Responding to pressure from probation chiefs, district attorneys, and prison guards, California Gov. Jerry Brown has done an about-face on a revolutionary plan to shutter California’s youth prison system that was once the nation’s largest and arguably the most notorious, reports the San Jose Mercury News. Four months ago, a section buried in the governor’s belt-tightening budget caused a massive stir in the juvenile justice world. With annual costs per inmate at about $200,000 and its population down 90 percent from peak years, the youth prison system should stop accepting serious and violent youthful offenders beginning next year, the governor said.
For prison reformers who have long battled 23-hour confinement, education in cages and endemic violence, Brown’s Jan. 5 recommendation to shift young inmates to county facilities was a startling and welcome move. In a revision of the budget out this week, the governor upends his previous plan. The change came about after howls of protest from corrections officials, who flooded Sacramento budget hearings with demands that the Division of Juvenile Justice, or DJJ, remain open. Counties, already struggling with an influx of adult prisoners shifted to their watch under other state budget reforms, simply couldn’t handle these most-difficult youths, they argued. Prosecutors warned that without state-run youth lockups, more juveniles would be sent to adult prisons. “Often the ones going to DJJ are the most significant risk to public safety,” said Karen Pank of the Chief Probation Officers of California. The governor’s latest plan “is good for California as a whole, not just for probation departments or for counties. You need to ensure that there are all of the tools available for dealing with this population.”