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Wednesday 22nd of January 2020

Press Room

‘Justice by Geography’ Can Be Curbed Via Financial Incentives to Keep Youth Closer to Home

Friday 2nd of August 2019 | North America, United States
Juvenile Justice Information Exchange
News

California is in the midst of an unprecedented shrinking of its juvenile justice system. Over the past several decades, youth arrests have fallen precipitously, driving down court and probation caseloads and emptying juvenile facilities. Yet California taxpayers continue to foot the bill for two overbuilt and over-resourced systems for confining youth: one operated by the state and the other by counties. In 2018, California’s state correctional system for youth, the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), reported a population that was just 40% of the facilities’ capacity, while county-run juvenile halls, camps and ranches were just under 30% full.

Many local justice systems have been slow to respond to broader trends in juvenile justice and even slower to acknowledge modern best practices. We now know that youth are better served in small, close-to-home settings that can maintain safety and preserve connections to family and supportive community members. However, a number of California counties continue to send large numbers of young people to the state system, subjecting them to its high rate of recidivism and poor record for keeping youth safe.

These state-dependent jurisdictions pay just a fraction of the heavily subsidized cost of DJJ while also receiving substantial state funding to serve youth locally. One such county, Riverside, sends youth to DJJ at roughly twice the rate of the rest of California despite receiving $15.5 million through the annual Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act and Youthful Offender Block Grant — programs that are designed to enhance treatment and services for youth at the local level. The county had also recently accepted nearly $25 million in state financing to construct a brand new juvenile facility that opened in 2017 and is housing just 30 youth, or 28%, of its design capacity.

“Justice by geography” is an ongoing issue in California’s juvenile justice system that subjects young people to vastly different outcomes depending on where they live. Geographic disparities are even more pronounced when paired with financial incentives. California currently requires counties to pay just 8% of the per capita price of DJJ, or $24,000 per youth. This is far less than the cost of placing a young person in a local facility. This creates a problematic incentive that motivates some counties to rely on the state rather than invest in their own local systems.

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