Proposal to shut down juvenile hall draws show of support

Mayor, some black community leaders not yet sold on proposal

Supporters of a proposal to shut down San Francisco’s Juvenile Justice Center rallied on the steps of City Hall Tuesday, calling for The City to develop alternatives to youth incarceration.

Supervisors Shamann Walton, Matt Haney and Hillary Ronen planned to introduce legislation Tuesday directing city staff to shut down the facility at 375 Woodside Ave. by 2021.

Critics say the center disproportionately incarcerates young people of color for low level offenses.

The effort to close it has received the backing of a majority of the board and is also supported by The City’s District Attorney and Public Defender’s offices, as well as education and community leaders. However, not everyone is on board yet.

Mayor London Breed has yet to take a decisive stance on the issue, calling instead for a blue ribbon panel to first conduct a comprehensive study of reforms to the juvenile justice system, a spokesperson confirmed Tuesday. The panel is expected to begin meeting next week.

Third Baptist Church pastor Rev. Amos Brown, who is also the president of the local chapter of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), on Tuesday called for the center to remain operational.

“I say amend it, don’t end it,” Brown told the San Francisco Examiner. “There are young people who are violent, sexual offenders too, who need to be in a structured setting where they have mental, emotional and social [supports] that they [may not] get at home.”

Brown said that while reforms to the system are appropriate, he takes issue with the supervisors’ alleged failure to engage him, Chief Probation Officer Allen Nance and leaders in the black community who have been active around youth criminal justice reform for decades on the proposed legislation. He also cited a prospective loss of jobs for black employees at the facility as a reason for his lack of support for the legislation.

Brown argued that conditions within the facility have “improved” for black youth, and that community supports to address economic, health and social disparities faced by the black community are insufficient.

With only about 30 youth currently incarcerated in the San Francisco facility, the legislation’s supporters have described it as a pricey pipeline into the adult prison system, with San Francisco spending more than $270,000 to incarcerate each child annually.

Speaking at Tuesday’s rally, Walton, who said he was twice incarcerated as a youth, said there “is no worse system in place.”

Walton added that he has heard from Brown and is “not sure that everyone understands the focus [of the legislation] on an ‘alternative’ option to juvenile hall that provides educational support, mental health support and a real opportunity and focus on rehabilitation and leading young people towards success.”

“Also, I don’t need permission from Amos Brown to do my job,” said Walton, adding that he expects that “the Mayor’s work and our work will come together.”

Holding up signs that read “No child belongs in jail,” dozens of youth and their supporters said they were hopeful that stakeholders would see the legislation as an opportunity for change.

“You can’t have healing without being in your community. If you take kids away from that support system and expose them to the negative influences that you find within those [criminal justice] systems, you are just putting them in criminal school,” said 18-year-old Hayden Beaulieu, who was incarcerated for nearly two years and called the juvenile justice system a “beaucratic mess.”

“They don’t listen to you, you’re an animal. And if something happens to you, you can’t ask for help,” said Beaulieu, now an advocate for reform with the East Oakland-based group Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice. “You have two codes to live by…the code of your peers and the code of the system. If you obey one you are breaking the other.”

Breon, a 19-year-old Oakland native who is also an advocate with CURYJ, said that he was “incarcerated for years” and feels that the system “is a set up.”

“If you are under 18 and have no family support when you get out, they put you into a foster home or group home, in situations you can’t control,” he said.

Breon said that he would like to see alternatives to detention programs in which youth “can work off our time.”

“Doing time behind bars, what are you really learning? People get out and do the same thing, especially if they have no family support, no connection,” he said. “Those opposing this [legislation] just see all kids as the same, which is not true. We do stuff for a reason — not everybody has their mom or dad, or lives in a house. They should take that into consideration. “


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Supervisor Shamann Walton speaks alongside supervisors Matt Haney, Sandra Lee Fewer and Hillary Ronen at a rally calling on elected leaders to shut down San Francisco Juvenile Hall outside City Hall on Tuesday, April 9, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

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