By Dillon Kim, Journalism Guild Writer
San Francisco voted to close its Juvenile Hall and replace it with a smaller “rehabilitative center” to provide a more home-like setting for youths who don’t need to be detained but can’t return home.
The Board of Supervisors voted 10-1 on June 4 to shut the facility by the end of 2021.
Mayor London Breed and some other community leaders oppose the facility’s complete closure and instead support institutional reform. “What about a teenager charged with murdering someone? Someone’s son or daughter is dead and so what happens to that young person?” said Breed. “Sometimes there is a need [for incarceration]. And so what does that look like?”
California law mandates that certain juveniles must be held in a secure facility.
According to a recent report in the San Francisco Chronicle, juvenile delinquency rates in the U.S. and California have declined over the past decade.
Last January, just forty-five youths remained housed in SF’s juvenile hall—less than one-third of its full capacity. At that rate of occupancy, the city spends almost $270,000 annually to incarcerate a single child, according to numbers released by the Young Women’s Freedom Center.
Additionally, HuffPost reported that San Francisco’s population is only 5% Black—yet Black children comprise 60% of its incarcerated juvenile population,.
Supervisor Catherine Stefani was the only holdout to vote “no” against the ordinance.
“I do believe this piece of legislation is well-intended. I’m on the same page in terms of why we are doing this,” said Stefani. “But when we flip that page to the solution, I’m not there yet because I have a hard time closing Juvenile Hall with a date certain and without a plan in place.”
The new ordinance creates a 12-person team that will include city officials, juvenile justice experts and community members—all working to develop feasible alternatives to youth incarceration. It also calls for redirecting the funds allocated for Juvenile Hall to programs that support youth mental health treatment and academic aid.
As a 16-year-old, Leticia Silot spent time incarcerated at the city’s juvenile hall. She spoke about her experience recently in an interview for KQED on National Public Radio (NPR).
“Man, it felt like forever. I don’t even know what time it was half the time because they take the clocks out,” Silot recalled. “They don’t let us have clocks in the building, so it’s like- it’s very confusing.”
Supervisor Matt Haney told the Examiner, “The harsh truth is that the incarceration of children in jail-like environments, behind steel doors in concrete rooms, does not work. Incarceration adds trauma and pain to the lives of children who have often experienced an unimaginable amount of trauma and pain.
“Kids need treatment, support, education, community-based, non-incarceration-based opportunities. They need better than we are doing now.”