August 24, 2007

Historic turning point for juvenile offenders in California

California's bloated school-to-prison pipeline efficiently channels poor and minority children into juvenile halls, then to the massive California Youth Authority, and then on to the state prison system as adults. Decreased funding for schools and other social programs and Zero Tolerance policies in the schools have contributed to a growing influx of youths in recent years. But now, in yet another signal that the pendulum may be swinging away from punitive incarceration, the state legislature has hit the brakes.

Under Senate Bill 81, all but the most violent delinquents will now stay in their home counties instead of going to the scandal-plagued California Youth Authority prisons. The new law (which has yet to be signed by the governor) provides funding for an array of rehabilitation services for delinquent youths, many of whom have serious mental illnesses.

States with similar county-based programs have seen dramatic reductions in criminal recidivism among youth. Indeed, proponents predict that the new law will "shrink the troubled state juvenile prison system nearly out of existence," signaling a historic turning point in criminal justice policies.

The San Francisco Chronicle has the full story.

Photo credit: "Pam I Am" (Creative Commons license)