California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday that he intends to shift control of the state’s Juvenile Justice Division away from corrections officials to government health and human services providers, a move he called long overdue and necessary to build on past efforts to divert children and teens from a path to prison.
Under the proposal, first unveiled as part of his January budget, the California Health and Human Services Agency would oversee more than 660 young offenders, the majority held at a camp in Pine Grove and three detention centers in Stockton and Camarillo. It is a small population compared with the more than 39,000 young people on probation or detained in juvenile halls statewide and the hardest to serve because of the serious charges and mental and medical health needs they face.
Corrections and health and human services officials say the plan heralds a cultural change in the state’s approach to the youngest in the justice system, and creates opportunities to better bridge educational, mental health and social services to prepare minors for release.
But probation officers, healthcare professionals and community activists who have long been at the forefront of a push to shut down youth detention centers and improve treatment are wary that the changes could merely be symbolic — or worse, halt progress that they say has led to fewer young people in custody.