Act Now to Save the Youth Guidance Center
•••••••••• August 2, 2022 ••••••••••
San Francisco's present Youth Guidance Center (YGC), now the “Juvenile Justice Center,” located at 375 Woodside Avenue, was rebuilt in 2007 at the cost of $70 million. From the beginning, John King and others criticized it as a design based on punishment rather than rehabilitation. Built to house two inmates in each cell, it includes two concrete slabs and very thin mattresses for a bed. It was designed, initially to house 132 inmates. Today, fewer than 30 individuals are housed here, which is down 84% from the population ten years ago. Householding inmates costs $3,000 a day or $1.1 million annually.
For decades, punishment for misbehavior was solitary confinement. That included no education or schooltime during the punishment period that could last for months. Fortunately, this practice has been overruled, along with providing “sleeping pills.” Historically, the clothes YGC supplied were often dirty, though there has been some improvement in that practice. The YGJ is very proud of the washer it has provided to the female inmates.
YGC is located on land that is part of the Laguna Honda Hospital. As you may know, Laguna Honda Hospital has been forced to transfer patients due to an investigation. In addition, numerous residences that provided staff homes between the hospital and the YGC have been deemed uninhabitable because of health issues. Therefore, we have acres of available real estate. Is this a thinly veiled facade — more land for developers? Some City officials, who look forward to contributions from developers, hope so.
There is a need for a routine and consistent review of this facility. Programs that exist here are rarely audited, and when they are, the list of improvements required is long and important.”
The Log Cabin Ranch in San Mateo County was once considered a desirable place for rehabilitation. Now it is closed. Today, cottages, eliciting a family setting, are considered preferable to confining children in a cell. With that in mind, the Supervisors considered buying a large residence to house the youths. Unfortunately, State building code mandates sabotaged the idea. For example, all Youth Guidance Centers must have hallways 8’0” wide. One possible solution is to buy a warehouse and build the interior to the specifications demanded by the State, including 8’0” wide hallways!
Land developed for housing that no one purchases can lead to a recession in San Francisco. We have a surplus of 40,000 units for sale or lease in the City, with numerous projects in the pipeline to be built in the future, including units in Stonestown, Parkmerced, and the Balboa Reservoir. If these projects are completed, who will buy them? San Francisco has one of the highest rates of exodus in the nation since employees often prefer to work remotely. These same employees can work at home in Tracy or Truckee, where land is less expensive, and families can have a larger yard for play with their families. Many prefer that to life in the City, where real estate is more expensive, and the homes are much smaller.
One possible solution to improve the YGC is to widen the cells. That would make them twice as large as they are now. Numerous shop classes could be provided to reduce recidivism and foster rehabilitation. Many would benefit from carpentry, plumbing, electrical, sheet metal and landscaping. Also, cooking classes, skill development in the culinary trades, and healthy diet practices could be available. Movie nights for youths who are well-behaved could reinforce good behavior. Video game lounges and computers could be important resources. Lastly, trained and licensed therapists are needed.
When teachers are in short supply, the Five Keys School Program could provide additional teaching staff. This teaching program is very flexible and could provide additional instruction for the youths in need.
Outdoor recreation, which was limited to once a week in the past, should be allowed daily. Providing children an outlet to exercise will enable them to sleep better at night. Since the YGC is a rambling facility, cottages could be built on site for the youth to provide a more family-oriented lifestyle. No matter what occurs, isolation and the denial of education should be avoided. Since youths are in their formative years, imprisonment or solitary confinement has a devastating effect on their character and behavior. That can last a lifetime. There is a need for a routine and consistent review of this facility. Programs that exist here are rarely audited, and when they are, the list of improvements required is long and important.
Many people of color are leaving San Francisco; they are often replaced with younger people who are less interested in having a family. The population of delinquents in the YGC is at a historic low. COVID-19 heightened the problem, but it was occurring before the pandemic. The City's Black and Latino populations have been replaced by younger tech workers who typically earn $150,000-$170,000 a year. Regardless of the future outcome, youth held for serious crimes in San Francisco must have a place to go for rehabilitation. Formerly, as many as 30 arrests a year were attributed to murder. Some argue that the $1.1 million spent to house individual offenders is too expensive. That ignores the seriousness of the crimes. How much is a human life worth? And, are we, as San Franciscans, ready to release offenders who may commit the same acts again?
NEIGHBORHOOD NAVIGATION CENTER
One solution for the YGC facility would be housing for the unhoused. That's a bad idea on many levels. The facility was designed for 132 people — not enough to house a large number of the unhoused. In addition, unhoused people prefer living on flat ground, which minimizes the effort required to push shopping carts. YGC is situated on a hill; it would be difficult to monitor their property or get around.
Numerous businesses would be dramatically affected by the increase of unhoused people nearby. Such an increase is often associated with more panhandling, larceny and theft of merchandise from store owners. Since we have a lenient judicial system, any person arrested for bad behavior would be immediately released tomorrow. Nearby neighborhoods would be negatively impacted, e.g., children who play in nearby parks would have more interaction with unhoused individuals than they do now. So a Neighborhood Navigation Center is a bad idea. But even worse would be its designation as a housing development.
It's a severe problem. It must be resolved compassionately. Let's hope that Supervisor Shamann Walton, who was incarcerated at this YGC years ago, will find the best answer. His intimate perspective gives him the best chance of solving the problem. The public can hope that the past shortcomings of the Youth Guidance Center can be forgiven as he, with other Supervisors, solves this problem.
Glenn Rogers, RLA