Girls in custody exercising. 91 percent of parolees are re-arrested within three years.
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In the official records of San Diego’s Juvenile Justice Commission he is known simply as Derrick C. Derrick was 12 years old the first time he appeared in a criminal courtroom, in 1990, wearing county-issued work pants and a T-shirt too large for his slender frame. A teacher had ordered him to the principal's office but Derrick refused to go. He cursed and carried on until finally he picked up a nearby pitcher of water and heaved it. The jug crashed and splintered far short of the front of the room, where the teacher stood, but flying glass struck two of his classmates. Derrick was in court that morning in 1990 charged with three counts of battery and one count of vandalism.

Kapiloff is working in the juvie courts at his own request.

Kapiloff is working in the juvie courts at his own request.

Derrick had been in and out of county-financed programs since the age of eight. Up until his classroom temper tantrum, he had been an enormous financial burden on the county’s mental health department and also on the school system. Indeed, inside the county bureaucracy, his was what is called a "fallout" case: a kid promoted to the criminal justice system not so much because he has committed some terrible crime, but because a county department seeks to transfer this budget-breaker to a budget other than its own.

Alan Francey: “If the system wants to get a kid, it’s as easy as spitting out a list of minor violations.”

Alan Francey: “If the system wants to get a kid, it’s as easy as spitting out a list of minor violations.”

Alan Francey is a six-year veteran of the public defender’s juvenile division. Francey met Derrick shortly after the youngster’s first court appearance. “By that point. Derrick had been in residential care,” Francey says. “He had been in and out of psychiatric hospitals. It should have been obvious to all concerned that he was in need of some kind of program that would offer a high degree of treatment.”

Alan Crogan: “Even some car burglaries, if it’s more like joy riding, won’t make it into our system."

Alan Crogan: “Even some car burglaries, if it’s more like joy riding, won’t make it into our system."

Facilities for emotionally disturbed children in California are classified based on a complicated formula that ranks each between 1 and 14. The higher the number, the more intense the program offered. Doctors had figured Derrick would best be served in a level 12 facility. Whatever services he would need were bound to be expensive.

Kapiloff's courtroom. "Two in every three kids I see in my courtroom are suffering from learning disabilities."

Kapiloff's courtroom. "Two in every three kids I see in my courtroom are suffering from learning disabilities."

Francey is not a lawyer; he devises appropriate sentences for juveniles represented by his office so that a public defender can offer a concrete proposal when arguing before a judge. Had Francey had his way — had he been deemed the judge responsible for Derrick’s fate — the boy would have been sent back to the mental health system. For one thing, level 12 facilities willing to accept disturbed youngsters who have a criminal record are rare. For another, there are the particulars of this case. Derrick was only 12. His crime, while requiring that the authorities do something, was hardly the kind of violation that demanded he be treated as a criminal. By all accounts, he was a deeply disturbed child with a hair-trigger temper who lacked the skills to cope with authority. He was precisely the sort of kid destined to fail in the large institutional settings that house those violators sentenced to serve time by a juvenile court judge. Yet it was inside such a facility that Derrick ended up.

Derrick was “true found” — the euphemism for a guilty verdict inside the juvenile-justice system — on the single charge of battery on a school official. That relieved Mental Health of this expensive problem biting into their budget for tens of thousands of dollars a year but burdened the county Probation Department with a financial obligation that promised to be equally large, if not larger. Derrick was sent to a level 7 residential treatment facility, where he lasted all of two months. He*at around Juvenile Hall for several months until the authorities could secure a bed at a level 10 facility. Two months into Derrick’s tenure, though, state regulators put that facility out of business. Derrick was shipped back to the Hall, a 300-plus bed facility that houses side by side juveniles awaiting trial for serious crimes and kids like Derrick trapped in a bureaucratic holding pattern.

Derrick’s next stop was a level 6 facility. Six months later, he was discharged for repeatedly fighting with other kids and staff. Branded a program washout, he was carted off — after another protracted stint at the Hall — to Rite of Passage, a boot-camp-style facility in the Nevada desert. The California Youth Authority (CYA), the harshest punishment meted out by juvenile court judges, is in theory reserved for the state’s most violent juvenile offenders. Programs like Rite of Passage specialize in diverting repeat juvenile offenders from the life of crime that is all but assured once a juvenile hits the CYA.

By then Derrick had turned 14. Rite of Passage offers the kind of highly structured program a child like Derrick would need, but its general clientele rendered Derrick, there on a misdemeanor battery, a choir boy by comparison. After six months, he was discharged for a medical ailment, though His infirmity seemed only to hasten the inevitable. At a place known for its impatience with infidels, his record was replete with write-ups for rule violations of all kinds. He was sent back to Juvenile Hall with yet another black mark staining his record.

Twelve months is the maximum sentence on a misdemeanor battery. Yet time spent either in a treatment center or what’s called a “24-hour school” (any noncounty institution, such as Rite of Passage, that keeps juveniles under around-the-clock guard and therefore needs to offer schooling on site) does not count toward time served. More than two years had passed since Derrick was first arrested but — back at the Hall following his Rite of Passage program failure — he was still several months from serving his 12-month maximum. His status was still uncertain when 3 months into his final stay at the Hall a solution presented itself. Derrick punched a staff member, spelling his doom. He was charged with assault on a peace officer, a felony that carried a three-year sentence. On the recommendation of the county’s Probation Department, and with the concurrence of a superior court judge. Derrick was banished to the CYA, at a cost of between $32,000 and $44,000 a year, depending on whose cost estimates one believes.

“In my view, if Derrick had been placed in the proper psych facility, with access to psychiatrists who knew how to handle his problems, nothing like this would have happened,” says a public defender who prefers anonymity. “That’s where he would have gone if he were a white kid from a well-off family, but he was just some black kid being raised by a single mom on welfare. The system doesn’t want to spend the money on a kid like this. So it was, like, ‘We’ve given you a chance, you’ve blown it. Even though the reality was he was never sent to the proper program....

“The end result is Derrick ends up serving time in these giant institutions with the same impulse-control problems that landed him in the system in the first place,” this public defender continues. “So we’re pretty much guaranteeing that we’ll be paying $30,000 to $35,000 a year for the rest of his life, or $70,000 a year if it turns out he ends up in some place like Pelican Bay [ the Crescent City penitentiary housing the state’s most incorrigible inmates].” Derrick was guilty of a few misdemeanors, there’s no doubting that. But the real question is whether those with their hands on the system’s controls are guilty of far worse crimes.

