California has closed its final remaining youth prisons, signaling the end of a 132-year-old statewide correctional system that has been marred by violence and abuse. The closure of the youth prisons, which took place on June 30, resulted in the transfer of all youths previously in custody to the state’s 58 counties.
Accompanying the historic closures is the announcement of the dissolution of a controversial nonprofit organization created to aid the transition of youths from state-run facilities to their respective counties. Led by probation chiefs from 55 counties, the nonprofit had been making decisions about the treatment of young offenders, particularly those considered the most dangerous or with significant mental health and behavioral needs.
While the pending dissolution of the nonprofit is seen as a significant step forward, advocates emphasize that more work needs to be done to transform California’s approach to young people accused of crimes. The goal is to shift from a punitive system to one focused on rehabilitation and youth development.
The tweet below verifies the news:
Both developments stem from legislation signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2020. https://t.co/b2kAC8IL50
— The Sacramento Bee (@sacbee_news) July 6, 2023
The closures and the nonprofit’s dissolution are the result of legislation signed by Governor Gavin Newsom in 2020, which aimed to remove the state from the business of incarcerating juvenile offenders and initiate a much-needed transformation of the troubled youth correctional system.
Senate Bill 823 facilitated this transformation by requiring counties to identify alternatives to confining minors in adult lockups and offering evidence-based and trauma-informed services, with a particular emphasis on mental health support.
However, many counties, including Sacramento, decided to place most young people returning from state-run prisons into juvenile halls originally intended for short-term pretrial stays. This approach disappointed juvenile justice reformists, who saw it as a missed opportunity to fundamentally change the system.
The formation of the controversial nonprofit by probation chiefs allowed decisions to be made behind closed doors, shielding them from public scrutiny. Despite the collection of over $750,000 in membership dues and a consulting contract worth $760,000 from the state, the organization recently announced its plan to dissolve by the end of 2023. The Consortium’s sudden dissolution has raised questions about the use of public funds and the transparency of its operations.
The closure of the youth prisons and the dissolution of the nonprofit represent important steps toward reforming California’s juvenile justice system. However, ongoing efforts are needed to ensure transparency, accountability, and a health-based approach to youth accused of crimes in the state.
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