Why there will be no new Juvenile Hall for San Francisco
San Francisco City Hall is at it again. Remember all the hubbub about closing juvenile hall three years ago, and creating secure “Homelike setting” community-based facilities for our juvenile offenders? Sorry to disappoint all of you who danced on the grave located at 375 Woodside Ave., but our juvenile hall will not be closing.
It gets worse: As first reported in the San Francisco Standard, there is a plan to build a new 30-bed juvenile hall on the same Woodside site. No such facility will ever see the light of day. But that will not stop both the mayor’s office and the Board of Supervisors from playing a political game of tug-of-war where San Francisco’s most troubled youth is the rope.
In 2019, the San Francisco Chronicle published a series titled, Vanishing Violence. This report questioned the need for so many, near-empty juvenile halls, throughout California when youth violence had been in a surprising decline for years.
Using what I viewed, as simpleton math applied to wishful thinking that our youthful offender numbers will continue to decline, the authors miscalculated the need and high cost for empty youth jail cells. Members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors bought into this misleading report and, in a knee-jerk response, vowed to close the 12-year-old, at the time, 150-bed San Francisco juvenile hall by the end of 2021.
Three years later, the overseers of the 375 Woodside Ave facility got a revelation: It is impossible to close a youth jail anywhere in California just because someone decided to place a price tag on the cost to house our most troubled youth.
It took a Blue-Ribbon panel three years, many meetings, and many experts to come out with an 88-page final report that gave the plan and its “Working group to close juvenile hall” the no-brainer news. But the Board of Supervisors are still determined to create an alternative to the now 15-year-old building and continue to reject one of my first published, don’t do it warnings.
Hard for me to believe that Chief of Juvenile Probation Katherine W. Miller, who has no juvenile probation experience, came up with a plan to build a new smaller 30-bed facility all by herself. I will go one step further and say, Mayor London Breed, who supports this plan, has no idea it is 30 years old.
In the late 1990s the need to replace the old juvenile hall was debated. 30-beds verses the winner, a 150-bed facility, which broke ground in 2003 and opened $45 million later in 2007. So, where did this old idea come from? My guess is, older youth advocates, whose hearts are in the right place but naively, they view all juvenile offenders as mere candy thieves.
Please make no mistake about it; the two sides looking to win this political game of tug-of-war on the future of 375 Woodside Ave are not working in the best interest of our current or future youthful offenders. If they were working in the best interest of our juvenile offenders, they would have funded new programs in the existing facility. The excuse that the pandemic prevented those in charge from creating new programs is just an excuse, especially when there is no shortage of how-to videos on the internet that will hold the attention of the most difficult or rebellious teen.
San Francisco does not need a new juvenile hall, nor does it need to close the current facility for a more community-centered and homelike setting approach that seems to be working in other parts of the country. San Francisco needs new (right) people running the existing facility with new and creative programs that these troubled youth would be excited to partake in.
A few years ago, for Black History Month the White juvenile hall program director decided to celebrate Black History in the girl’s unit of the facility. He brought in nineteen women from the community to celebrate and encourage the whole group, which consisted of 10 Black girls. But eighteen of the 19 women who came up to the facility to participate in this “Celebration” were White women.
18-year-old Deandre Gantt had a ceremony where family members attended at the hall for getting his GED. He was released from the facility in April of 2019. In July of 2019, he was arrested in San Mateo County and charged in the shootout at the Tanforan Shopping Mall along with a 14-year-old accomplice he knew from San Francisco juvenile hall. Today, he is in the first year of a 40-year prison sentence for that shooting, where no one was killed.
Identical twin brothers were both released from the juvenile hall after turning 18. The pair spent a lot of time and years in and out of our juvenile hall. Three years later, one is dead, and his twin is awaiting trial for kidnapping and stabbing his girlfriend.
Currently, a 15-year-old at the juvenile hall is causing havoc. It was bad enough that this troubled youth assaulted several staffers, one with a computer and another he stabbed in the back five times with an instrument he fashioned while at the facility. But in response, Chief of Probation Katherine Miller vowed to have him tried as an adult in a statement of support for the staff.
There is just one problem with that statement, well, three: 1. She has no say on if a child is tried as an adult. 2. A first-year law graduate could prove the staff was at fault for the stabbing incident. 3. Until San Francisco tosses out our current DA, which I think is doing a great job, he has the power to try kids as adults but has vowed not to.
Anyone in City Hall shortsighted enough to try and create a new facility to house a possible 17-year-old mass shooter here, in a “Homelike setting”, should not be able to make laws concerning young people, period.
Those who want to help reduce the chance of juveniles turning into adult criminals should think twice about getting rid of our current facility. The goal and focus should be on creating solid programs that would turn our existing 150-bed juvenile hall into a place where other counties of California would feel comfortable sending their troubled youth to San Francisco for rehabilitation.
But the reason I know there will be no new juvenile hall at 375 Woodside Ave comes from the mouth of the Juvenile Probation Chief herself. In the San Francisco Standard article, she gave the reason for wanting to build a new juvenile hall: “I like starting fresh and doing what we want, and I like leveraging the workable space we have on this campus.”
Respectfully, Chief Miller has been in charge for two years and has not created one new program. How can you build a new juvenile hall when you can’t create one new program?