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San Francisco Supervisors Push To Shut Down Juvenile Hall

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- A group of San Francisco supervisors plans to push for a new ordinance that could eliminate the city's juvenile hall in less than three years.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed on Monday called the proposed ordinance "irresponsible."

Supervisors Shamman Walton, Hillary Ronen and Matt Haney plan to introduce an ordinance at the Board of Supervisors meeting that would close down the Youth Guidance Center, also known as juvenile hall, by the end of the year 2021. A 12-member working group would decide how to proceed without the center.

Walton said more serious offenders would still be locked up, just not in juvenile hall. He also explained that there would be an intense focus on providing guidance and education to those offenders.

"We need something that's going to change mindsets; something that's going to rehabilitate," Walton said.

Ronen said the city spends $13 million a year for juvenile hall, but that it is consistently up to 75 percent empty. There are 150 beds, but only about three dozen juvenile prisoners at any given time.

"We're spending a crazy amount of money on an ineffective system," Ronen said.

Mayor Breed told KPIX 5 she opposes shutting down juvenile hall, especially without a plan on what to do with young offenders.

On Monday, she announced a 30-member blue ribbon panel to comprehensively study the juvenile justice system, which she says will address a crisis that is more nuanced than the ordinance describes.

"This is just really irresponsible to begin a conversation to try to get people to commit to shutting it down or keeping it open," Breed said. "Let's have a real conversation about juvenile justice reform and provide real solutions to help young people who interact with the criminal justice system so that we can stop the pattern in the first place. To talk about it in such a way -- either black or white; either you shut it down or keep it open --- is just really irresponsible to the kids that we're trying to serve."

The supervisors behind the plan disagreed.

"We're giving two and a half years for an alternative," Ronen countered. "I think that's more than enough time. Enough talk. It's time for some action."

Supervisor Walton said he was in and out of juvenile hall when he was young, and is determined to reform the system. He saiad it was mentoring programs that guided him to success. Not incarceration.

"Having your shoes sit outside your door. Sleeping on a mat that's on a slab coming out the wall ... you tell me how that's going to help you be successful.  I've experienced that and that's not what helped me be successful."

He denies the conventional wisdom that the threat of incarceration is an effective deterrent.

"It just conditions you to learn how to survive when you are a resilient person, versus giving you the things you need to help you change," Walton said.

Right now, six supervisors are backing the ordinance to shut down juvenile hall. They need the support of eight supervisors to make the legislation veto-proof.

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