Governor Gavin Newsom Juvenile Justice: Healing Not Punishment

California Governor’s Opening Salvo: Scrapping Its Juvenile Justice System

Jeremy Loudenback

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) promised to “end the juvenile justice system as we know it” on Thursday as he unveiled his first budget.

On a day when he announced major investments in early childhood education, home visiting programs and higher education, Newsom said that big changes are coming to the state’s Division of Juvenile Justice.

According to Newsom’s budget proposal, the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) would be moved from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to a new department under the Health and Human Services Agency.

“This change will enable the state to better provide youth offenders with the services they need to be successful when released,” the proposal reads.

DJJ Director Chuck Supple, who was sworn in in 2017 but has worked at DJJ for nearly 15 years, said that the potential reorganization would help the agency deliver on its rehabilitative mission.

“The governor’s proposal offers DJJ an opportunity to create a department from the ground up to deliver fully on our mission to help young people return safely to the community and become responsible and successful adults,” Supple wrote in an email to The Chronicle of Social Change.

Newsom did not provide further details on Thursday, but suggested that he would flesh out the idea soon.

“I want to make a separate announcement because I think it’s a big deal,” he said at a press conference.

CDCR currently oversees both the state’s adult prison system and a small population of juveniles incarcerated at three facilities, plus a fire camp. According to an analysis from the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office last year, the DJJ held 578 serious youth offenders in three state detention facilities as of October 2018. That number has seen a steep decline over the past 20 years, dropping from a high of nearly 10,000 youth at end of the 1990s. Since the realignment of the state’s juvenile justice system in 2007, most youth are now housed in secure county-run juvenile halls, camps and ranches.

The state’s Department of Finance estimated that spending per youth at DJJ facilities now costs more than $300,000 a year. The DJJ has been plagued by poor recidivism outcomes—three quarters of youth who exited from a DJJ facility in 2012 were rearrested within three years, according to the most recent evaluation—as well as concerns from advocates about violence at facilities and young people’s access to mental health resources.

If the state transfers responsibility for DJJ to the California Health and Human Services Agency, it would join a growing majority of states that house the oversight of juvenile justice systems within health departments as opposed to correctional agencies. Twenty states place control of juvenile justice in the hands of a health or child welfare agency, 18 have an independent juvenile justice agency for juvenile justice, and 11 states, including California, see youth served by corrections agencies.

Several California legislators were quick to endorse the move.

State Sen. Nancy Skinner (D), who chairs the Senate Public Safety Committee and the subcommittee that oversees all of the state’s expenditures related to criminal justice, welcomed the reorganization of DJJ.

“I applaud the proposal to shift the Division of Juvenile Justice from CDCR to Health and Human Services,” Skinner wrote in a press release. “I look forward to the emphasis on treatment for these young people, as opposed to punishment without opportunity.”

Assemblymember Reginald Jones-Sawyer (D), chair of the Assembly Committee on Public Safety, said the move builds on the state’s recent efforts to offer young people better rehabilitative services and alternatives to incarceration, including a new funding stream to support community-based youth diversion programs.

“For far too long we have been treating our children as adults instead of providing them with developmentally appropriate rehabilitation services,” Jones-Sawyer said in a statement.

The proposal did receive pushback from the state’s association of probation leaders. DJJ’s move could endanger “the great movement we have made in juvenile justice over the last decade,” said Stephanie James, president of the Chief Probation Officers of California.

“With record lows of juvenile detention rates and juvenile arrest rates, in addition to historic levels of investment in evidence-based programming for youth, this budget raises concerns by making significant changes to how California will continue to protect youth and continue to protect public safety,” James wrote.

On Thursday, Newsom also announced that he was penciling in nearly $1.8 billion to support early childhood education, childcare and home visiting. The budget also included more than $100 million for screenings for Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and developmental screenings.

State lawmakers will consider the governor’s proposal and must sign off on a spending plan by June 15. By law, California’s governor must endorse a balanced budget by the end of June.


In top photo of California Governor Gavin Newsom, center, announced the first draft of the state budget on Thursday in Sacramento. Photo courtesy of the State of California.


Jeremy Loudenback is the child trauma editor for The Chronicle of Social Change, where this story first appeared. The Chronicle of Social Change is a national news outlet that covers issues affecting vulnerable children, youth and their families. Sign up for their newsletter or follow The Chronicle of Social Change on Facebook or Twitter.

12 Comments

  • Someone help me here I think I am missing something.

    The state is going to start a new agency. These new employees will know nothing about the criminal justice system, nothing about gangs and the gang culture. They are going to make decisions on the future of these “kids” that will affect the community. Generally speaking, once a gang member always a gang member. They will go home to the same neighborhood, same friends and the behavior will start all over again. That is their life they don’t want to change. Very few members actually get out of the gang.

  • Are You Kidding me, are you kidding me? “Once a gang member always a gang member?” Aside from believing that you are all heroes, this has got to be the dumbest thing I’ve read on the site. Spoke like a true cop. Gangs are made up, overwhelmingly of young boys and young men. No reputable studies, figures that do not come form self-serving law enforcement, have found double digit percentages for gang members over 24. People grow up and move on, they get married, find a significant other, have kids, get jobs, etc. That may work when you are testifying in court, but not here.

    @kin, he knows because he is probably a member of one, probably in the LASD, and he probably has his little gang-wannabe tattoo.

    • It means exactly what I asked you…What do you know about gangs that gives u the right to speak on it. “Once a gang member always a gang member…” I just questioned ur answer bc I can. So either answer the question or skip it.

  • “Scrapping” the juvenile justice system? This doesn’t even rename the system (a common bureaucratic diversion) . It merely shuffles the the DJJ to a different department. Newsom is owned by the Bay Area elite (e.g the ghetty family) he’s there to protect their interests. Expect a lot of empty neo-liberal retoric but not much in the way of action. This story is a pretty good example, all things considered I guess it could be worse.

  • CF
    Congratulations for you 3rd post without bring up race. I have been counting and he has have acknowledged all 3 of them.
    To set the record straight I am NOT in law enforcement. For some reason YOU automatically think everyone who post here works for LASD.

  • Are You Kidding me – DJJ has been around forever. It’s just being moved under another agency. Spent part of my career working with gang members. I agree that once released from custody, it’s a challenge for them to get out because they do return to the same area and the same friends. Some of the guys that aren’t that hard core however, do want to get out of the gang and live differently but they have to figure out how to do so and still live in the neighborhood. A variety of factors helped (support from family, mentor, girlfriend etc) but simply being too busy doing other things (usually work) to participate much seemed to be the key for them to ease out. Unfortunately, they are quickly replaced…I don’t hold myself out as an expert – just what I saw over the years.

  • The problem is not the gang itself, it’s why a young person feels the need to join a gang in the first place. Gangs have existed since the James and Youngers were robbing trains.

    A young person in today’s society with little to no parental guidance and in need of protection just to make it to school, feels a strong need to get jumped in. Not to mention the need to belong and feel loved. We all know the local street gang provides none of this long term, but one must put themself in the shoes of that young human being and maybe some compassion for the youngster will surface.

    We need to invest more into WHY some young people feel they have no other options instead of trying to SOLELY arrest our way out of the problem.

  • This is merely an exercise in shuffling the chairs on the deck. Nothing will change. Most of the juveniles that find themselves involved in the JJ system have parents that suffer from the “victim mentality,” which they have passed down to their children, and have no interest in getting to the truth of why their children are in the position they find themselves in.

    This is a symptom of the cultural rot that pervades our nation today. It isn’t going to get better. It will only.get.worse

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