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Juvenile State Prisons Closing, What is California Going to Do?

Posted by Sara Cooper | Aug 31, 2023 | 0 Comments

Photo Credits: The Annie E. Casey Foundation

Before state prisons for juveniles in California were closed on June 30 after over a century ran system and its expansion, many transfers were made for teenagers to those in their mid-20's to be incarcerated closer to their homes.

These closures were already in process since the shutdown announcement in 2020 made by Governor Gavin Newsom, making the budget extremely shorter for juvenile justice. Newsom and state analysts had argued that these closures would give more accessibility and opportunities for youth prisoners to be in interaction with their families, connections that are crucial in reducing recidivism when reentering society

These intentions have been agreed with by many, but the counter made is these transfers from state to county are not well organized or timed.

“The state opened up Pandora's box and now we're trying to manage this disaster,” said George Galvis, executive director of Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice. 

Juvenile Justice Information Exchange had to Galvis, and this person is among advocates for incarcerated youth and their families, probation officials and county administrators who say the closures, in some ways, caught them by surprise. According to JJIE, “County-run juvenile halls were designed as short-term holding facilities for youth as they awaited trial, they say. Juvenile halls were never to confine youth sentenced for long periods of time for committing serious offenses. Juvenile halls lack the resources to provide rehabilitative programming including exercise, education, work training and other reentry programs — for youth who'd be incarcerated for years.” 

“What we've ultimately pivoted to,” said Frankie Guzman, senior director of youth justice at the National Center for Youth Law, “is worse than a medium-security prison. We now have maximum security youth detention facilities that are essentially mini county jails. We are hearing across the state that young people are languishing in juvenile halls without any kind of evidence-based, trauma-informed, culturally rooted treatment or services. And the settings are pretty draconian.”

With 132 years of juvenile lockups, starting as reform schools and ending up to prison-like settings, it has been ran most by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the California Youth Authority, as the state's juvenile correctional system was then known, was seen as the “pinnacle of success,” offering therapeutic interventions and community-based programs. Those programs disappeared in the 1980s, as political and public opinion shifted toward stiffer punishment as a deterrent to youth crime. 

Punitive facilities have always been pushed to be closed by advocates, and the uprise of investigations started in the 90's, mostly toward mistreatment and violence against juveniles.

Reforms were big advancements in reducing juvenile felony arrests, from 90,000 to 11,000 a year.

“Today is the beginning of the end of juvenile imprisonment as we know it.” - Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2019

Rehabilitation for youth to be in the community instead of facilities have always been a priority to accomplish for reformers. According to JJIE, “Several studies emerged linking youth incarceration with poorer physical and mental health outcomes later in life, including increased risk of substance use and imprisonment as an adult.”

However, youth of color have still been disproportionately been incarcerated compared to their white counterparts. Black and Latino youth made up 87 percent of the state's you prison population  and were locked up at 1.5 and 1.7 times the rate of white youth, respectively.

Two facilities have been in maintenance consistently when many facilities were shut down by the Department of Justice: Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility in Stockton and Ventura Youth Correctional Facility in Camarillo. These facilities still had these same issues as many others with poor living conditions and staff shortages in reports, leading to violence, drug overdoses, and suicides.

Governor Newsom had responded to criticisms by expressing a commitment to overhauling the system in January 2019 with establishing a new juvenile justice agency that is ran by the California Health and Human Services Department.

“Today is the beginning of the end of juvenile imprisonment as we know it,” he said, according to a news release. “The system should be about helping kids imagine and pursue new lives… unpack trauma and adverse experiences … get an education and develop skills that will allow them to succeed in our economy.”

According to JJIE, “A year and a half later, amid the COVID-19 shutdown and an economic recession, Newsom decided to eliminate the state's juvenile system. The rationale for that shift was based, in part, on a projected budget deficit and the fact that juvenile halls across the state were well under capacity.” 

This was in disapproval by Chief Probation Officers in California by accusing the state of enforcing payments and costs to counties without giving proper resources and authority, back in 2020. They claimed that these protocols were not doable, and the delivery of the outcomes the state is looking for for youth might not be possible.

Steps were made by the governor and state legislators regardless. “Passage of one juvenile justice realignment measure in 2020 and another in 2021 permanently closed the Department of Juvenile Justice and extended to 25 years old the age limit for those housed in county facilities,” said the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. This allowed counties to create youth treatment facilities with grants up to $200 million that is given each year.

These laws had prohibited the expansion of use with out-of-state prisons and private placements for young people along with the Grove Youth Conservation Camp to remain running.

With these closures happening just about two months ago, there will be more to come on the progress of youth placed in rehabilitation centers and county facilities.

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