San Francisco supervisors on Tuesday voted 10-1 in favor of closing the city’s juvenile hall, a bold move that would make San Francisco one of the first cities in the nation to do so.
The controversial ordinance, crafted by supervisors Shamann Walton, Hillary Ronen and Matt Haney, seeks to shutter the facility, located at 375 Woodside Ave., by the end of 2021. The supervisors and their supporters have cited a citywide decrease in youth crime resulting in an underused facility.
According to the plan, jail time for underage offenders would be replaced with job training and youth enrichment programs, among other efforts, to deter kids from engaging in criminal activity.
Supervisor Shamann Walton has said the issue is personal for him, as he spent time incarcerated as a minor in Contra Costa and Solano counties.
“I want to be clear that we would never put a system in place that is worse than our current juvenile hall. We are proposing an alternative to juvenile hall that also provides a true opportunity for young people to be rehabilitated. Job training, mental health support, education connects and exposure with a non-institutional focus that provides a true pathway to success, even for serious offenders,” he said.
Ahead of the vote, Chief Probation Officer Allen Nance said to supervisors the argument that juvenile hall detains mostly low-risk underage offenders is simply inaccurate, adding that on average only about 4 percent of the facility’s population are there on misdemeanors.
“By and large, the vast majority of young people detained in San Francisco’s juvenile hall are there on violent felonies, and more often than not it is a robbery or aggravated assault,” he said.
According to Nance, the supervisors’ plan to provide a complete alternative to detention may not be feasible, as state law requires that a juvenile offender be detained — at least before they appear in front of a judge.
Additionally, Nance said, juvenile offenders already have access to educational curriculum provided by the San Francisco Unified School District, as well as clinical services.
Nance said in crafting the ordinance, supervisors should have consulted, among other groups, the San Francisco NAACP chapter and the San Francisco Juvenile Probation Commission first.
“I completely support efforts for reform and I completely understand why this ordinance was introduced, but let me be very, very clear, I also believe that there are very significant challenges with respect to creating an alternative facility,” he said, adding that two and half years time was not enough to envision and create an alternative to detention.
President of San Francisco’s NAACP chapter, the Rev. Amos Brown, who has staunchly criticized the ordinance, said it was hastily put together with little input from community stakeholders and the general African American community, who are the most over-represented within the criminal justice system.
Brown also echoed concerns that if juvenile hall closed, underage offenders who must be incarcerated would be taken to other facilities, outside of San Francisco.
During the meeting, Brown and other NAACP members vocally shouted out their opposition to the ordinance, to which a sheriff’s deputy nearly escorted them out.
Mayor London Breed on Tuesday also said she was opposed to the ordinance, pointing instead to the blue-ribbon panel she created months ago, which is expected to come up with a report by the end of the year on ways to reduce juvenile incarceration.
Several criminal justice reform organizations have applauded the move.
If ultimately approved by the mayor, the ordinance mandates that a 13-person working group explore alternatives to youth incarceration. The group would come up with a plan that would have to be approved by supervisors.