Editor's note: This story is part of a 10-part investigative series: Lessening the impact of incarceration in Oakland.
Judge Gloria Rhynes leveled with the young Oakland mother whose third grader had missed two months of school.
"Did you know, the California Department of Corrections looks at who is absent in the third grade to figure out how many prison cells they are going to need when those children are adults?" Judge Rhynes, an Alameda County Superior Court judge, asked her as the mother’s case was heard in Truancy Court one morning in early May.
"The correlation is that strong," between missing school in the elementary years and winding up in jail, she said, between not learning third grade skills of reading and multiplication to falling so far behind in middle school that by high school the student drops out, the Judge continued. "I just convicted a 19-year old to 30 years to life. Do you think he had an education? Heck no."
Two out of three kids who drop out of Oakland public schools come into contact with the criminal justice system, according to an Oakland Unified School District report. And the dropout rate is 37 percent among Oakland public high school students. In some of Oakland's poorest neighborhoods, more than half of high school students do not graduate.
Editor's note: This story is part of a 10-part investigative series: Lessening the impact of incarceration in Oakland.
Over the last 20 years, numerous studies have confirmed that children who experience maltreatment are more likely to be referred/arrested for delinquent offenses. Maltreated children have also been found to more likely become involved in the adult criminal justice system. In fact, a 2004 National Institute of Justice study found maltreated children to be 11 times more likely than a matched control group to be arrested, and 2.7 times more likely to be arrested as an adult.
In 2011, the California Senate Office of Research released findings about the foster care experiences of California prison inmates who were scheduled to be paroled within eight months of June 2008. This research found that of the 2,549 polled inmates, 316 men and 40 women (14%) had been in foster care sometime during their youth and half of this percentage had been placed in group homes.
As a result of these studies, several child protective service (CPS) agencies, including the Department of Children and Family Services in Los Angeles County (LA), have joined forces with their counterparts in the juvenile justice system to collaboratively service youth who were concurrently involved in both of these systems. These youth are commonly referred to as “crossover” youth. While LA was observing some initial positive outcomes from these teaming efforts, two leaders  involved in the effort wondered if it was possible through research to identify which of the maltreated children were the most likely to become delinquent. If this was possible, then perhaps new practices could be adopted to prevent these youth from becoming delinquent, thereby increasing the likelihood that these most at-risk youth would become productive adults versus adult criminals.
Last month, members of CJCJ’s Wraparound team had the honor of presenting to juvenile justice leaders from select California counties at the Sierra Health Foundation’s Positive Youth Justice Initiative (PYJI) Speaker Series. Juvenile Justice Clinical Supervisor, Margaret Hitchcock and Wrap Rehabilitation Counselor, Randell Lewis, were joined by CJCJ’s Executive Director, Daniel Macallair, San Francisco Deputy Director of Juvenile Probation, Allison Magee, and Statewide expert on EPSDT and Wraparound funds, Joseph Harrington. As one of California’s model counties, the San Francisco collaborative was invited by Sierra Health Foundation to discuss its community-based wraparound approach toward serving high-needs youth.
(Sierra Health Foundation’s Positive Youth Justice Initiative - Applying a Community‐Based Wraparound Approach from Youth Empowerment Studios on Vimeo.)
This wraparound model would not be effective without the collaboration between the San Francisco Probation Department, Public Defender’s Office, other county departments and community-based nonprofits. As a result of this collaboration, San Francisco has seen a dramatic reduction in recidivism since implementation of the Wraparound program in 2009.
Editor's note: This story is part of a 10-part investigative series: Lessening the impact of incarceration in Oakland.
Eunique is a vibrant 18-year-old African-American student at Oakland’s Fremont High whose Dad was incarcerated when she was seven years old.
“I’ll be honest with you,” she said as her broad smile stopped in its tracks. “I didn’t get any help from anybody during all of the years that my Dad was in prison. No one ever asked me how I was doing.”
During the nine years that her Dad was away, Eunique said she felt like an outcast.
“I felt like I was all alone and different than all of the other kids and families,” she said. ”It was awful.”
