The Board of Supervisors vowed to shutter SF's Juvenile Hall three years ago. But kids are still incarcerated there well past the closure deadline, at a cost of more than $1 million per year, per kid.
Boy did we feel good about ourselves back in 2019 when the SF Board of Supervisors voted overwhelmingly to shut down Juvenile Hall forever, amidst a dramatic drop in juvenile crime and a reckoning with the culture of over incarceration. This made us the first city in the U.S. that moved to close its juvenile detention center, a social justice trailblazing move in true San Francisco fashion.
Also in true San Francisco fashion: City Hall red tape has delayed this effort well past its deadline, as the Chronicle reports today that Juvenile Hall is still open well past is targeted closure date. Moreover, there are a mere 14 kids at a facility designed to house 150 youths, and the Chron reports the city is paying a staggering $1.1 million per kid each year to house them.
“We are still committed to closing Juvenile Hall,” Supervisor Shamann Walton told the Chronicle (he co-authored the legislation with Supervisor Hillary Ronen). “But there are some real obstacles.”
Some of these obstacles make sense. They can't just close the facility with no follow-up plan, there has to be one sort of alternative finalized in terms of what to do with juvenile offenders. And that has to be approved by the courts, who are terribly backlogged because of COVID-19 delays.
But it also seems there have been some serious hurdles and delays in creating alternative support programs for rehabilitation, and identifying an alternative site.
“We want something that is non-institutional rather than a place of isolation,” Ronen’s legislative aide Nikita Saini told the Chronicle. “But it’s hard to find that and meet requirements. You can’t just find a house in San Francisco.”
Given the small numbers of juveniles currently being affected (just 14), one can see how this may not have been a front-burner issue given, you know, everything that’s been going on since 2019. But think of the ways we could be changing kids’ lives for a million dollars a year! There are people with Four Seasons memberships that don’t spend a million a year on their kids. You can debate whether juvenile detention is cruelty (and I’m sure the conditions aren’t great) but the status quo seems a terrible waste of resources.
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