Misconceptions About High-Risk Youth Offenders
By Brian Heller de Leon
Center on Juvenile & Criminal Justice
The High Desert Daily Press featured a three-part story last week exploring how San Bernardino County prosecutes, supervises, and rehabilitates their juvenile offenders. Daily Press reporter Beatriz E. Valenzuela looked at patterns of juvenile crime and arrest reductions, the unbridled powers of local district attorneys to “direct file” juveniles into adult court, and the impact of adult realignment and Governor Brown’s juvenile realignment plan on local corrections systems.
The facts highlighted by the Daily Press are well known to criminal justice experts, but also demonstrate the many contradictions that exist in county and state-level juvenile justice practices. The third article also includes some unfortunate misinformation.
Ms. Valenzuela quotes San Bernardino County Probation spokesman Chris Condon saying, “The state continued to take 707b offenders, or those who committed serious or violent felonies, and we at the county level housed the lower-level 707a offenders.” Mr. Condon argues that counties cannot handle more serious 707b youth offenders and that, “there are certain offenders who even with some rehab will not do well.”
Yet San Bernardino County’s own local practices contradict this statement. San Bernardino County Probation manages the Gateway Program, a secure facility for high-needs youth. The probation department’s evaluation of the program shows that serious 707b offenders comprise 36% of the juvenile offenders in the Gateway Program.*
The Gateway Program employs data-driven best practice programs led by multi-disciplinary teams such as Aggression Replacement Training (ART), gang intervention curriculum, parenting skills and job training skills. The program has tiered levels of security and supervision to serve both low-level offenders and more high-risk youth offenders. There is a community reintegration program and multiple avenues for positive family members to be a part of the youth’s rehabilitation process.
The same program evaluation showed that 707b offenders had only a 7% difference in success rate at the Gateway Program, compared to all other youth offenders in the program (65% success versus 72% success)
Programs like Gateway are excellent models for serving 707b youth offenders, yet counties continue to rely on the state’s youth correctional facilities, Division of Juvenile Facilities (DJF), instead of developing strong local programs. CJCJ and many other criminal justice experts and policy organizations have recommended a phased transition plan to Governor Brown’s administration that would provide counties the time and funding they need to implement best-practice programming to serve 707b youth offenders.
The state is now facing a revenue shortfall that is $3 billion larger than anticipated in Governor Brown’s initial budget projections. This shortfall will mean even deeper cuts into K-12 education, health care access, universities and libraries, and supports for low-income families.
Closing the state’s DJF through a phased-in implementation plan would save tens of millions of dollars from being cut from other sectors and services. A complete juvenile realignment would incentivize counties to employ best-practice models already utilized throughout the state to serve ALL of their juvenile offenders with a local continuum of supervision and rehabilitation.
Brian Heller de Leon is the Policy and Government Outreach Coordinator for the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. He has a background in community organizing, police-community relations, and the implementation of national best-practice strategies for youth and gang violence reduction.