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Released by: Probation Department
For Immediate Release

County of Sonoma Translates Juvenile Justice Analysis into Systemic Policy Change

Santa Rosa, CA  –  March 13, 2020  –  The Sonoma County Probation Department concluded a comprehensive review of its juvenile justice system, which identified strategies for how the department and other youth-serving agencies can collaborate to improve youth outcomes.

The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, under the direction of the Sonoma County Improving Outcomes for Youth (IOYouth) Task Force, conducted the review and presented recommendations based on the assessment results, including findings on trends and outcomes concerning how youth enter and move through the juvenile justice system and are directed to services.

The IOYouth report revealed some specific areas for improvement: youth of color are up to 14 percent less likely to be diverted from the system than their white peers with similar offenses and histories; many youth are placed in secure detention even when their offenses do not suggest an imminent public safety risk; probation violations are the largest single driver of new probation dispositions; and many youth are not being referred to the most appropriate services that address their specific needs. For example, although data indicate that youth are increasingly entering Sonoma County’s juvenile justice system with mental health and trauma needs, the number of referrals for treatment-oriented programs is lower than that of any other service.

“This assessment highlighted trends we urgently need to address,” said Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Chair Susan Gorin. “By examining our entire system—from arrest, to probation, to incarceration—we now have firm data on our system’s shortcomings and can map out detailed plans to recalibrate our processes to ensure that justice-involved youth get the care they need, while holding them accountable for their actions.”

The IOYouth recommendations include policies such as expanding pre- and post-arrest diversion opportunities to address racial and geographic disparities; moving toward a model of juvenile probation that accounts for youths’ developmental stage and focuses on positive behavior change; creating a continuum of community-based programming and developing policies and processes to better match youth to such programming; and improving family engagement.

“The Sonoma County Probation Department is eager to utilize the IOYouth report to remedy inequity and determine cost-effective ways to address issues such as the prevalence of probation violations, which result in youth spending more time on supervision than is necessary or conducive to their success,” said Chief Probation Officer David Koch.

The review identified several promising patterns, including that from 2014 to 2018, there was a 52-percent reduction in juvenile referrals to the probation department, and a 47-percent decrease in new admissions to detention in Sonoma County.

"We found that Sonoma County, like many jurisdictions across the country, has made substantial progress in reducing youth involvement in the juvenile justice system," said Nina Salomon, Deputy Director of Juvenile Justice at the CSG Justice Center. "Yet our review also highlighted how a decrease in system contact alone is not enough. States and counties need to improve how youth fare once they are in the system, so they have a better chance of succeeding once they are out. We look forward to helping Sonoma County identify changes that will produce better outcomes for young people."

The County will now work to turn the recommendations resulting from the IOYouth assessment into concrete policy, practice, and resource-allocation changes. The probation department, working alongside its partners, will be responsible for crafting detailed plans and timelines, as well as budget proposals, for implementing these recommendations system-wide.

“Continuously improving how our system responds to youth is not the sole responsibility of any one agency,” said Presiding Juvenile Court Judge Kenneth Gnoss. “Our courts, probation department, justice system partners, and health and human services agencies will all have to amend their policies and practices to ensure that our system helps youth thrive in a long-term, sustainable way, consistent with public safety.”