California Considers Next Steps After Pledge to Close Youth Prisons

After years of scandal over the mistreatment of young offenders, which spurred multiple reform efforts and more than a decade of state court oversight that ended in 2016, California has pledged to begin the shutdown of its long-troubled and frequently violent youth prisons, reports the Los Angeles Times. Three remaining Division of Criminal Justice (DJJ) prisons will stop taking new prisoners in July, with rare exceptions. California plans to close the facilities — twin lockups in Stockton and another in Ventura — in July 2023, under a state law passed last year and a budget directive issued in January by Gov. Gavin Newsom. As recently as 2019, the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, a nonprofit group supportive of dismantling the state youth facilities, said in a scathing report that DJJ staff “abet violence, reinforce racial and ethnic conflicts, and legitimize institutional gangs.” The group hit DJJ again in December, for allegedly failing to rigorously prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which eventually infected about 13 percent of the department’s 1,400 staff members and 203 young prisoners.

California has pledged more than $200 million a year to help local governments absorb the cost of housing and caring for the hundreds of young people who previously would have ended up in DJJ’s prisons. As a result of a steep decline in crimes by young people (⅕ as many as in 2002), nearly three-quarters of California’s juvenile-hall beds lie empty.

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