|No open and shut case in California|
|Monday, 14 May 2012 09:40|
By Jennie Rodriguez-Moore for Recordnet.com
Authorities from California's 58 counties say they are not ready to handle violent juveniles headed their direction.
District attorneys throughout the state are warning that more young people will be charged as adults if Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to end the juvenile justice system becomes law Jan. 1.
But some youth advocates argue that the shift is a step in the right direction. They argue that California's best option is to replace the broken juvenile-justice system.
Brown's revised budget is scheduled for release today, and stakeholders on both sides are anxious to see what changes are ahead.
San Joaquin County officials share the concerns of their counterparts.
"Chief Probation Officers of California is adamantly opposing the closure of the Department of Juvenile Justice," said Stephanie James, the county's interim chief probation officer. "We feel there is a need because most county probation departments don't have the capacity or resources to become long-term facilities."
Brown's proposal also has drawn strong opposition from two members of the state Legislature who represent San Joaquin County constituencies.
The Stockton area is home to two of the four state correctional facilities reserved for juveniles with the most serious criminal backgrounds.
N.A. Chaderjian houses wards ages 18 to 25, and O.H. Close is for juveniles younger than 18.
James said the county provides rehabilitation services for juveniles, but it is not prepared for teenagers convicted of violent crimes, which include murder, attempted murder, rape and armed robberies.
District attorneys throughout the state have warned that they will charge more juveniles as adults to avoid sending violent offenders to less-equipped county programs.
"It definitely will force us to charge more in adult court," said Michael Mulvihill, the county's supervising deputy district attorney.
There are 16 wards from San Joaquin County in a state juvenile prison facility.
On the other hand, there are 61 juveniles who have been charged as adults. Ninety percent involve the use of firearms.
"Juveniles themselves have become extremely more violent in our area," Mulvihill said.
State Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, has been an open critic of the governor's juvenile justice plan. Counties already are dealing with an influx of lower-level adult prisoners from California's realignment plan.
Closing state juvenile justice facilities will add more strain to counties. "We're talking about a very different population," said Wolk, a member of the Senate Budget Committee on Corrections and Public Safety. "It's a small number ... but they are the most serious offenders."
Wolk and Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, wrote a letter to Brown, arguing that shutting down the juvenile-justice system will neither save money nor result in a positive outcome for the youth offenders.
Wolk added later that treating juveniles is far too expensive for the state.
"Until we understand why that is the case, and how to fix it, and how we should improve it, we should not be realigning them," Wolk said.
Bill Sessa, a spokesman for the state Department of Juvenile Justice, said reduction in the ward population would come through attrition, not a wholesale shift of wards.
Sue Burrell, a staff attorney with the Youth Law Center in San Francisco, worries about the fate of young offenders in an adult prison system.
"We really don't want to see more kids going into the adult system," she said. "Research shows that kids handled in the adult system have actually much worse outcomes."
The annual cost for each juvenile incarcerated was about $250,000 in 2009, according to a study by the Little Hoover Commission.
Legislative changes have led to counties taking on increasing responsibility of lower-level juveniles offenders, scaling down the state population from 10,000 wards in 1996 to 1,100 today.
Advocacy groups remain unsatisfied by the rate of reform.
Sumayyah Waheed, director of the advocacy group Books Not Bars, said the state has not fully established rehabilitation programs, and its recidivism rate for youth offenders is still high - 81 percent.
Waheed's group has pushed for juvenile justice realignment since 2004. "By having youth at counties, you have the opportunity to develop better programs," she said.
She also said treating inmates closer to home allows their families to be part of the rehabilitation process. "It's something that is missing from the Department of Juvenile Justice," Waheed said.
She said her group is frustrated county authorities have not done a better job of planning.
"The opposition to it has been such a distraction that it takes away from the time that is needed to plan," she said.
Burrell also believes juveniles seem to do better when they are served closer to home, while understanding that most counties are not ready.
"Many counties don't have local camps or ranches and a few don't even have a juvenile hall," Burrell said. "So getting ready to serve this population is going to take some time."