Tomorrow San Francisco May Repeal and Replace Juvenile Incarceration

By Jeremy Loudenback, The Chronicle of Social Change

On Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is poised to shut down its juvenile hall and leave in its place a plan that would rely almost entirely on community-based services to deal with young offenders.

Tomorrow the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is poised to pass a measure that would close its last juvenile detention facility by the end of 2021. Photo courtesy of San Francisco Probation Department.

Tomorrow the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is poised to pass a measure that would close its last juvenile detention facility by the end of 2021. Photo courtesy of San Francisco Probation Department.

If the measure passes, it would make San Francisco the largest county in the state — and perhaps in the nation — to operate without any secure confinement facility. While the city’s advocacy community has roundly supported the proposal, San Francisco’s chief probation officer has opposed the plan.

“There is no national model for a shift of this magnitude,” San Francisco Chief Probation Officer Allen Nance wrote in a letter last month. “If no plan is developed prior to the deadline, the closure of juvenile hall could place the county in the position of being required to develop an agreement with another county to house San Francisco youth.”

But Daniel Macallair, executive director of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, said that Nance’s fears were misplaced. Over the past 20 years, he said that San Francisco has developed an array of community agencies that are already providing services that were once the purview of the probation department.

“The ingredients are all in place for this to be a success,” Macallair said. “San Francisco is resource rich. There is no reason why this cannot be done and done well here.”

In April, the San Francisco supervisors unanimously agreed to shutter the county’s last juvenile detention facility after a San Francisco Chronicle series pointed to a shrinking number of youth detained at the juvenile halls across the state even as the costs to incarcerate them there remain staggeringly high. Now legislation authored by Supervisors Shamann Walton, Hillary Ronen and Matt Haney would set a hard date on the closure of the 150-bed facility: December 31, 2021.

The legislation also lays out a plan for what comes after the closure of the city’s juvenile hall.

“We would never put a system in place that is worse than our current juvenile hall,” said Supervisor Walton, who himself spent several stints in juvenile hall as a youngster. “And what we are proposing is an alternative to juvenile hall that also provides a true opportunity for young people to be rehabilitated.”

According to city documents, San Francisco spent $13.3 million on its juvenile hall during the fiscal year 2017-2018 despite a population that dropped as low as 40 youth in December 2018. Thirty percent of those youth were being held for a misdemeanor offense, while about 50 percent were detained while awaiting a court-ordered placement. With a declining number of youth in the hall over the past decade, the average cost per youth detained in the juvenile hall has risen from $123,400 in 2009 to $279,500 in 2019.

The San Francisco plan calls for the board to create a working group that would guide the closure effort. The 13-member group would be charged with strengthening and expanding community-based alternatives to incarceration and setting up a “rehabilitative, non-institutional place of detention” for youth who are statutorily required to be placed in a secure facility.

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