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January 23, 2011

Tough discussions in California about how to handle serious juve offenders

This piece via the New York Times, which is headlined "Whither Young Offenders? The Debate Has Begun," spotlights the challenging discussions in California concerning what to do with a distinct set of challenging offenders.  Here is an excerpt:

Gov. Jerry Brown’s recent proposal to eliminate California’s Division of Juvenile Justice was billed as a way to cut $242 million from the state budget.  It was also the culmination of a decade-long effort to shut the state’s troubled youth prison system, which for years has been plagued by violence, abuse and decaying facilities.

Much of that effort has been centered in the Bay Area after accusations of abuse and neglect at the institutions surfaced in a 2003 Alameda County lawsuit.  In recent years, some local judges often refused to send young offenders to state institutions, preferring to confine them in county facilities regarded as safer and more effective.

Mr. Brown’s initiative would take that unofficial policy further.  It would scrap the state juvenile justice system and shift responsibility for confining the most violent young offenders to the local level, where they are nearer to family and have more community treatment options.  The move would affect the 1,300 youths in state care, down from 10,000 in 1996.

Even among critics of the Division of Juvenile Justice, the proposed shift has set off a new debate over whether counties are equipped to handle an influx of severely troubled young people.  “I’m disgusted with myself to think of defending D.J.J. with all the things that have happened over the years,” said Sue Burrell, a lawyer at the Youth Law Center in San Francisco, “but if you ask me right now, I would opt for keeping a very, very small D.J.J. open and not throwing the kids to the wolves.”

Ms. Burrell said she was concerned that prosecutors might see counties as unfit to handle serious offenders and thus try many juveniles as adults, forcing teenagers into adult prisons.

Barry Krisberg, a senior fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, said that keeping young offenders at the county level might offer them fewer rehabilitation options.  “I would bet that those kids would end up in juvenile hall, in isolation, getting fewer services,” Mr. Krisberg said.  “I don’t think we can shut down the entire state system.”

But Dan Macallair, executive director of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, a nonprofit group in San Francisco, said he believed young offenders could receive better support at the local level.  “In county juvenile halls, you don’t have the entrenched gang culture and violence you have at the state youth authority,” Mr. Macallair said.  “The counties can offer a continuum of options — maximum security, minimum security, intensive services in the community — that the state could never come close to matching.”

Mr. Macallair, who has called the state institutions “relics of the 19th century,” agreed that the proposed state closings presented challenges, but he said too much hand-wringing would keep resources at the state level and prevent needed changes.  “The state system is not set up for major change,” he said. “If the money won’t be flowing to counties, counties won’t get any better, and you’ll be left with the status quo.”

January 23, 2011 at 10:13 PM | Permalink

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Comments

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Posted by: sidway89 | Jan 24, 2011 5:37:30 AM

As we are living in a modern era, crime rates are getting higher and higher. And what is worse is that crime offenders are juveniles. So much for the parental guidance stuff. And thank you so much from the media stuff for corrupting our kid's mind with violence and other bad stuff. So I think harsh punishment should be implemented to teach kids that it is bad to commit crime.

Posted by: karma sutra positions | Jan 24, 2011 9:33:32 AM

personally i think if you do an ADULT crime...you do ADULT time.... you know...drug dealing, violent attacks, gang activity....BYE BYE to state prison..... now if your doing what used to be juvinile stupidity...painting buildings and joy rides... and the occasion alcohol party....then deal with it at the local lvl

Posted by: rodsmith | Jan 26, 2011 1:45:43 AM

I think you are right when you say this. Hats off man, what a superlative knowledge you have on this subject…hope to see more work of yours.

Posted by: Health Blog | Jan 26, 2011 7:13:51 AM

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