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Juvenile Justice Facilities And Staffing

    Subject of Investigation

    The subject of this investigation is the Juvenile Justice detention facilities and staffing at Juvenile Hall, Thornton Youth Center, and Sacramento County Boys' Ranch. The inquiry into the individual juvenile detention facilities led to the realization that they had to be examined as a total juvenile detention system.

    Reason for Investigation

    California Penal Code section 919(b) requires the Grand Jury to inquire annually into the condition and management of the public prisons within the county. An essential element of these inquiries is an inspection tour of each facility.


    The Grand Jury visited Juvenile Hall, Thornton Youth Center, and Sacramento County Boys' Ranch and was briefed by both management and staff. It also met with the Sacramento County Chief Probation officer as well as the Presiding Judge of the Juvenile Court. The Grand Jury also reviewed an extensive amount of documentation.


    A major responsibility of government is to protect its citizens from crime. Juvenile crime is a major part of the overall criminal problem. The type of crimes committed by juveniles today are more sophisticated and serious than 40 years ago when the existing facilities were built. For example, Juvenile Hall has a higher percentage of murderers than does the Main Jail.

    The facilities, which were built to house, rehabilitate, and educate juveniles in the 1960s and 1970s, reached capacity shortly after they opened. New facilities have not kept up with the juvenile criminal population. Currently nearly 60% of the youth in detention have some form of mental illness. In April 2000, 22% of the juvenile population have chronic problems that require psychotropic medications. A portable building housing a medical facility has been recently completed at the Boys' Ranch to administer medications and other medical treatments for the wards on-site. The remodeling plan for Juvenile Hall includes improved medical facilities to deal with numerous new health problems not normally presented in the past.

    Juvenile Hall and Boys' Ranch, which were originally designed in the 1960's for a less violent and less sophisticated juvenile delinquents, are being "hardened" with 16-foot fences and razor wire to incarcerate juveniles who have committed increasingly more violent crimes. These two outdated facilities are not adequate for the youth presently being incarcerated. There is a lack of appropriate options for the youth for whom the facilities were originally designed.

    Meetings with Probation Department management revealed that physical facilities are limited. This results in wards being held in the wrong type of facility pending availability of space at an appropriate facility. This further limits the placement options by both the Probation Department staff and the courts. The shortage of beds in Juvenile Hall results in wards who should be confined pending trial being released back into the community.

    Juvenile Hall was at its maximum capacity of 261 wards five years after it was constructed in 1963. The State Board of Corrections has approved a current maximum capacity of 288 wards, which is 10% above rated capacity. Juvenile Hall is a temporary detention facility used to book serious juvenile offenders, hold them for detention hearings, and incarcerate them until placed in another facility or released. Detention hearings are held within 24 hours for misdemeanor offenses and within 48 hours for felony offenses, excluding weekends and holidays.

    Sacramento County has approved remodeling Juvenile Hall at a cost of about 23 million dollars. This work will be conducted over the next few years while the facility is still in operation. The proposed improvements from this approved work will be:

      · Updated rooms to meet current state codes
      · Improved security in fencing and video monitoring
      · Addition of a new visitor's area
      · Improved mental and health clinic facilities
      · Improved classrooms

    These improvements will cause a loss of 8 beds as space is converted to other uses.

    The Probation Department proposes in their 1999-2000 Master Plan to expand Juvenile Hall by an additional 90 beds. A proposal was submitted to the County Board of Supervisors to seek use of the tobacco settlement funds. This much needed expansion has received conceptual approval to develop construction cost estimates and schedules, but has not received financing at this time.

    With the passage of SB 334, effective January 1, 2000 (Chapter 996, Statutes of 2000) and Proposition 21, it is possible that more violent juveniles will need to be incarcerated for longer periods of time. As of now, there is not any place to house them, since by law juveniles may not be imprisoned with adult criminals. The Probation Department is presently studying the need for additional juvenile facilities and expects the report to be completed by late summer 2000. Preliminary estimates are that another 114 beds are needed.

