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Governor wants to send kids straight to jail, not to school

By Allie Gottlieb

This year started off with a happy report that, nationally, the public doesn't want to throw as many kids in jail as it used to. Apparently, someone in Sacramento didn't get the memo.

The head of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit watchdog and advocacy group, which has an office in San Francisco, announced in February that popular sentiment now falls on the side of kinder riff-raff rehab. As a result of this trend, "rather than slashing school budgets and closing hospitals, some states are finding ways to cut spending on corrections, reducing the number of people imprisoned, without compromising public safety," Vincent Schiraldi, president of the center, proudly stated in a press release.

Davis, however, is his own man. He proposes axing state funds for the Alternative Placement Academy in a budget cut that would take effect in July. The academy is a 3-year-old project run by Santa Clara County's Probation Department and the county Office of Education. The state gave the program $1 million for each of the first three years. Originally, the program was supposed to end after that, but the state decided to continue supporting the program with reduced funding. Davis now proposes to eliminate state funds entirely.

CJCJ Vice President Dan Macallair, who works out of the San Francisco office, says places like the academy are exactly what California needs to better handle kids in the justice system. Traditionally, he says, the state hasn't done such a great job.

The academy offers high-school-age outlaws a less jail-like option compared to the county's three juvie rehab "ranches." The way it works is that a court screens academy candidates and decides if they'd benefit from the academy's less restrictive setup. Kids spend days at Calero School in south San Jose and nights at home with their families.

"It's good for the kids, and it provides an alternative to the incarceration-type setting," says Ron Martz, senior management analyst for the county's Probation Department. Martz says that while the academy hasn't been officially evaluated yet, he thinks it's a successful program that could help stave off recidivism. Not quite defeated, Martz says his department is scurrying about trying to find money for the program somewhere else.

Also threatened by Davis' proposal is future funding for the five Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act programs, which offer various counseling, mediation, transitional and advocacy services to young offenders and their victims.

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From the May 30-June 5, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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