California Governor Newsom Vetoes Effort to Shrink State Juvenile Justice Agency

On the last day of the legislative session, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) declined to sign a bill that would make sending juveniles to the state juvenile justice agency a lot more expensive. Photo courtesy of the Office of the Governor.

Nearly nine months after California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced that he would transform the state’s juvenile justice system, he again moved to bolster the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) on Sunday by rejecting a bill that aimed to shrink the agency.

Senate Bill 284 would have increased by five fold the cost for counties to send youth to three DJJ facilities, home to the state’s most serious juvenile offenders. By increasing the amount counties would pay from $24,000 annually per youth to $125,000, advocates like the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice hoped that the higher fee would incentivize counties to keep youth closer to home and improve their re-entry prospects after incarceration.

But the governor has other plans. Starting next year, the DJJ will be renamed as the Department of Youth and Community Restoration (DYCR), which will use a “trauma-informed and developmentally appropriate” approach to help rehabilitate juvenile offenders. In returning the bill without a signature, Newsom said that he disagreed with the bill’s approach in advance of his changes.

“This new department will, as DJJ does now, serve a specific cohort of high-need youth who often times have been unable to receive needed services at the county level,” Newsom wrote in a veto message. “It is important that any re-evaluation of what type of population is served at DYCR be done with this global shift in mind, and in a manner that does not enact a blanket financial disincentive when there may be more targeted ways to meet the author’s goals.”

Renee Menart of the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice called the DJJ’s new name and focus on healing and treatment “an encouraging step,” but she also suggested that DJJ’s new goals may be hampered by the remote location of its facilities.

“While conditions in county facilities vary, they all provide what DJJ cannot: close, regular contact with loved ones and support systems,” Menart said in an email statement to The Chronicle of Social Change. “Best practices recommend that high-needs youth be held in small, close-to-home facilities that allow for a smooth transition back into their communities.”

Newsom did approve several other juvenile justice bills. The bill that could make the biggest impact is SB 419, which builds on recent legislation to ban school suspensions for disruptive behavior or defying school authorities for students in grades K-3. Under the new law, students in grades 4 and 5 can no longer be suspended for these behaviors and starting in July 2020, the state will run a time-limited pilot to extend these protections to grades 6 to 8.

Other notable new laws include the following:

Assembly Bill 1423 creates a way for juvenile offenders sent to the adult criminal justice system to request to return their case to juvenile court in some circumstances.

AB 1394 does away with the imposition of any fees charged by the state’s superior courts or probation departments related to an application to seal juvenile court records.

AB 1390 allows young adult offenders up to the age of 24 to serve a year in juvenile hall as an alternative to serving a local jail sentence, as part of a pilot project involving six California counties. Previously only young people ages 18 to 21 were eligible. Juveniles must be separated by sight and sound from adults in the juvenile hall.

AB 1454 increases the top award amount available through the Youth Reinvestment Grant program to $2 million and allows nonprofit organizations to apply for the grants, which were first established in the 2018 budget as a way to divert low-level offenders from contact with the state’s juvenile justice system.

AB 1354 requires county offices of education to make sure that a student enrolled in one of its juvenile court schools for more than 20 school days has a transition plan and access to educational records upon release.

SB 716 mandates that any young person detained in facilities run by county probation departments or the state DJJ should have access to postsecondary academic and career technical education if they have attained a high school diploma or an equivalent degree.

This article has been updated with comment from the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice.

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Jeremy Loudenback, Senior Editor, The Chronicle of Social Change
About Jeremy Loudenback, Senior Editor, The Chronicle of Social Change 351 Articles
Jeremy is a West Coast-based senior editor for The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach him at