Derrick C„ emblem of a system so intent on saving money in the short run that it promises to bankrupt us into the future, is no anomaly. The details of his life — as Tolstoy famously wrote of all unhappy families — are tragic in their own peculiar fashion. Yet the wrenching, Solomon-like decisions required in a case like Derrick’s are a routine part of life for the six superior court judges, two retired judges, and four judicial referees who spend their days passing judgment on the 5000 to 6000 defendants who pass through San Diego County’s juvenile courts each year. What punishment do you give to an emotionally disturbed 12-year-old whose crime is essentially a profound lack of self-control? What do you do with a 14-year-old who rapes? Or a 16-year-old whose crime is auto theft but with a pouty insouciance so striking—and so suggestive of what is to come — that a judge might very well be tempted to lean over the bench and punctuate his punishment with a slap to the face—especially when the punishment for a first-time auto thief amounts to little more than a slap on the wrist?

Juvenile justice in San Diego County is dispensed in a two-story red brick building ten minutes north of downtown, above Highway 163. There, kids wearing oversized pants and unlaced basketball sht»es slouch in rows of plastic chairs painted orange. Beside them sit kids dressed in starched white shirts and black slacks, hair slicked back and neatly combed. Younger siblings sit playing on the floor under the watchful eye of sad-looking mothers dressed in flower-print dresses, purses clutched to their chests. On the edge of the crowds, earnest-looking lawyers confer quietly with blank-expressioned clients, some of whom may even take an inarticulate stab at a question, while a mother or father leans in to soak up the attorney’s every word. You can almost feel the parents’ desperation for something— for more information, for a break on their child’s behalf, for an explanation — as they shift and inch ever closer. Probation officers dressed in khakis, madras-style shirts, and loafers deliver mini-lectures that, boiled to their essence, are stem messages delivered in friendly tones. Each time a courtroom door opens, every head in the waiting area bobs as if someone has shot off a gun.

Judge James Milliken, the presiding judge over the juvenile courts, sets aside mornings to work the "calendar” docket. That’s when the courts handle the myriad motions and other routine matters, including sentencing, that take place before and after a child’s trial. The juvenile courts are normally off-limits to reporters, but Judge Milliken allowed me to spend time in his courtroom on the condition that I use no last names. On a single morning this past fall, Judge Milliken buzzed through no fewer than 23 cases in just over three hours — or one case every nine minutes. Afterwards, he slipped off his black robe and said with a smile, “Only 23 this morning? Must be slowing down.” At one point, no fewer than five lawyers were in the courtroom waiting their turn at the defense table, stacked up like planes at Lindbergh Field on a fog-bound morning.

Milliken’s docket that morning included an 11 -year-old child charged with five residential burglaries, a 16-year-old Asian boy so frightened of a local gang that he habitually carried a gun to school, and a retarded 15-year-old whose bulk fit perfectly with the schemings of a much slighter boy who’d always invite his oversized friend along when shaking down neighborhood kids (the charge was strong-arm robbery). The matter at hand often boiled down to a procedural point, yet more time was spent discussing stunted IQs and learning disabilities than legal matters. Typical was a 16-year-old girl suffering from a dyslexia only recently discovered, facing her third petty theft.

“I’d say that at least two in every three kids I see in my courtroom are suffering from one kind of learning disability or another,” says Judge Lawrence Kapiloff, a veteran of the juvenile courts. “And that’s a conservative estimate.” The juvenile court system is divided into two distinct branches: judges such as Milliken and Kapiloff preside over what are called “delinquency” hearings for kids 17 or younger accused of breaking the laws; there are also the dependency hearings, where judges resolve the fate of abused or neglected children. The dependency-side child who would win any feeling person’s sympathies is often the same rotten kid who deserves the book thrown at him a couple of years later, when he lashes out as hurt children tend to do. Typically, the finding — guilty or not guilty — is the easy part. The disposition — the sentence, or simply the “dispo” in juvenile courtspeak — is what keeps some juvenile judges awake at night.

Those working the adult side of the criminal-justice street long ago dropped any pretense of rehabilitation. Not st) those part of the juvie system, where state codes expressly dictate that judges strike a balance between the twin interests of protecting the public and reforming a delinquent child. Yet even as those on the front lines of the juvenile-justice system cling to this conceit that rehabilitation is a primary aim, they admit to practicing what might best be called judicial triage. Less time and money are devoted to younger delinquents guilty of lesser crimes. So, too, are fewer resources spent on repeat offenders, no matter how young they may be or how relatively minor their crimes. Six years ago, San Diego sent delinquents to the CYA at a rate of 34 juveniles for every 100,(KX) kids aged 12 to 17 living in the county — compared to a statewide CYA average of 74 juveniles per 100,000. In 1994, San Diego hit 89 per 100,000, to lead all Southern California counties, including Los Angeles and Orange. What changed? In 1992, state officials announced that counties would now be responsible for a much greater share (from 5 percent to roughly 40 percent) of the $3000 to $5000 a month it costs to send a delinquent to alternative programs such as Rite of Passage. In contrast, the state charged counties only $25 a month — $300 a year — to lock up a kid in the CYA. (The state hiked those fees at the start of last year, charging $150 per kid per month — $1800 for the year — to house violent offenders, or more if the offense was nonviolent.)

“I see so many kids who aren’t violent, kids who aren’t using guns or hurting anybody but themselves, being thrown into ya because it’s cheaper for the county to throw them there,” says Linda Brown, a deputy public defender regarded as one of the office’s more aggressive and able attorneys. “I see kids charged with strong-arm robbery — for stealing another kid’s skateboard or bike — who are going to the ya. I mean, ‘Give me your bike or I’ll beat you up.’ These are kids who need to be dealt with, but ya? Yet we see it all the time.” According to a 1995 study conducted by the National Institute of Justice, 91 percent of the CYA’s parolees are re-arrested within three years of their release. Of the 256 kids San Diego sent to cya in 1995, a full half were latino and another 30 percent black. Only 14 percent were white.

“The whole game is money,” Brown complains, “It’s the whole thing. It used to be that we needed to send all these kids to creative programs like Vision-Quest and Rite of Passage. These places have great track records for turning kids around, but with the county now picking up a bigger share of the costs, lo and behold, there’s no longer any need to send kids there. So the kid who used to get a program like VisionQuest is now getting ya. It’s like the whole system is suddenly about economics, not rehabilitation.”