    The Thornton Youth Center is a co-ed treatment facility with 50 beds. It houses juveniles who are considered non-violent and are nearing the end of their incarceration. The Center, about 30 years old, is worn but well maintained. In April 2000, there were 62 on the waiting list. The Probation Department stated they need another 50 beds.

    Since 1963, the Sacramento County Boys' Ranch historically has been an "open" unfenced facility. However, because of the increase in escapees, nearby new residential development, and the increased level of violence of wards, the County has approved a new 16-foot security fence with razor wire, security lighting, and an exterior patrol road with additional personnel to staff a 24-hour perimeter patrol. This fencing will make the facility more secure. The Boys' Ranch has room for 100 wards and like other county juvenile facilities has a waiting list. Wards on the waiting list must remain in Juvenile Hall. Another 25 beds could be physically added without increasing the basic infrastructure.

    In summary the Probation Department has indicated a need for 114 new Juvenile Hall beds, 50 beds at the Thornton Youth Center, and another 90 additional commitment beds at an unidentified location. This is a total of 254 new beds. While the Probation Department estimates a shortage of up to 400 beds, national crime and local population statistics suggest that the estimate may be low.

    The population of Sacramento County has more than doubled from 542,250 in 1963 to 1,202,100 in 1999, an increase of about 122%. Based only on the population increase, if more than 400 beds were needed in 1963, then we would need more than 900 beds today.

    Population, however, is not the only factor that increases the requirement for additional space in which to confine juvenile offenders. There has been a change in the character of the juvenile law breaker today as compared to the youth incarcerated in 1963; and, there has been an increase in the percentage of youth committing crime today. The eminent scholar, John J. DiIulio of Princeton University, author of the book Body Count: Moral Poverty -America's War against Crime and Drugs, has noted that in 1960 the national juvenile arrest rate was 20.1 per 1,000 youths aged 10-17. By 1995 - five years ago - the arrest rate had risen to 60.7 per 1,000 - a 300% increase! Based on the national juvenile arrest rate Sacramento County should have 1200 beds available, which is about 800 more than are currently available.

    The county's population increases and national juvenile arrest rates suggest that the need for additional beds could be as high as 500 to 800 beds. While the Probation Department's estimates are based on much more detailed studies, there is undoubtedly the need for at least the number of beds Probation is requesting and probably more.

    In the Probation Department there are programs in existence and being developed that are outstanding. The Probation Department has experienced a chronic personnel crisis as a result of the limited number of candidates provided by the County's Human Resources Agency to fill budgeted and authorized positions. At the time of this inquiry there remained 42 (26%) authorized, unfilled positions.


    1. The Board of Supervisors must take immediate steps to build additional secure pre-trial and post-trial placement facilities at Juvenile Hall and the Boys' Ranch to handle the existing waiting list.

    2. The Board of Supervisors must take immediate steps to build additional non-secure facilities similar to Thornton Youth Center to handle the existing waiting list.

    3. Projections for future juvenile space needs and the County's plan including the financing to meet those needs at these facilities or other facilities shall be presented to the Grand Jury.

    4. The Board of Supervisors shall direct the County Executive to develop a report regarding how to meet the need for expanded mental health services and facilities for the increased number of juveniles with psychiatric problems.

    5. The remodeling of Juvenile Hall should be started and completed
    expeditiously. A time schedule for this 23 million dollar remodel shall be reported back to the Grand Jury.

    6. The County Executive shall report back to the Grand Jury on the number of positions filled and the corrective actions taken by Human Resources Agency to resolve the chronic problems of filling budgeted and authorized personnel positions within the Probation Department.

    Response Required

    The Penal Code requires that responses to all of the recommendations contained in this Report be submitted to the Presiding Judge of the Sacramento Superior Court by September 30, 2000, from:

      · Sacramento County Board of Supervisors
      · County Executive
      · Probation Department

1999/2000 Sacramento County Grand Jury - Final Report (Internet Version) June 30, 2000

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