Realignment and a lack of transparency

So what happened?

In December the County Board of Supervisors approved a plan presented by the Sac County Probation department for the programmatic design for what the juvenile injustice system will look like in 2022. This plan will then be sent to the newly created state agency the Office of Youth and Community Restoration (OYCR) for approval.

Why is this important?

This plan will guide what services are provided for incarcerated youth in our county.

What's going on with the juvenile injustice system in Sac County?

There is a criminal punishment system for youth in California that runs parallel to the adult criminal injustice system. In the past, if youth were deemed to have committed a “serious” offense they would have been sent to a state facility (this system of facilities was known as the Division of Juvenile Justice, or DJJ), while “minor” offenses resulted in being incarcerated in a county facility.

This changed however, in 2020, with the passage of AB823. This law began the process of phasing out the existence of the DJJ. Intake to the DJJ stopped in July of 2020, and all the state facilities for the youth currently incarcerated within the DJJ will officially close down in 2023. Because of this change, all youth that would have previously been sent to state facilities will now be incarcerated in county facilities throughout the state.

The bill created the OYCR, which will be in charge of monitoring the new system, and allocates block funding to those states with reporting requirements. Counties will need to describe “the facilities, programs, placements, services, supervision and reentry strategies that are needed to provide appropriate rehabilitation and supervision services.”


The result of these changes is that the Sacramento County Probation Department is now in charge of all incarcerated youth in the County. As a brief refresher on the Probation Department, it is not our friend. See below this summary of the department from earlier this year:

Probation Departments, including the Sacramento Probation Department, are harmful to our communities by design—their job is to criminalize, surveil, and set us up to fail. When you’re on Probation, simple mistakes and structural barriers can easily land you in jail: a battery problem with an ankle monitor, a missed appointment due to transportation, child care, or health issues, or dozens of other “technical violations” that have nothing to do with public safety.

Although there were, and are, serious problems within the state facilities under the DJJ, there are also some very real concerns with how the new county system has been designed thus far.


To learn more about what’s been going on in the county since the passage of AB823, we sat down with Miguel Garcia from the Sac Kids First Coalition (SKFC). The info below was informed by that conversation.


AB823 mandated the creation of the Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council (JJCC), which then established the JJCC Subcommittee. This Subcommittee is in charge of creating the plan for the realignment of the juvenile injustice system.


The committee is composed as follows:

  • Chaired by Sacramento County Chief Probation Office

  • Includes representatives from the District Attorney's Office, the Public Defender's Office, Child Protective Services, Behavioral Health Services, Sacramento County Office of Education, and a representative from Superior Court.

ADDITIONALLY


The subcommittee shall also include no fewer than three community members who shall be defined as individuals who have experience providing community-based youth services, youth justice advocates with expertise and knowledge of the juvenile justice system, or have been directly involved in the juvenile justice system. ​

Luckily all the community members that were chosen for this Subcommittee are involved with the SKFC in some capacity. However there have been quite a few problems within the JJCC Subcommittee development process.


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First of all, the community members on the subcommittee were chosen by the law-enforcement involved members that were already seated. Therefore, it is questionable whether or not the community members will be fully free from the influence of law-enforcement goals and priorities.


Broad community involvement in recruiting folx for the subcommittee was also not great. The subcommittee application was open for a very short period of time, and there was no transparency in the selection process. The SKFC requested that the subcommittee hold town halls for the community to bring them in on the process, but unfortunately they only hosted two very lackluster webinars.


As the subcommittee began to form, it took 3 months to present any information to the County BOS, which made input and involvement from the community nearly impossible.


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On top of that, the meetings of the JJCC Subcommittee are not public! The County counsel has said that these meetings don’t fall under the purview of the Brown Act, so legally they don’t have to be public. However, other counties (Los Angeles County, for example) have successfully opened meetings to the public without any negative consequences. The SKFC has been pushing for these subcommittee meetings to become public since its creation, but at this point that has not happened.


Recorded meetings are now available, but that means there is no ability to watch live or make verbal public comment, and it also means that people are only seeing the meeting AFTER decisions have been made. Agendas are only being posted because of how hard SKFC pushed for them, and sometimes they still aren’t posted at all. Predictably this makes community engagement very difficult. This is still a big issue!


What about the money?


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The State of California gave the Sac County Probation Department $1.8 million (this is just the amount for the first year, in upcoming years it could go up to $9.2 million) to fund the new juvenile justice program development. However, without approval from the subcommittee, the Probation Department spent all the money on staff salaries and benefits.


The money should have been spent on things like: housing, reentry, mental health services, education services, providing non-law enforcement involved youth advocates, assistance with finding employment, and for supporting local community-based organizations. Funding decisions like this are why we need transparency and accountability.

So what’s been going on with the kids?


*Sacramento Youth Detention Facility pictured above


Since 2020, youth who typically would have been sentenced to the DJJ are now being sent to the Sacramento Youth Detention Facility, and this is where they will continue to be sent going forward. It’s important to note that enhancements to the facility are needed because it is not designed for long-term treatment, and the youth that would have been sent to the DJJ, or who are transferring in from the DJJ, will be incarcerated for longer periods of times than those who are sentenced for less serious offenses.


The SKFC also emphasizes the need for the treatment network at the facility to be expanded, and for its ongoing development to be steeped in community engagement. The agency doesn’t currently have the capacity to ensure compliance with the plan sent to the OYCR.


So what’s next?


Since the YDF is mostly designed for pre-trial cases, and not for long-term incarceration, is it crucial that the community stay involved in the implementation of the current plan and with the design of plans in the coming years.


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This will be challenging considering that the meetings aren’t public, but that’s all the more reason for the community to continue demanding that they DO become public. Community members are encouraged to get and stay as involved as possible with the activity of the JJCC Subcommittee.


Link to DJJ realignment page

Link to Sac Kids First Coalition website

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