Juvenile Justice Juvenile Probation Youth Justice: Healing Not Punishment

In Historic Move, SF Supes Vote to Get Rid of Juvenile Hall

Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

On Tuesday, June 4, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 10-1 in favor of legislation to shutter the city’s juvenile hall by December 2021. The ordinance, authored by Supervisors Hillary Ronen, Shamann Walton, and Matt Haney, in partnership with the Young Women’s Freedom Center, makes SF the first major urban city to choose to abolish juvenile incarceration.

“Today, we celebrate our young people for their courage to reimagine the juvenile justice system in our city and their brilliance, strength and tenacity to see this crucial work through,” said Jessica Nowlan, Executive Director of Young Women’s Freedom Center. “This is what innovation truly looks like – we need to transform the systems that oppress and harm too many of our young people, families and communities, and instead invest with what helps us thrive. Thank you to the Board of Supervisors for seizing this opportunity.”

As of December 2018, San Francisco’s sole, 150-bed, juvenile lockup was sitting at 27 percent of capacity with just 40 kids, most of whom were held for non-violent crimes. At the same time, the city spent more than $13 million on running its juvenile hall during fiscal year 2017-2018.

In fact, while juvenile crime has steadily declined over the last two decades or so, the annual cost to incarcerate one minor in San Francisco shot up from $123,400 in 2009, to $279,500 in 2019.

Moreover, studies have shown that for all the money that local and state governments spend to lock up youth, juvenile incarceration does not succeed at rehabilitating kids, but serves to push them deeper into the criminal justice system, heaping additional trauma onto already traumatized youth.

“The detention of young people is not rehabilitative, nor does it effectively address public safety,” Tuesday’s ordinance states. “Detention increases the likelihood of recidivism, future incarceration, and homelessness, and results in lower high school completion rates.”

With this in mind, SF’s juvenile hall will be replaced with expanded use of community-based alternatives to incarceration. And for those kids who must be detained according to state law in order to keep the public safe, the city will turn to a new, non-institutional facility focused on rehabilitation, rather than punishment. “The place of detention shall be a safe and supportive homelike environment, which shall not be deemed to be, nor treated as, a penal institution,” according to the ordinance.

The ordinance requires the creation of a “Close Juvenile Hall Working Group” comprised of SF’s chief juvenile probation officer, district attorney, and public defender, as well as representatives from community organizations serving kids who have had contact with the justice system, formerly locked up youth, parents of once-incarcerated kids, and juvenile justice and mental health experts, and more.

Tuesday’s legislation also calls for the establishment of a Youth Justice Reinvestment Fund through which community-based organizations will receive increased support from the city so that they can expand to meet the needs of the kids who will no longer land in juvenile hall.

“Shutting down juvenile hall will allow us to create something new, something that actually supports young people who have been caught up in the system and helps us to heal,” said Young Women’s Freedom Center organizer, K.I. Ifopo. “This is about justice and reducing the harm that happens to our young people. Now, we finally have the chance to do better by the kids that have been locked up without the care of our families, friends and communities.”

The plan does not have the support of every San Francisco official, however.

Mayor London Breed has remained in opposition to the plan, which she has said is premature. In April, in response to a San Francisco Chronicle series, which revealed the sky-high price taxpayers pay to incarcerate kids in SF’s juvenile hall, Breed established a blue ribbon commission made up of criminal justice experts, advocates, and officials to carefully examine the local juvenile justice system. The panel is not expected to return with a report detailing ways to reform the system and further reduce incarceration, and what to do with the juvenile hall, until the end of 2019. This study, Breed says, should precede any decision to close juvenile hall.

SF’s chief probation officer, Allen Nance, has also fought against the ordinance, arguing that if the city fails to come up with an alternative facility by the end of the deadline, San Francisco might be forced to send kids to lockups in other jurisdictions, farther from home.

“I want to be clear that we would never put a system in place that is worse than our current juvenile hall,” said Supervisor Shamann Walton, who was incarcerated as a kid in Solano and Contra Costa counties. “We are proposing an alternative to juvenile hall that also provides a true opportunity for young people to be rehabilitated.” Kids will receive “job training, mental health supports, education connections,” a system that “provides a true pathway to success, even for serious offenders,” and “individualized plans that focus on the person and not the infraction.” San Francisco’s current juvenile hall, Walton said, “has never been set up to do that.”

Despite the 10-1 majority vote, Tuesday’s ordinance must be voted on a second time before it is sent to the mayor’s office. The mayor, however, will not be able to veto the ordinance.


  • Oh, no. I suspect the usual suspects will chime in about how the world is coming to an end, the sky is falling, California will fall into the ocean and is going to hell in a hand basket because of the liberals. This should be interesting. Major Dong, Bandwagon, et al. please share your wise commentary on this news.

