Weekly Notes: Day 946; facility closures, for better or worse; and more

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***Day 946 of the Obama administration and still no nominee to serve as administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Earthquake, yes, hurricane maybe, but no nominee on the five-day forecast.

***In the course of finding information for Youth Today’s state budget tracker, we had the chance to speak with Arizona’s new juvenile justice boss, Charles Flanagan. He has a pretty unenviable task ahead: improve a juvenile corrections agency that his boss, Gov. Jan Brewer (R), has expressed interest in closing, and which has seen its budget cut by 41 percent over the past four years.

One of the first decisions he participated in was to close one of the three facilities run by the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections. Catalina Mountain School in Tucson, which had capacity to serve 124 juveniles, will cease operations in the fall and its current wards will be transferred to the two-facility complex of Black Canyon and Adobe Mountain and in Maricopa County (Phoenix).

Flanagan, discussing his plans for the agency, conceded that moving dozens of youth farther from home is “in essence, going against the grain of what’s happening in juvenile justice. We’re centralizing our youths into one place, taking them away from communities while decentralization is being tried” by other systems, Flanagan said.

The decision was primarily a fiscal one, Flanagan said. It cost ADJC $7.8 million per year to run Catalina Mountain under its capacity, and the department will save $1.5 million this year and $3.8 million next year by shuttering it.

But keeping Catalina open also posed challenges from a service standpoint, Flanagan argued, because of the “breadth and quality of the programming we can offer” at the Maricopa complex.

“We had difficulty retaining staff in Southern Arizona,” Flanagan said. “We don’t have that problem in the Phoenix metro area. There are a lot of programs we can offer in Phoenix that we did not at Catalina Mountain. They actually will do better if they come to our central facility.”

The Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections will try to ameliorate the distance factor for parents by offering video visitation in the areas typically served by the soon-to-be-closed facility. Most of the 124 employees at Catalina will lose their jobs, but Flanagan hopes to move 30 to Maricopa to fill 68 new positions created to accommodate the increase. ADJC is also working with adult corrections to see which staff might be moved to the joint facility.

Catalina is the third ADJC facility to close in recent years, but the move will not stress the Maricopa complex’s capacity. Even with the influx from Catalina, Flanagan said, ADJC will have a 200 bed surplus. Because of declines in juvenile arrests and an increased reliance on community corrections, ADJC has seen its incarcerated population drop from 1,000 in the mid-1990s to about 400 today.

Once the closure of Catalina is complete, Jenkins said, one of his priorities is education and reentry. “There are real opportunities in our reentry programming, but it’s weak as it stands now,” Flanagan said. “I hope to reinvigorate it.”

A critical mission on that count, he said, is working with school districts to get returning offenders re-enrolled with “a much better plan.” He would like ADJC to have more control over the fate of released offenders; currently, school districts have all the power in determining whether the youth will be allow to re-enroll in traditional schools.

***Flanagan had an interesting perspective on boot camps.

“The philosophy that led to boot camps is based on an earlier generation’s experience,” he said, referring to the days when young wayward offenders were offered the chance to join the military in lieu of a jail sentence.

“The advantage back then was structure and accountability.” Coming out of the military, said Flanagan, “you had employment and education opportunities after.”

The director said that is where boot camps fall on their face: there is no after-care.

“We had the kids for four months,” Flanagan said. “It was one of the most positive motivational things I’ve done in my career. Then the kid went back into the community, and guess what? He came back to a dysfunctional environment, had no job, daily discipline or structure other than probation or parole. They tended to fail.”

He also agreed that the structure of boot camps creates “a great opportunity for abuse. If you don’t really focus on treatment and program, you’ve got problems.

“In a structured, accountable environment, you are going to produce results. The trouble is how to transition that back to community.”

***Arizona is not the only state where closure of secure buildings is creating tangential policy questions. A similar stretch of facility closures is testing the secure capacity of North Carolina, where youth advocates hope to include more teens in the juvenile justice system.

A bill that would raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction in North Carolina is “still alive and expected to come back” next legislative session, said Robin Jenkins, chief operating officer for the North Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Right now, all 16- and 17-year-olds in the state are considered adults and sent to criminal courts.

The problem: The state might not have enough secure beds for the teens it already includes in its system.

Budget cuts sped the transfer of one youth development center to the adult system, to be used for female inmates, and caused the outright closure of another facility. Those closures bring the total juveniles bed spaces for DJJDP to 329, which is 75 beds less than the total the Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission projected will be necessary even without an age raise.

On the other hand, there are a total of about 2,100 16- and 17-year-olds in North Carolina’s adult facilities, according to the sentencing commission. If NCDJJDP decided that 85 percent of those teens did not need to be incarcerated, and directed them instead to community or residential programs, the agency would still have to double its bed space to accommodate the juvenile jurisdiction age change.

Compare North Carolina’s situation with that of Connecticut, which recently raised its age of jurisdiction from 15 to 16 without having to add a single secure bed (although the line for residential services is backing up). This year, North Carolina likely will add 17-year-olds to the juvenile mix, without really testing secure capacity.

It’s hard to imagine North Carolina amassing enough secure space to accommodate all of its teens without building new youth development centers, or establishing contracts with private providers.

Jenkins said raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction is feasible “only if they resource the change,” which would have to include increasing capacity at juvenile facilities. In a state facing a $2.5 billion deficit, securing funding to do so will be an uphill battle.

In the meantime, Jenkins said, the recent closures mean that juvenile judges will have to know “resources are tighter” and reserve placement for the most violent youth.

“A good thing about our judges is they see the situation the state’s in and are trying to work with you,” Jenkins said.

In California, there is still much angst about whether prosecutors and judges will transfer more teens into adult court as the state withdraws itself from the juvenile incarceration business.

The legislature passed a reform bill in 2007 that drastically reduced the number of youths that a county could send to be housed in a Department of Juvenile Justice facility. DJJ has closed five of the 11 facilities that existed just six years ago and the number of youths in DJJ facilities continues to plummet.

There are 1,118 juveniles in DJJ because of juvenile court placement, and another 214 who were convicted in criminal court and are with DJJ until they can be transferred to adult lockup at age 18. Ten years ago, the total population was about 10,000.

The expectation is that the state will close one of the four remaining state training schools this year and get out of the juvenile incarceration business completely in 2012, said Dan Macallair, executive director of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco.

CJCJ’s annual projections (most recent one here) have indicated for years that counties have the juvenile bed capacity to accommodate any and all offenders still in the custody of DJJ. But as the state continues to downsize its state system and relinquish jurisdiction over some of the toughest juveniles, some advocates fear an uptick in the number of juveniles who are transferred directly into the adult courts by prosecutors.

Recent research by CJCJ researchers Selena Teji and Mike Males suggests that the likelihood of that prospect varies greatly among California’s 58 counties. 

Of the 35 most populous California counties, there were 18 where prosecutors direct-filed juveniles into adult court at a higher rate than the state average, which is 25.4 direct files for every 1,000 felony arrests in which a prosecutor could direct file. Ten of those counties file at twice the state rate. Seventeen file under the average.

What will be interesting to see is whether any increase in filing occurs in the counties that already direct file a lot, widening the disparity, or whether this prompts an increase from prosecutors who historically have not been inclined to direct file.

***In other California news, a bill that would have allowed juvenile offenders sentenced to life without parole the chance to pursue freedom after a quarter-century in prison narrowly failed to pass the state Assembly Thursday, reports Karen de Sa of the Mercury News. Marisa Lagos of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Leland Yee, (D), intends to bring the bill up again before the current legislative period ends on Sept. 9.