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Change to juvenile prison time could save state millions

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the state budget late Wednesday.
California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the state budget late Wednesday.
Kevork Djansezian/ Getty Images

Deep inside the state budget signed Wednesday night, lies a small clause that could save the state hundreds of millions of dollars — and save juveniles in the state's youth correctional system years of incarceration.

Sumayyah Waheed of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights said juvenile "time adds," which were eliminated through the new budget, are disciplinary measures taken by correctional officers in the Division of Juvenile Justice.

When youth are sentenced to the state's juvenile prison system, they're generally given an indeterminate time to serve. A juvenile might be sentenced to a minimum in custody, like a year, with the date set for their first opportunity for parole. That date frequently gets bumped back, over and over, through time adds. Time adds, administered by a correctional officer, are not overseen by a judge or a parole board, and prevent juveniles from having the opportunity to be considered for release.

According to Waheed, time adds have bumped up California's incarceration length for kids to the highest in the nation. While on average, juveniles in the US who are sentenced to youth prison spend a year in custody, the average in California is three years. Currently, it costs $187 million a year to care for the kids in the DJJ.

Now that time adds are gone, kids in the DJJ will know when their first chance at parole will be.

Update: Corrections and finance officials say they don't know what actual cost savings from this change will be, since how many juveniles are released earlier is up to the parole board, and to-be-determined.