Studies show stories like Eunique's are the norm.
Teens face unique challenges, according to "Children on the Outside: Voicing the Pain and Costs of Parental Incarceration," a Justice Strategies report published in 2011. Like other children of incarcerated parents, they often face separation from siblings, having to move from place to place and increased poverty. Teens have an increased risk of delinquent behavior and an increased likelihood of school failure along with a sense of stigma and shame that impacts on their sense of who they are in the world.
For the better part of the last two decades, The Beat Within has been committed to a mission of providing incarcerated youth with a forum where they can write (and draw) about the things that matter most to them, explore how they have lost connection with those things they value, and consider how they might re-connect to positive situations in their lives through the power of the written word.
This is a program that started small, in the Bay Area, with a commitment to provide detained kids between the ages of 11 to 18 with a safe space to share their ideas and experiences while promoting literacy, self-expression, some critical thinking skills, and healthy, supportive relationships with adults and their community.
That modest local effort has grown into a nationwide program that touches the lives of more than 5,000 youth in detention. Today, you can find weekly Beat workshops going on in 12 California county juvenile halls, from Alameda to San Diego. We are partnering with universities from U.C. Berkeley to the University of Hawaii. Meanwhile, the workshop model for The Beat is being replicated in Arizona, Texas, Alabama, New Mexico, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, D.C., and, thanks to the JJIE, Georgia.
An Inland Empire-based program launched in 2008 is proving that new thinking about keeping juvenile offenders out of state and county facilities can lead to dramatic results within just a few years.
In California, San Bernardino's Gateway Program takes each juvenile offender, or "ward," and tailors a specific program to match each of them. Every single one who passes through contributes to a database that allows the county to conduct quarterly reviews and change course where ncessary.
"The Gateway Program focuses on education and vocation, combined with quarterly assessment of outcomes," said Brenda Perez, the program's director.
The numbers speak for themselves. The program's flexibility and constant evolution has made it incredibly efficient, slashing taxpayer costs by 20 percent compared to housing the same wards in state facilities.
A young woman in South Los Angeles is trading her violent past for a video camera in order to break the cycle of violence in her neighborhood.
When she was 12, Claudia Gómez lost her sister to a violent ex-boyfriend. Her grief became anger which led to violence and she hurt people. But everything changed when she became pregnant and had a daughter. She turned her life around and began working at FREE L.A. High, a charter school that educates students who've spent time in the correctional system. In addition to a traditional education, students at FREE L.A. High learn about social justice and community organizing.
Now, Claudia is working with documentary filmmaker Jennifer Maytorena Taylor to film and produce thoughtful and honest interviews with former teen offenders about their lives.
From KQED's California Report:
The High Desert Daily Press featured a three-part story last week exploring how San Bernardino County prosecutes, supervises, and rehabilitates their juvenile offenders. Daily Press reporter Beatriz E. Valenzuela looked at patterns of juvenile crime and arrest reductions, the unbridled powers of local district attorneys to “direct file” juveniles into adult court and the impact of adult realignment and Governor Brown’s juvenile realignment plan on local corrections systems.
The facts highlighted by the Daily Press are well known to criminal justice experts, but also demonstrate the many contradictions that exist in county and state-level juvenile justice practices. The third article also includes some unfortunate misinformation.
Ms. Valenzuela quotes San Bernardino County Probation spokesman Chris Condon saying, “The state continued to take 707b offenders, or those who committed serious or violent felonies, and we at the county level housed the lower-level 707a offenders.” Mr. Condon argues that counties cannot handle more serious 707b youth offenders and that, “there are certain offenders who even with some rehab will not do well.”
Yet San Bernardino County’s own local practices contradict this statement. San Bernardino County Probation manages the Gateway Program, a secure facility for high-needs youth. The probation department’s evaluation of the program shows that serious 707b offenders comprise 36% of the juvenile offenders in the Gateway Program.*
California is embarking on an ambitious and deep-rooted reform of its corrections system, an effort that has come to be know as realignment. Gov. Jerry Brown’s main aims in this undertaking is to reduce dramatically high costs, as well as overcrowding and recidivism rates by transferring non-serious adult offenders and parolees from the state to the counties.