  • This is a rude and demeaning comment and unnecessarily condescending. Essentially, you are trolling. Shame on you…you should just put it out there and leave it.

  • I’ll bite…

    California continues to go down the rabbit hole of liberal, “progressive” (actually regressive) social destruction. San Francisco should definitely be an “anti-model” for any city with it’s blaring examples of income inequality, people living in squalor on the streets, disease, lack of sanitation and long standing racism. You would think the legislators would have learned from the mistakes of prison reform. They clearly don’t care since they aren’t affected when the go home to their gated, multi-million dollar guarded communities.

    All those formerly incarcerated juveniles will find a home on the street where they will further be preyed upon (and prety upon others), exploited, add to the homeless problem and further erode the quality of life for all.

    News Flash…out of control homelessness, and lack of sanitation Los Angeles has caused cases of illnrsses such as Tuberculosis, Typhoid, Bubonic Plague and other pandemic causing diseases to reappear. Is this how our state elected officials show they are in tune with and care about their residents?

    The liberal progressive Democrats in this state have put our state of a downward slide to destruction from which there appears to be no recovery in sight.

    Let’s Make California Great Again…

  • Cf proves herself to be a “one trick pony” , I guess the anti cop rage rant is coming later, with the usual Walmart ,sex, and racial references.

    What I find remarkable about this story is that there are only 40 kids in San Francisco’s Juvenile hall. The amount of kids living in low income conditions there must be minuscule. The City that spouts all this social justice nonsense has made it all but impossible for non wealthy families to live there. With low end rents up to 4000 dollars a month I guess this makes sense. These liberal “woke” cities can be pretty ruthless when it comes to the real estate business.

  • So with the gang, rampant drug and homeless issues they have, there are only 40 kids detained and no violent offenders detained or under the jurisdiction of the juvenile courts in San Francisco in their juvenile hall? Hmmm….

    Here’s an article on San Francisco’s crime that adds some food for thought…https://www.city-journal.org/san-francisco-crime

  • “Moreover, studies have shown that for all the money that local and state governments spend to lock up youth, juvenile incarceration does not succeed at rehabilitating kids, but serves to push them deeper into the criminal justice system, heaping additional trauma onto already traumatized youth.”

    Fine…hypnotize me into drinking your koolaid with your crazy eyes, Taylor. Your illogical argument presupposes that Juvenile Hall is designed to rehabilitate “kids.” The truth is the court must make a finding that the “kid” poses a threat to others before placing a youth in temporary custody in juvenile hall until the matter is adjudicated. The youth is still innocent of charges until the charges are proven or admitted. What then is there to rehabilitate until guilt of the charge is proved. Yes, absolutely every youth must be properly treated and cared for while in pretrial detention. But rehabilitation, however you define it starts when the youth goes home, foster care, camp, or DJJ.

  • Ownership, not sure what you are asking. Many progressive reforms benefit middle class, working people and poor people, and do not necessarily single out the poor. How about some simple ones, some that came about because of some crazy socialists: social security, medicare, section 8, earned income tax credit, free preschool education, Medi-cal, the 40-hour work week, minimum wage, right to collective bargaining, anti-discrimination laws. By the way, they benefited you too. Thank the socialist for the union you have, the overtime you get, and that pension.

  • CF: Social Security is going bankrupt. It’s not sustainable without tax increases and infusion by other revenue sources. Section 8 is a travesty and keeps poor people on the plantation. Free Pre-School?? Really?
    Anti-Descrimination was HUGELY bipartisan and hardly a socialist idea.

    I’ll give you unions. However, they are now out of control and causing some of the sustainability I’m talking about.

    See what I’m saying? The progressive left has wonderful heart felt ideas and no way of paying for them. Except for raising taxes that is.

    The happiest place on earth? Denmark. 65% top tax rate. Hop on Google and find out what it was 20 years ago, and then ask yourself why? And that’s a country with less people than Los Angeles.

    CF: Try and truly educate yourself about Socialism. You’ll see Government abuse like never before. You think people wearing baggy pants are targeted here????

  • CF: Not sure you’re aware, but we are NOT eligible for Social Security and we pay heavily into our pension accounts during our entire career.

  • I just read the article from the link provided. It’s nice to know some folks “get it” and don’t walk around with their head in the sand. I am surprised though that “CF” didn’t have a comeback response or make some off the wall rebuttal to the points presented in the article?

    At one time, most folks in the state new San Francisco was on its own program. Once those legislators increased their control on a state level, it only helped accelerate the entire states downward slide.

    I guess it will only continue to get worse until some watershed moment takes place, a generation of new voters is properly educated about the realities of life and enough people say enough is enough.

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