|Law returns state-held juveniles to Kern for post-jail probation|
|Tuesday, 25 January 2011 09:42|
The Kern County Probation Department will assume supervision over the next three years of about 85 local youths who are currently at state-run facilities, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
The transition comes as a result of a recently enacted law that builds on a years-long trend of decentralization in juvenile rehabilitation and figures to help the state in a tough budgetary climate.
"The legislation was prompted by a philosophy that youth do better at rehabilitation when they're closer to their families and closer to the services they rely on in the community once they're released," said Bill Sessa, a spokesman for the state agency.
In essence, the county will attain probational supervision of the state-held youths as they are released from their housing commitments.
This phasing-out process will continue until July 2014, at which point the state will no longer supervise any juveniles beyond their residential detention time.
Local courts, which will take over the state Juvenile Parole Board's task of deciding on the conditions of a particular child's supervision, will also have the power to send a child back to a state-level Division of Juvenile Justice confinement facility.
State officials have met with the county agencies to help the transition process go smoothly, Sessa said. The counties are expected to receive some state money to offset the new costs.
Plus, the 85 or so youngsters who filter back into the county as a result of the new law make up a small percentage of the approximately 18,500 referrals processed by the local probation department in 2009.
The legislation affects fewer than 1,000 juveniles statewide, Sessa said. About two dozen youths from Kern County are sent to state detention facilities each year.
"I think our department is capable of supervising the youth that come back into the county," said Brandon Beecher, a deputy chief probation officer in Kern County. "It's a manageable number."
The county's probation department, which has 489 full-time employees, including 387 sworn officers, will not need to hire more staffers to deal with the slightly larger caseload, Beecher said.
"We're in a constant state of change," Beecher said. "But we're pretty resourceful when it comes to situations like this."
The closure of the Preston Youth Correctional Facility in Ione, Calif., southeast of Sacramento, by June is expected to save the state about $30 million this fiscal year, Sessa said. Eight other facilities have been closed since 2002. The state corrections department also cut 425 jobs last year, Sessa said.
Of greater concern to Beecher is a proposal in the works that would move toward eliminating state-level juvenile detention altogether. The youngsters housed in state facilities have usually committed the most serious crimes, he said.
"It's really gonna tie the juvenile court's hands because they're not gonna have that as an option," Beecher said. "We'd have to come up with future options at the local level.
"If we can't commit kids to the state program, and the state's not gonna give us money to house those kids in custody, all of a sudden you see where we're at."
BY THE NUMBERS
* There are 85 or so Kern County youths who are currently in state-level confinement. They will return to the county for probational supervision upon release by 2014.
* More than 4,000 youths were formally supervised by the Kern County Probation Department in 2008-09. About 1,400 youths successfully completed probation that year.
* The county's Juvenile Hall had more than 3,000 intakes in 2008-09. The average length of stay there is about 18 days.
* The county probation department sent 14 youths to state Division of Juvenile Justice facilities last year. It usually refers 22 to 25 juveniles to state-run centers each year.
* The county probation department's expenditures were $64.2 million in 2008-09, more than double the 1998-99 figure of $24.6 million. Its net cost to the county more than tripled, from $7.8 million to $26.7 million, during that span.
* A 40-bed housing unit at the 120-capacity Kern Crossroads Facility was recently closed for budgetary considerations.
Source: Kern County Probation Department