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Juvenile justice commission finds offender halls functioning well

Placement facilities for Plumas County’s Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention offenders meet with high marks, according to the program’s chairperson Bill Powers.

In an annual report to the Plumas County Board of Supervisors, Powers explained inspection teams, including members of the Plumas County Juvenile Justice Commission, investigated the two facilities the county now uses when juveniles break the law.

The Butte County Juvenile Hall in Oroville is a familiar facility. When Lassen County closed its juvenile hall in October as a cost savings venture, the commission turned to Nevada County and its juvenile facility.

Presentation

Kendrah Fredricksen, program manager for CASA, joined Powers as he made his presentation to supervisors Tuesday, Nov. 19.

The state mandates counties to have a Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Commission, Powers reminded the board.

And in taking their commitment seriously, some of the members of that commission visited two juvenile facilities, including a new one Plumas County just began using.

“Because of our commitment to the juvenile wards of our county, including arrested youth in the justice system as well as foster care placements, the Plumas County Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Commission looks for the best possible placement for those children being detained and a commitment to assure that our two primary foster agencies are operating at optimum levels,” Powers told supervisors.

Powers was referring to facilities in Butte and Nevada counties. Foster placement programs in Plumas County are with Environmental Alternatives and Mountain Circle, but occasionally youth are fostered in other areas.

“In the effort regarding incarcerated youth, we support Plumas County Probation Department in contracting with two nearby counties since we have no juvenile detention facility within Plumas County,” Powers explained.

Butte facility

The inspection team that went to the Butte County Juvenile Hall included Judge Douglas Prouty, Fredricksen and Powers.

Their contact at that facility was Juvenile Hall Manager Nino Pinocchio.

This is a large campus with four housing units that include a fully staffed kitchen, medical and psychiatric unit, fully accredited high school, in-house camp program, and administration. “All areas were exceptionally clean, in good repair and staffed,” Powers said.

Discussing each unit individually, Powers began with the kitchen.

A full-time cook prepares three “from scratch” meals a day. Residents help out in learning to prepare foods and in cleaning up after each meal. “The nutritional balance exceeds California schools lunch program requirements,” Powers said.

A registered nurse, family therapy specialist and a psychologist are available for the medical and psychological unit. They are available during intake for full evaluations, Powers explained.

A Western Association of Schools and Colleges-accredited program is available at the facility. It provides a full high school curriculum that can lead to a diploma. Special education services, GED preparation and vocational training outreach are available.

Powers said the vocational training is in cooperation with Butte College. “We saw examples of an exemplary program in writing and welding,” he said. “All youth have access and (are) required to attended the same minutes as all California high schools for educational preparedness each day, according to their needs as determined at intake.”

In-house camp programs have changed, he said. They used to be on ranches and in more or less wilderness areas. “Those have sort of gone away,” Powers added.

Camps were once themed primarily according to a specific geographic type or vocation. In Butte, the vocation program was welding and hands-on activities.

Camp is traditionally for those assigned to the facility for longer incarceration periods. They now include life skills along with education and vocational certification.

An ongoing theme was getting children to the next step within the process. “That is, re-entry into their home environment with skills to reduce their chances of recidivism,” Powers said.

Recidivism is when offenders keep violating the law and returning to juvenile facilities, jail or prison. California lawmakers launched the 2011 realignment plan in which county jails and state prisons were challenged to begin programs that would impact recidivism rates.

At the entrance to the facility is a monument to that effort, which reads: “You Will Leave Better Than You Were.”

And in following the state’s emphasis on finding ways to keep youth and young adults from re-offending, Powers said that recent emphasis is being placed on educating parents so that they are better prepared for reunification and the goals of the program and society.

Juveniles are assigned to a housing unit based on their evaluations after initial intake, Powers told supervisors. New arrivals are housed together during their period of adjustment so they could be examined. Then a more relevant placement within the housing units is determined. “Our tour included visits to each unit, and we found them to be orderly, very clean and quiet,” Powers said.

During the tour, members of the juvenile justice investigation team watch youth to determine what was happening in their daily lives. An interview with a child’s attorney was observed and students in special education pullout classes were noted. Standard comprehensive classes, and juveniles being escorted in the hallway were observed.

During an interview with Pinocchio, Powers said what was “most striking regarding the quality of care at Butte was the emphasis on complete rehabilitation.”

Butte also offers Boys and Girls Clubs inside the facility, a work-release program for those ready to join the workforce, and school-release programs for those attending college classes.

“Manager Pinocchio went on to suggest that Butte has had success because of a veteran staff dedicated to the well-being of each child — something not always found in every incarcerating facility,” Powers explained.

Relationships are also built with sentencing judges in the area, he added.

A point of frustration for the Butte manager is the juvenile who is only sentenced to the facility for a week or two. They “can ‘hold their breath’ for that long, and go back to their negative environments and become repeat offenders,” Powers said.

Pinocchio said that his programs rely on the ability to have the entire staff taking time to interact with each offender.

Nevada County facility

Just two members of the Juvenile Justice Commission — Powers and member Ellen Vieira — visited the Carl F. Bryan II Juvenile Hall in Nevada County.

“We were welcomed by Sgt. Bret Harris, program manager, a 20-year veteran staff member,” Powers told supervisors.

“He was forthcoming, open and had a deep institutional knowledge of the facility and programs,” Powers added.

The Nevada facility had just three offenders at the time of the visit. Powers learned that the Nevada facility is somewhat selective about who they allow into the facility. “They use a risk-assessment tool and if the minor scores lower than an 8, they will not house,” that offender, Powers learned.

Powers did not say what happens to the juveniles who don’t score high enough on the risk assessment. “This policy is consistent with California’s latest Alternative Sentencing guidelines,” Powers did explain.