But concurrent to this effort, many reform-minded criminal justice advocates also propose a full devolution of the state juvenile system to local counties. Full juvenile realignment is a historic opportunity to end a failed system, while addressing county-level discrepancies in sentencing and services. California’s 58 counties already manage much of the juvenile system, including total responsibility for supervising probation.
Amid growing acceptance, the conversation around juvenile justice realignment in California stands to enter a new phase. In addition to Gov. Brown, Department of Finance, Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO), Little Hoover Commission, and various stakeholders are now publicly calling for empowering counties to assume full responsibility for serving their youthful offenders.
Sacramento understands the exorbitant costs for maintaining a dual juvenile justice system, both in fiscal terms and as detrimental to effective rehabilitation. Per a recent report from the LAO, the state-run Division of Juvenile Facilities (DJF) spent $179,000 per youth for 2011-2012. Yet this spending does not temper the widespread culture of violence in the facilities, nor does it treat and educate our youth. As such, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) recently found an 80% re-arrest rate within three years of a youth’s release. DJF facilities remain in a condition of continued disrepair. Nevertheless, California is legally bound to spend enormous sums for their replacement and upkeep, as a result of an ongoing lawsuit.
I really wanted to attend the Homeboy Industries and teen substance abuse interventions panel at JMATE, but didn't make it to the session. So I missed learning about Homeboy Industries' Project STAR program that works with recently released juveniles with a history of the substance abuse. They offer in-house, trauma-informed treatment that is sensitive to the unique needs of formerly gang-involved youth. Mental health services are a central part of the program, as are job trainings and academic and life skills classes.
Started as an alternative to gang violence in Los Angeles, Homeboy Industries trains and hires at-risk, recently released and former gang involved young people with the goals of transforming troubled youth into productive members of their communities. They provide free counseling, education, tattoo removal, substance abuse and addiction assistance, job training and job placement services.
Fast Company has a terrific piece on Homeboy Industries, its founder (Father Gregory Boyle) and the key people in charge of running the nonprofit.
Father Gregory Boyle moved to East Los Angeles 26 years ago, and began walking and biking the neighborhood. He became friendly with the community and even visited gang members in the hospital. And one day, he realized that he could help residents escape the pervasive cycle of violence.
Joaquin DiazDeLeon is a college student, youth justice advocate and a Mayoral Appointee to the San Francisco Reentry Council. He's also spent time in the juvenile justice system.
Joaquin was recently featured on KQED's "Perspectives" program, where he discussed his time in juvenile detention and California Governor Brown's realignment proposal:
The whole point of juvenile incarceration should be about reform, preparing young people to re-enter society. Too often though, I felt like nothing more than a paycheck for guards whose sole job it was to lock and unlock doors...At 16, I was sent to two different state facilities that were more than 100 miles from my hometown. Gangs dominated the culture, and egos raged out of control. I was in a fight on my very first day.
Separated by a two-hour drive from my mom, my town and everything I knew, I spent a long time believing that I was labeled for life. I couldn't imagine a day when I would be anything other than my crimes, when people could see me as a human again.
I think people are missing the point when they debate whether or not counties should re-take control of juvenile justice, because I'm shocked communities ever gave teenagers away to the state in the first place. Rehabilitation happens when teenagers are forced to connect to their communities and confront their mistakes. Teen offenders need to understand that they're defecating where they eat. They need community support, instead of being locked up far away.
On Thursday, the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Public Safety heard testimony on Governor Brown’s proposal to close California’s remaining youth correctional facilities and shift supervision of the remaining 985 youth to the county-level. Strong public testimony was offered by the Department of Finance, the Legislative Analysts Office, the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ), and the Commonweal Foundation arguing for complete juvenile realignment from a variety of angles.
