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County Picks Up Responsibility As Calif. Imprisons Fewer Juveniles

Aired 10/5/11 on KPBS News.

A report released this week concludes imprisoning juvenile offenders exposes them to violence and abuse, does not discourage future crimes, and is a waste of taxpayer money.

A new report by the Annie E Casey Foundation concludes keeping juveniles incarcerated is counterproductive, as recidivism rates are close to 70 percent.

Before the State of California decided to hand over thousands of adult criminals to county jurisdictions, it had already begun to transition juveniles to local supervision.

Jo Pastore heads San Diego's Public Defenders Juvenile Office. She said - unlike the concerns about the adult transfer - the transfer of juveniles was readily accepted. She said unlike Los Angeles, San Diego never sent many juveniles to state prison, so the numbers are small. Only about two or three juveniles a month are returning to San Diego.

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No Place For Kids: The Case For Reducing Juvenile Incarceration

No Place For Kids: The Case For Reducing Juvenile Incarceration

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It costs more than twice as much to imprison a juvenile offender in state prison as it does to keep them in a county detention facility. That’s one reason California began sending juveniles back to counties in 2007.

Sophia Roach is assistant chief of San Diego District Attorney’s Juvenile Division. She said the County has four detention facilities, but on average, juveniles don’t stay in them for long.

“Back in 2007, the average stay for a minor in a local facility was under a month," Roach said. "It’s still under a month today.”

Chief Probation Officer Mack Jenkins said ten years ago 11,000 juveniles were in state prison; now there are 1,100.

Jenkins said San Diego has only about 800 beds in four juvenile detention centers, whereas more than 4,800 are on probation in the community.

He said the focus while in detention is how juvenile offenders will reintegrate into the community.

“A custody program, camp, or detention center that is solely focused on the time the kid is in custody - the outcomes aren’t good, and that’s why the focus is to reentry programs," said Jenkins.

He said he is using evidence-based practices to cut recidivism among juveniles.

Juvenile recidivism in San Diego is just under 30 percent, but that is up from 26 percent in 2008.

Jenkins said he is building lists of community resources to help probation officers support juvenile offenders reintegrate into the community.

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