After losing bid to keep juvenile hall open, probation chief announces retirement

After clashing with supervisors and losing a bid to keep juvenile hall open, San Francisco’s juvenile probation chief will retire at the end of the month.

Chief Juvenile Probation Officer Allen Nance was an outspoken critic of the Board of Supervisors’ June decision to close San Francisco’s juvenile hall by the end of 2021, and proposed a plan to reform the hall without eliminating it that was immediately shot down in September.

After a 30-year career in juvenile probation, Nance, 56, will step down Nov. 29. He spent 14 years with the San Francisco Juvenile Probation Department, serving as chief for the last six years.

“Words simply cannot express the appreciation I have for all of the dedicated and passionate employees within SFJPD, and all those agency and community partners who have worked tirelessly to improve the lives of youth and families involved in our juvenile justice system,” Nance said in a letter sent to friends and colleagues Tuesday night announcing his resignation. “I am forever grateful for your commitment and personal investment to embrace change and advance evidence-based practices in pursuit of better outcomes.”

Nance said his work to expand the use of diversion and find alternatives to detention helped lead to the record low population in the City’s juvenile justice system. There are currently less than 500 youths under the supervision of his department, down from around 2,000 a decade ago, he said.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle’s “Vanishing Violence” report, a dramatic drop in serious youth crime has left the state’s juvenile halls nearly empty, causing per-inmate costs to skyrocket from $135,000 in 2011 to $374,000 in 2018. That report led City supervisors to draft and pass legislation that will shutter juvenile hall by the end of 2021.

Nance, however, said he did not think 2 1/2 years was enough time to create an alternative facility that would hold youths who pose a threat to themselves or others.

Though Mayor London Breed also favored reform over closure, her office quashed Nance’s proposal to create a six-month “therapeutic program” inside the facility, which critics argued would drive up youth incarceration rates.

Nance said his resignation was a joint decision he made with Breed and that they both felt the timing was right for him to move on.

“Chief Nance was a constant thoughtful voice within the probation profession and helped drive the positive transformation California has seen in juvenile justice,” Stephanie James, president of the Chief Probation Officers of California, said in response to Nance’s announcement. “His vision and compassion for youth will be greatly missed in his retirement.”

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