Prosecutors and prisoner advocates warn that an impending change in the way California handles juvenile offenders could threaten the success of criminal justice statewide, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. At issue is a midyear cut that will essentially gut the Department of Juvenile Justice, which incarcerates the most violent juvenile criminal offenders. Under the budget reduction enacted earlier this month, the agency will cease to exist unless counties pony up $125,000 a year per youth offender.
Opponents of the change say it could have unintended consequences: More juveniles could be charged as adults, efforts to rehabilitate youth offenders who commit less serious crimes could be hurt, and the realignment of the adult criminal justice system could be derailed. The Department of Juvenile Justice houses 1,100 youth offenders and was among the state programs hit by midyear budget cuts after state revenues failed to meet expectations. Under automatic cutbacks approved by lawmakers in June and set to take effect Jan. 1, the agency’s $72 million annual budget will be eliminated, and counties will have to pay the state $125,000 a year for each juvenile offender it wants the state to continue housing – or take those youths back to serve their time at local facilities. Statewide associations representing county governments, district attorneys, and probation officials have warned that the change will force counties to make the “untenable” choice between paying millions of dollars a year they don’t have or moving youth offenders to county facilities that are ill-equipped to handle them