Why Does Gavin Newsom Want to Move Juvenile Justice Out of the Department of Corrections?

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While visiting a youth correctional facility in Stockton on Tuesday, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced his administration will begin legislation to move the California Division of Juvenile Justice out of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (the same agency that oversees adult prisons) and into the Health and Human Services Agency.

Currently, 20 states place juvenile justice under their health or child welfare agencies, 18 have independent juvenile justice agencies, and 11 (including California) place it under corrections agencies, according to the Chronicle of Social Change.

Officials from both the Department of Corrections and Health and Human Services said Newsom's proposal signals a wider cultural change in California's handling of youth in the prison system, focusing on prevention and treatment through educational, mental health, and social services in place of detention, the Los Angeles Times reports.

"Today is the beginning of the end of juvenile imprisonment as we know it," Newsom said in a statement. "Juvenile justice should be about helping kids imagine and pursue new lives—not jump-starting the revolving door of the criminal justice system. The system should be helping these kids unpack trauma and adverse experiences many have suffered."

Research has long shown that detention of youth can cause harm and ultimately proves ineffective at preventing crime. A 2006 Justice Policy Institute report called "The Dangers of Detention" points to findings that indicate that grouping juvenile delinquents in detention centers fails to deter them from future crime, worsens mental and behavioral health problems, and makes youth less likely to finish school and find steady employment.

At O.H. Close Youth Correctional Facility in Stockton, a correctional facility for males under 18, youth have the opportunity to enroll in high school or college and access mentoring and tutoring services. During his visit to the facility, Newsom praised students who "develop jobs skills and start careers through apprenticeship and coding programs." Staff at the facility also help youth address the behavioral issues that brought them in, offering a sex offender treatment program and a substance abuse treatment program. Newsom said this facility should be a model program for the future of California's juvenile justice system.

It is not clear yet how Newsom's proposal will be implemented or how it will influence day-to-day operations. But Newsom hopes to continue the steady decrease of California's incarceration rates over the past decade by getting youth out from behind bars and into educational programs that give them an equal chance to succeed in the economy.

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