Blog: California

Momentum Growing for Juvenile Realignment in California

Consensus is growing in the Capitol that California’s youth correctional facilities need to be closed, with funding and supervision responsibilities realigned to the counties.
Building on Past Policy Recommendations
In 2008 the Little Hoover Commission recommended that the state's Division of Juvenile Facilities (DJF) close its doors and for California to move towards a county-based juvenile system.
In early 2011, the Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO) concluded, “Less than 1 percent of juvenile arrests result in commitment to DJF, and counties have recently taken on responsibility for DJF parolees. Thus, under the Governor’s proposal, funding and responsibility for all juvenile offenders would be maintained at one level of government."
Moving Toward the Future
Governor Brown's office and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) are calling for DJF closure and full juvenile justice realignment. Governor Brown again called for a closure of DJF in his 2012-13 budget proposal released in January. Law enforcement groups blocked his juvenile realignment efforts last year. His proposal states, "The Budget proposes to expand on previous successful efforts to reform the state’s juvenile justice system by eventually transferring the responsibility for managing all youthful offenders to local jurisdictions. The Budget proposes to stop intake of new juvenile offenders effective January1, 2013.”
CDCR Secretary Cate was quoted in an Oakland Tribune and Contra Costa Times article last month:

Matthew Cate, California's corrections chief, predicted Brown's plan would be a boon to public safety. "The biggest benefit is it keeps wards close to home," Cate said.  "The evidence shows, especially with young people, that it eases the return to communities and reduces victimization."

After a decade of expensive reforms, California's youth detention centers could close

Henry Hernandez served half of his two years in the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice at the Preston Youth Correctional Facility. The initial intake dorm he stayed in was overcrowded with more than 60 youth from rival gangs fighting everyday, he said. Fights of more than five guys at a time broke out almost every week. The guards would use pepper spray or gas bombs to get things under control.
“There would be so much tension,” Hernandez said.
Pictures of kids in cages at what was then called California Youth Authority facilities adorned the front pages of California newspapers in the early 2000s. Media stories in the first half of that decade charged the Youth Authority with a range of abuses, including unlicensed medical and mental health treatment, and extreme use of force and solitary confinement.
Reforms to the juvenile justice system then reduced the population of the Youth Authority, now called the Division of Juvenile Justice, by 88% over the past decade.
Today, DJJ handles less than one percent of the 225,000 youths arrested in California each year.
Almost all the youth left in DJJ, about 1,200 people, are serious violent juvenile offenders or serious sex offenders, according to DJJ reports.
Last Thursday Gov Brown suggested eliminating DJJ altogether in his proposed budget plan. If the Legislature passes the plan the responsibility for these youth would shift back to the counties.
But even if the budget doesn’t pass as proposed there is a possibility that DJJ will close, and these serious juvenile offenders will be sent to state prison with adults.

Fewer youth in California state detention after juvenile realignment

Michael Bryant has been in and out of Juvenile Hall in Santa Cruz since he was 13 years old, when he started drinking alcohol everyday. Now 17, Bryant is doing time in a treatment center after plea-bargaining on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon.
Some counties would have viewed this crime as a second strike and sent Bryant to a state facility. But Santa Cruz rarely sends youth to the state for supervision. In part, that’s because the county is a participant in the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, a program of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
But like all California counties, Santa Cruz was also forced by state legislation to come up with new ways to keep youth out of detention facilities. For the past decade, county and state personnel have been “realigning” the juvenile justice system, in a process similar to the realignment of state prisons that started this October.
Bryant is relieved that he’s been diverted to treatment.
“Everyone that’s been says its pretty much getting you ready for prison,” he said of California Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ).
Instead of preparing for a life in prison, Bryant is working on a life without alcohol. “I can’t put alcohol in my system if I don’t want to get locked up again,” Bryant said. He has an apartment and a job lined up for when he finishes his treatment program in three to five months.
California counties could learn from the decade-long juvenile realignment process as they struggle to incorporate adult inmates from state prisons into their county jails and reduce overall inmate populations following the passage of AB 109. The state reduced the juvenile population by 88% since 1996 – and did it with no increase in juvenile crime.
The number of youth in DJJ facilities peaked in 1996 at 10,112. The population had steadily risen since the 1970s. A recent study released by the Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice attributes the increase to factors including decreased state funding for local programs, which essentially made it cheaper for counties to send kids who break the law to state facilities.

California’s Governor Sends Wake-Up Call to the State’s Counties

In his first move of 2012, California’s Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal for FY 2012-2013 appears to be part compromise, part wake-up call to the state’s counties, indicating he is serious about closing the state’s youth correctional system, the Division of Juvenile Facilities (DJF) once and for all.
Ideally, this proposal should provide some relief for counties because now there is the opportunity for funding of local juvenile justice programs. The proposed budget will postpone the “budget triggers” and allocate an initial $10 million to counties to plan for juvenile justice realignment, followed by approximately $100 million each year. The catch? No new commitments will be made to DJF as of Jan. 1, 2013 and counties will have no choice but to handle their high- needs and high- risk population locally.
In the last week of 2011, Gov. Brown proposed a measure to deter counties from sending youth to DJF. These “budget triggers” agitated many counties, more specifically those sending disproportionately high numbers of youth to DJF, rather than serving them locally. These counties and related special interest groups were obviously frustrated with Brown’s measure because they were forced to either pay $125,000 annually to keep a youth in DJF or handle them locally without funding.
Handling youthful offenders at the local level is what juvenile justice reformers nationwide have been advocating for years. Extensive research has documented that large institutional settings, when compared to rehabilitative alternatives with family-like settings, are far less effective in changing youth behavior or reducing recidivism. In California, the numbers speak for themselves. On average, more than three quarters of youth recidivate from DJF versus county-based rehabilitative options where recidivism rates are less than 40 percent.

