LAO 2005-06 Budget Analysis: General Government

Analysis of the 2005-06 Budget Bill

Legislative Analyst's Office
February 2005

Department of the Youth Authority (5460)

The Department of the Youth Authority is responsible for the protection of society from the criminal and delinquent behavior of young people (generally ages 12 to 24, average age 19). The department operates training and treatment programs that seek to educate, correct, and rehabilitate youthful offenders rather than punish them. The department operates eight institutions, including three reception centers/clinics and two conservation camps. In addition, the department supervises parolees through 16 offices located throughout the state.

Budget Proposal

The Governor's budget proposes total expenditures of $400 million for the Youth Authority in 2005-06. This is $8.1 million, or about 2 percent, below estimated current-year expenditures. General Fund expenditures are proposed to total $316 million in the budget year, a decrease of $4.6 million, or 1.4 percent, below expenditures in 2004-05. The department's proposed General Fund expenditures include approximately $35 million in Proposition 98 education funds. The Youth Authority also estimates that it will receive about $48 million in reimbursements in 2005-06. These reimbursements primarily come from fees paid by counties for wards sent to the Youth Authority.

The decrease in General Fund spending in the budget year is the result of proposed conservation camp closures, as well as a projected decrease in the institution and parole populations.

Who Is in the Youth Authority?

There are several ways that an individual can be committed to the Youth Authority's institution and camp populations, including:

Characteristics of the Youth Authority Wards. Wards in Youth Authority institutions are predominately male, 19 years old on average, and come primarily from Southern California . Hispanics make up the largest ethnic group in Youth Authority institutions, accounting for 50 percent of the total population. African Americans make up 30 percent of the population, Caucasian are 15 percent, and Asians and others are approximately 5 percent.

Population Issues

Ward and Parolee Populations Projected to Decline: Projections Will Be Updated in May

We withhold recommendation on the population assumptions included in the budget pending receipt of the May Revision. We recommend the administration provide, as part of its updated spring population projections, an estimate of the impact of the Governor's juvenile justice reform proposal on the Youth Authority population.

Ward and Parolee Populations in the Budget Year. The Youth Authority projects that the ward population will continue to decrease, declining by 465 wards, or 12 percent, from 3,895 wards at the end of the current year to 3,430 wards by the end of the budget year, and then decrease to 3,045 by the end of 2008-09 (June 2009).

The number of parolees is projected to increase just slightly from 3,755 wards at the end of the current year to just under 3,790 by the end of the budget year, and then decrease to 2,970 by the end of 2008-09 (June 2009). Figure 1 shows the Youth Authority's institutional and parolee populations from 1996-97 through 2008-09. As the figure shows, beginning in 2003-04, the parole population is slightly greater than the institution population and is projected to remain greater through 2008-09. This is primarily a result of (1) a declining rate of new admissions into the Youth Authority and (2) an increasing average length of time that a ward is on parole.

Projections Do Not Reflect Governor's Juvenile Justice Reform Proposals. The budget indicates that the administration is developing a juvenile justice reform proposal that may be implemented in 2005-06. Although specific details are lacking, the budget suggests the proposal will likely include (1) shifting the Youth Authority's parole responsibilities to the counties and (2) developing and implementing new guidelines regarding which juveniles should be sent to the Youth Authority versus those that should be housed in local facilities. We expect these changes would have the effect of decreasing the ward population. For this reason, we recommend the Legislature direct the Youth Authority to incorporate into its spring population projections an estimate of the impact of the Governor's policy proposals on the Youth Authority's future population.

Camp Closures

Proposal to Close Camps Has Merit, But Camp Conversion Needs Legislative Review

We recommend approval of the proposed closure of Ben Lomond and Washington Ridge Youth Conservation Camps, along with the Preston Youth Correctional Facility Pre-Camp, because of the substantial decline that has occurred in the ward population and the resulting decline of camp-eligible wards. However, we recommend the Legislature direct the administration to report prior to budget hearings on its proposal to convert the camps into adult inmate camps because the budget provides no information or justification regarding this proposal.

Background. The Youth Authority, in conjunction with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, operates four youth conservation camps and a pre-camp, which prepares and trains the wards for camp. The camps employ wards in a variety of tasks, including fire prevention and conservation projects to help them develop good work habits and leadership skills. In total, the camps currently have the capacity to serve as many as 300 "minimum security" wards. However, in 2004-05, only 248 wards are participating in the camp program. According to Youth Authority staff, the overall decline in the number of wards during the last few years has made it difficult for the department to identify wards who meet the minimum security criteria.

Governor's Proposal. The Governor's budget proposes to close Ben Lomond Youth Conservation Camp (located in Santa Cruz ), Washington Ridge Youth Conservation Camp (located in Nevada City ) and Preston Youth Correctional Pre-Camp (located in Ione) by March 2005 for an estimated savings of $2.3 million in the current year and $6.7 million in the budget year. The administration proposes to convert these camps into adult conservation camps for Level I and II inmates during the current year.

Recommend Approval of Camp Closures . We think the closures have merit because it would allow the remaining camps—Pine Grove Conservation Camp (located in Amador County ) and Ventura Youth Correctional Camp (located in Ventura County )—to operate at or near capacity, thereby reducing the average cost per ward to operate the remaining camps. Based on our discussions with Youth Authority staff, it is our understanding that approximately 74 wards would be relocated to the Pine Grove and Ventura camps as a result of the camp closures in Northern California. The Youth Authority staff also indicated that services to the wards would not be disrupted by the proposed closures because the services provided at the camps are comparable.

Savings From Closures Overstated. We would note that the current-year savings of $2.3 million included in the budget from closure of the camps is overstated. This is because there was a delay in issuing closure notices to affected staff. According to the department, this will likely result in the camp closures occurring in May, rather than March as the budget assumes. In addition, there is a technical error related to workers' compensation costs. Accordingly, the department may need an additional $2 million in the current year (which may require a supplemental appropriation) to operate the camps for two additional months.

Recommend Administration Report on Proposed Conversion to Adult Camps. It is our understanding that CDC planned to begin modifying the camps to accommodate adult inmates in March with CDC inmates moving into the converted camps beginning in May. However, due to delays in closing the camps, this is not likely to occur until May 2005 at the earliest. Given that the budget provides no details regarding the cost of, or justification for, this proposal, we recommend the Legislature direct the administration to report prior to budget hearings on the proposed camp conversions. Specifically, the administration should report on (1) potential uses of the camps, (2) the cost and timing of the proposed conversion and modifications, and (3) the fiscal- and population-related impact to the CDC budget.

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