SF Officials Seek to Close Juvenile Hall by Late 2021, Citing Decline in Youth Crime - NBC Bay Area
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SF Officials Seek to Close Juvenile Hall by Late 2021, Citing Decline in Youth Crime

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    San Francisco Supervisors Hillary Ronen and Shamann Walton announced Friday they're working on legislation that would mandate the closure of the city's Juvenile Hall by the end of 2021.

    The legislation, set to be introduced in April, seeks to close the juvenile jail by December 2021, citing a sharp decline in youth crime.

    "San Francisco is spending over $13 million a year -- more than $270,000 per child -- to lock kids up in a juvenile hall that is consistently 70 to 75 percent empty. This is a stunning misuse of city funds," Ronen said in a statement.

    "We need to stop investing in an outdated institution that is expensive, ineffective and traumatic for children, and instead use these funds for rehabilitative programs and services that have a proven track record of helping youth build healthy and stable lives," she said.

    According to the supervisors, youth crime has steadily decreased across the country over the last decade, resulting in a sharp decrease in young people incarcerated in San Francisco.

    In December 2018, only 40 youth were being detained, filling up just 27 percent of the 150 beds available there. Of those 40, 30 percent were being held on a misdemeanor offense, and half of them were awaiting a court ordered placement.

    Walton, who spent time at the city's Juvenile Hall as a minor, said he knows the toll incarceration can take on a young person.

    "All I learned in the hall was how to survive life in prison. It felt designed for that purpose. I am who I am in spite of Juvenile Hall," he said.

    "I turned my life around with the help of community programs, educational opportunities and mentors. When we lock up youth, we are sending them the message that we've given up on them. That's exactly what juvenile hall teaches them -- how to walk around with your head down and your hands behind your back, how to stand cuffed together, and how to fall asleep alone in a tiny cell at night," he said.

    The supervisors also allege that the city's juvenile justice system consistently over represents black, Latino and Pacific Islander children, with the majority of them coming from the city's most poverty-stricken neighborhoods.

    The legislation seeks to close the juvenile hall at 375 Woodside Ave. and develop alternatives to juvenile incarceration as well as create a rehabilitative non-institutional center for the small minority of children who can't be released.

    It also seeks to create a working group of city agencies and community representatives to design a new model for youth who must be detained by state law. The group would report regularly to the Board of Supervisors as the projected December 2021 closure date approaches.

    "San Francisco has the chance to become a leader in juvenile justice reform by ending the practice of jailing our most low-income and vulnerable children. What our legislation will do is create a mandate, a timeline and a real sense of urgency, so we can achieve this important vision," Ronen said.

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