This facility operates under the Transitional Age Youth (TAY) program for juveniles 18 through 21, Powers said. “There were two TAYs being processed at the time of the inspection.”

During his presentation, Powers discussed what they learned about programs, school, food, health and mental health in the facility operated by the county’s probation department.

Powers said there are several programs available for juveniles who plan to go to work when they’re released from the facility.

These include participating in the food handlers program where juveniles can receive their certificate allowing them to work in the kitchen and other related places upon release.

There’s also a culinary arts program that includes earning a certificate.

Getting a state ID, and teaching youth how to conduct themselves during a job interview are other parts of the training.

Yoga, body and mind exercise, and a music room with instruments are included.

School is from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. “Each minor receives an educational assessment when they first arrive,” Powers said he learned. Formal high school graduation ceremonies are also part of the program when each juvenile receives enough credits.

There are opportunities for minors to work in the kitchen, “which is considered a privilege,” Powers added.

Three meals a day, one hot, are included in this program.

The Nevada juvenile hall contracts with California Forensic Medicine Group for health services. A doctor is available on an as-needed basis.

“If there is a youth at risk of suicide, behavioral health (from the county) will come and do and assessment,” Power said.

“If it’s a 5150, referring to the California law code for the temporary, involuntary psychiatric commitment of individuals who present a danger to themselves or others due to signs of mental illness, they will be taken off site,” Powers explained.

All staff at the facility are trained in first aid and CPR. “We interviewed one of their mental health counselors who gave us a good basis for processing and follow-up connections with youth,” he said.

A licensed clinical social worker is contracted with and is available every Tuesday. A behavioral nurse is on call.

“We found that each member of the juvenile hall team is knowledgeable and compassionate and provides the care, guidance and structure minors need and want,” Powers said about this facility.

He described the atmosphere as comfortable and the interaction between staff and juveniles as cooperative and respectful. “We are pleased to report that there were no areas of noncompliance noted during our inspection.”

Powers said that the Nevada County facility follows the trend of less incarceration; the staff also works with other county agencies, primarily the probation department. This allows the county the opportunity to use the under-used facility for other purposes. “Not only does this provide for making good use of space, but also may provide future opportunities in vocational education and certification to the incarcerated youth,” Powers concluded.

Discussion

Supervisor Lori Simpson asked Powers how long the visits lasted? Powers responded that the visits were about a half a day. One visit also included an opportunity to have lunch with the juveniles.

“It’s a very thorough report,” Simpson said. “Good job.”

Powers concluded his report saying that Plumas County currently has 30 juveniles on probation and five in out-of-county foster care.

Cost cutting, closures

On Oct. 1, Lassen County Board of Supervisors closed its juvenile hall for cost saving reasons, said Bill Powers, the chairperson for the Plumas County Juvenile Justice Commission.

Lassen County Administrative Officer Richard Egan said in a June meeting that he asked the chief probation officer to look into what it would look like if the county partnered with nearby counties, and closed the local juvenile hall. Costs associated with the facility run about $1 million annually, he said.

Before the closure Plumas sent some of its juvenile offenders to the facility.

Nevada County’s juvenile facility has also had its share of financial difficulties. According to a news story in the Union, the cost of housing juveniles had increased nearly 200 percent since 2011. That bit of information was picked up from the San Francisco Chronicle that also noted that it costs $511,000 per person annually to house a juvenile in a facility.

In late June, Nevada County Chief Probation Officer Michael Ertola said they were working on changes for the juvenile facility, including shifting the focus from incarceration-style to rehabilitation. He has hopes to convert the program into a youth center with only a minor portion used for detention.

According to the Union, the budget for Nevada County’s facility was $3.36 million in fiscal year 2017-18. This year it was cut to $2.3 million. Ertola plans to cut the budget even further to $2 million by 2021.

Ertola said that staff reductions accounted for much of the savings and reduced the budget by 33 percent. He is looking at a maximum capacity of 20 at the facility.

Education is a major expense, Ertola said. A contract to provide high school education services runs about $190,000.

Nevada County has considered at times of closing he facility. If that happened, Nevada County’s youth offenders would go to Placer County. That would also eliminate another source for Plumas County.

According to Plumas County Probation Chief Erin Metcalf, her department primarily uses the Butte County program.

This year’s local budget is $40,000, Metcalf explained. To house a youth it costs $110 a day and $120 for the Camp Condor program.

Currently no Plumas youth are in detention although five have been detained. The average age is between 14 and 15 years old, she said.

State situation

In January, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced plans to see changes within California’s juvenile justice system. By September, he changed his mind and rejected Senate Bill 284 that would have drastically increased costs for counties with youth offenders.

That bill would have increased a county’s annual cost of $24,000 per youth to $125,000.

The bill’s intent was to incentivize counties to do a better job in supporting all youths and improving local re-entry programs.

Although the governor chose not to support this senate bill, he has plans to change the name to the Department of Youth and Community Restoration. That name change will begin in 2020.

“This new department will, as DJJ does now, serve a specific cohort of high-need youth who often times have been unable to receive needed services at the county level,” Newsom explained about his reasons not to support that senate bill.

“It is important that any re-evaluation of what type of population is served at DYCR be done with this global shift in mind, and in a manner that does not enact a blanket financial disincentive when there may be more targeted ways to meet the author’s goals.”

Also concerning youth behaviors, Newsom did sign Senate Bill 419. This bans school suspensions for disruptive behavior and defying school authorities for students in grades K through three. Now, students in grades four and five can no longer be suspended.

Along these lines, the state is offering a time-limited pilot program to extend protections to students in grades six through eight.

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