Southern California breaking news and trends

Change to juvenile prison time could save state millions

Gov. Jerry Brown

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California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the state budget late Wednesday.

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.

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Brown backs off plan to shut down youth prisons

Gov. Jerry Brown

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

California Gov. Jerry Brown speaking on budget cuts during a news conference on May 14, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.

Alongside the much-publicized cuts to in-home supportive services and potentially education in Governor Jerry Brown's revised budget this week targeting the state's $15.7 billion shortfall, one state agency was quietly spared: the Division of Juvenile Justice, formerly known as the California Youth Authority.

For the second time in two years, Brown had proposed eliminating the agency in his original budget this year, only to face massive outcry from the correctional officers' union, as well as district attorneys and law enforcement groups. Both times he floated the proposal, Brown pointed to the fact that the juvenile prison population has declined in California from a high of over 10,000 inmates in 1996 to 1,032 as of February 29, 2012. Furthermore, the agency remains under court oversight following a host of settlements springing from claims of systemic abuse and mistreatment of juvenile offenders. The consensus among correctional officials and juvenile justice reformers is that the DJJ has vastly improved conditions over the past few years, though allegations of harsh treatment persist. 

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