Dan Macallair, Executive Director of CJCJ, argued that the state can no longer afford to maintain dual systems for youthful offenders, especially with costs estimated at $1 million per cell to replace the three remaining decrepit DJF facilities in Stockton and Ventura. He pointed out that many counties are already serving high-need youth offenders with a wide array of secure facilities and community-based services at their disposal for youth rehabilitation.
David Steinhart, Juvenile Justice Program Director at Commonweal, presented ideas for staggered options for full juvenile realignment. He mentioned the “buy-back and opt-in” idea that was discussed in negotiations last year where counties receive a certain level of funding per youth ward, but can then purchase bed space at DJF if they desire.
In a juvenile detention center there is dedicated teacher who refuses to let students fail. He knows their hardships. He knows how to help them succeed. He’s been through it himself.
“We try to help our students realize their potential and let them know they can achieve,” said East Mesa Detention Facility teacher JiAel Brownell.
Brownell, 32, was recently honored by Union Bank and KPBS as a Local Hero in celebration of Black History Month. KPBS sent a camera crew to interview him on the job last month about his work with juvenile offenders.
Brownell teaches English, Social Studies and U.S. History to the longer-term offenders.
“He’s not giving up on me or just watching me fail,” said Sergio Ramirez Fuerta, 18, one of Brownell’s students. “I tell him, ‘I can’t do it’ and he tells me, ‘Don’t give up’ and I trust him.”
Fuerta said he needs special help at times because he wasn’t attending school before he got in trouble. Since experiencing some success in Brownell’s classroom, he said he now plans to get his diploma when he finishes his sentence.
Humboldt County's Probation Department is leading the way in utilizing innovative funding streams for serving California's highest-risk, highest-need youthful offenders. The department utilizes innovating funding streams in their New Horizons program to provide mental health in-facility and aftercare treatment in a way that puts rehabilitation at the center of their department's mission.
From Humboldt’s County Probation Department's website:
New Horizons, an intensive in-custody Mental Health treatment program, is offered within the secure environment of the Northern California Regional Facility. Treatment services include a combination of medication support, individual, group, and family counseling, alcohol/drug assessment and counseling, skill development training focused on anger management, moral judgment, the correction of thinking errors, social skills, and victim awareness.
The transition to the aftercare phase of the program, offered to both participants and their families, includes linkage to the Mental Health System of Care Services, out-patient counseling and/or medication support, and case management services. Individualized strength-based child and family case plans are developed using the Family Unity process followed by the integration of wraparound services to support the minor and his/her family throughout community care programming.
Last month, California's Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO), joined the growing momentum for Governor Brown's juvenile realignment proposal with a report explaining the potential financial incentives. While advocates and pollicy groups continue to call for realignment and the de-incarceration of the juvenile system, it's important to take a step back and hear from the families with children in the system.
In an interview with Turnstyle News, Sumayyah Waheed, director of the Ella Baker Center's Books Not Bars campaign, explains why the current system is making it difficult for families to stay connected with their kids, which in turn makes it more difficult for the kids to rehabilitate:
About two years ago, the director of an Alameda County’s juvenile justice residential program known as Camp Sweeney asked the County’s Emergency Medical Services Agency to come to career day at the camp. The agency pulled out some stops to impress the kids: they flew in a helicopter. Firefighters and paramedics volunteered to talk to the 70 or so youth serving time.
Afterwards, the kids were asked what they wanted to be when they grew up.
“Historically, they said police or probation officers, because those were the adults they had positive experience with,” said Alex Briscoe, director of the Alameda County Health Care Services Agency.
But this time, 15 young men said they wanted to be Emergency Medical Technicians.
The result has been an unusual collaboration that is changing the lives of many troubled youth.
Responding to that initial interest, a few EMS staff volunteered to provide a free first responder training at the camp. When that program was successful, they offered free EMT training classes Monday and Wednesday evenings at the Health Care Services Agency building. The classes were open to anyone in the community, and many graduates of the program at Camp Sweeney got involved.
You have no doubt gotten a glimpse at the criminal justice system through the news and the plethora of crime shows on television. But, when the person accused of committing a crime is a minor, the process may be less familiar to people, since the law provides strict guidelines for protecting a juvenile’s rights and privacy in the juvenile justice system.
