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Failed Juvenile Justice System Costs California More Than Dollars

$271,318. That’s how much California expects to spend per youth this year on its failed state youth correctional facilities, the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). This amount of money could drastically improve a young person’s education, well-being and development opportunities.

To give perspective, a four-year undergraduate education at Stanford University costs approximately $276,000. Instead, the money is being squandered on DJJ’s dangerous and poorly designed facilities, which have continuously failed to improve youth outcomes. The true cost of these misdirected resources extends far beyond the state budget to the cycle of justice involvement for youth and their families.

The scandalous $271,318 per capita cost of DJJ is for an estimated 700 young people housed in three facilities. Despite the dropping population and rising cost, the system struggles with high recidivism rates as nearly 54 percent of youth are reconvicted of a new offense within three years of release. In addition, these institutions remain deeply entrenched in violence and trauma. Our failed juvenile justice systems draw their longevity and power from keeping the public unaware of their true costs.

Youth and their families also struggle with the high cost of justice involvement at the local level. This includes fines and fees associated with legal representation, detention in a juvenile hall and probation costs. While in theory these fees are meant to reimburse jurisdictions for justice expenditures, their application only serves to further strain vulnerable families. Research shows how the inability to pay these fees can result in youth being unable to get a driver’s license or have their records expunged. Such fees serve no rehabilitative purpose and limit a young person’s opportunity to move beyond their system involvement. Pending state legislation in California seeks to eliminate these fees.  

The failure of California’s DJJ, much like those of countless systems across the country, goes beyond these obvious state budget and local costs. These collateral consequences should be included when calculating the true costs of our justice system. Placement in a youth correctional facility negatively impacts employment opportunities and decreases one’s chances of graduating from high school by 13 percent, while increasing likelihood of future adult incarceration by 22 percent. Finally, youth confinement can produce worse physical and mental health outcomes years later in adulthood.

For more information about MENTAL HEALTH, go to JJIE Resource Hub | MENTAL HEALTH AND SUBSTANCE ABUSE

Given recent positive juvenile justice trends, now is the time to recognize and address these high fiscal, social and personal costs. California’s plummeting youth arrests have also coincided with very significant drops in juvenile hall populations. This mirrors national trends and represents a real opportunity to build on successful reforms, though it remains largely unheralded. Unfortunately, California and other states still have not thoughtfully expanded community-based programs that build on youth’s strengths or held state policymakers accountable for our current needs.

Juvenile justice advocates and their allies must highlight these unconscionable true costs and hold policymakers and systems leaders accountable. Yet a sustainable solution will not be found exclusively in Washington, D.C. or even in state capitals across the country. Deep reform requires that we understand the landscape of true and hidden costs across the 3,141 counties nationally. CJCJ’s California Sentencing Institute shows how county-level policies are the fundamental decision point for confinement, prosecution and policing.

California’s counties show great disparities in these decisions, resulting in a system of justice by geography. Some are much more punitive than others and rely heavily on the state system, which comes at high cost to the entire state. All this has a direct cost, but as criminal justice researcher John Pffaf and others note, these costs are not always directly experienced or even perceived by the public.

California justice advocates, along with others nationally, recognize that the true costs of these policy decisions must be made clear. Unfortunately, the systemic failure of California’s state juvenile justice facilities is not unique. The enormous social and economic costs are borne by taxpayers and communities nationwide. But the growing work in California and elsewhere reflects a shift in public understanding of the true cost of our failed juvenile justice policies. Beyond simply identifying the problems and costs, examining costs paves a way for necessary and long-lasting reform.

Brian Goldstein is the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice's director of policy and development.

Ending In-person Visits for Video Conferencing Hurts Families, Especially Children

Brian-Goldstein-HeadshotHow would you react if suddenly hospitals simply replaced in-person patient visitation with video conferencing? Hospital administrators might justify this decision by saying that hospitals are scary places, so it‘s best to protect family members, especially young people, from being traumatized.

The idea that a bureaucracy could so severely restrict a family’s right to see their loved ones might seem unthinkable. However, for the 2.3 million people who were incarcerated in the United States, 744,600 of whom were in jails as of 2014, it could become a reality.

Moreover, there are approximately 5 million children who have an incarcerated parent, and in-person visitation space is essential for these young people to maintain space for family connections and well-being.

