Brian Goldstein is a member of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ)'s policy team and a graduate student at San Francisco State University. His expertise is on political trends in criminal justice reform.
How 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 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.
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.
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 The governor subsequently rescinded this proposal due to aggressive lobbying by state law enforcement associations.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.
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.