California’s ‘Close to Home’ Programs Must Invest in Communities, Not Corrections

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Community-based alternatives: Friends building pyramid with wood panels in forest.

Tyler Olson/


Juvenile justice reinvestment, which shifts funding from corrections-based approaches toward cost-effective community-based services for youth, has gained momentum in states throughout the U.S. in recent years. Amid national declines in youth crime and the high costs of youth incarceration, opportunities for juvenile justice reinvestment have become more and more appealing to states.

Community-based alternatives: Renee Menart (headshot), communications and policy analyst with Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, smiling woman with long brown hair, beige and dark top.

Renee Menart

In California, millions of taxpayer dollars are allocated to counties each year to fund local youth programs through the Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act (JJCPA) and the Youthful Offender Block Grant (YOBG). Together, these two grant programs provided nearly $280 million in state funding for local youth services across California’s 58 diverse counties in fiscal year 2016-17.

JJCPA, which began in 2000 as part of the Schiff-Cardenas Crime Prevention Act, is structured to serve at-risk and justice-involved youth in their communities through collaboration between county agencies and community members. In 2007, the state’s groundbreaking Senate Bill 81, otherwise known as “Juvenile Justice Realignment,” set up the YOBG program to fund local services for youth who would have previously been sent to California’s state youth correctional system, the Division of Juvenile Justice.

Both funding streams represent a long-term movement in California toward the localization of services for young people who have been involved in the justice system. With such significant investment, a new report by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ) investigates counties’ spending of these funds to ensure their effective use for youth within their home communities.

Most funds for probation, detention

California’s investment in youth services at the county level is grounded in the recognition that youth are best served close to home. But “close to home” programming relies on more than just geographic proximity to be effective. Detaining youth, whether at a local or state facility, can actually deepen their justice involvement in the future. Further, probation supervision with an emphasis on monitoring and surveillance is problematic for youth within their communities. Instead, community-based programs that support youth’s ranging needs in areas including education, family, housing, mental health and personal development contribute to the success of youth and their communities.

Despite this research and historic drops in youth arrests and confinement, California’s funding priorities still largely support county probation department staffing and detention. The state’s counties spent 79 percent of collective YOBG expenditures on county staffing in fiscal year 2015-16 with the majority of funds going to detention-based programming. CJCJ’s recent analysis of five major counties clustered in California’s Bay (Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo) reflects troubling state trends. These five counties spent 72 percent ($18 million) of their combined JJCPA and YOBG expenditures on county personnel — and only 15 percent on community-based organizations — in fiscal year 2016-17.

Larger national push

Lack of spending on community-based organizations, as reflected in the Bay Area and in LA County, limits the potential positive impacts of well-intended state funds. Community-based organizations have a unique role to play in “close to home” support for youth. Unlike county probation departments, community-based organizations are positioned to support overall community improvement and build lasting relationships with youth beyond their contact with the juvenile justice system. Consistent, noncompetitive state funding, like the JJCPA and YOBG programs, provide counties with an opportunity to build and maintain community-based services that best meet the needs of youth.

California’s massive investment in JJCPA and YOBG programs stand as part of a larger national push for juvenile justice reinvestment. States throughout the U.S. are embracing policies that minimize youth confinement and invest instead in cost-effective community solutions. Juvenile justice reinvestment began in the 1960s and 1970s when states like California, Ohio and Pennsylvania began to discourage confinement of youth and provide state funding for community-based programs. States ranging in political standing and social demographics have continued the push for sustainable reinvestment in recent years.

For example, Kansas followed in the footsteps of fellow states’ recent reforms with Senate Bill 367 in 2016. Kansas, like California, has seen significant drops in youth arrests in recent years, but its numbers of youth in confinement have failed to follow this trend. SB 367 seeks to address youth and community needs through community-based alternatives rather than sustain high numbers of youth in confinement.

Additionally, advocates in Illinois are seeking to address counties’ over-reliance on detention by examining the impact of state funding priorities. Despite a 68 percent population decrease in Illinois’ local juvenile detention facilities from 2001 to 2016, the state subsidizes the majority of expenses for county juvenile detention centers (80 percent of which are personnel costs). Meanwhile, the state lacks financial incentives for building community-based alternatives to juvenile confinement as well as the oversight needed to ensure proper use of funds.

California’s communities are fortunate enough to have JJCPA and YOBG funds earmarked for youth that are not necessarily tied to detention practices. In a period of declining youth crime and minimal youth confinement, California must push beyond a transition of corrections-focused services from the state to counties. Now, more than ever, the state must invest its juvenile justice resources to build up community-based services that both serve individual youth and support communities most impacted by the justice system.

Renee Menart is a communications and policy analyst with the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco.

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