Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed major changes to the juvenile justice system during his State of the State in January. A new report from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office shows it’s unclear whether the move would lead to tangible change for the state’s youth.
Newsom hasn’t released many details about his plan to move the Division of Juvenile Justice out of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and into Health and Human Services.
The analyst’s office says the governor and the Legislature must address several questions, including if the division needs to be reorganized to improve conditions for youth, what the potential consequences would be, what alternate options exist and whether the change should happen through budget trailer legislation or the regular bill process.
Following the State of the State address, Newsom visited a juvenile justice hall in Stockton to highlight programs that help prepare youth for careers.
“Juvenile justice should be about helping kids imagine and pursue new lives — not jumpstarting the revolving door of the criminal justice system,” he said during the visit. “Like all youth in California, those in our juvenile justice system should have the chance to get an education and develop skills that will allow them to succeed in our economy.”
The juvenile justice division currently houses about 660 wards in three facilities and one camp. Newsom’s office did not provide specifics about changes to staffing or programming.
Juvenile justice experts have mixed feelings on the proposal. Some say it won’t do much to change the culture of violence in these facilities.
“I don’t know what they hope to accomplish, but if they think that this will result in a more rehabilitative environment because it’s under a different state agency … it’s just not realistic,” Dan Macallair, executive director of the San Francisco-based Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, told Capital Public Radio in January.
Others say it could fix the problem of guards being transferred laterally from adult to youth settings, which can create a punitive rather than a rehabilitative atmosphere.
“They might be the same buildings in the same locations,” said David Muhammad, executive director of the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform and former chief probation officer for Alameda County, after the State of the State address. “But under a new administration, a new focus, a new purpose, could mean a lot,” he said.
The analysis suggests that youth could have an easier time accessing services under health and human services, since that department works more closely with county agencies providing mental health and substance disorder treatment.
The LAO points out that reorganization could increase costs, and “result in unintended consequences such as complicating coordination” with the corrections department. That could get particularly tricky for teens who transfer between the juvenile and adult systems.
The report doesn’t give an estimate of the fiscal impact of the change, but points out that some record systems and office spaces that currently serve both youth and adults under CDCR would have to be duplicated at a cost to the state.
Report authors recommend several other options, including making the division its own department, shifting more youth to county facilities, or keeping the existing structure but directly addressing barriers to rehabilitation, which could also benefit inmates in the adult system.
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