Capitol Alert

Brown wants to keep more youth in juvenile detention, not prison

Sen. Holly Mitchell talks about the ‘cradle to prison pipeline’

Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, speaks at a press conference on March 20, 2017, to introduce a package of juvenile justice reform bills in the California Legislature. Video courtesy of California Senate
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Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, speaks at a press conference on March 20, 2017, to introduce a package of juvenile justice reform bills in the California Legislature. Video courtesy of California Senate

Criminal and juvenile justice reform has been a key part of Gov. Jerry Brown's time in office, and his final proposed budget calls for keeping more youth offenders in juvenile detention facilities instead of prison.

Brown's 2018-19 proposed budget calls for $3.8 million to allow youth offenders longer stays in juvenile justice facilities, a step the governor and some advocates say would lead to lower recidivism rates and better outcomes.

The proposal would:

▪ Allow youth sent to juvenile detention facilities to remain in Division of Juvenile Justice facilities until just before their 25th birthday. Currently, juvenile offenders can remain in DJJ housing until their 23rd birthday.

▪ Allow juvenile offenders convicted in adult court but sent to DJJ facilities to spend their entire sentence in DJJ if they can complete their sentences before their 25th birthday, rather than their 21st birthday. Certain youth offenders who would not be able to complete their sentences by 25 would continue to be transferred to prison when they turn 18.

▪ Create a young adult offender pilot program that would allow the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to place 76 youth offenders with less serious offenses in two special juvenile detention facilities instead of prison.

Brown's proposal is based on studies showing youth in juvenile detention facilities tend to fare better than youth placed in prison.

The Legislative Analyst's Office has expressed some concerns over the cost-effectiveness of Brown's proposal. In addition, some juvenile justice advocates say the state should shift away from juvenile detention facilities altogether.

The Senate Budget Subcommittee on Corrections, Public Safety and the Judiciary will discuss Brown's proposal during a hearing at 9:30 a.m. today in Room 113 of the Capitol.

Frankie Guzman, director of the National Center for Youth Law's California Youth Justice Initiative, supports keeping youth offenders in DJJ facilities until 25 rather than sending them to prison. But, he said, community-based programs would be even more effective for young offenders with low-level convictions.

He speaks from experience, having spent about six years in a DJJ facility for crimes he committed at age 15.

"That (confinement) totally messed me up and made me worse," Guzman said. "It took community-based services at a community college to help me turn my life around."

California's juvenile detention population declined steadily since the mid-1990s, when more than 10,000 youth were incarcerated in juvenile facilities. As of January, about 620 offenders were housed in the state's four DJJ facilities. Most juvenile offenders in California today are sent to county facilities.

Youth charged with crimes before turning 18 appear in juvenile court. For more serious crimes - such as murder, robbery and certain sexual offenses - youth offenders may appear in adult court to be charged as adults.

Brown's proposal would not be cheap, the LAO noted. Housing an offender in juvenile justice facilities costs about $80,000 each year versus $30,000 for housing an offender in prison.

The price would climb, too, from $3.8 million in the next budget to $9.2 million annually beginning in 2020.

The LAO wrote that placing more youth in juvenile justice facilities can result in savings over time, as these youth offenders tend to spend less time in detention than youth in prison.

It recommends an independent evaluation of the cost-effectiveness of the program if it is enacted, citing studies that show "keeping a youth in treatment programs for a longer period of time than required on average does not appear to increase the effectiveness of the programs."

Judges should have greater discretion during transfer hearings to allow youth to remain in DJJ until 25 in cases where not doing so would force the youth to be transferred to prison, the LAO recommends.

According to a CDCR report released last year, 74.2 percent of youth released from a DJJ facility in 2011-12 were re-arrested within three years, and 53.8 percent were convicted of a new crime. The report also showed DJJ inmates had lower recidivism rates than youth prison inmates.

Still, Guzman said DJJ facilities are not the best treatment setting for young offenders.

"Removing kids from homes and placing them in cages in facilities causes more trauma," Guzman said.

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WORTH REPEATING: "Today's historic achievement by President pro Tem Atkins goes beyond turning the page to a new era. It also provides an opportunity for the Assembly and Senate to throw out the book - to end historic rivalries that can get in the way of our getting the job done." - Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, following Wednesday's inauguration of Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, as Senate President Pro Tem.

DE LEON'S NEW DIGS: Senate offices were reshuffled this week after the new Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins moved into the second floor leadership suite, Capitol Room 205.

That sent Sen. Kevin de León looking for a new office. He chose to take back Sen. Steve Glazer’s digs in Room 5108, which de León inhabited before he was named pro tem in 2014.

Glazer then moved into Atkins’ old office, Room 4072, a decidedly less ideal space.

Despite the hallway scuttlebutt that Glazer wasn’t pumped about his new home, his spokesman Steve Harmon said “we’re all good with it.”

It may have helped that Atkins also handed Glazer a plum assignment as head of the Senate Standing Committee on Insurance.

Glazer resigned his chairmanship of the Governmental Organization Committee after he cast the only Democratic vote in the Senate against the gas tax bill last year. In an unrelated move, Sen. Scott Wiener took former Sen. Tony Mendoza’s old office, Room 5100.

CANDIDATE CHATS: Two gubernatorial candidates will speak in San Francisco this evening at separate events. State Treasurer John Chiang will talk about his campaign and the governor's race with Politico's Carla Marinucci and David Siders at the University of San Francisco's McLaren Conference Center at 5 p.m. Chiang's appearance is part of a series of conversations featuring other gubernatorial candidates that have been held at the university since February.

At The Commonwealth Club, 110 The Embarcadero, Republican candidate John Cox will discuss limiting the influence of special interests and his plans to grow the economy at 6:30 p.m. as part of an event moderated by Bill Whalen of the Hoover Institution.

LEAD PAINT UPDATE: Assemblymembers David Chiu, D-San Francisco, Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, Wendy Carrillo, D-Los Angeles, Monique Limón, D-Goleta and Bill Quirk, D-Hayward, will hold a news conference today to announce the next steps in a lead paint cleanup effort.

The announcement follows a state appellate court upholding last November the key aspects of a ruling in People v. ConAgra Grocery Products, which found three paint manufacturers at fault for marketing and selling lead paint when dangers of lead exposure were well known. The press conference, which begins in Room 317 of the Capitol at 10:30 a.m. or immediately following the Assembly floor session, will feature environmental and child advocacy organizations as well.

CELEBRATE: Happy birthday to California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who turns 45 today, and to Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Modesto, turning 49. On Sunday, happy birthday to Board of Equalization member George Runner, who turns 66.

Saramento Bee reporter Taryn Luna contributed to this report.
Billy Kobin: (916) 321-1860, @Billy_Kobin