View Full Version : Article: Cuts put more California youths at risk, officials say

Phil in Paris
01-11-2005, 10:28 PM
Sacramento Bee

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The topic was making decisions, and nine Rocklin, Calif., teenagers who had been making bad ones that had landed them in the juvenile justice system sat slouched around a table Tuesday trying to figure out how to get them right.

The Life/Work Skills class is a weekly staple at the Youth Resource Center's after-school program for at-risk juveniles.

But if a budget cut proposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger goes through, the Tuesday class and 195 other programs designed to prevent juvenile crime _ including about a dozen after-school programs of the sort the governor has previously championed _ could find their funding in serious jeopardy.

At the moment, Schwarzenegger's budget writers have targeted for elimination $75 million of an estimated $100 million in annual Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act funding. If the cut goes through as currently written, juvenile justice officials around the state say the likely result will be more youths winding up in the California Youth Authority or other alternatives that are far more costly.

"If these programs weren't in place, we would have a significant increase in crime because we wouldn't be able to do the kinds of intervention we're currently able to do, the kinds of things that deter further incursion into the criminal justice system," said Placer County Chief Probation Officer Fred Morawcznski.

"I understand and appreciate the scope and depth of the state's fiscal problems, but to cut programs that deter more costly interventions down the road is probably a little short-sighted."

Probation officers such as Morawcynski say the after-school program cuts are somewhat ironic, given the governor's past campaign efforts. In 1992, Schwarzenegger successfully stumped on behalf of Proposition 49, the After School Education and Safety Program Act, which would have increased funding for after-school as well as before-school programs.

But even though the $75 million is currently slated to come out of Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act funds earmarked by legislation approved in 2000, the governor's budget teams says that by the time the state spending plan is passed, the cut could be spread out across more than $700 million in juvenile justice funding.

Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer said the $75 million slash is only "parked" in the juvenile justice act's account. He said ongoing discussions between the administration and local law enforcement officials could wind up raiding other funds than the one financing the 196 programs.

"Those that came to the conclusion that this would result in elimination of after-school programs may not have understood the broader context of the discussions going on with sheriffs, district attorneys and probation officers on how we are dealing with the issue in the broader context of juvenile justice reform," Palmer said.

According to the March 2004 annual report by Schwarzenegger's own Board of Corrections, the 110,000 youthful offenders who have attended JJCPA programs are less likely to be arrested or incarcerated, more likely to complete community service programs, more likely to attend school, less likely to be suspended or expelled and are testing at much higher grade point averages than at-risk youths who don't participate.

"JJCPA programs, as a whole, are making a significant difference in curbing juvenile crime and delinquency," the Board of Corrections report said.

The proposed cut to the JJCPA funds is drawing the most heat in the governor's proposed $7 billion youth and adult corrections budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. A proposal to slash $95 million in spending on inmate and parolee educational and vocational programs has also left some budget watchers scratching their heads at a time when the governor is proposing to re-emphasize rehabilitation in the state's correctional philosophy.

"We are concerned about the potential loss of programs aimed at ensuring that when people are released from prison, they have the skills to reintegrate into society," said Jean Ross, executive director of the California Budget Project, a group that analyzes state spending's effect on the poor.

Schwarzenegger's latest correctional budget represents a 1.2 percent increase over the $6.9 billion allocated last year.

(Distributed by Scripps-McClatchy Western Service,