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Youth Crime in Marin Plummets

Bookings at Juvenile Hall are on pace to drop 40 percent from 2007, matching a trend that is happening statewide, according to a new report.

For a few days in August, Marin County Juvenile Hall was the center of a media firestorm, when at least two people tried to break into the Lucas Valley facility, apparently in a failed attempt to break out Max Wade, the teen accused of a drive-by shooting in April and of stealing celebrity chef Guy Fieri’s Lamborghini in 2011.

But while Wade was housed on the other side of the wall that the suspects allegedly tried to break down with a sledgehammer, they just as easily could’ve encountered an empty cell.

That’s because Juvenile Hall is at its lowest population in recent history, both in overall bookings and average daily population. The hall is projected to have 400 youths booked in 2012, down more than 40 percent from 688 bookings in 2007 and down nearly 30 percent from 588 bookings just two years ago, according to Marin County Probation Department data.

The average daily population at the facility is 13, down from 19 in 2011 and 24.7 in 2008.

“Everything is pointing down — our hall population has plummeted,” said Kevin Lynch, director of the Probation Department’s Juvenile Services Division. “This is the first time over a sustained period of time that it’s heading down.”

County leaders have taken note.

“I'm very pleased to see that Marin’s youth crime is at an all-time low,” said Judy Arnold, who represents Novato on the Marin County Board of Supervisors. “Our Probation Juvenile Division has worked very hard with law enforcement and schools to reach out to at-risk youth.”

Marin’s success matches a statewide trend documented in a new report from the California Sentencing Institute (CASI), which concludes that youth crime in California has plunged to an all-time low. The report includes data and interactive maps about rates of both adult and juvenile arrests and incarcerations from each of California's 58 counties.

The latest data for 2011 from the California Department of Justice’s Criminal Justice Statistics Center show arrests of youths under age 18 fell by 20 percent in California from 2010 to 2011, reaching their lowest level since statewide statistics were first compiled in 1954.

Lynch said that while he wishes there was a single driving force behind the decline in Marin, instead it is a confluence of a variety factors.

“I’m not absolutely certain what it might be — good enforcement, kids getting better, schools getting better — who knows?” he said. “It’s going to take a few more years for us to look back and say, ‘Ahh, that’s what it was.’”

Some of the factors are policy shifts, both within Marin and across the state. A statewide marijuana reform law, introduced by Marin's state Senator Mark Leno, went into effect on Jan. 1, 2011, reducing most simple marijuana possessions to an infraction involving a mere citation rather than criminal arrest. That reform reduced youth marijuana possession arrests by 61 percent statewide in one year, from nearly 15,000 in 2010 to 5,800 in 2011.

While that enforcement shift has had a great impact, Lynch said his department also shifted its handling of youth detention in Marin.

“When a police officer brings a child to Juvenile Hall, we have changed our philosophy,” he said. “If the situation does not represent a true threat to public safety or a true threat to that child’s welfare, we’re not going to detain that child.”

Lynch said societal factors are also at play, one of them being the so-called digital generation.

“Kids now are spending so much time on Xbox or the Wii that either they don’t have or make the time to get into trouble or they’re delinquent behavior is happening around those devices and not being caught out in our communities," he said.

But while the overall youth crime trend in Marin is positive, there’s still plenty of work to do, Lynch said, particularly because “our communities of color in Marin are not enjoying this trend, both as victims and perpetrators of youth crime. Our system is making a real effort to address that issue.”

That component is called disproportionate minority contact and refers to the high percentage of youth of color who come into contact with the juvenile justice system relative to their numbers in the general population.

Marin County is in the final year of a three-year, $125,000 grant from the California Corrections Standards Authority to address disproportionate minority contact, working with the San Francisco-based nonprofit Burns Institute to do so.

The first part of the process was examining the data, which revealed that DMC absolutely exists in Marin. The next step was community engagement, convening regular meetings with approximately two dozen volunteers in those communities to come up with ideas and possible solutions, Lynch said.

