SAN FRANCISCO — The city’s juvenile justice system lurched from controversy to chaos after a released teenage detainee was charged with murder days after Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered immediate population reductions at the city’s overcrowded juvenile hall.
The 16-year-old was charged with the May 15 murder of a San Francisco youth — in a drug deal — only one week after he was released from juvenile hall by Superior Court Commissioner Abby Abinanti and less than two weeks after Newsom demanded the detainee reduction at the city’s Juvenile Justice Center .
The population reductions were ordered as the number of youths in detention reached 156 — the highest level in more than 30 years — only six months after the opening of San Francisco ‘s $42 million, 150-bed Juvenile Justice Center .
Within 48 hours of reaching the record high number of detainees, the number of youths housed at the facility was down to 128. During the month following Newsom’s order, approximately 40 youths were released from custody, officials say.
One of those 40 youths was the 16-year-old who would later allegedly shoot another youth in the middle of an alleged drug deal/robbery in a San Francisco neighborhood, officials say.
The chain of events raised the issue of whether the courts or probation officers had been remiss or felt pressured to release juveniles who posed a danger to the public’s safety.
On May 2, City Hall hosted a roundtable — featuring representatives from the mayor’s office, the district attorney’s office, the juvenile probation system, the police department, public schools and advocacy groups — to discuss ways to reduce the number of youths in custody.
Following that meeting, Newsom highlighted the overrepresentation of minority youths among the juvenile hall population as he issued the edict demanding juvenile justice system reform.
The executive order calling for reform of the city’s juvenile justice system mandated the creation of a committee to develop reform efforts and create a plan to reduce detainee populations.
The 90,000-square-foot Juvenile Justice Center opened in November 2007 to replace a 132-bed facility built in the 1950s. The new facility expanded capacity by only 18 beds in order to meet stipulations attached to federal funding for the project.
The new 150-bed juvenile facility, which houses males and females in general, high-security and mental health classifications, features direct-supervision podular units with single and double cells.
A central school serves the general population, while high-security wards use in-unit classrooms. Each unit provides self-contained program and activity areas for detainees. The facility also houses operational and support components, including central control and intake/release offices, medical clinic and infirmary units, a kitchen, gymnasium, spiritual-life center and public lobby.
Intended to create an integrated juvenile justice center, the new detention facility connects directly to the existing juvenile court and probation office building.