SF City Hall Unwise Plan to toss Unwanted Youth to the NIMBYS

San Francisco Mayor London Breed had no choice but to appoint Katy Weinstein Miller as the new head of juvenile probation: “Reform-minded lawyer takes charge at juvenile hall.”

Katy Weinstein Miller

The mayor’s hands were tied by a Board of Supervisors vote to change course on juvenile justice in The City after a board member put a price tag on helping our most troubled youth.

The Board of Supervisors voted 10–1 on June 4 to close juvenile hall by the end of December 2021 in response to an April 2019 SF Chronicle article that said the cost of housing each youth at the facility for one year is $374,000.

San Francisco Board of Supervisors Chambers

Only in San Francisco could elected officials carjack a building and call it juvenile justice reform.

San Francisco Juvenile Justice Center

But replacing the ousted Chief of Probation Allen Nance, who has 30 years of juvenile probation experience with Ms. Miller, a lawyer from the DA’s office who has no juvenile probation experience, is a crime against justice reform.

Instead of celebrating juvenile crime across the state being way down, as reported in the San Francisco Chronicle’s “Vanishing violence” series, Supervisor Hillary Ronan found fault with the result: It cost more to house our most trouble-prone youth at the facility.

When the mayor read this same report, she acted reasonably and formed a blue-ribbon panel to take a closer look at the facility and address the future of juvenile justice in the county. Ms. Miller, a Yale-educated lawyer, working in the SF DA’s office was on that panel.

The Board’s legislation also called for a new task force to establish alternatives to incarceration, including a community-based secure facility, which would offer support and services to young people. Ms. Miller was also a part of that task force.

“Miller said she is eager to dig into the data to better understand the kids who are in juvenile hall, why they are there and how the juvenile probation department is serving them.”

But does this reformer from the DA’s office know just how daunting it is to find as many answers to the many different reasons these youth continue to re-offend? Never mind the fact, most of these kids are unwanted in their homes and in the communities of the 11 districts of the supervisors?

Does Ms. Miller know that some kids are so slick, like Deandre Lejon Gantt? Gantt was released from the San Francisco Juvenile Justice Center with a diploma in March 2019. He was re-arrested in July 2019 as the shooter in a Tanforan Shopping Mall shooting.

Sure, Ms. Miller will have a lot of help. Her staff at the Juvenile Probation Department, the Juvenile Justice Commission, the Board of Supervisors, and reluctantly Mayor Breed, who did not support closing the facility.

As lovely as the city of San Francisco is to live in, it is going to get real ugly trying to convince communities to open-up to these hard to place kids when The City can’t even get a handle on car break-ins? And I would not bet on City Hall being able to sweet-talk its way pass state regulations or even the San Francisco Fire Department on the security issues for the proposed secure homes.

San Francisco Street sign

Ms. Miller was not dealing with violent felons in her prior position with the Make it Right initiative. So, how is she likely to respond when she learns of some recently released alumni of the SF juvenile hall?

Byron O.J. Reed Jr., 22, and Javon Eugene Lee, 21. They are being held across the bay in the Santa Rita jail on murder charges in the Oakland Starbucks laptop theft. They, too, spent years up at the SF juvenile hall.

Despite the fact, crime is down among youth all over the country; San Francisco does not need to pull the rug out from under our most troubled youth. What is needed is not to throw the baby (Juvenile hall) out with the bathwater (High cost to house our more challenging youth) but to stay the course or provide better or more challenging services for those who need to be locked up. Some of these young offenders are quite sophisticated. Two recently released White teen criminal entrepreneurs were making firearms and selling them to mexican gang members.

The announced appointment of Katy W. Miller as the new chief of juvenile probation comes 5 days after another SF Chronicle “Vanishing Violence” article titled, “Keeping kids out of cells.”

In the article, the reporters are suggesting that the “Close to Home” program of New York, which highlights a move away from jail-like cells to a secured home-type setting for delinquent youths, should be tried in San Francisco.

What the SF Chronicle does not mention is the fact, though this program is deemed a success now, the first three years was plagued with problems. 70% escaped. One escapee committed a murder and three others were involved in the rape of a woman in 2015. But the Close to Home program was the answer to: “At the time, despite plunging youth crime rates, New York was holding 600 teens in state-run cells, hundreds of miles from their homes, in conditions widely criticized as costly, ineffective, and inhumane. After a 15-year-old Bronx boy died in state custody, the city took back its incarcerated children and set out to overhaul its juvenile justice system.”

I’m no mathematics wizard but that does not add up. Of the 600 youth, surely there were several held for murder. If true, you don’t close down a facility because one kid commits suicide as this SF Chronicle Keeping kids out of cells article suggests. The paragraph is misleading.

Respectfully, in no way does the San Francisco juvenile hall resemble an inhumane old New York juvenile detention facility.

Merit Center of SF Juvenile Justice Center

The Close to Home program was the answer against sending New York City youthful offenders some 200 miles away from their families. All a parent needs to do in San Francisco is hop on a city bus if they do not have a car.

This one New York City $75 million Close to Home program, compared to the total SF Probation Department 2018 budget of $41 million, which supports 60 programs, including the $12 million is used to run juvenile hall needs a much closer look.

If City Hall is so gung-ho on closing juvenile hall by the end of 2021, they might want to consider another date sometime in the year 2121. Current San Francisco homeowners will not allow such a plan to go through without many lawsuits and or political casualties.

While the fight to close 375 Woodside Ave., heats up, and plans to toss these youth to the not in my back yarders (NIMBYs), who will always look at them sideways in the neighborhood, we should not be surprised if crimes in San Francisco by our most troubled youth heats up.

And by the way, as the plan to close juvenile hall proceeds full steam ahead, The City just announced they are hiring up at the closing facility.

1983 to 1993 Bible Study teacher at SF juvenile hall. Currently prison reform activist and author of Case Game - Activating the Activist; an autobiography.

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