Youth advocates prepare cost-saving rehabilitation plan for county leaders
It wasn’t the same unruly scene as last July, when nine activists protesting a new youth detention facility planted themselves on the floor of the County Supervisor chambers until police hauled them away.
The scene at the county administrative building Tuesday, as the county’s Board of Supervisors discussed sensitive budget issues regarding the youth justice system, was more subdued than that. But the cries of activists calling for rehabilitation instead of more incarceration could still be heard.
Not discouraged by having lost their battle to stop plans for a larger Juvenile Hall, two youth advocacy groups came back to the county supervisors to continue the fight for more treatment programs for troubled youth.
Leaders from Youth Force Coalition and Books Not Bars presented a resolution to county leaders outlining an overhaul of the county’s juvenile justice system. The gist of their proposal was rehabilitation in the form of $500,000 in treatment centers at which youth could get help instead of being locked up.
County supervisors, though uncertain about a time frame, received the resolution with unexpected warmth. They agreed unanimously to send the measure to committee with the possibility that the groups’ ideas could be in next year’s budget.
“We cannot afford to dismiss, as a county, any revenue-saving activities,” said County Supervisors Keith Carson. Carson, with support from Supervisor Nate Miley and opposition from the other board members, had unsuccessfully urged for more study of how juvenile delinquents are handled before pursuing a new detention facility.
The resolution embraces the argument that incarceration, in addition to being an ineffective means of rehabilitation, is more expensive than treatment programs.
Citing statistics from the county’s Probation Department, the youth advocates noted that the cost of detaining a youth at Juvenile Hall is $150 a day. The advocates say their plan would cost the county less than $100 a day.
Last July, facing overcrowded conditions at the county’s current 299-bed Juvenile Hall in San Leandro, county leaders voted to move forward with a new 450-bed facility.
The new facility was slated for Dublin, but that and other details are still being worked out. Construction must start by 2005 to qualify for state funding.
Rachel Jackson, state field director for Books Not Bars, said that though her organization fought fruitlessly to halt the new Juvenile Hall, their charge now is to reduce the need for more youth incarceration.
“They’re not going to stop expansion unless we can decrease the detention population,” she said.
The resolution put forth Tuesday, Jackson said, is just the way to do that.
In addition to the creation of three new “day reporting centers” where youth can receive treatment, the resolution calls for the establishment of two new county staff positions. One position would monitor the new youth centers and one position would expedite the processing of youth court cases.
The plan, which its authors say entails a start-up cost of $615,000, would be administered largely by non-profit groups who would work hand in hand with county officials. The start-up cost, authors say, would be offset by a $2 million annual savings by avoiding costly incarceration.
“We urge the county to make a small investment now and reap cost savings later,” said Shaista Azad with Books Not Bars.