The administration of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has reached an agreement with legislative budget writers on a plan to stop sending less-serious and nonviolent juvenile criminals to state institutions, beginning this year, the Sacramento Bee reports. If the legislature goes along, the decade-long population decline at the Division of Juvenile Justice would continue, dropping over the next two years from 2,600 currently to 1,500. Instead of being housed in the state’s eight juvenile facilities, less-serious juvenile offenders would be retained at the local level.
Within two years, shifting less-serious offenders to the counties would save the state $70 million a year. The governor’s proposed budget for the division this year is $523 million, including parole. State Sen. Mike Machado said the deal adds up to a virtually unprecedented change in juvenile justice in the state. “I think this will be the first time in the history of dealing with juveniles that we’re going to have the coordination and cooperation with local governments and the state to provide comprehensive programming to be able to deal with the behavioral issues of juveniles, and to do it without jeopardizing public safety,” he said. From a high of 9,926 in 1995, the state youth prison population has steadily declined, largely as a result of a 1996 law that made counties pay the state more for housing less-serious offenders. The agency formerly known as the California Youth Authority has come under intense scrutiny in recent years as a result of suicides, youths being confined in cages to do their school work, allegations of excessive force, and other problems.