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Plans Proposed To Shut San Francisco's Juvenile Jail

Jenna Lane
March 22, 2019 - 10:40 am

SAN FRANCISCO — Three San Francisco supervisors want to shut down the city's Juvenile Hall.

Supervisors Shamann Walton, Hillary Ronen and Matt Haney began drafting a plan to close the city's jail for youths on Woodside Avenue, saying that the facility is largely empty yet expensive to operate. 

Their decision came soon after a San Francisco Chronicle investigation found a sharp decline in juvenile crime that left with facility with a shrinking daily population. About 66 percent of its 150 beds are empty. 

Ronen said the $12 million per year the city spends on the facility could be redirected to a new kind of juvenile justice facility, perhaps one that is less restrictive and more dorm-like. She, Walton and Haney are looking to set up a task force to study the possibilities.

This all comes a few days after the city's Health Commission declared incarceration in general to be a public health issue.

Supervisor Shamann Walton, who himself was locked up at the facility as a teenager, believes it's an idea whose time has come.

Walton said the "good chunk" of time he spent at Juvenile Hall as a teenager had nothing to do with his eventual success. 

Instead, mentors, role models, after-school programs and higher education inspired the changes he made to turn his life around at a young age. 

Walton went back to Juvenile Hall as a member of the Board of Education, and now a supervisor, where his views were confirmed that locked-up kids learn not how to succeed in life, but how to survive behind bars. 

"What they learn is how to walk in formation, they learn how to disassociate themselves with their peers, because in some cases talking too much or having conversations can get you in trouble," he said. "They learn how to sleep on a concrete slab with a mat, they learn tolerance for being on lockdown versus learning how to change behavior."

Dan Macallair, the director of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco, said kids these days are simply committing fewer crimes, and now is the time to reevaluate punishments for the children whose behavior is out of line. 

"After 1994 the youth crime rate plummeted, in both property and violent crimes. This is the best behaved generation of youth on record, and we really don't know why, but we should take advantage of it," he said. 

Written by Diana Shook