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Is Sonoma County's Juvenile Justice Commission effective in upholding their mission?

by Bliss Edwards
This opinion piece is a brief evaluation of the Sonoma County Juvenile Justice Commission's responsibilities and limitations.
Is Sonoma County's Juvenile Justice Commission effective in upholding their mission?
By Bliss Edwards

The mission, as declared in The Sonoma County Juvenile Justice Commission's annual report for the year 2017, (although newer ones are available) is: “to advocate for and protect the safety and well-being of dependent and delinquent youth in Sonoma County”. I think they are meeting the job parameters and accomplishing most of their goals, but they need more support. The report details some of their responsibilities to Sonoma County such as: “Inspecting juvenile facilities including detention facilities and group homes used for the placement of minors in Sonoma County, conducting investigations into complaints brought to the commission concerning the welfare of children in the Juvenile Justice System, Conducting hearings on matters relating to juvenile law in Sonoma County and advocating for needed services for youth in the justice system. …”
Also notable is their monetary and recognition reward program incentivizing incarcerated or delinquent youth to obtain a high school diploma, the equivalent or a GED certificate.
The facility inspection reports data is extracted from a standardized 20 page form used for all institutions visited. Some parameters included are the level of care provided for their underage residents including but not limited to: basic needs such as clothing, nutrition, climate control, as well as exercise, socialization, education, mental health support and substance services which may or may not be available.
Another significant role is to educate people on new bills which could affect the recidivism rates of our Sonoma County youth through avenues like the Press Democrat article
Written by Commissioner Goldberg entitled “Close to Home, The Tragic Closing of a Group Home”, they “ Commissioned an analysis and summary of AB 403 and AB 404 so that we could all better understand these bills”. As outlined in the bill, AB 403 is a comprehensive reform effort to make sure that youth in foster care have their day-to-day physical, mental, and emotional needs met; that they have the greatest chance to grow up in permanent and supportive homes; and that they have the opportunity to grow into self-sufficient, successful adults.
Kim Johnson, Director of California Department of Social Services had the following to say: “Continuum of Care Reform is about long-term stability for children. In just a short time, this effort has resulted in more children being placed with their own relatives or in other home-based settings. In the end, this helps youth experience better outcomes.

Some struggles the Commission faces as noted in the 2017 report are that “It has proven quite difficult to get longer term commitments from young people”. They have uncovered key issues in their inspections such as noted in the 2017 Sonoma County Probation Camp report: “ Bilingual Spanish-speaking Camp staff is almost always available.” Also noted was that some residents do not speak English.
Not only do I propose more financial support, but I propose changes in the laws which could support the Commission’s ability to perform their work in a way more reflective of day to day circumstances. For example, the faculties they inspect are given advance notice prior to their visit which allows them time to prepare the facility. And how about the little detail that
Commissioners are not paid for their inspection services? I am just relieved to know someone is intervening in the terrible trend of becoming institutionalized when entering the criminal justice system. Given the scope of responsibilities and limitations in place, I think they are doing a good job and deserve a thank you, as well as a little more support.

Bliss Edwards
Sonoma State University Student
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