Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, four California state-run juvenile facilities are slated to close, according to a Juvenile Justice Information Exchange (JJIE) article.
Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed a plan that would close some juvenile hall facilities, shifting the youth offenders to the supervision of county probation departments.
“In order to reduce the number of people in confinement, we need to reduce the institutions of the confinement,” said Daniel Macallair, executive director of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ), in the article.
“It’ll be a mosaic. Some counties will do a good job and underperforming counties will need help,” Macallair added.
The Department of Youth and Community Restoration would be created, under the Health and Human Services agency, as the state plans to move the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) out of the Dept. of Corrections.
“This is overall a good thing, but there are absolutely concerns,” David Muhammad, executive director of the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, told the JJIE reporter.
“The (county) juvenile halls in California are not designed nor equipped to run long-term rehabilitation and treatment programs. They don’t have the space or the resources to do that effectively. There’s going to need to be some changes,” he added.
Before the closures are implemented in the coming year, the state still has
to deal with the coronavirus outbreak in the state’s juvenile and adult system. Some criminal justice activists are advocating for the release of the incarcerated youth.
“What is unique about kids is they are experiencing anxiety and confusion differently than adults, and that compounds the normal stress” of being incarcerated said Ji Seon Song, a former Juvenile Public Defender who is president of Pacific Juvenile Defender Center, according to an Orange Country Register article. “The kids in juvenile are no different than (other)
kids,” Seon Song added.
Some activists are concerned about the isolation and the mental health of the youth. “When you are locked up, it’s hard for your mental health, the boredom, the lack of intellectual stimulation,” said Kim McGill, of
the Youth Justice Coalition in Los Angeles, in the OC Register article.
Megan Stanton-Trehan, Loyola Law School director of the youth justice education clinic, added “What we’re seeing (now) is clients being locked in their rooms all day…Pretty much the only way to (accomplish social distancing) is by isolating kids, so it’s like solitary confinement,” Stanton-Trehan told the OC Register reporter.
Some county courts, along with their probation department, are already releasing some low-level youth offenders to reduce the juvenile population, reported the OC Register.
Stanton-Trehan insists, “The situation needs to be addressed by releasing most of the kids.”
The modifications to the way juveniles are housed is
intended to align with the state’s mission of rehabilitative, trauma-informed and developmental services within its juvenile justice system, according to the JJIE article. However, the state is facing a $54 billion budget crisis due to the consequences of the coronavirus, notes the same article.
Shifting the responsibility of the youth offenders to county probation departments causes major concerns around planning and resources.
“The youth at DJJ have the most serious needs, which if left unaddressed, pose the most serious risk to our communities,” said Chief Brian Richart, president of the Chief Probation Officers of California (CPOC), in a statement to JJIE.
“As evidenced by low numbers of youth at DJJ, if probation currently had the service in place at the local level, we would be treating these youth locally already. While we might be professionally prepared for this, we are not financially and structurally prepared for it and this proposal, as written, does not do enough to get us there.”
But most of the stakeholders in the process are optimistic.
“The fact that it’s disappearing is just astonishing,” Vincent Schiraldi, co-director of the Columbia University Justice Lab, said to JJIE. “If California can close their youth prison system, everybody can close their youth prison system.”
In something of a precedent for the proposal in California, the state of New York in 2012 removed all New York City juveniles from the state’s incarceration system. Vermont and Connecticut have also moved to end their state-run youth incarceration systems.