In California, the state’s jails have increasingly moved to adopt video visitation in lieu of in-person visitation. Recent estimates put California’s jail population at approximately 74,000. As such, removing in-person visitation has the potential to affect one of the state’s most vulnerable populations: the children of these incarcerated parents.

Video visitation should not replace more meaningful, in-person contact visits. Prison Policy Initiative’s (PPI) “Screening Out Family Time: The For-Profit Video Visitation Industry in Prisons and Jails” explains how video visitation not only removes physical interaction, which is particularly crucial to young children, but the visibility of the service itself is often spotty. The design of the video consoles also do not allow for eye contact, which interferes with human ability to create meaningful social connections.

Additionally, there is often no privacy for those using video consoles, which inhibits the ability to freely express oneself. Video visitation is, in every way, inferior to real human interaction, and even detrimental to family relationships — particularly for children.

Despite these limitations, California’s county jails have moved away from in-person visitation space; newer facilities in particular are opting for video-only visits. PPI notes that video visitation has been adopted by more than 43 states, with many facilities subsequently eliminating in-person space. Moreover, the service is very expensive and puts another burden on families of incarcerated people.

[Related: Telestory Unites New York Children — Briefly — with Incarcerated Parents]

Securing in-person visiting opportunities for families and young people is essential. This year, California state Sen. Holly Mitchell introduced SB 1157 to clarify that jails must continue to make these spaces available for family and youth. SB 1157 recognizes the value of strengthening family and community connections. Mitchell has partnered with a broad coalition including, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Prison Law Office, Project WHAT!, the Women’s Policy Institute and others.

As SB 1157 has been introduced in the legislature, California’s Board of State and Community Corrections, the regulatory body responsible for developing jail regulations, convened a series of committee meetings to discuss facility standards, including the issue of jail visitation space. Yet all 13 committee members whose job was to review standards on visitation space were sheriffs. These members did not want to require in-person visitation space, given the “potential negative impacts of in-person visits, such as exposing children to the inside of a jail …”

How would family members, incarcerated persons, young people, mental health professionals or community representatives respond? Unfortunately, this committee failed to include such individuals, just as many systems leaders and policymakers nationally have adopted video visitation without fully considering the long-term ramifications of their policies or consulting with those most impacted. Youth voices remain marginalized, especially those who have had a parent incarcerated.

Research shows why contact visits matter and how they can help mitigate the collateral consequences of incarceration. Yet systems across California and the country find themselves racing to adopt policies that place an undue burden on young people who struggle with their parent’s incarceration.

By eliminating in-person space, systems are multiplying the isolation and disruption that these youth already experience. When law enforcement and video visitation companies talk about the promise of innovation, we must ask what price high-needs youth and their families will pay.

Brian Goldstein is the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice's director of policy and development.

More related articles:

Report Finds That Reasonable Video Visitation Policies in Prisons Benefit Children

OP-ED: A New Approach Needed for Byrne-JAG Funding in California

Brian Goldstein Headshot-1Federal funding is a crucial component in how states develop their criminal and juvenile justice policy strategies, particularly in this time of budget deficits. States can leverage these funds to support a wide range of programs, which include education, law enforcement, reentry services and alternatives to detention. However, policymakers must recognize that no funding stream will continue in perpetuity. Instead, states must use federal funds to incubate sustainable innovation that is cost-effective and improves public safety outcomes.

Byrne-JAG funding (JAG) funding is a major federal source of flexible grant resources, administered by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), for state and local projects. These funds totaled some $295 million in 2012. A BJA report found that 2,000 law enforcement programs received funding. The funds must be used in-line with seven program purpose areas, which include law enforcement, prosecution and courts, prevention and education, corrections and community corrections, drug treatment, planning and evaluation.

Recent national analysis found that many states use JAG funding to develop innovative evidence-based programs and strengthen data collection practices. Louisiana has allocated JAG funding to help develop pretrial programs and necessary technology upgrades. In Montana, JAG funding has helped redesign the state Board of Crime Control to make more publicly accessible crime statistics and reporting.

However, the current fiscal climate has diminished the availability of JAG funds. A recent survey of justice professionals to gauge changes found since FY 2010, JAG grants have dropped by 34 percent. More than 80 percent of surveyed practitioners experienced cuts in juvenile justice programs.

California receives approximately $20 million annually in JAG funding. Historically, it uses many of these funds for drug suppression through multi-community drug task forces and marijuana eradication programs.