The County plays an important part in the juvenile justice process. The Probation Department serves as the screening agency for most law enforcement referrals to the juvenile justice system and works with police, the District Attorney and the Juvenile Court to determine the best way to provide rehabilitation for a young person while protecting community safety, which is the overriding principle of the system. Here’s a brief look at how the system works.
When a juvenile is arrested by police, the police submit an application for petition to Probation outlining the circumstances of the crime. Probation then assesses the petition and decides how the case should be handled. The assessment is very thorough, considering the crime, family circumstances, psychological factors, and any other details that may have an impact on the most appropriate option for referring the case. When Probation believes the juvenile is in need of formal intervention from the juvenile court, the case is submitted to the District Attorney who makes the decision as to whether charges will be filed.
Last week the LAO released a report entitled "Completing Juvenile Justice Realignment." The report supports Governor Brown's juvenile realignment proposal and calls for a staggered closure of DJF facilities while transferring funding and supervision responsibilities to the county level. The LAO notes that the state's current two-tier system where the state supervises just 1% of incarcerated youth limits county responsibility, limits coordination of community-based rehabilitative services for youth, and restrains counties from innovation and efficiency in delivering treatment services to serious youth offenders.
The report also notes that county practices and county capacity to serve serious youth offenders varies greatly and that sustained funding and technical assistance provision is critical to a successful realignment.
Moving forward, the LAO recommends that the Governor's administration follows the SB 81 "weighted" funding formula in allocating resources to counties based on current DJF commitments as well as juvenile felony arrest rates. The LAO also notes that there is approximately $68 million of unspent state funding for juvenile facilities that could be used for upgrading county camps and ranches for long-term detention and rehabilitation of youth offenders.
The LAO follows many of CJCJ's recommendations in our "Juvenile Realignment in 2012" report, including setting a concrete closure date for DJF in 2015, and calling for a more intensive role for the new Board of State and Community Corrections in coordinating technical assistance for counties, evaluation of effective treatments, and monitoring conditions in county juvenile facilities.
As California and the nation continue to struggle with budget crises, creative and cost-effective approaches in the provision of services for high-needs youthful offender populations are becoming increasingly necessary.
Leaders in California, Georgia and New York have recently called for reform or “realignment” of their out-of-date state-run juvenile justice systems. While the urgency for reform in many states is a result of strained state budgets, it serves as an opportunity to engage juvenile justice stakeholders to restructure their juvenile justice systems in a more efficient and effective manner.
One population to pay particular attention to when planning for juvenile justice realignment is the disproportionate number of youth with mental health needs in juvenile facilities, known as the “crossover caseload.”
These highest-needs youth have historically been neglected during times of reform, when in fact they are the youth most in need of quality, individualized care. As a result of 1980s mental health system reform, juvenile justice systems, in effect, replaced public psychiatric hospitals in the care of mentally ill youth; despite the fact that the juvenile justice system lacks the resources to provide adequate services for this population.
Although rates of juvenile incarceration have been declining, a disproportionate number of youth in this crossover caseload are still being confined, between 50-70 percent nationally and 42 percent in California, according to conservative estimates.
A recent report by the W. Haywood Burns Institute indicates that while California’s current corrections policies appear to be race-neutral, data shows that many young people of color are being incarcerated at higher rates than white youth for non-criminal acts rather than being treated for mental health and behavioral health needs. The report, titled “Non-Judicial Drivers into the Juvenile Justice System for Youth of Color,” highlights multiple studies that point to the same conclusion:
“Using locked cells to change the behaviors of teenagers is ineffective, expensive, and more likely to increase crime.”
The Burns Institute highlights the “non-judicial drivers” that result in high rates of incarceration among youth of color. An example of a non-judicial driver is school referrals for disorderly conduct accounting for 40 percent of annual juvenile arrests in California. The authors also highlight cases where low-risk youth with high mental health needs are placed in long-term detention with no treatment of the underlying trauma that is contributing to their delinquent behavior.