With California mired in near-catastrophic budget woes, researchers are calling for the state to shut down its youth prison system, which they say has become too expensive, too mired in abusive practices, and too ineffective in enhancing public safety, reports the San Jose Mercury-News. There are just six remaining prisons for the state’s most serious juvenile offenders, and they house the lowest number of inmates in modern history. That has left taxpayers in an era of deep cuts to education and social services footing a bill of a quarter-million dollars each year for each of the 1,600 youthful offenders now left in state custody.
In a report for legislators wrestling with a $21.3 billion budget shortfall, the San Francisco-based Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice describes a way out: Shut down the state prison system for youthful offenders, and turn the population back to county probation departments that are sitting on empty beds in new and refurbished juvenile halls. The state’s own Little Hoover Commission and Legislative Analyst’s Office also have concluded that given adequate time and resources, counties could house even the most troubled juvenile offenders in far cheaper and more effective institutions. Bernie Warner, head of California’s Division of Juvenile Justice, argues there must always be a state system for the most serious, violent, gang-involved youth offenders, most of whom need specialized treatment for crimes as serious as murder and sexual assault.