties the responsibility for social programs now managed by the state -- includes the closing of the Department of Juvenile Justice (by June 30, 2015), shuttering the few facilities that house
Currently, 1,100 juveniles are housed at state expense for an annual cost of $179,400 per inmate.
Last week, the Legislative Analyst's Office backed the Governor's proposal under the conditions that the counties undertake "extensive planning" and make some revisions to current state laws, according to a story in yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle by Maria Lagos.
From the executive summary of the LAO report:
We recommend that the Legislature adopt a comprehensive juvenile justice realignment plan that completes the shift of responsibility to counties. We believe the Governor's proposal has merit on both policy and fiscal grounds, but that the Legislature could address various concerns with the administration's plan. Specifically, we recommend developing a funding approach that promotes innovation and efficiency, establishing a transition plan for DJJ, providing state oversight and technical assistance through the newly created Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC), taking measures to reduce the number of juveniles tried in adult court, and requiring counties to house minors tried in adult court until age 18.
From the Chronicle:
Probation leaders, however, don't think the closure is possible, said Karen Pank, above, executive director of the Chief Probation Officers of California. Probation departments are responsible for overseeing juvenile offenders at the county level, and Pank said they have done everything possible to ensure that as many youths as possible stay close to home.
But she and others - including prosecutors - worry that without the Division of Juvenile Justice as an option for the most violent youths, the treatment of less troubled offenders in county facilities would be derailed, safety at local facilities would decline and more youths would be charged as adults by prosecutors looking for a way to get them out of the county....
The LAO [questioned] whether counties have the ability to house and manage more serious offenders....[The LAO report] noted that there are thousands of empty juvenile beds at counties...another recent report by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, a nonprofit that conducts policy analysis, came to the same conclusion. But the LAO acknowledged that those beds may not be appropriate, and that counties may not have the staff and resources to deal with the needs of the population.
"It is unclear how many of the county juvenile facilities are designed to accommodate the more serious offenders who may require a higher level of security, longer commitment times and different types of treatment," the report states, noting that 30%...need mental health treatment, 15% are sex offenders and 66% [are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol].