Reinventing Juvenile Justice in Contra Costa County

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By Margaret Moore

Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton has made tremendous strides in advancing youth justice in Contra Costa County. Under his leadership, Contra Costa County received $1 million in a state Department of Corrections grant to pilot a three-year program that provides alternatives to incarceration for youth who commit crimes. minors.

With this grant, Becton launched RESTOR, the county’s first juvenile diversion program, in partnership with the RYSE Youth Center in Richmond.

“Advancing youth justice is one of my most significant accomplishments,” Becton said. “We have the opportunity and the responsibility to rethink our justice system so that our young people have a greater chance of leading successful and rewarding lives.

Young people between the ages of 12 and 17 who have been arrested for minor offenses can be referred to the program by the prosecutor’s office before being charged. Young people who commit serious crimes, such as murder, rape, robbery and carjacking with a weapon, are not accepted. The program helps reduce recidivism while ensuring that young people have an individualized plan to help them change their lives.

Research shows that youth crime has declined steadily over the past 20 years, reinforcing the conclusion that moving away from youth incarceration is in the best interest of rehabilitation, public safety and accountability. financial.

Young people can be better treated and rehabilitated in community settings where they can maintain connections to family, school and their community. Home- or community-based programs and services are more successful in empowering young people and positively changing their behavior than institutions.

According to Imprint News, “Like facilities across the state, the massive 290-bed John A. Davis Juvenile Hall in Contra Costa County — a maximum-security detention facility for juvenile offenders — sits virtually empty. Recently, it housed 35 young people.

Despite the sharp drop in juvenile crime and the consequent reduction in the number of young people incarcerated, the money invested in the operation of youth prisons has not been reduced accordingly.

Data shows that Contra Costa County spends an average of $500,000 per year per child incarcerated in Contra Costa Juvenile Hall.

Black youth and youth of color are most affected by outdated approaches to public safety. According to Imprint News, “Only 9% of Contra Costa County’s child population is black, but black youth make up 55% of those in custody. In contrast, white children represent 35% of the population, but only 9% of those incarcerated.

Becton also has additional policies in place to make sure the justice system truly works for everyone, not just the few.

In addition to the RESTOR program, Becton formed the Reimagine Youth Justice task force to recommend alternatives to incarceration for youth. She joined a Code for America initiative to throw out thousands of old marijuana convictions, which disproportionately affect people of color in the community.

His office piloted the California County Resentencing Pilot Program to combat excessive sentencing. Becton also works in partnership with the Vera Institute of Justice on data analytics to uncover and correct biases in the adjudication of criminal cases.

Margaret Moore is co-founder of Hope Action Change.

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