Marisa Lagos of the San Fransico Chronicle notes the conundrum facing California counties in the new year:
Under the automatic cutbacks approved by lawmakers in June and set to take effect Jan. 1, the agency’s $72 million annual budget will be eliminated, and counties will have to pay the state $125,000 a year for each juvenile offender it wants the state to continue housing – or take those youths back to serve their time at local facilities. In a series of letters to Gov. Jerry Brown, the statewide associations representing county governments, district attorneys and probation officials have warned that the change will force counties to make the “untenable” choice between paying millions of dollars a year they don’t have or moving youth offenders to county facilities that are ill-equipped to handle them.
This will have the deleterious effect of pushing large numbers of youths into adult facilities where it only costs about $50,000 per annually to house inmates, as opposed to the $175,000 apiece for juveniles. The problem is that the extra $125,000 per inmate for juvenile offenders pays for vital treatment and programs. The difference is stark, just look up the recidivism number on kids incarcerated as adults (there’s a lot of documentation in our prior posts, go look around). Saving that money short term will breed more hardened criminals in the long term. Which is really more expensive?
To add another layer of complexity to the issue. The serious, violent youth offenders are a lawsuit liability for the counties. Criminologist Barry Kriserg, a long time monitor of the department of juvenile Justice, has warned that they could face litigation if the add violent youth offenders into existing county facilities. Of course county officials are worried about more than just potential legal action, as Lagos notes further down in her column:
‘If counties are forced to absorb this population in some fashion at the local level, we are concerned that the mixing of the most serious and violent juvenile offenders with the youth now in our custody and care will greatly compromise rehabilitative efforts with the current local population,’ wrote Mike McGowan, Gregory Totten and Linda Penner – the presidents of the statewide associations representing counties, district attorneys and probation chiefs – in a Dec. 7 letter.
This population, they wrote, ‘is decidedly unfit’ for county facilities, ‘as these youth possess complex criminal profiles often accompanied by significant mental health, behavioral and treatment needs.’
It is those needs that account for the $125,000 per inmate that the budget cuts are trying to save. Failing to address them in the short term can be far cheaper, but is it really worth the expense? That money pays for programs to fight recidivism, programs geared towards the immature psychology and neurology of youth. Without those the potential for kids to enter the system and come out as hardened criminals rather than productive members of society skyrockets. That means more money spent on enforcement, more money spent on court, more money spent on future incarceration, and the unmeasurable cost to the victims of their future crimes.
Which is really more expensive?