SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – A move to shutter San Francisco Juvenile Hall in less than two years has passed its first hurdle, after the city’s Board of Supervisors’ Government Audit and Oversight Committee voted unanimously in favor of it on Thursday.

The legislation, authored by supervisors Shamann Walton, Hillary Ronen and Matt Haney, seeks to close juvenile hall, located at 375 Woodside Ave., by the end of 2021, citing a citywide decrease in youth crime resulting in an underused facility.

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With the committee’s approval, the legislation now goes to the full Board of Supervisors for a vote.

According to the plan, jail time for youth offenders would be replaced with job training and youth enrichment programs, among other efforts, to deter kids from engaging in criminal activity.

SF Juvenile Justice Center (CBS)

The legislation is personal for Walton, who said he spent time incarcerated as a minor in both Contra Costa and Solano counties.

“What we’re proposing is an alternative to juvenile hall that also provides a true opportunity for young people to be rehabilitated. Job training, mental health support, educational connections and exposure with a non-institutional focus that provides a true pathway to success, even for serious offenders. Individualized plans that focus on the person and not the infraction,” Walton said.

“Young offenders of serious crimes that may harm themselves or society would have a place that provides all those opportunities and focuses on helping them change versus teaching them how to live institutionalized and preparing them for prison,” he said.

According to Walton, with decreased juvenile crime, in 2018 juvenile hall was two-thirds empty each day on average. Despite low population numbers, it costs the city about $13 million annually to run the facility.

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Ronen said, “This jail needs to be shut down, we are more visionary than this. We have more adequate and updated science on how the youth brain develops. We have the resources that provide the best mental health service in the most rehabilitative setting, where we can truly alter the path of children’s lives, many who have mental health illness and have been subjected to trauma all their lives.”

During the public comment portion of the item, dozens of criminal justice reform advocates echoed the sentiments of supervisors, while some shared stories of youth being shackled and kept in solitary confinement while incarcerated. Others, however, spoke out against closing juvenile hall.

Ryan Kong, a probation officer at the facility said, “A lot of these kids that come through our door, their parents failed them; their home failed them; the community failed them and that’s when we take them in. We care for them; we make sure that they’re safe; we make sure that they get their meals; and we make sure that they walk out that door when it’s time.

“Everybody is talking about juvenile hall doing this, doing that, but they came in broken already. Stop saying that we broke them, it’s not us,” he said.

The San Francisco branch of the NAACP has also opposed the legislation. In a statement, president the Rev. Amos Brown said the legislation was “hastily put together with barely an iota of input from community stakeholders—not even Chief Probation Officer Allen Nance.

“If we want to substantially improve the juvenile justice system in San Francisco, we must slow down, get together all stakeholders and have a deeper dialogue about this issue. We must ensure we continue to have the funding and space to treat this vulnerable group,” he said.

If the full board approves the legislation, the legislation mandates that a 13-person working group will be tasked with exploring alternatives to youth incarceration.

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