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Fewer kids sent to juvenile halls, but local facilities plan to stay open

Posted at 6:03 PM, Apr 18, 2019

Some California cities are looking into closing their juvenile halls amid a national decline in kids being sent to the facilities.

KSBY checked in with probation departments on the Central Coast to see if they would consider doing the same.

There are currently 38 kids being held in Santa Barbara County’s juvenile hall facility. While the county has seen a nearly 40 percent decline in these numbers, they say facilities like these are important in order to keep the community safe.

“I think there will always be a need for some youth for secure detention,” said Holly Benton, Deputy Chief Probation Officer for Santa Barbara County.

“Most juveniles currently in detention are either awaiting trial on a serious matter like a murder case and a number of others, serving time for serious repeated offenses, and victims of juvenile crimes are often other juveniles. We owe it to our children to protect them from other minors who present a danger to them,” explained District Attorney Joyce Dudley.

While the county wants to keep the doors open, the number of kids being sent to juvenile halls is on a national decline.

In Santa Barbara County, the probation department says in the last 18 months there’s been a 39% reduction in the juvenile facility population, 32% reduction in youth under supervision, and 81% reduction in youth being removed from their homes and placed in residential alternatives.

“They’re still in our system and still in our community but we’re working with them differently. We’re working with them in the home, with their families, making sure their case plan goals and objectives are being met. We have what’s called a risk-needs responsivity principle which means we assess the risk of the youth to re-offend and then we target their needs,” Benton said.

In San Francisco, city leaders have created legislation to close their juvenile hall facilities by the end of 2021. That legislation could be enacted into law as soon as next month.

San Francisco District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen says they discovered they were paying over $200,000 per youth to keep them in custody.

“We learned we were spending so much money on an ineffective system and when three-quarters of juvenile hall was empty all of the time anyway, this just didn’t make any sense. So this was sort of the combination of circumstances we needed to make a major change in our system. For the very few youth (around) 10-15 at any given time in San Francisco that are accused of committing a violent crime that by state law, must be in a secure setting, that we can build a much smaller program for these youth that doesn’t feel like a jail but feels like a secure, rehabilitative setting,” Ronen explained.

​In Santa Barbara County, the average daily cost of housing a child in juvenile hall is $632. In San Luis Obispo County, that number is $691.

Moving forward, Santa Barbara County says it will continue to adapt and grow its solutions for helping youth in our area.

“We continue to be pursuing the latest research which shows incarceration for youth is not necessarily the best method of dealing with youth and sometimes it draws them deeper into the juvenile justice system and actually increases their risk of re-offending. So we will try to embrace that research and work with youth in the community and make sure their needs are met,” Benton said.

Santa Barbara County’s Probation Office was one of 15 sites chosen as a Reimagining Juvenile Justice site. This training will be a collaboration between stakeholders in youth justice in the community and create an enhancement of knowledge of the latest practices to help youth.

District Attorney Joyce Dudley says she’d like to see even more programs that target kids even as young as pre-school as they are developing their sense of ethics and morality to be most effective at preventing kids from ending up in the system.

San Luis Obispo County’s Chief Probation Officer, Jim Salio, tells KSBY their juvenile halls are facing a decline as well but feels there’s still a need to keep their facility open.