Governor Brown's plan to shut down all DJJ facilities has been scratched, due to budgetary difficulties. Nonetheless, it is important to pay attention to two recent reports by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice on juvenile justice realignment.
The first report assesses the potential impact of DJJ institutional closures on adult charges. This, you may recall, was a cause for concern in some quarters. Nonetheless, the report finds that, while "California counties drastically vary in arrest and incarceration policies. . . even radical variations in reliance on State incarceration have no effect on juvenile crime rates or trends." Here are the main findings:
In 2009, 24 counties employed locally self-reliant juvenile justice practices. Those counties were Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, Colusa, Del Norte, Inyo, Los Angeles, Mariposa, Mendocino, Mono, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, San Diego, San Francisco, San Joaquin, San Luis Obispo, Santa Clara, Sierra, Solano, Sonoma, Stanislaus, Trinity, and Tulare.
In 2009, 13 counties employed State-dependent juvenile justice practices that would significantly obstruct juvenile justice reform. Those counties were Alameda, Contra Costa, Fresno, Kern, Kings, Merced, Monterey, Orange, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura.
The thirteen State-dependent counties accounted for 37% of juvenile felony arrests but 61% of all direct adult criminal court filings and 46% of all DJF commitments, in 2009.
Kings County is the most State-dependent county, direct filing in adult criminal court 50 times more than Los Angeles, 39 times more than San Diego, and 36 times more than San Francisco in 2009.
Twelve California counties did not utilize the state system during 2009; either for a DJF commitment or an adult criminal court filing despite experiencing juvenile felony arrests during that year (Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, Colusa, Del Norte, Inyo, Mariposa, Mono, Nevada, Plumas, Sierra, and Trinity).
Despite having the highest juvenile felony arrest rate in the State, San Francisco County utilized direct adult criminal court filing one-eighth as much as the county with the lowest rate of juvenile felony arrests (El Dorado).
It would appear from the report that adult criminal court filings are a matter of organizational and prosecutorial culture, and the policies are not sensitive to the adult/juvenile divide. It is important to say that these findings make sense in the aggregate. I'm sure that, in single cases that raise true dilemmas, juvenile justice practices might be taken into account by individual prosecutors when making the call whether to charge someone as a juvenile or an adult. But the big picture does not seem to support a structural connection between the two.
The second report examined the capacity of county facilities to house juveniles. As the table shows, California counties currently have the space and infrastructure to house all juveniles who are now held in state prisons.
What does all this mean now that the governor has changed his plans? Perhaps it means that law enforcement officials making charging decisions can, and should, be more amenable to the possibility of charging juveniles with misdemeanors rather than felonies when possible. If the change does not occur as a grand top-down policy, it may have to occur as a bottom-up aggregate set of decisionmaking on the part of prosecutors.