|Image by Still Burning|
In a seemingly intelligent and compassionate move, the California Assembly Budget Committee voted to support Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to eliminate the state’s youth prison system. This would save the state $242 million over the next three years. The problem is that youth incarceration would be passed on to California’s 58 counties, all of which are struggling with their own budget crises. Brown promised to compensate counties with revenues from the June 6 ballot initiative to extend taxes, which is essentially saying he’ll pay them back after he returns from Vegas.
Brown wants to divest the state of all interests in running its youth prisons because they have been operating under a court order to improve their facilities, an order that has mostly ignored due to lack of funding. The system is in shambles and most agree that it is beyond repair. It is also a hugely unnecessary system, as juvenile crime has dropped dramatically in recent years. The DJJ population has declined from 10,000 to 1,300 since 1996.
In states across the country, juvenile crime has been dropping, despite the fact that youth homelessness, hunger and child abuse have been rising. In 2004, youths committed just 4.8% of all murders, the lowest number recorded up until then. Crime by 12-20-year olds fell by 66% in the 1990s, to its lowest point in 30 years. These trends have largely continued over the past decade.
Remarkably, as adult crime rises for people in the 35-45 year old range, and as adults continue to gut social services, education, and programs that serve children, juvenile crime continues to decline. Yet we continue to hear paranoid rants about out of control kids running amok in the streets and the need for more repressive measures to control youth. Oakland, for example, is attempting to implement a sweeping gang injunction that strips away civil rights for large numbers of youth based on Oakland Police profiling without regard for evidence.