This funding is problematic, given the absence of performance outcomes and the questionable effect on public safety. One national evaluation of these task forces found, “Not only were data insufficient to estimate what task forces accomplished, data were inadequate to even tell what the task forces did as routine work. … Federal grants were awarded without even the rudiments of performance monitoring.” The Drug Policy Alliance has called for using JAG funds to support effective drug treatment and reentry services.

In 2011, the state gave a one-time JAG allocation to support community-based juvenile reentry programs through the California Youthful Offender Reentry (Cal-YOR) program. This program provides wraparound services for youth, ages 16 to 23, following confinement or out-of-home placement. The 2011 allocation of Cal-YOR proved highly successful. Of the 411 youth enrolled in Cal-YOR, at an average daily cost of $105, the program had a 1.4 percent recidivism rate while in the program.

This year California’s Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) revisited JAG funding and is responsible for developing the JAG funding strategy. However, the Board is largely made up of law enforcement officials, many from the agencies requesting JAG funding, creating a potential conflict of interest.

The BSCC held public comment sessions and released an online survey to facilitate stakeholder input. Respondents rated prevention and education as the top funding priority. However, the Board only voted to reduce current applicants by 4 percent, largely continuing ineffective drug suppression programs, while extending funding for the Cal-YOR program.

Policymakers must acknowledge that JAG allocations could significantly decrease in the future. The BJA has noted, given the “current difficult budgetary climate, it is more critical than ever that JAG dollars are spent on programs with proven effectiveness.” California can no longer afford to spend JAG money on programs that lack outcome metrics, do not demonstrate significant success at reducing crime or have been identified as a low public safety priority.

As such, California should develop a long-term JAG strategy that is data-driven and informed by measurable performance outcomes. The state must ask how future grantees will reduce recidivism and improve public safety. Supporting programs simply as a legacy of funding inertia is irresponsible and stifles innovation.

Given the importance of data collection, California’s BSCC should use JAG funds to strengthen a network of county data collection, as other states are already doing. This would help counties and the BSCC evaluate program outcomes to better serve California’s public safety needs and help raise its justice practices to a national standard.

Brave Experiment at a California Boys Ranch Pays Off

Brian Goldstein Headshot-1The past decade has seen an encouraging trend in juvenile justice. Increasingly, experts are recognizing that the best way to improve public safety is to rely less on state correctional institutions for treating youth offenders, and more on the dynamic therapeutic approach delivered at the county level.

In late April, the staff of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ) toured a facility that exemplified this trend, the William F. James Boys Ranch in California’s Santa Clara County.

James Ranch is a co-ed, 96-bed residential facility for young people between the ages of 15 ½ and 18, situated in the rolling foothills south of San Jose. The facility and staff are not only driven by a passion for improving the lives of local justice-involved youth, but challenge the conventional thinking by showing that they can receive successful, positive treatments locally. The facility has adopted many components of what is now recognized as a model system, including small dorm facilities, staff focused on youth wellness, and therapeutic programming that is gender-specific and culturally competent.

The ranch wasn’t always this way. Previously, the facility operated under a model focused more on behavioral regulation, which the county’s probation department now recognizes as antithetical to successful outcomes. The correctional approach was expensive, yet resulted in many escapes, numerous violent incidents and high recidivism rates.

In 2006, county law enforcement and local officials successfully lobbied for facility changes, which cost $3 million. County probation, under the leadership of Chief Probation Officer Sheila E. Mitchell, developed strategies to expand local capacity for addressing high-needs youth. Santa Clara County Probation adopted a new therapeutic model, which included their Ranch Re-Entry Assistance Program (RRAP). Through RRAP, multidisciplinary staffing teams engage with young people upon entry into the facility to conduct assessments of risks, needs and mental health issues. These assessments guide staff as they craft individualized reentry plans that help them with local services and programs upon their release.

Within its first year, county policymakers, facility staff, and youth, were heralding the fruits of this investment. In comparison to the 2005 Old Ranch Program, violations were reduced by 63 percent and new arrests by 50 percent within one year of exiting the Enhanced Ranch Program. At one time, Santa Clara County relied heavily on the state youth correctional system, the Division of Juvenile Facilities (DJF). This fiscal year (FY 2013), the county only sent one young person to DJF, down from 108 in FY 2005.