In 2013, the probation department will produce a document that contains a strategy to reduce DMC in Marin, Lynch said.

“We’re looking at making sure that the ways they are processed are fair and equitable,” he said. The goal is to strike a “fine balance is between minimizing detention without compromising public safety.”

Here are the annual bookings and average daily population at Marin County Juvenile Hall for the past 5 years:

YEAR

Juvenile Hall
bookings

Juvenile Hall
Avg. Daily Population

2007

688

24.7

2008

599

24.7

2009

615

23.7

2010

569

21.9

2011

424

18.9

2012 projected 

400

13.4

Kevin Moore December 03, 2012 at 07:06 PM
I agree with the comment that fewer bookings into Juvenile Hall does not equal lower crime. I just see a change in policy that keeps juveniles from going there. This story would be more encouraging if it was backed up with statistics on improved high school graduations and fewer young adult arrests. Are we really producing fewer criminals? According to a link above, http://casi.cjcj.org/Juvenile/2010, Marin is still above the state average for felony crimes. On that page, San Francisco is #1, which I would expect, but Lassen is #2. Very urban and very rural are the top 2. This story tells how many marijuana arrests were made, but not how many juvenile arrests were made overall.
tony masi December 05, 2012 at 07:30 PM
I know I may sound butt-naked crazy and antithetical to a law-abiding society, but the contention of this article disturbs me. It makes me worry about the rebelliousness of our teens today. Don't they like to question and test the bonds of authority anymore through random and pointless acts of shoplifting, vandalism, and minor mayhem? Are they so home-bound, complacent, and emotionally well-adjusted that they can't even step outside to make a public nuisance of themselves in expression of their stifled, hormonal angst regarding teen injustice?. Have the times changed that much since I was young? I hope it's just that they're so much better at not getting caught, or that law enforcement now finds it unnecessary to run our much-loved miscreants through the entire gamut of the legal system. I hope that's the explanation of this downturn in underage crime. I'd hate to think that youth has slowly come around to embracing establishment rules without question or disobedience. That sounds frankly plain unhealthy and frightening to me.
tony masi December 05, 2012 at 07:30 PM
As delinquents-in-training, we began to match our wits and skills with the local police while still in grade school. In high school, I fondly remember having our own version of Jets vs. Sharks knife fights in the fields at night after football games. There were also drugs, arson, car thefts, and impromptu riots to keep us busy. We were always out and about and looking for trouble. There were no computers and only a handful of TV stations back then. And who in their right mind would have stayed at home with their parents unless they absolutely had no other choice? Has youthful experimental criminality now lost its allure due to today's availability of increasingly distracting gaming and social technology? Are gadgets the new opiates of silence and control? Has teenage self-destruction and rage against society finally succumbed to apathy and misdirection and gone the way of 8-tracks and T-Rex? I sincerely hope there are some substantial mitigating factors to explain this damning statistical portrait of our anarchy-challenged and boringly wholesome, achievement-orientated youth of Marin. It's as if they've just stopped caring enough to beat their heads confrontationally against the walls of repetitive repressive restrictions and have caved in to cultural conformity and acceptability. I mean, that is if they come from affluent homes and are white.
T.Sprocket December 05, 2012 at 08:25 PM
Great, great post Tony.
T.Sprocket December 05, 2012 at 08:32 PM
Wondering what happens after their teen years? Those years when they go to college or in to the work force and get bored with staying in to play Call of Duty and alcohol/drugs become a more relevant part of the equation. Is there an argument that perhaps their inexperience in raging in the more "appropriate" forms of our own youth that they are not able to fully develop the skills we aquired as 15 yr olds? The skills and experience that told us at the still young age of 22.. "No, I think it might not be wise to throw a metal barricade through a SF Muni bus window." This is actually a semi serious question.

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