Judge Kapiloff is inclined to agree, at least with Brown’s point about economics eclipsing all else. Kapiloff is an easygoing judge with a creased face, thinning hair, and blue-gray eyes that seem to dance and smile as he talks. He is a former state assemblyman elevated to the bench in 1982. He officially retired in 1994 but confesses to needing the money so he continues to hear cases as what he calls a “slop over” judge. He handles the overflow trials in a system that must hear the cases of the roughly 4000 kids who are charged with a felony each year. (The defense and a I) A can agree on a course of action prior to a hearing, but never in lieu of a trial, as in the adult courts: every child must have his or her day in court.) Rare is the judge who actually prefers the juvenile courts over the adult system, but Kapiloff is working in the juvie courts at his own request. “In my years as a judge, I found that the juvenile courts were the only place you really have a shot at reforming people and getting them out of the criminal system,” he says.

Yet Kapiloff is no longer so sure that rehabilitation has much of a place even inside the juvenile system. “By law, we’re supposed to do what’s best for each individual kid, regardless of cost,” he says. “We’re not supposed to be taking into account budgetary concerns at all. But there’s no question that money now plays a part in our decision making. Everybody knows money’s the engine that drives this thing.

“The truth is we don’t have the range of programs we need anymore," he continues. “There’s some excellent programs out there, but now the inclination is against these programs, because they tend to be real expensive. Which is a real shame.” His job, as he sees it, is to decrease the recidivism rate among those who pass through his courtroom. But he says that, in this era of judicial triage, he too often feels he’s doing little more than graduating juveniles up to the next level of punishment.

The judges housed on Meadow Lark Drive above Highway 163 decide the fate of many San Diego youngsters, but it’s across a driveway from the red brick courthouse, in a 1960s-style glass-and-cement building festooned with white plastic paneling, that any exploration of judicial triage in economically stressed times must begin. There, the Pooh-Bahs overseeing the county Probation Department, both eyes trained on the bottom line, hand down pronouncements that — at least from a distance — seem not so much solutions as white flags raised in defeat. Examples abound. In 1992, Probation sent around a memo that arbitrarily halved, from 18 months to 9 months, the maximum time they believed that a juvenile needed to spend at CYA alternatives such as Rite of Passage. The memo also instructed probation officers to halve suggested lengths of stay at residential treatment programs from 12 months to 6. Another memo instructed probation officers that those juveniles placed inside expensive treatment programs should be limited to the suicidal (a status that must be proven by either a “gesture” in the previous three months or at least a pattern of “persistent intent”), the psychotic, those given to homicidal fantasies, and “serious sex offenders.”

Two years later, the department sought to shave more dollars off its bottom line by declaring that henceforth any juvenile above the age of 17'/2 — rather than 18 — would no longer be eligible for residential treatment programs. A kid named Kevin, arrested first for possessing two joints and then re-arrested several months later for a Denny’s dine-and-dash (he and his friends bolted the restaurant without paying the check), demonstrates this policy in practice. Kevin was first arrested a few months after he turned 17. “The minor appears to suffer from depression and may be medicating himself to cope,” a probation officer wrote. “Kevin misses his father and kings to have a parent-child relationship.” He was referred to an outpatient counselor at no cost to the county. Kevin was eight months past 17 at the time of his second arrest. This second time around Probation wasn’t nearly so generous in its sentencing recommendation. “The minor has a lengthy history of giving lip service and failing to follow through on most of hls promises,” this same probation officer wrote. “Kevin appears to need consequences.” This time the probation officer pushed for a CYA commitment.

Discussing the profound changes that have taken place within the juvenile-justice universe largely means telling the story of triage as it is practiced by Probation, for it is the relatively anonymous Probation Department that so often seems to be setting policy in San Diego County. Ask juvenile court judges , to defend the sentences they hand down, and they’ll begin by describing the ideal disposition before talking about what is possible within the budgetary limits laid down by Probation. When judge Milliken discusses reforming the court system under his charge, he talks about convincing Probation to add more beds to its facility. He tells of prodding Probation to write their reports at a faster clip and about convincing Probation to redeploy its officers in a fashion that permits them to spend more time with the kids under their charge. If nothing else there’s the de facto power Probation wields in the histories its officers write up prior to a sentencing hearing. A judge’s ruling, Milliken confesses, is often no better than the quality of report sitting before him. Juvenile court judges overrule Probation all the time, but that still amounts to only a small fraction of the thousands of cases that are cranked through the juvenile system every year.

Whatever sentence a judge decrees, one way or another it’s Probation’s problem: a kid is either housed inside the department’s constellation of facilities, ranging from a short stay at the Probation-run Juvenile Hall to a four-month commitment at what is euphemistically referred to as "camp” (any of several Probation-run detention centers that lock kids up barracks-style), or he is sent outside the county system to a facility that is paid for at least in part out of Probation’s coffers. “I have had my run-ins with Probation before,” Judge Kapiloff said about trying to sort out a particularly exasperating case he heard in 1995. “They’re a bureaucracy and they want to do what they want to do, and they’re bound to do what they want to do. And they’ll do everything in their power to make sure that if, in fact, their recommendations aren’t followed, they’ll bring ever)' possible thing up so that the judge will change his mind and do what they want to do to begin with.”

Heading Probation is Alan Crogan, an officious and obliging man who was sure to refer to me by name, as if a technique learned at a communications seminar, but got it wrong every time he tried. Crogan is in his 50s, balding, with a thick gray mustache and salt-and-pepper eyebrows. He has the bearing of someone entirely at home with his role as the top man in a bureaucracy and seemed to genuinely appreciate my referring to him by title (Chief Crogan), even if I let out an unintentional giggle when I read the redundant formality of the first entry in the resume he handed me, APPOINTED BY SAN DIEGO COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS WITH FULL CONCURRENCE OF THE SUPERIOR COURT TO POSITION OF CHIEF PROBATION OFFICER FOR THE COUNTY OF SAN DIEGO NOVEMBER 1, 1993.” Prior to our meeting, I was sitting outside the Probation building when Crogan hurried past to grab a diet Coke. In an instant, I saw him as the sort who doesn’t walk anywhere so much as stride with purpose, as if always in a hurry.

Crogan’s resume also tells of a four-year term on the cya’s Youthful Offender Parole Board, of another four years as a member (appointed by ex-Govemor Deukmejian) of the Department of Corrections’ Board of Prison Terms, and ,of his participation in a statewide ballot to raise more money for local jails. Public defenders in San Diego and even some long-time probation officers complain that Probation is more an extension of law enforcement than a kindred spirit with social services. If so, then Crogan’s 26 years in Corrections embodies that change, as does the career of the deputy Crogan asked to join us, Linda Duffy. Duffy, a well-coifed woman who’s spent more than 30 years inside the county Probation Department, is the widow of former San Diego Sheriff John Duffy, a proud law-and-order man. Duffy blanched when I suggested similarities between a good probation officer and a social worker. “We are sworn peace officers by state statute,” she responded, which is true, but officials elsewhere don’t necessarily wear the term as if it were a strait jacket. In some probation departments around the state, the approach tends to be more velvet glove than the iron fist Duffy chooses to don. “We’re not here to rehab people,” says Duffy, who commands those probation officers working in the juvenile division. “We’re here to give people an opportunity to rehab themselves.”

Discussing judicial triage as it is practiced in a system gasping for resources means first indulging in a bit of nostalgia. Both Crogan and Duffy have logged enough years to remember when juvenile probation officers spent much of their day dealing with truants, runaways, and others who once upon a time were labeled incorrigibles. Back then probation officers wielded even more power than they do now. As recently as the late 1970s, D.A.s played only a bit role in the juvenile-justice universe, and defense attorneys were few and far between. Instead, a judge, a probation officer, and a child’s parents sat around a conference table wrestling with the wisest course of action for turning around the particular kid before them. Twenty years ago, though, state lawmakers - turned what was once cozy (or so it seems to those probation officers whose tenures date back that far) into an adversarial system pitting DAs against defense attorneys, with Probation assuming a role closer to that of jailer than social worker.

“We all want to keep on believing the juvenile system is still a kids’ court,” Crogan says with a sigh, “but the truth is it’s much more like adult court than anyone wants to admit.” So strapped for time are the 1300 sworn probation officers working in Crogan’s department that kids picked up on minor drug offenses, or arrested on a graffiti charge, don’t even make Probation’s radar screen.

The chief does the math. Two hundred fewer frontline officers today than the 1500 Probation had in 1982. Yet the department’s juvenile caseload has nearly doubled since that time. The adult caseload has increased by around 50 percent. “Even some car burglaries, if it’s more like joy riding and the parents are willing to play a part, won’t make it into our system unless it’s a second or third time,” Crogan admits.

One California-wide solution — if solution is the proper word — has been to “bank” the caseload. Banking the caseload is a nice way of saying that kids who don’t demand it will no longer receive even a token amount of attention. Consider the first-time offender arrested for strong-arm robbery. Arrested for threatening to punch another kid in the face if he doesn’t hand over his Walkman, he’ll spend a few days in the Hail and then be sent home with a stern warning never to do it again. The judge will probably have slapped him with six months’ probation but, because his case is relatively minor, it will be banked. No probation officer will call on the family or even phone just to check in. The child’s file will be transferred to a filing cabinet, where it will sit so long as there are no further police contacts and until the probation period expires. As of mid-1996, the juvenile probation division was carrying no fewer than 2127 banked cases.

“As abhorrent as the concept of banking may be, the Issue boils down to the number of cases a probation officer can handle,” Linda Duffy says. “Before we initiated this policy, we saw probation officers handling caseloads of 80, 90, 100 kids. Realistically, you can’t do anything with that many kids. I think it was a courageous step by the chief and others to say.

*Look, this isn't working, we’re not going to get any additional staff, but we need to do a good job with some percentage of kids rather than a mediocre job with all of the kids.' So we’ve initiated the bank policy and reduced the caseload of frontline probation officers to closer to 50 to 1.” That’s still more than the 25-to-1 ratio that was the rule of thumb in the 1970s, but—as Duffy adds—“at least 50 to 1 is better than 80 or 100 to I." As things stand today, probation officers crank out hastily written background reports about new clients — those crucial documents on which a judge’s ruling often hinges — even while simultaneously juggling caseloads that frontline officers confirm hover at between 40 and 60 kids.

“This Is the frustration and dilemma of working Probation,” Linda Duffy continues. “You can’t ignore these kids who you know have a very high chance of victimizing again. On the other hand, you want to work with those kids who you feel you can be effective with. You can’t have it both ways.” Adds Crogan, “The last thing I need is to have to face a hostile media pointing out to me that we devoted all these resources to this one kid who took a car out on a joy ride, but then we left unsupervised this guy who’s robbed three people and has used a knife.”

Still, despite banking, and despite the halving of treatment times and other changes initiated both before and during Crogan’s tenure, Probation’s budget has crept steadily upwards year after year, rising from $51 million in 1992 to $58 million in the current fiscal year. The culprit has been juvenile incarceration and treatment, which in five years has gone up by more than $9 million. Predictably, the soaring cost of punishing juveniles has prompted Crogan’s bosses on the county board of supervisors to howl. And, if nothing else, Crogan has proven himself a skillful bureaucratic player who’ll bend as he must to remain on the good side of the elected officials at whose pleasure he serves.

“I go before the board of supervisors,” Crogan says, “and they look over the dais at me and say, ‘I can send my two daughters to Harvard Medical School for $55,000 a year, and here you are using that money for someone who has raped and pillaged my community, and spending it on a collegelike campus out of state.’ ” Judge James Milliken, nominally Crogan’s boss, is inclined to agree with the supervisors. He, too, has been gung ho in his pursuit of ambitious cost-cutting measures since taking over as the presiding judge at the start of last year. Not surprisingly, then, commitments at expensive out-of-state facilities costing in the $50,000 range (roughly two-fifths of which the county picks up) are way down, while commitments to the much less expensive Youth Authority continue at a steady clip. Hundreds of beds have been added to Probation’s camp system if for no other reason than it’s a much cheaper way to house the county’s ever-increasing number of young miscreants.

Within the adult system, probation officers are bit players. They supervise only the lowliest of small fries, those first- and second-time offenders lucky enough to receive probation as an alternative to prison (parole officers, not probation officers, deal with offenders after they’re released from prison). Talk to a defense attorney working the adult criminal courts and you 'll get an earful about heartless district attorneys and rock-headed judges, but never will you hear a word about Probation. Yet talk to those members of the defense bar who work juvie in San Diego County and you’ll be submitted to a long list of complaints about Probation before hearing even a word about a judge or the D.A.’s office. It’s Probation that rules the roost inside the juvenile system, and it’s Probation that takes much of the heat of recent changes.

Until last summer, Beth Shoesmith was the supervising attorney overseeing the public defender office’s juvenile unit. Prom almost the moment she took over in juvie, Shoesmith began campaigning to reform a juvenile system that she was inclined to see as more concerned with the bottom line than rehabilitation. Only a few months into her tenure, Shoe-smith appeared before the Juvenile Justice Commission. She began her testimony this way: “Because of monetary considerations, San Diego County children. . .are being denied the rehabilitative treatment that they require and deserve. TTie human consequences of this course of action are severe.”

Shoesmith was unceremoniously dumped last July after four years on the job. She declined to say why she was abruptly transferred out of the juvenile delinquency division (just as she declined her reassignment to writs and appeals, her own version of Siberia, instead resigning after a long leave of absence), but others say there’s no doubt it was the thick folder’s worth of damning documents she sent to her superiors, to her superior’s superiors — to anyone who might listen or care — that did her in. A social worker in the public defender’s unit named (.yd Snyder and several other attorneys in the office, including Linda Brown, quoted above, were transferred at around the same time. “It’s no secret why I was pushed out, or why Beth or Linda were pushed out,” Cyd Snyder says. “There was this new attitude that we, as loyal members of the system, should stop advocating for expensive placements. And we all thought it was more important to look out for the good of our clients rather than the good of the budget."

Every so often Judge Milliken would be the focus of a Shoesmith missive, but more often than not it was Probation at which Shoesmith would point an accusing finger. Over the years, she aimed any number of pointed barbs that must have stuck in the craw of Alan Crogin and Ljnda Duffy. She accused probation officers of sometimes lying in court to win support for one of their recommendations. Placement centers carrying out a sentence over Probation’s objection, she wrote, have been blacklisted. She charged" that Probation has called ahead to placements to badmouth kids about to be sent there, to poison the well and maybe save some money by thwarting a placement they opposed. Yet, if anything, Shoesmith is one of the more civil voices among a small group of renegides who’ve banded together to fight Probation’s policies. Indeed, “ass-kissing toady” and “an empire builder” were among the comments when I asked people inside the public defender’s office and a couple of old-style probation officers for an opinion on the new chiefs reign.

Shoesmith didn’t offer much when we spoke for this article. There’s a prim side to the blizzard of memos she left behind, and predictably she fawns proper channels over an interview with a reporter. Her letters, interoffice correspondence, and prepared testimony brim with indignation, if not outright disbelief that the world around doesn’t square with the welfare and institution codes she so dutifully cites. Shoesmith started out as a silk-and-pumps lawyer at I nee, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps before chucking it all in and halving her salary with legal aid — and at times her background shows. But taken together, her official correspondence reads like a “worst of’ Probation, at least as the stories were passed along to her from the dozen or so lawyers who worked under her charge. The same meticulous attention to detail that no doubt had some people yawning when she’d appear at a public meeting served her well when writing up the individual case studies she included in the appendices she dutifully attached to her reports. Juan R., a mentally retarded 17-year-old, was caught in bed with a 12-year-old girl from his neighborhood. He was charged with one count of rape, but the true finding was for a non-forcible child molestation. Probation pushed for cya, but the Judge asked the department to come back with a less severe alternative. Three weeks later, Probation was still pushing the cya. The judge instead sent this young man to the 24-hour school the defense recommended.

“About ten days later," Shoesmith wrote, “the 24-hour school received a call from its licensing agency saying the licensing agency had learned that the school had a ‘rapist’ in its program.... When our disposition worker called the licensing agency for more information, he was told that licensing staff had a meeting with probation officers the previous week.” The gambit failed, however. The judge simply sent the retarded boy to a second 24-hour school.

Alisha B. was a mentally ill girl whose mother claimed her daughter’s probation officer told her, “The county has spent enough money on your daughter already." Jason B. was a 16-year-old in and out of trouble for a serious drug problem. When his case came before Judge Kapiloff, Jason’s probation officer told the judge that Phoenix House, a highly regarded drug-treatment facility, would serve Jason well but that the waiting list at this facility costing roughly $32,000 a year was prohibitively long. He instead recommended a county-run “drug dorm" at camp. The public defender’s office placed Jason on the Phoenix House waiting list anyway. Three weeks later, a slot opened up. Kapiloff went with the Phoenix House placement.

Probation has seemed particularly eager to dump the county’s undocumented on the Youth Authority. Illegals housed anywhere except the cya or camp cost the county far more than the typical kid because the federal government doesn’t pick up a share of the tab. Jiaro D. was an illegal whose record included a petty theft and a burglary. When he came up dirty on a drug test during his term of probation, his probation officer argued that he should be sent away to the CYA. Fifteen-year-old Reinaldo D. was caught carrying a knife on the school grounds. Fifteen-year-old Carlos A., with an IQ of 58, was charged with molesting his little sister. Fourteen-year-old Jaime E. admitted to molesting a neighborhood boy. In all three cases. Probation recommended a CYA commitment. Yet in all three the probation officer was overruled by the judge or referee assigned the case. Each was sent iastead to a costly 24-hour school

Frankie S. was 13 years old when he was arrested for driving a stolen car. He was put on probation and his case banked. Six months later, he was back in court on a robbery charge; brandishing a screwdriver (or an ice pick, as a DA would later claim), he demanded money from two kids passing through his neighborhood (his take was $1). He was sentenced to eight months in a county-run camp, which didn’t go well. Among other problems, Frankie could neither read nor write, and he suffered from a hearing impairment. A serious car accident when he was six may have been part of the problem; a dysfunctional family and the gang pressures in his neighborhood certainly didn’t help. Frankie was kicked out of camp and sent to the Arizona Boys Ranch which, like Rite of Passage, is a strict 24-hour school viewed as the last stop before CYA.

Things didn’t go much better for Frankie in Arizona. After a suicide attempt, he was shipped back to San Diego as a program failure. The probation officer assigned to Frankie’s case argued in favor of a CYA commitment, but the judge sent the boy—still only 14 years old — to a locked residential treatment hospital (at a cost of $4000 a month). There, Frankie thrived, learning to read and write. He was faring so well, in fact, that the staff rewarded him with a supervised afternoon off the grounds—in violation, it turned out, of the court order that placed him there. Immediately the district attorney’s office filed a motion to have Frankie sent to the cya for violating his sentence.

The case was heard in Judge Kapiloff's courtroom. Deputy district attorney Stacey McReynolds argued that this 14-year-old was so corrupted by gang influences and so hopelessly violent (while awaiting his transfer to Arizona Boys Ranch, he hit on the head with a rock another kid locked at the same interim facility) that he needed to be locked away in the cya. Besides, McReynolds said, he would get all the counseling he needed at the cya. “They have a psychiatrist,” she said. They have the special education teachers.” What she said in court wasn’t quite wrong, but it wasn’t quite right either. The cya incarcerates juveniles in 1 of 11 large institutions ranging in size from 400 beds to 1600. CYA psychiatrists, one per facility, don’t oversee group therapy and only rarely see a kid for individual counseling sessions. Instead their days are filled keep -ing up with the crush of paperwork the state requires. the CYA can boast of some admirable programs, but they are small and available only to the lucky few. If he were sent to the CYA, Frankie would spend months in the general population, if not years, waiting in turn for an open slot. In the interim, he’d attend irregular sessions run by officers more likely to have a background in criminal justice than counseling, more likely to be about the evils of drugs than deep psychological issues.

Describe the cya any way you want, Kapiloff told the DA, but the reality is it’s little more than a warehouse for the state’s worst kids. Sending the boy to cya, he continued, would only increase the odds that Frankie would be in and out of prison for the rest of his lifetime. “We are going to pay for Frankie whether it’s now or whether it’s later,” Kapiloff said. The judge’s comments seem to embolden Janis Garcia, the deputy public defender assigned to Frankie’s case. “What happened here is the placement was extremely controversial within the Probation Department,” Garcia said. “It’s an expensive facility. From day one, they requested 90-day reviews. Came in on the first 90-day review, the very first visit, (and the probation officer assigned to Frankie’s case] told the facility he thought it was an inappropriate placement.

He thought Frankie was too dangerous to be there. And so Frankie never really had a probation officer who was interested in fostering any Jcind of relationship with him.

Alan Francey of the public defender’s office works out of a small office near Montgomery Field in a pebbled three-story building with smoked-out windows. Juvenile court judges, district attorneys assigned to the juvenile courts, and probation officers work at what amounts to a juvenile-justice complex on Meadowlark Drive (the county’s Juvenile Hall and a locked facility for girls are also there). The only players housed a couple of miles north are the public defenders. "We’re not exactly everyone’s favorite people,” Francey says with a shrug.

Francey’s background, prior to coming to work for the county, includes stints at an adolescent psychiatric hospital and a job working with teens at an acute-care hospital. He’s in his sixth year with the public defender’s office but seems only slightly jaded —surprising given all that has changed around him in recent months. Six months ago, he was one of three investigators working in the public defender’s child advocacy unit. Today, he is all that is left of the “dispo unit,” whose very existence is anathema to those atop the county Probation Department. The juvenile court judges respect his views — they demonstrate that every time they choose one of his suggested placements over one recommended by Probation — but there’s no telling how long his tenure will last in this position that seems forever on the budget chopping block of the board of supervisors.

From where Francey sits, the juvenile-justice system is “a world where people devote a lot

of time to fitting square pegs into round holes, where they bang and bang on that peg until it fits.” His job, then, as he views it, is to search out more suitably shaped placements for those who don’t fit neatly into the system’s round holes. Above Francey’s desk hangs an elaborate pencil drawing, titled Knowledge Is King, by a young man named James. James is a square peg that Francey saved from a round hole several years ago. Probation pushed for a cya commitment after James was arrested for aiming a stolen car at a uniformed officer, but Francey stayed up through the night banging out a report that argued that VisionQuest would be a more appropriate placement. Founded on American Indian traditions, VisionQuest is an innovative wilderness program based in a remote region of Arizona where kids learn self-sufficiency in an environment a world apart from San Diego. The judge sided with Francey. This young man, whom Francey still speaks with on occasion, is now attending junior college and working a part-time job.

Francey allows that there are sympathetic probation officers who care as deeply about their charges as he does. To him, the problem is born more of a “large and automated system” than of individuals. He grabs a routine Probation order from a stack of papers on his desk and starts reading from a boilerplate section he’s seen hundreds of times before: “Minor will not associate with minors under the age of 18. Minor will not frequent places where minors under the age of 18 congregate unless in the company of a responsible adult over the age of 21 aware that the minor is on probation.” He looks up and shakes his head.

“I’m sure Probation and the judge think this makes sense, but even the squeakiest, cleanest kid from the best neighborhood in San Diego would have a tough time not violating, let alone a kid growing up in Southeast San Diego,” he says. “It says a kid must not interact with known gang members, but he can’t walk to the store without interacting with gang members. His cousins might be in a gang— what’s he supposed to do if they’re together at a family gathering? Or the kid next door who he’s known since he’s five years old. What’s a kid who wants to keep to his probation supposed to do?” The tighter the budget noose, the more the system relies on these computer-generated reports that take far less time than individually tailored reports. As a result, probation officers have at their ready an arbitrary hammer that they can lower anytime they choose. “If the system wants to get a kid, it’s as easy as spitting out a long list of these very minor violations,” Francey says.

Francey witnesses the occasional courtroom yelling match, when social services or some other county department tries dumping yet another 14-year-, old on the Probation system. He’s watched as the number of teens arrested for murder and other violent crimes has increased He appreciates the legitimate budget pressures that constrain the Probation Department. But he’s also convinced that one way or another, we’ll be paying for all these kids dumped on the CYA.

“The problem is that the system is so often penny-wise and pound-foolish,” Francey says. “If you can provide meaningful rehabilitation to a young person that’s going to decrease the chances of recidivism and help that young person become a productive member of society, then it’s money well spent. If you choose not to spend that money, and that child goes to Youth Authority—well, some kids go through the Youth Authority and do just fine. But the likelihood is not great. So the chances are we’ll be spending a lot more money for a lot longer.”

Alan Crogan doesn’t deny that commitments to CYA are way up while commitments to expensive treatment programs, and alternative programs such as Rite of Passage, are way down. Crogan merely shrugs when I read from a Juvenile Justice Commission report, released in 1995, that charged Probation with generating background reports that were poorly investigated, if not deliberately skewed; with a lack of follow-through once a child was placed on probation; and with banking so many cases it “denigrates” the notion of being on probation. Nor does Crogan deny that Probation routinely flouts the state welfare and institution codes when it allows money to play a role in the rehabilitation programs that Probation prescribes. Keeping a $58 million bureaucracy in balance, he seems to say, means bending the rules.

“Sure, money plays a part in all decisions,” he admits. “Limited funds have required that we make a shift in direction. There’s no denying that. I can send a juvenile through our camp program at a cost of $22,000 compared to the $55,000 a year it costs to send one kid out of state. It’s a matter of simple math.”

Where Crogan and his critics part company is here: the chief argues that these changes, while budget driven, are for the best. “Think about it,” Crogan says. “Here we were spending all this money sending kids out of the county to these super expensive programs and they’d come back pretty well stabilized. They were certainly off drugs. They had no criminal behavior in the previous 12 to 18 months. They had a better understanding of how their behavior affects others. But what do we do? We send them straight back to that dysfunctional home that’s been through no changes in the previous 18 months, and it’s probably as dysfunctional, if not more dysfunctional, as when they left. There’s been no change in the parents whatsoever. So it represents all this money down the drain. It was crazy.

“So what we’re doing now is working hard to keep kids at the local level,” he explains. “We realized that if we’re going to be holistic and family oriented in focus, as we assume everyone would want us to be, then we need to deal with our juveniles in San Diego County. A parent can’t realistically participate in any kind of regular way in a program if their son is in Arizona or in Nevada. So instead of holding a kid in a false environment for a year or 18 months or whatever, removed from his family, we’re offering an alternative that maximizes family participation.”

“What we’ve been saying to providers is ‘produce,’ ” Linda Duffy says. “We’ve told them, ‘This is a business. If you can’t turn kids around in a given time line, if you can’t do it in six or nine months, then we’ll look at utilizing our resources in a different fashion.’ We’ve been unhappy with their outcomes so, quite simply, we’re doing on the county level what these outside providers obviously can’t provide.” Indeed, Duffy argues that the county and state may offer a superior range of programs than private outfits such as Rite of Passage. “We believe strongly,” she says, “that our camp program, and the ya programs, are in many ways just as good if not better than what’s offered out there.”

Cyd Snyder worked in the Probation Department before moving to the public defender’s office to help create the child advocacy unit. Prior to her transfer, she worked as a Juvenile Hall counselor and then on “counsel and close” cases. (“Basically those are cases in which kids and parents are brought in and told, ‘Don’t do this again or next time you’re really going to be in trouble,’ ” Snyder explains.) She has a laundry list of complaints about changes she witnessed since leaving Probation in 1990, but nothing irks her quite like this claim that Probation can do more for troubled kids inside its camps than private outside facilities, at less than half the cost. Duffy, Crogan, and also Judge Milliken spoke at length and with obvious pride about the camp-run substance-abuse program. Snyder offered this very same program as Exhibit A that the county cares more about appearances than substance^ “They give this great presentation about the drug dorms,” Snyder says. “I’d walk away impressed too. The problem is that reality doesn’t live up to the billing.

“I’ve been up there,” she continues. “I know people who’ve staffed the program. I’ve talked to kids who’ve been through it. Mainly the substance-abuse program consists of watching movies on why we shouldn’t do drugs. That and NA and AA meetings.” Kids inside the drug dorms are eligible for counseling during their four-month term, but two part-time therapists are responsible for a facility that houses more than 200 boys. “Sure, they get some counseling, but the sessions are few and far between," Snyder says.

“There are kids who use drugs who benefit from this,” she says. “They’re exposed to information they’ve never been exposed to. But think about it from the perspective of the serious addict, who this program is designed to help. It’s a few meetings in a correctional facility, under the supervision of people whose backgrounds are by and large in law enforcement. The alternative is something like Phoenix House, where the whole program is built on helping turn around kids who are serious substance abusers. It’s a complete therapeutic environment staffed by people trained in this area.” Adds a public defender who prefers anonymity, “To compare camp to a residential treatment facility is insulting. One facility is there to heal a child. Some have locks on the doors, but there kids get access to therapists, to drug therapies, to whatever they need. Camp is an institution designed to segregate and punish dangerous criminals, no matter what programs they may or may not offer.”

Yet the residential treatment facilities take this supposed insult in stride if for no other reason than that rocking the boat would hurt their own bottom lines. “If they talk about it, they won’t get any more kids from Probation,” Snyder says. “You hear complaints about Probation all the time from the directors of these places, but they’ll never talk to someone like you. At one point, I tried to get a group of them who had been complaining to me to speak out as one so there would be strength in unity. But they were too scared to do it, because Probation, even if they’re not getting as many commitments, is still their bread and butter.”

The daily frustrations of work as a juvenile court judge are evident almost from the moment Milliken takes the bench on a Tuesday morning last fall. The third name on the docket, a girl named Amy, AWOL from her placement, was scheduled to appear in court for re-sentencing. But Amy has instead sent her mother with the message that Amy’s boyfriend’s mother has agreed to let Amy live with her and her son, so everything’s okay. Milliken can only laugh, Amy’s mother only shrug. She has no idea where the boyfriend lives, she tells the judge, and her one conversation with the boyfriend’s mother was anything but heartening. “She told me that if Amy can have her clothes and birth certificate, she’ll be all right,” she says. “She told me, ‘Just tell the judge she’s doing fine with me.’ ” Milliken frowns. “Sounds like she’s harboring a fugitive to me,” he says. He orders a marshal to track down and arrest both the girl and the boyfriend’s mother.

Midmorning, a pencil-thin Asian kid dressed in county-issued baggies stands before Milliken. He’s 15 years old, awaiting sentence for an auto theft. His father, and the translator his father needs to understand the proceedings, stand at the boy’s side. Apparently it’s not the boy’s first offense, because Probation and the D.A. are pushing for a CYA commitment. “We tried camp, your honor, but that did no good,” the DA explains. “We put him in the Hall twice since then in the hopes it would get attention, but it didn’t work. He’s left us no choice.”

Milliken seems to agree. “I’m afraid, young man, you’ve earned the right to stay with us at the CYA for a while,” he begins. But he pauses and gives the kid the once over. Then Milliken presents him with an option that’s not really his to offer. I can sentence you to 18 months at the CYA, he tells him, or I can send you to something called the lead program. “The guy who runs this project is an ex-drill sergeant,” Milliken explains. “They" re mean and nasty and snarly bastards there. It requires motivation and a willingness to work hard. You march everywhere, you run five or six miles a day, you run stairs until you think your legs will fall off. You have to agree to live by the discipline of the program. You have to be willing to put yourself through that effort.” Actually, LEAD isn’t an alternative to the CYA; it’s a special program offered within the CYA system. And Milliken can’t promise LEAD to a kid; a judge can only make a recommendation and hope for the best. Plenty of times the cya ignores a judge’s request if for no other reason than so many seek the shelter of this four-month program that is followed by six months of intensive parole. The kid eagerly tells the judge he’ll choose lead. “It’s in your hands now,” Milliken tells him. “You show you’re motivated and disciplined and you’ll qualify. Make your dad proud for once, instead of driving him nuts. Your family deserves better.”

As he does with most of the kids who march through his courtroom, Milliken admonishes this young man to remain “clean and sober.” So often does Milliken invoke the term (he used it no fewer than 14 times during a two-hour interview) that lawyers joke that he should open court, “My name is James M.” Typically, two recovering substance abusers (Milliken calls them “recovering hell raisers”) sit through court so one or the other can meet with lads right after they are sentenced. One, an ex-con, wears his hair in a long ponytail; the other is a clean-cut man in his 30s who looks like an escapee from the group Up With People. Both are white. “I’m just some old guy up there trying to tell them what to do,” Milliken explains. “I try and get younger guys in here who can relate to these kids.”

Milliken is 54 years old, a heavy-jowled man with closely cropped gray hair and bristly gray eyebrows. He fancies old-fashioned bow ties, white shirts, and off-the-rack suits. He has a breezy and informal style even when he is on the bench and even in the most sober of moments (upon sentencing one kid for robbery, he begins, “the secret envelope please”). He can seem irreverent but his pronouncements also seem heartfelt. To a 17-year-old in court to terminate his parole successfully after a long stint in a 24-hour school, he said, “Mr. S., keep up the good work. You’re doing good. You’re staying clean and sober, you’re doing well in school. You’re the kind of kid that makes us proud, and I’ll do what I can to help you straighten out your life if you stay on this path. Go with good will in your heart.” Milliken knew the mess into which he was walking when he took over as the presiding judge at the start of 1996. The challenge, in fact, is what drew him to the assignment. For most of his career Milliken operated in a world apart from the juvenile courts, working as a trial lawyer for Mclnnis, Fitzgerald, Rees and Sharkey, a downtown firm specializing in corporate work. Even after this lifelong Democrat was elevated to the bench by ex-Governor Deukmejian, he spent most of his time as a law-and-motions judge. But after a stint as the presiding judge overseeing the down town superior courts, he volunteered to try his hand at juvie. He confesses to never having spent a moment in a juvenile courtroom prior to taking over the entire system, but to his credit he’s made it a point to visit places like VisionQuest and the CYA for a flavor of the facilities to which he’s committing so many youngsters. (Currently he’s in New Zealand studying that country’s juvenile system.) He’s decorated his office with golf trophies but also photographs of Democratic icons such as FDR, Truman, and JFK. At times he seems a closet softy, at other times he can be fuzzy and prickly almost at once. “A lot of these kids are wonderful kids,” he said. “Most of these kids inspire a lot of hope. You really fed like they’re just kids, good and bad. Insensitive, shallow, clueless little shits like we were when we were kids— but inspiring hope.”

Milliken tends to fall on the Probation side of things. Allowing kids to spend months at out-of-state 24-hour schools is nothing more than a way of allowing parents to “sit here in San Diego fat, dumb, and happy, relieved of the problem,” he says. “I know

I’ve gotten a bad rap from some defense lawyers because I want to send more kids to our honor camps than to high-priced out-of-state schools,” Milliken says. “Yes, I’m doing that because of money. But that’s reality, folks.”

Of Probation he says, “They come * off harsher than I think they’d otherwise be because they don’t have the resources to properly do their job. They spend their time running around looking for violators rather than supervising kids, giving the impression that they’re not very much different from the cops.”

Milliken allows that it’s an imperfect system for which he is ultimately responsible. “If we had enough money, we’d put a kid in an 18-month or a 2-year program and then follow him up on the streets for a year, maybe two,” he says. “That’s what we’d do if we wanted to save the maximum number of kids. Every kid would get the benefit of the doubt. But we don’t have the money to do everything the right way.” He objects when I say, paraphrasing Judge Kapiloff, that the problem is that kids from white middle-class backgrounds catch the breaks while kids of color from rundown neighborhoods don’t. What if it were your kid facing CYA for a non-violent offense? I ask him.

“If it were my kid, sure, I’d be frustrated,” he says. “Especially knowing that a lot of this comes down to money. But what choice do I have? The legislature is spending all this money on incarceration, so that’s impossible. The fact is, we have very limited resources to deal with very large problems.”

It’s Milliken who helped prod the board of supervisors to set aside the money to expand the county’s camp system, and it’s Milliken who cut a deal with the supes to divert money saved from reductions in out-of-county placements to a new program called choice. Milliken is especially proud of choice. Borrowed from Baltimore, CHOICE is a pilot project that pairs teams of fresh and eager interns from area graduate schools with small groups of no more than 25 juvenile offenders. “For the six months kids are on probation, these teams will be checking up on them everyday,” Milliken says. “They’ll make sure they’re in school. They’ll make sure the/re taking advantage of CHOICE-run tutoring programs and whatever counseling is appropriate. They’ll make sure they’re going to their NA meetings, their AA meetings, and staying clean and sober.” The program is limited to three San Diego areas—Escondido/San Marcos, National City/Chula Vista, and downtown — and only three sets of kids are currently eligible, Milliken says: first-time offenders, fallouts from social services and other county departments, and softer-core repeat offenders without the stain of a gang affiliation on their jacket.

“The beauty of choice is this,” Milliken says, chest puffing. “We send a kid to camp for four months. Maybe he doesn’t get everything in our camps that he’d get in a 24-hour school, but a kid can go to his [ AA and NA] meetings and get clean and sober. We can get him functioning. And it only cost me $6000 for four months, which lets me spend another $6000 or $7000 supervising the kid in choice for six months. That way I get this continuum of supervision for something like $12,000, which means for what it costs me to send one kid to 24-hour school for one year, we can handle three kids in a manner that I would argue is more effective because we’re getting a kid functioning in the community before we turn him loose. To me, it’s a win-win with nothing much of a downside.” On paper, choice sounds terrific. It marks a return to something more closely resembling a proactive approach to probation. But even this program has its critics. For one thing, it’s being funded on the backs of those who might otherwise benefit from attending alternative placements. For another, at least one public defender complained that it’s not being implemented in any of the neighborhoods where it’s most needed, like Southeast. Miiliken can only throw up his hands in response.

“We can’t be everywhere at once, at least not at first, so we had to make choices,” he says. “So we went into neighborhoods where we thought we could make a difference. It’d be nice to have an office in Oceanside, where there’s a lot of gang activity. It’d be nice to have an office in East County. But we need somewhere around six or eight offices to cover the county; we initially only have funding for three.”

Demographers, with one eye on the future, shudder at what lies ahead of us. The teen population is expected to grow by roughly 25 percent over the next ten years—and it’s teens, of course, who commit a disproportionate share of crimes. What do we do with minors who break the law? Are we cutting comers today only to guarantee gargantuan costs down the road? It’s a critical question for anyone truly concerned with reducing crime over the long run — yet it’s a question rarely if ever posed by those in power. “The problem is, we’re not planning for it,” says noted criminologist James Alan Fox, dean of the College of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University in Boston “We are obsessed with quick, easy solutions that won’t work, like waiving juveniles to adult court at the expense of difficult solutions.”

Is choice yet another overly’ simple solution? Will the decision to greatly reduce out-of-county placements (to help turn around kids in better-off neighborhoods) only serve to further divide the haves and have-nots? Only time will tell. But, if nothing eke, at least it’s finally a reform that doesn’t amount to another declaration of surrender.

Gary Rivlin, former staff writer for the Chicago Reader and now stiff writer for the East Bay Express, is author of two books: Fire on the Prairie and Drive-by. The latter tells the story of three Oakland teenagers who killed a 13-year-old boy and wounded two others in a drive-by shooting.

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