What happens to adults with juvenile records?

Adolescence is a challenging time for most people. Teenagers undergo significant developmental, physical, psychological, and social changes during a condensed decade of time. We have all done embarrassing things as adolescents; however, we are comforted by our coming of age and the slow regression of those memories. According to a recent study, while 1 in 3 Americans have some contact with the juvenile justice system – most are cited for infractions. Youth who commit crime are in the minority (never more so than now), and even then, the infrequent contact they have is typically for a low-level misdemeanor (such as petty theft or vandalism) that often results in a community-based remedy and the dissolution of their delinquent record upon reaching adulthood.

But what of the teenagers who embark on more serious delinquent careers? An October 2011 blog by the Criminal Justice Degrees Guide, catalogues 8 different celebrities with juvenile records who have a successful and illustrious adult life. These celebrities include among others: Mark Wahlberg, Allen Iverson, Danny Trejo, all of whom where arrested for serious violent offenses as youth. In addition, both Merle Haggard and Danny Trejo served time as adolescents in California’s notorious Youth Authority (the state’s institutional system for juvenile offenders).

While most juvenile offenders do not continue on to an adult life of crime, including even the most serious offenders (as above), there can still be real-life consequences for adults with juvenile records. In California, for example, a juvenile court record is not automatically sealed upon reaching age 18. In fact, to have your juvenile court records sealed you must affirmatively file a petition with the juvenile court in the county where the conviction occurred. But not all juvenile records are sealable. Since the passage of Proposition 21 (2000), certain serious juvenile offenses committed by a 14-year-old or older are barred from sealing.

Does more "youth on the streets" mean more crime?

With a growing youth and immigrant population, one could expect an increase in local crime rates. However, this is often not true. In this short video, CJCJ senior research fellow Mike Males explains why California's crime rate is going down (even with increasing diversity and a large youth population) and why he is optimistic for the future of the golden state's juvenile justice system.

In a recently release policy brief, Dr. Males goes into more detail on the actual numbers of incarcerated youth in California: 

The De-Incarceration of California’s Juvenile Justice System

The juvenile justice system in California has been evolving faster than most other parts of the country. While Missouri, Texas and other states have reduced their youth prison populations, California has made the most drastic reductions. At its peak in 1996, California housed more than 10,000 adolescents in its youth prisons. Today there are 1,096 youth held in just four facilities with one of those scheduled to close in a little more than a month.
The idea of de-incarceration is not new. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the closure of Massachusetts’ youth training schools. Dr. Jerome G. Miller, then commissioner of youth corrections in Massachusetts implemented sweeping reforms, transferring more than 1,500 adolescents out of youth prison and into community-based alternatives. Subsequent research revealed that when youth are not subject to the harsh conditions of institutional prison environments, they are less prone to serious and violent behavior upon release. We’ve known since the late 1970s, then, that well- implemented community- based treatment alternatives are more effective at reducing recidivism.
Today, after decades of de-incarceration, juvenile crime is at an all time low both nationally and in California. Contrary to popular belief, the streets and our communities are safer when more adolescents are present. This is great news for society, and signals an opportunity to end the use of institutional monolithic structures such as California’s youth prisons for good.

Are teen curfews necessary?

Recently, the Oakland City Council deferred voting on a proposed juvenile curfew, titled the "Juvenile Protection Act." Is it a good idea to enact such curfews, and what is their effect on crime?
Some evidence, including this paper by Patrick Kline, suggest that youth curfews overall are effective in reducing crime for the juveniles below curfew age, but have no spillover effects above the curfew age. The study's population was that of cities with a 1990 population greater than 180,000, and compared cities with municipal codes that included youth curfews. The focus was on serious felonies, as other offenses could be attributed to police behavior rather than to youth criminality. The arrest data, he says, 

suggest that being subject to a curfew reduces the number of violent and property crimes committed by juveniles below the curfew age by approximately 10% in the year after enactment, with the effects intensifying substantially in subsequent years for violent crimes.
The magnitude of any biases in the estimates due to spillover effects is difficult to assess. The data do not provide evidence of any spillovers, though given the imprecision of the estimates we also cannot reject modest sized effects. It does seem safe to say that there are probably not any large spillover effects, meaning that curfews do not seem to reduce crime in general, but rather only for the targeted age-groups. This suggests that cities designing curfew legislation should choose the statutory curfew age carefully according to which age-groups are in greatest need of intervention.

However, for Oakland and San Francisco specifically, there are reasons to be skeptical. A recent piece by Mike Males in the San Francisco Chronicle was a good reminder of the fact that the U.S. seems to be the only country where its citizens, "can shop happily only when everyone under 18 is under house arrest. Not even in London during recent riots - and certainly not in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Rome, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, Toronto or other major cities - do police forcibly sweep young people off the streets."

Juvenile justice practice in California at a crossroads

With the decline in the use of state youth prisons, California counties must develop and implement evidence-based strategies that address the needs of youth with special needs who once were committed to the state. This position is supported by findings contained in Renewing Juvenile Justice, a 2011 report commissioned by Sierra Health Foundation and written by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.
In the report, the researchers provide a comprehensive historical account of California’s juvenile justice system that illustrates the origins of the current system’s most concerning challenges. More importantly, it provides a direction for establishing a model 21st century juvenile justice system designed to improve outcomes for youth, their families and caregivers.
Designed to be a helpful tool for local jurisdictions to renew juvenile justice practice, the report offers policy recommendations to return practice to a restorative, rehabilitative approach and expand culturally responsive, community-based services for high-risk youthful offenders.