State trigger cuts could put Alameda County in a $6.2 million bind
Posted: 12/19/2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Gov. Jerry Brown caught local officials by surprise last week by proposing they pay considerably more for youth offenders housed in state lockups.
Alameda County's solution: Take the youth offenders back from the state and put them under local supervision instead of the California Department of Juvenile Justice.
They are a challenging population, said the county's chief probation officer, David Muhammad. "But we have the space and potential to do a much better job than the state," he said.
Brown's "trigger" cuts announced Tuesday were the culmination of more than a decade of shifting responsibility for youth offenders from the state to counties, which began around the time state juvenile detainees reached a high of 10,122 in 1996.
The number now in the state's five youth facilities is under 1,000 -- and they have been convicted of the most serious and violent crimes, such as murder or assault. They represent about 1 percent of the 225,000 youth arrests each year, according to Department of Juvenile Justice figures. Currently, 50 come from Alameda County, Muhammad said.
The county currently pays the state about $500 annually for each of them, Muhammad said. Brown wants $125,000 per offender, adding up to $6.25 million a year.
And even $125,000 still doesn't cover the cost California pays to feed, clothe, house, educate and supervise those offenders under the age of 25. Each one costs about $200,000, according to
Muhammad is asking Brown to provide money to counties instead of the other way around. His figure is $150,000 per offender, which is the amount originally included in a youth realignment proposal that got scrapped earlier this year.
The county is already constructing a 140-bed camp that would house serious and nonserious youth offenders. It was paid for with $35 million in state funds for new youth detention facilities.
The county's juvenile justice center has enough room in the meantime to create a separate unit for the violent youth offenders.
It would not be ideal, Muhammad said, but it's certainly better than the Department of Juvenile Justice.
There they are exposed to solitary confinement and excessive force, according to a report by a special master appointed to oversee reforms mandated as the result of a 2003 lawsuit, Farrell v. Cate, against the state for conditions in the juvenile justice system.
At the Ventura County facility, one teen recently was kept in his cell for 28 hours straight. Others were shackled ankle to wrist, for every moment they were outside of their cells, the July 2011 report said.
But a former monitor of the consent decree that came out of the lawsuit, Barry Krisberg, said the state can do a better job than counties.
The Department of Juvenile Justice is not perfect, said Krisberg, now policy director at the Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at the UC Berkeley School of Law. But the state has moved a long way as the result of reforms he helped push. In contrast, counties haven't begun to deal with the level of care needed by the offenders left in the state system, he said. "You would have to start all over." And there is the risk they could be pushed into the adult prison system.
Complicating matters, a judge would have to give the authority to the county to take over the youth offenders in state custody, Krisberg said.
Brown, who could not be reached for comment, has yet to actually pull the trigger on the $67.7 million cut. But Muhammad said the governor appears willing to at least reconsider his plan.