Decision makers in California recently announced plans to overhaul the juvenile justice system in the state. Part of long-range planning includes closing the state’s three main juvenile prison facilities by sometime in 2023.
While this may seem like good news for juvenile offenders on the surface, there could be deeper implications that are worrisome.
What’s happening with youth prisons in California
The move, which was termed a “realignment” of approach and priorities, was detailed under state Senate Bill 823. It calls for the closure of all state-run juvenile facilities throughout California in favor of community-based initiatives to address the causes of youth crime.
Juvenile defense attorneys and communities activists alike praised the new bill. However, the proposed solutions as they’ve been implemented seem to be leaving out the community portion of the initiative.
The implications of juvenile prison closings
The legislation was meant to put an end to juvenile imprisonment. As part of the program, a halt was called to new youth incarceration in state facilities by mid-2021. The remainder of the facilities were slated for closure by July 1, 2023. The small percentage of youths still incarcerated have been moved to facilities closer to their families.
However, some concerns have arisen about how these reforms are being handled. Community activists worry that some youth offenders will become subject to a shadow system of justice that’s outside of government oversight. Local officials are concerned that the move is less about saving children and more about saving money by shifting the financial burden to city and county governments rather than the state.
Reducing juvenile incarceration in favor of community-based rehabilitation programs could provide a way for young people who have been convicted of a crime to turn their lives around.