Blog: Realignment

From Incarceration to Fighting Fires: Teens Preparing to Reintegrate into Society

Driving into the wooded campus of Pine Grove Youth Conservation Camp feels like arriving at a summer camp – until you see the road signs warning that you are entering a correctional facility.
The mint green office, school, kitchen and dorm buildings are relics from their Civilian Conservation Corps days. The only hint that something unique is happening here is the large garage with red and white ambulance-looking vehicles marked CAL FIRE parked inside.
At this camp, about 60 young men aged 18-25 serve the last year of their sentence with the California Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) fighting wild land fires and responding to other emergencies on a CAL FIRE crew. There are no fences, the doors are unlocked and wards are regularly left unsupervised.
“We give them opportunities to screw up,” says Camp Superintendent Mike Roots. “We hope they don’t—but sometimes it takes a while.”
The main goal of the camp is to prepare wards to return to their communities with a work ethic and job skills that will help them be productive members of society. But after a decade of juvenile realignment, Roots says that goal is getting harder to achieve.

New John Jay College Report Looks at Juvenile Justice Reforms

The Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice recently released a comprehensive report that discusses state juvenile justice reforms. “Pioneers of Youth Justice Reform: Achieving System Change Using Resolution, Reinvestment and Realignment Strategies” explores various reform initiatives that have reduced each state’s reliance on confinement facilities for youth.
The Problem
Imprisonment is a costly punishment for adults and juveniles, both monetarily and in terms of its impact on recidivism. Incarceration currently is a multi-billion dollar industry and typically accounts for a majority of state criminal justice budget expenditures. Given the current economic recession, the need for state officials to explore mechanisms for reducing expenses is greater than ever. Equally as important, incarceration is associated with an increased likelihood of reoffending. Statistics indicate that two-thirds of inmates will be arrested within three years of their release from prison. The destructive consequences of incarceration have led some states to look into alternatives to incarceration, especially for court-involved youth.
Reform Strategies

The Case for Phased Juvenile Justice Realignment in California

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.

A New Perspective on CA's Juvenile Realignment Proposal from a Reformed Teen Offender

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.

California Senate Hears Arguments for Juvenile Justice Realignment

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.

Humboldt County's Regional "New Horizons" Program Delivers Impressive Results

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.

What Realignment of CA's Juvenile System Could Mean for Families

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:

California's Legislative Analysts Office Calls for Completing Juvenile Realignment

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.

Budget Crises, High-Needs Kids and Juvenile Justice Reforms

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.

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."

New York Governor seeks to realign juvenile justice system

Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York recently unveiled his budget plan to policymakers, and included significant juvenile justice reforms in the plan.
After previously closing some of the state’s juvenile lockups due to their ineffectiveness, Governor Cuomo is now asking lawmakers to close additional facilities and to send lower risk youths from New York City to facilities back in their hometown.
New York’s juvenile facilities are expensive and they often don’t work. Right on Crime has previously noted the extraordinary recidivism rates for youth exiting state lockup facilities in New York: over 80% return to a facility of some sort within ten years, and costs stretch over $250,000 per year.
Under Governor Cuomo’s plan, youth currently in non-secure facilities would begin receiving programming closer to home in the next biennium; in the 2014-2015 biennium, youth in limited-secure facilities would be transitioned closer to home.

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.

Are we reducing crime by limiting the use of incarceration?

When casual readers of the news media search for stories about juvenile crime and justice today, they find a lot of good news. Other than the perennial media coverage of individual crimes and victimization, an online search about juvenile justice today generates dozens of stories about states uncovering abuses in their youth corrections systems, reducing their rates of juvenile incarceration and increasing their reliance on community-based programs for young offenders.
Many of these stories refer to the ongoing decline in crime and violence as possible proof that these changes in policy and practice are improving public safety. But, a prudent reader will stop to ask about the direction of causality in these explanations. Are we reducing crime by limiting the use of incarceration, or is incarceration down because crime is down? The question is more than a topic for academic study. We need to consider our answer carefully if we hope to sustain these recent improvements over the long term.
The number of juvenile offenders being held in secure correctional institutions has been falling nationwide. Advocates in the juvenile justice field welcome this reform because reductions in the use of secure confinement allow state and local jurisdictions to intervene with young offenders in their own homes and communities, which is less costly and can be more effective than incarceration in reducing recidivism and preventing crime.
My colleague Douglas Evans and I recently reviewed the most prominent juvenile correctional reform models from the past 40 years, and we concluded that some models of reform were likely to be more sustainable than others. Specifically, we recommended the "realignment" approach now being implemented in California and those established in Wayne County (Detroit), Michigan since 2000.