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Cuts Could Trigger Bigger Juvenile Justice Bills

 
Counties may have to pay state to keep young violent offenders behind bars

Juvenile offenders are often reminded that bad decisions have consequences. The juvenile justice systems in California counties are about to learn the same hard lesson.

A year ago, counties rejected a proposal by Gov. Jerry Brown to share hundreds of millions of dollars in state money to keep the most dangerous young offenders in county facilities instead of sending them to the state’s troubled Division of Juvenile Justice. Interest groups, including the Chief Probation Officers of California, said that even with state money, many counties were not prepared to handle serious offenders and a lack of adequate facilities would lead prosecutors to try more juveniles in adult court.

Alameda County has 50 of its most violent young offenders in the custody of the state. Contra Costa has 42.

Now, because of state “trigger” budget cuts likely to begin this month, the counties could face millions of dollars in additional costs. Instead of receiving state financing, the counties may have to pay the Division of Juvenile Justice $125,000 annually for each offender, more than 10 times the current rate. For Alameda County, the tab could reach $6.25 million. Contra Costa County faces a $5.25 million bill.

“It seems like a big mistake to walk away from a deal where the state was going to pay you and now you have to pay them,” said Barry Krisberg, a criminologist at the University of California, Berkeley.

Dan Macallair, executive director of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco, said the governor’s plan had been rejected because some counties had come to rely too heavily on the Division of Juvenile Justice, sending youths to the state system when they should be developing local programs to treat them. Those counties “blew it big-time,” Macallair said. “If they had not been so concerned in trying to maintain the options as they exist and avoiding risk, they could have avoided this.”

Some of the same groups that lobbied fiercely against Brown’s proposal are now scrambling to prevent the cuts. A statewide coalition of district attorneys, probation chiefs and county officials has sent letters to the governor and begun talks with state legislators.

“Obviously we would like him to drop that cut, and cut from other places,” said Scott Thorpe, chief executive of the California District Attorneys Association. “If it’s going to be so prohibitive to send young people to D.J.J., the reality is that with the cost factor we should file those cases in adult court.” The governor’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“I’m concerned that we will be left holding the bag on a $6.2 million bill,” said David Muhammad, chief probation officer of Alameda County. “We’re frustrated that the offer has moved from receiving money to keep our youth, to paying to keep them at D.J.J.”

This article also appears in the Bay Area edition of The New York Times.

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