California State Assembly Member Reginald Jones-Sawyer of California’s 59th District, in Los Angeles, has authored Assembly Bill 915: the Youth Community Incentives Act, which expands local resources and empowers counties to follow the example of James Ranch. CJCJ and Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ) are proud to co-sponsor AB 915. We believe it is necessary to improve public safety and produce positive youth outcomes. As I wrote in my previous JJIE Op-Ed, AB 915 recognizes that many counties are already serving many of their youth who are eligible for DJF.  Over the past two years, the DJF population has dropped by 60 percent, netting $75 million in cost savings. However, this money has not been reinvested in the counties, which can provide individualized rehabilitative programming that has been proven successful.

AB 915 allocates 75 percent of the future DJF cost savings to a funding stream for developing the model practices and leadership such as those found at James Ranch. The bill is now before the Assembly Appropriations Committee, where it joins other important criminal justice bills including those related to reforming school discipline (AB 420) and employment for justice-involved individuals (AB 870).

California’s state youth correctional system is shrinking as counties increasingly serve their high-needs youth locally. AB 915 offers the state a unique opportunity to reinvest these cost savings and replicate the successful model of James Ranch across the state. California must partner with counties like Santa Clara to ensure that these reforms prove long-standing and act as a statewide model to implement a 21st-century juvenile justice system today.

Brian Goldstein is a Policy Analyst with the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ).  Learn more about Assembly Bill 915: The Youth Community Incentives Act here.

“Crossover Youth”: The Intersection of Child Welfare & Juvenile Justice

Crossover youth is more than the latest buzzword in the often jargon-filled lexicon of juvenile justice. Instead, the term reflects a growing understanding of the dynamic between child abuse, neglect and delinquency. This population of young people has contact with both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

Addressing child welfare is challenging enough, let alone when joined with deeper problems of delinquency. Abused young people often carry scars of trauma and pain, which can inform delinquent behavior that leads to subsequent contact with the juvenile justice system. However, the complex challenges and needs of crossover youth often prove too much for each system alone to address. Practitioners must find a reasonable solution that ameliorates these issues or crossover youth may re-enter the child welfare system or go on to commit more serious offenses. Instead, an integrated approach, which builds on each system’s unique strength, is the ideal approach.

Who are these young people?

The exact number is unknown, given the absence of rigorous data collection, although estimates range from 9 percent to 29 percent of those in the child welfare system. A recent webinar, by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), detailed how a majority of these young people suffer from wide-ranging challenges, which include education difficulties, mental health issues and sexual abuse.

Another major contributing factor is that many suffer from placement instability. A recent study of dually involved youth in LA County found that 55 percent had been relocated between group homes and foster care placements three or more times during their lifetimes.

Why do crossover youth matter?

The crossover population represents a unique challenge for both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. A 2001 study by the Vera Institute of Justice found the likelihood of detention for foster youth awaiting trial for misdemeanors or minor felonies was 10 percent higher than non-foster care youth. Moreover, they frequently suffer amid a compartmentalization of system care and oversight. For example, juveniles who make contact with the justice system may lose access to welfare services and their respective case manager, resulting in a disruption to their therapeutic services.

The long-term consequences for crossover youth are significant with many suffering higher incidence of drug use and exacerbated mental illness. The aforementioned study of LA County also found that crossover youth have a higher recidivism rate than non-crossover youth, and more than 30 percent have new maltreatment referrals following their arrest. These young people may not only commit offenses as adults, but may well perpetuate the cycle of maltreatment as parents.

What can be done?

Fortunately, juvenile justice professionals are increasingly recognizing the unique situation of crossover youth and are developing system tools sensitive to the specifics of their problem. Law enforcement officials, judges, and child welfare practitioners are beginning to collaborate on how to best meet the needs of this unique population early enough to offset the substantial human and fiscal cost. In addition, reform-minded foundations and non-profits have initiated pilot technical assistance programs across the country, in the hopes of creating replicable best practices. The recent OJDDP webinar featured speakers advocating for multi-disciplinary teams to bridge the system-wide gap, an approach shared by others.

For example, the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform, at Georgetown University, developed The Crossover Youth Practice Model, which is currently used at 11 jurisdictions across the country. A central feature of the model is to encourage multi-agency collaboration across the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Such coordinated case management and supervision fosters family engagement and youth permanency. This directly addresses the instability that leads many young people from the child welfare system to the juvenile justice system. In California, the Sierra Health Foundation, through their Positive Youth Justice Initiative, has also taken a lead in fostering county-level innovation to address this issue.

