Yesterday, California’s state Department of Finance announced that the state will slash more services in order to keep the budget balanced. That includes about $550 million from schools: colleges, universities, and K-12. Devastating cuts to an already shattered budget. In contrast, prisons got cut a measly $20 million.
But the trigger means big change for California youth prisons. As of January 1, counties will have to pay the state $125,000 per year for each youth in the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). Counties will also be able to reclaim their youth from DJJ. A recall provision allows counties to start a court process to transfer their youth from DJJ to a local placement. This is sure to drastically cut down the DJJ population.
The key is to make sure that youth get the better end of the deal. This is an opportunity for counties to invest in local programs instead of wasting funds on the failures of DJJ. This move has the potential to keep youth in trouble closer to their families and to offer rehabilitation and treatment. But, counties will need to take a hard look at who they lock up, and get creative to shrink those populations. Secure lockup is the most expensive, but least effective option for youth in trouble.
A big fear is that district attorneys will skip the juvenile system and prosecute many more youth as adults. Dumping youth into adult prisons (once they turn 18) wouldn’t cost the county a dime.
We’ll fight next year to change that, and for California to fund services that help youth, not harm them. But local communities across California must demand that their DA and probation departments do right by youth. We need to prioritize treatment for youth, not warehouses. So speak out!