Juvenile jail approach experiencing overhaul

More than three years after a county-funded report revealed that African-American and Latino youthful offenders were being arrested and sentenced to juvenile hall in disproportionately high numbers, the Board of Supervisors has appointed the head of probation to address the problem.

The appointment of Chief Probation Officer Loren Buddress to tackle the issue of minority confinement signals a shift from a detention-based mentality to one of evidence-based prevention for law enforcement, officials said.

“As opposed to using confinement as a punishment for everyone, we’re going to look at alternatives, to changing attitudes and mind-set,” Director of Juvenile Probation Services Jim Nordman said.

That philosophy is evident in the construction of the new juvenile hall — set to open in September — the majority of which is built to accommodate counseling, education and treatment facilities based on individual juvenile assessments, Nordman said.

Among the alternatives that could be used are nonprofit anti-gang programs and school tutoring for those struggling in school and who often end up on street corners and in trouble, Nordman said.

Detention will remain a top option for juveniles with violent tendencies or those that are potentially dangerous to themselves and the community, he said.

Commissioners for the Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Commission, which oversaw the completion of the $72,000 Assessment of Disproportionate Minority Confinement in San Mateo County report, said that while they have often felt stymied by slow progress since the report was completed in December 2003, Buddress’ appointment now means someone will be accountable.

“I think it puts the onus on probation, and I can tell you that, as a commissioner, it has been hard at times to ascertain who has been in control, the Board of Supervisors or probation,” said Milton Reynolds, a JJDPC commissioner who has researched racial issues in classrooms at Stanford University

“There is no doubt in my mind that things will start to move faster now,” JJDPC Chairman and county Director of Emergency Services and Homeland Security Lt. John Quinlan said.

Buddress and several commissioners plan to visit Santa Cruz County, a potential model for San Mateo County, later this month to see how their program works, Quinlan said.

Supervisor Rose Jacobs Gibson, who has spearheaded the efforts to address minority confinement, acknowledged the long delay, but said creating institution changes doesn’t happen overnight.

“These numbers were not well-received. People did not want to talk about them when they first come out,” Jacobs Gibson said.

Questions remain, such as who will fill the full-time position to lead the county’s effort on minority confinement, approved by supervisors for $150,000 last June.

It is still unclear whether a task force will be established to oversee probation’s efforts to address minority confinement, a top recommendation in the JJDPC report, commissioners said.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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