In the complicated world of juvenile justice, there is not always a clear distinction between young people in the child welfare system and those in the juvenile justice system. Abused and neglected young people come into contact with the justice system due to any number of contributing factors.  For each system to work best, they must first understand whom crossover youth are and develop necessary treatment and support models. This requires child welfare and juvenile justice departments to collaborate on best practices, streamlined case management and more effective data collection.

Such partnerships bring a sense of stability and continuity of care that crossover youth so often lack. Moreover, this represents a promising development in juvenile justice, where youth are recognized for their potential to succeed beyond a history of neglect and abuse.

Brian Goldstein is a member of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ)'s policy team and a Masters graduate in political science from San Francisco State University.  His expertise is on political trends in criminal justice reform.

Still, a Promise of Reform for California’s Juvenile Justice System

In January 2012, California Gov. Jerry Brown proposed a historic reform of the state juvenile justice system, the Division of Juvenile Facilities (DJF), by giving counties full responsibility for managing their offender population.

This initiative, named Juvenile Justice Realignment, would have ended state intake of youth by 2013 and closed all facilities by 2015. The governor subsequently rescinded this proposal due to aggressive lobbying by state law enforcement associations.

However, the promise of a more sensible juvenile justice system remains within the 2012-2013 state budget, signed into law in July. Some counties stand poised to take advantage of the opportunity; and in partnership with foundations, they are leading the way to a 21st century juvenile justice system.

This year, a coalition of reform-minded organizations successfully reframed policy discussion across the state, despite strong opposition. While Gov. Brown dropped his original realignment proposal, he introduced three key juvenile justice reforms in its place. These join with larger concerns about county-level responsibility and the disproportionate cost for maintaining a fiscally irresponsible system. The measures will save the state $24.8 million.

California’s reforms include a new fee structure requiring counties to pay $24,000 annually per youth housed at DJF facilities. This fee challenges counties to reconsider how they manage high-risk youth. Previous reports demonstrate the exorbitant cost of maintaining DJF, despite the high recidivism rate for youth released from state custody.

Admittedly, this fee is significantly lower than the $125,000 fee originally proposed by Gov. Brown, which would have totaled $67.7 million. The governor issued a subsequent reprieve on collecting these fees, while cutting funds across other state services. However, the $24,000 fee does require state-dependent counties to assume a more equitable share of the cost, given their higher use of DJF.

The 2012-2013 budget also reforms detrimental DJF administrative practices. It ends “time adds,” whereby DJF authorities punished youth by extending the date of future parole board meetings. This practice prolonged commitment time, but ignored the underlying mental health or behavioral issues for high-risk youth. It also reduces the maximum age for DJF-committed youth to 23 years old from 25. As with “time adds,” this limits extended confinement time and brings California more in line with the national average maximum age of 20.

However, those on the front lines of juvenile justice — California’s 58 counties, must lead this reform effort. The state cannot simply tear down DJF nor offload high-risk youth to ill-equipped counties. Instead, reform must foster local innovation and capacity building. Some counties are partnering with private foundations to do just that.

The Sierra Health Foundation is one such private foundation and recently introduced their Positive Youth Justice Initiative (PYJI). This facilitates county self-assessment procedures, expert assistance, and funding streams for a more effective juvenile justice system.

PYJI targets crossover youth, those previously involved with the welfare system and now in the juvenile justice system. Such high-risk youth often spring from a history of traumatic and abusive experiences. PYJI reframes these youth as community assets, with potential to better their neighborhoods. The initiative also identifies wraparound service delivery and trauma-informed care as the innovative model practices to best address these youths’ needs, while potentially improving operational capacity.

PYJI uses grant funding to improve county-level practices and seed innovation. The Sierra Health Foundation first gives applicant counties the resources and technical assistance for a one-year planning phase, followed by a multi-year grant to those accepted into the program.

A technical assistance team works with local sites to foster model practices throughout this process. The initiative also brings together participants for cross-county dialogue.

This conversation ensures reform is not embargoed, just as PYJI facilitates relationships across stakeholder groups. A grant solely to probation departments neither serves public safety, nor does it lower recidivism rates.

Comprehensive juvenile justice reform is multi-faceted. First, the state must eliminate the recognized failures of DJF. Gov. Brown’s budget, amid growing political momentum, shows this to be increasingly the case.

Beyond this state activity, California’s counties and nonprofits mark the way for innovative model practices. Both demonstrate a new understanding of the values necessary for serving California’s at-risk youth and a promise for responsible juvenile justice realignment.

