|Gov. Brown proposes shutting juvenile prison system (again)|
|Tuesday, 10 January 2012 10:01|
By Rina Palta for The Informant
Almost a year after seemingly giving up on the idea, Governor Jerry Brown again announced that he’ll close the Division of Juvenile Justice, California’s youth prison system. The DJJ, known as the California Youth Authority (CYA) until a lawsuit prompted a system overhaul and inspired a corresponding name change, is slated for gradual shutdown starting this year, according to Brown’s proposed budget.
At the moment, the DJJ operates five prisons, two camps, and eight parole offices throughout the state. As of last published counts, there are 1,118 juvenile offenders in DJJ facilities, a fraction of the approximately 225,000 juveniles arrested in the state each year. That number also represents a massive downsizing that’s happened over the last decade at the state level. In 1996, the DJJ reached a peak of 10,000 inmates. Then the system began to unwind and shrink. In 2004, the state agreed to massive overhauls following a lawsuit against the then-CYA that alleged widespread violence, mistreatment, and lack of rehabilitation. In 2007 a law passed that reserved DJJ institutionalization for only the most serious offenders.
Despite its relatively small size, critics of the system have continued to call for its closure over the years, among them the Bay Area’s Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice. In a report released today, CJCJ staffers write that ongoing issues illustrated in the 2004 lawsuit and the Division of Juvenile Facilities’ 80 percent recidivism rate demonstrate that the system is a waste of taxpayer money. Moving these offenders, as has happened with lower level offenders, to the county level, they say, is the right way to go. “Governor Brown is correct when he asserts that the best correctional interventions are those delivered at the point where the offender is most likely to return,” writes CJCJ Executive Director Dan Macallair.
Not everyone agrees with the idea of shuttering the state system, which primarily houses those under 25 who’ve been convicted of assault, robbery, and homicide. The California Correctional Peace Officers Association reportedly opposes the change, which could result in job losses for its membership. Moreover, counties struggling with realignment of adult offenders are already strapped for cash and facilities for its probation departments, the likely recipients of onetime DJJ-bound inmates.
However most regions would feel relatively little impact. Currently, 7 of the state’s 51 counties account for nearly two-thirds of the DJJ population.