Friday, August 24, 2007

California Lege passes reforms to juvie system

California will soon implement sweeping juvenile justice reforms to address problems of abuse and poor outcomes that mirror many of the problems faced by the Texas Youth Commission, particularly slashing the number of "wards" sent to youth prisons and focusing more funding on local solutions. Reports the San Francisco Chronicle ("Sweeping reforms of state's juvenile justice system get green light from Legislature," Aug. 23):

The measure, SB81, which the governor is expected to sign, is designed to ultimately shrink the troubled state juvenile prison system nearly out of existence.

Under the bill, all but the most violent youths convicted of the most serious crimes, such as murder and certain types of sexual assault, would be dealt with in their home counties. The counties generally operate an array of programs, ranging from camps where some youth offenders are incarcerated and treated, to strict after-school programs providing various forms of education, therapy and family treatment.

"We've been working on this for 20 years, some of us," said David Steinhart, executive director of the Commonweal's Juvenile Justice Program in San Francisco, who was a key player in negotiating elements of the program. "There are bugs that need to be worked out, but we've climbed the mountain. It's a major milestone."

The network of eight juvenile prisons operated by the Department of Juvenile Justice has gone from 10,000 wards, as inmates are known, a decade ago to fewer than 2,600 now. That is partly a result of declining crime rates and partly because counties have been so appalled by the conditions in the juvenile prisons and the lack of rehabilitation that some have chosen to simply keep offenders at home as much as possible.

Bill Sifferman, head of San Francisco's Juvenile Probation Department, said the city has sent just two youth offenders to the state system in three years "because of the atrocities at the state system and the lack of sufficient therapeutic programs."

The Department of Juvenile Justice has been operating under a state court consent decree since 2004, when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger decided to end years of litigation and find a solution to the system's serious problems.

While there has been some progress, reports provided to the court by outside experts and reports by the department's own inspector general still have found deep problems, such as widespread violence, deep racial tensions and shortcomings in education and rehabilitation programs. Many wards spend all but an hour of each day in their cells, reports have said.

Steinhart said the newly approved bill would cut the ward population roughly in half within three years, which means that the state system would hold only one-tenth of the number of wards it had in 1996.

There's not a lot of difference between the overall thrust of these recommendations and what experts told the Legislature this spring amounted to "best practices" from Missouri, Ohio and other states. TYC employees may quaver at that thought since it might mean additional unit closures. But if the Texas Legislature can't fix the agency under its own steam I wouldn't be surprised to see the courts force them to take more draconian actions down the line, as has happened in California.

See additional SF Chronicle coverage of the legislation.


Anonymous said...

We all know Arnold Schwarzenegger is the "Terminator," but did you realize:

1. He terminated his career as a body builder to become an actor.

2. He terminated his acting career to become a politician.

If Arnold can terminate the corruption that goes on in Juvenile lock-ups out in California, then I say Texans should terminate Ed Owens and Dimitria Pope and let the "Running Man" make California and Texas "Twins" by turning up the "RED HEAT" on the TDCJ "Commandos" who are currently running the TYC.

Can Arnold be the "Eraser" of all the "Predators" and "Villians" at TYC by giving them a "Raw Deal” and forcing them to a "Total Recall" of all the "True Lies" and cover-ups?

I think the California "Commando" can indeed provide a model that will bring the "End of Days" to the all the “Collateral Damage” felt across the scandal-wracked Agency this year. “The Long Good-bye” to TYC’s problems is over due. If the “Conan the Barbarian” governor can produce “Conan the Destroyer” results in regard to juvenile justice problems in his own state, then he may in fact be “The Last Action Hero” that TYC will ever need.

Anyone from TYC, who is also an Schwarzenegger fan like me, now knows that his movie titles alone can bring hope to our troubled agency.

Anonymous said...

That stuff won't fly. Arnold's just a Kindergarten Cop.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you fit that one in 3:11. I wasn't able to, but don't under estimate the power of Arnold Swarzenegger. I don't think he sets goals he isn't capable of accomplishing.

Anonymous said...

Oops, I mean Schwarzenegger...that's a tough one to spell...I'm glad I got it right in my first comment.

Corrections Travelor said...

TYC needs a leader who knows something about juvenile corrections, youth development, evidence-based treatment, and effective management practices., not the political patsy installed as a favor to the Governor or Legislative Committee Chairman.

Anonymous said...

TYC needs someone a lot smarter than me, or for that matter the folks who are now running TYC to straighten out the problems. Oh, wait, they used to have such persons - like Neil Nichols, Emily Helm, Linda Reyes, Don Brantley, Marie Murdoch... I wonder where they all went?

Anonymous said...

11:28 Let's edit your list of those who are smarter than you...Neil Nichols, Emily Helm, Marie Murdoch.