Posted on April 12, 2012

Costly Calif. Juvenile Program Has Strong Backers

Marisa Lagos, San Francisco Chronicle, April 10, 2012

Dozens of teenage boys dressed in hunter-green polo shirts and khaki pants line up outside one-story concrete classrooms waiting to walk to their next period.

It seems like any other high school: Walls are decorated with student artwork and class work, and the main office bustles with teachers and administrators.

But the students here, at O.H. Close Youth Correctional Facility, have committed murders, robberies, assaults and rapes. Many of them are mentally ill, most are Latino or black, and the average age is 17.

Several days a week, classes — English, biology, economics, geometry and other typical courses — are suspended while the youths attend counseling and other treatment sessions tailored to their needs. Sex offenders are in sexual behavioral treatment programs, mentally ill offenders are in a mental health program, and violent wards attend intensive behavioral treatment programs.

This is California’s solution to dealing with its juvenile offenders with the most serious criminal backgrounds, who need intensive treatment that county juvenile halls could not provide. The program is expensive, costing state taxpayers $179,400 a year per offender.

Now, the state is contemplating pulling the plug on O.H. Close and three other state-run facilities that serve this population, which represents less than 1 percent of the more than 225,000 youths arrested in California each year. Earlier this year, Gov. Jerry Brown proposed closing the institutions and sending these offenders back to county juvenile halls.

The move would fall in line with Brown’s broad goal of shifting state services to the county level, in part to cut back on state spending. But staff members at O.H. Close say the closures would be devastating, and some youths here agree, saying they have received far more effective treatment than they ever got in county juvenile halls.

“It’s different here — we are given more counseling; at home, they didn’t do nothing,” said Ivan Heres, an 18-year-old sex offender from Orange County who has been at O.H. Close for six months and will be paroled in December.

Heres is one of about 1,000 youth offenders now detained at these state-run facilities run by the Department of Juvenile Justice. {snip}


Staff and wards at both O.H. Close and N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility next door say closing the state facilities — which would save the state more than $100 million a year — would set California back, and experts warn it could result in far more juveniles being charged as adults and sentenced to state prison.


Division of Juvenile Justice numbers

1,032 Number of juvenile offenders in state facilities as of Feb. 29

10,000 Number of juvenile offenders in state facilities 10 years ago

65% Percentage of DJJ offenders in substance abuse treatment

30% Percentage of offenders in mental health treatment

17% Percentage of offenders in sexual behavior treatment

37% Percentage of offenders convicted of assault

32% Percentage of offenders convicted of robbery

11% Percentage of offenders convicted of murder

19 Average age of juvenile offenders in state custody

Source: California Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation