For adult prisoners, rehabilitation and education consistently does more to reduce recidivism rates than does incarceration and punishment. The same is true for juveniles, but not in degree. As youths form their personalities and individuality, the time they spend incarcerated is arguably much more damaging than it is for an adult. By continuing to keep them incarcerated for longer than absolutely necessary, opportunities for true growth and development of contributing citizens are squandered.
I am currently attending San Francisco State University, in pursuit of a BA in child and adolescent development. As part of my coursework, I have had a lot of exposure to psychological research, and even in my limited study it has been apparent that psychologists have known for many years that punishment does not actually increase favorable behaviors.
While alternative placements for youth may be more expensive in the short term, the long term savings both for the individuals and the community at large more than make up for them. As my representative in Sacramento, it is your job to enact and support state programs that will lead to a better California in the next twenty years; not just in the next two. I believe that by passing this legislation you can be a part of that movement.
I strongly support AB 999 (Skinner), a bill to enhance incentives for youth in California's notorious Division of Juvenile Justice ("DJJ"), and I am writing to ask you to sign on as a cosponsor of this bill.
AB 999 replaces the ineffective system of punitive discipline in DJJ with a system providing youth with incentives to participate in their education and programming in a positive manner. By earning program credits, youth are given the opportunity to appear before the Juvenile Parole Board at an earlier date. AB 999 also eliminates the DJJ's use of "time adds," a practice that contributes to disproportionately long sentences for youth in California. AB 999 aims to bring youth prisons in line with adult prisons, where individuals may earn time credits for desired behaviors. The incentive-based system will encourage youth using positive reinforcements rather than punitive practices, which studies have discredited as ineffective.
Youth in DJJ currently spend an average of nearly three years behind bars. Over a third of that time is due to "time adds." Time adds are a disciplinary sanction that delays a youth's eligibility to appear before the Parole board. While an appearance before the Board does not guarantee release, AB 999 will provide youth with more opportunities to demonstrate their readiness for release.
DJJ's misuse of time adds is a primary reason that California has the longest average period of incarceration for youth in the nation. California holds a young person longer in the state prisons than do other states for comparable offenses. This results in long separations from work and family for the youth, and enormous costs to taxpayers. Longer periods of lockup in our state's failed youth prisons do not result in increased public safety or better outcomes for youth.
Currently, DJJ spends $234,000 per youth, per year, and has an extraordinary recidivism rate of 72%. In this economic climate, time adds are a costly and harmful practice that just does not make sense. AB 999 by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner is a better-balanced approach, offering both incentives and consequences. I urge you to co-sponsor this critically important bill. Thank you for your work.
A rough guide to finding your district
The text of AB 999
The status of AB 999, as of 4/2/09
Information on Ella Baker Center's "Books Not Bars" Campaign