The Case for Phased Juvenile Justice Realignment in California

California is embarking on an ambitious and deep-rooted reform of its corrections system, an effort that has come to be know as realignment. Gov. Jerry Brown’s main aims in this undertaking is to reduce dramatically high costs, as well as overcrowding and recidivism rates by transferring non-serious adult offenders and parolees from the state to the counties.

But concurrent to this effort, many reform-minded criminal justice advocates also propose a full devolution of the state juvenile system to local counties. Full juvenile realignment is a historic opportunity to end a failed system, while addressing county-level discrepancies in sentencing and services. California’s 58 counties already manage much of the juvenile system, including total responsibility for supervising probation.

Amid growing acceptance, the conversation around juvenile justice realignment in California stands to enter a new phase. In addition to Gov. Brown, Department of Finance, Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO), Little Hoover Commission, and various stakeholders are now publicly calling for empowering counties to assume full responsibility for serving their youthful offenders.

Sacramento understands the exorbitant costs for maintaining a dual juvenile justice system, both in fiscal terms and as detrimental to effective rehabilitation.  Per a recent report from the LAO, the state-run Division of Juvenile Facilities (DJF) spent $179,000 per youth for 2011-2012. Yet this spending does not temper the widespread culture of violence in the facilities, nor does it treat and educate our youth.  As such, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) recently found an 80% re-arrest rate within three years of a youth’s release.  DJF facilities remain in a condition of continued disrepair.  Nevertheless, California is legally bound to spend enormous sums for their replacement and upkeep, as a result of an ongoing lawsuit.

However, questions persist about the feasibility of juvenile justice realignment. Many concede the failure of DJF, but raise the issue of county capacity. These skeptics believe counties lack the necessary infrastructure and expertise to get the job done. Some prosecutors argue that juvenile justice realignment, given these deficiencies, will force their hand to charge youths in adult criminal court, rather than offload them to ill-prepared counties.  Yet, this fails to recognize ongoing county expertise and successes with high-risk youth.

Many within California’s criminal justice community, including the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ), propose phased realignment as a sensible way to initiate reform and ensure long-term public safety.  This staggered approach recognizes the concerns of certain stakeholders and offers a path for implementation on terms agreeable to all counties.

A central feature of phased realignment is oversight through a well-designed state body. State oversight allows for greater uniformity in expectations and policy implementation.  Funds currently slated for use by DJF would go instead to counties, proportional to their specific juvenile felony-arrest rates. This funding scheme directly helps those counties with the most high-risk youth, rather than incentivizing county over-reliance on DJF facilities.  The plan benefits from previous county experience and successes. In 2007, Senate Bill 81 initiated county juvenile realignment for 99 percent of offenders, with this exact funding scheme.  A wide consensus of opinion, which includes many in the law enforcement community, believes Senate Bill 81 a proven success.

This ongoing investment grows local capacity, while fostering innovation in more challenged jurisdictions. Rehabilitation tied to community-based services and family support requires particular attention. State monitoring ensures that funds directly benefit special needs youth, specifically those with mental health and substance abuse issues. A state partnership can also foster county-level best practices and information sharing through targeted financing of alternatives to confinement. Finally, the state could support data collection to help avoid existing county sentencing disparities, which create a system of “justice by geography.”  This model for state oversight is not new, but reflects the original intent of the 1941 California Youth Authority Act.  The legislation envisioned the state as a facilitator and overseer of county juvenile justice practices, not as a provider of direct services to youth.

Law-enforcement associations who oppose phased juvenile realignment, likewise resist implementation of  “budget triggers” that require counties to pay for each of their youths in state facilities. Such discussion occurs amid a backdrop of deep financial strain for the state. A failure to reform perpetuates this system of disproportionate sacrifice. Why should juvenile justice enjoy exemption from “budget triggers,” while the state cuts funding to schools, universities, mental health professionals, and child-care providers? If the state fails to enforce financial obligations for youth corrections, then more cuts on education and social services will be necessary to plug these gaps.

Phased juvenile realignment begins much-needed reform immediately, while investing in the long-term success of California’s counties. The current system is not sustainable, failing both our youth and the provision of public safety.  In contrast, a staggered transitional plan empowers counties to direct juvenile justice reform on their terms. This program balances the growing momentum for juvenile justice realignment, with a single-minded focus on assuaging county concerns. As such, the promise of well-designed reform for California’s juvenile justice system is within reach.