Escalating state budget deficits were revealed in California Governor Brown’s state 2012-13 May Revised Budget released May 14. This requires shared sacrifice in the form of additional cuts to state services, a theme previously articulated by the Governor. In December 2011, Governor Brown announced in Latin, “Nemo dat non habet,” which he translated to “No man gives what he does not have.” At the time, he used this expression to belie the severity of California’s fiscal crisis and the inevitable action required to plug the estimated $2.2 billion revenue shortfall.
In this spirit of fiscal responsibility, the Governor introduced a series of budget reductions or triggers, to take effect January 1, 2012 and reduce state spending by $980 million. These cuts affected a wide-range of programs, including state education and social services.
The Governor’s budget triggers also targeted the state juvenile justice system, the Division of Juvenile Facilities (DJF), by requiring counties to pay $125,000 annually per youth housed at DJF youth correctional facilities. This fee equates to 60% of the total annual cost for housing youth through DJF. In total, the state proposed collecting $67.7 million through these county fees, a substantial figure that might have eased the severity of potential future cuts to state services.
Nevertheless, the Governor issued a reprieve on collecting this $67.7 million, while simultaneously reducing funds that benefit California’s students, working families, and developmentally disabled. Law enforcement associations successfully lobbied against collecting these funds. The chief executive of the California District Attorney’s Association, Scott Thorpe, spoke to this effort when he said, “Obviously we would like him to drop that cut, and cut from other places.” Groups advocating on behalf of public schools, higher education, childcare, and the disabled were not so successful.
As such, the Governor aggressively pursued other trigger cuts, over the protestations of advocacy groups. Some groups filed lawsuits with the hope that court injunctions might prevent loss of desperately needed funds for Medi-Cal, In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS), and school transport. The state even appealed a court injunction that prevented the state from collecting on the scheduled $101.4 million cut to IHSS.
Why is a failed system like DJF capriciously spared fiscal reductions, while childcare, schools, and services for the developmentally disabled are continuously cut? Why does DJF deserve an exemption from the shared sacrifice asked of all Californians?
The leniency for DJF does not serve the best economic interests of the state. This $67.7 million in lost savings must facilitate additional cuts for state programs that fuel economic growth and job creation. The California State University system and University of California were cut $100 million in funds each. The California community college system lost $102 million. Moreover, the state reduced grants to public libraries by $15.8 million. These programs foster the innovative educational environment necessary for California’s workforce. The Governor also approved childcare cuts totaling $22.9 million, which further strains working families who struggle to balance the demands of home and work.
In addition, the exemption for DJF is not equitable to California’s most vulnerable citizens, who experienced little protection from cuts to their services. The Governor’s 2011-12 budget triggers cut $101.4 million to California’s In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS), which provides home care and personal services to 425,000 high-need Californians. This program helps individuals with dressing, housecleaning, laundry, and grocery shopping among many other things. The budget triggers also cut $100 million to the state Department of Developmental Services (DDS) that finances community-based services for resident with autism, mental retardation, and other related conditions.
In California’s May Revision to the 2012-13 Budget, Governor Brown proposed juvenile justice policies that estimate savings at $24.8 million rather than the previously stated $67.7 million. The proposal would end juvenile parole by January 1, 2013, reduce administrative staff, and lower the maximum age for DJF from 25 to 23. In addition, the state would now charge counties $24,000 annually per youth committed to DJF. These reforms, while an improvement over the status quo, are a half-measure if California is to adopt a 21st century juvenile justice system.
Instead, California should adopt a phased juvenile justice realignment plan, which uses a staggered approach to build county capacity and foster innovation across the state. This also best serves youth currently housed at DJF, who would benefit from a continuity of rehabilitation that connects them with their communities. Finally, this reform appreciates the shared sacrifice asked of all Californians. By adopting phased juvenile justice realignment today, the state can potentially mitigate future cuts to services necessary to all.
Brian Goldstein is a member of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ)’s policy team and a graduate student at San Francisco State University. His expertise is on political trends in criminal justice reform.