Youth arrests countywide have seen more than a 20 percent increase since 2015, reaching a high of 646 juveniles under supervision in June 2017. During the same time period, juvenile hall bookings have decreased by 14 percent statewide, and violent and property crime rates for the County of Santa Barbara have remained well below state and national averages. Of the youth under supervision, 75 percent are male and 80 percent are Hispanic.
The county’s diverting trends prompted the Probation Department to undergo a comprehensive analysis comparing data with four nearby counties. The department found that juveniles are more than twice as likely to be under some type of probation supervision in Santa Barbara than in bordering counties. While other counties redirect up to 40 percent of their youth to diversion options, Santa Barbara has 87 percent of its youth under probation supervision and only 13 percent under some form of diversion option.
At Los Prietos Boys Camp, more than 50 percent of boys had misdemeanors as their most serious crime. At Juvenile Hall, one third of the population was there for behaviors that are not criminal but are not compliant with the terms of probation and supervision. In both cases, many of the youth do not pose a threat to community safety.
A red flag of the study was that a high percentage of misdemeanor citations were coming from school campuses. The percentage was not disclosed. The department stated this finding needed additional review in conjunction with education partners. On the department’s “snapshot day,” 20 percent of youth in juvenile hall were 14 years or younger. The findings have prompted the department to create new staff guidelines defining Juvenile Hall as “a sanction for youth behavior as a contemporaneous risk for self-harm or risk to community.” The department will increase utilization of diversion opportunities and provide evidence-based programs designed to reduce recidivism. Staff is also redefining their target population as “older youth who pose a risk to community safety.”