Legislators explain votes leading to juvenile inmate plan

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After a state-appointed committee shared a controversial plan to realign the justice system, which would place all of L.A. County’s juvenile offenders in two local camps, local legislators shared their views on their votes for the bills that made the plan possible. 

The plans called for by Senate bills 92 and 823 — approved last year to realign the juvenile justice system by closing all of the state’s juvenile facilities by 2023 and putting offenders in local custody — drew the ire of many local officials this week, who contend there was no local stakeholder input in the plan’s discussion.  

Christy Smith, D-Santa Clarita, who voted to support SB 823 while she was in office last August, said she approached the bill from an education lens as assemblywoman for the 38th District. 

“When a young person is given a second chance, when they are given opportunities at rehabilitation, and the guidance and the support and the services to help them get there, they are much less likely to be recidivists to return to the justice system,” Smith told The Signal. 

She said the goal of that legislation is to ensure that young people who have committed offenses aren’t “railroaded into a lifetime of incarceration. 

“In the traditional juvenile justice criminal justice system, it was oftentimes much more about incarceration and sometimes at great risk to the young person, particularly if they could not be housed in an area that was anywhere near family or adult supportive individuals in their lives,” Smith said. “It can be a very isolating and scary experience which isn’t really providing the kind of supportive environment that that young person needs to be able to rehabilitate.” 

Assemblywoman Suzzette Valladares, R-Santa Clarita, Smith’s successor, voted against SB 92, which establishes a separate path for “higher-need” youth with the intent of reducing the transfer of youth to adult jurisdiction. 

“It’s upsetting that once again plans that could directly affect public safety are being announced without input from our community,” Valladares said. “This move could have a significant impact on the city of Santa Clarita, yet no one representing the city has had a chance to weigh in. Impacted communities deserve to have their voice heard.” 

Assemblyman Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale, voted against both bills. 

“It is irresponsible and disappointing for the state to shift youth rehabilitation responsibilities to counties,” Lackey said in a written statement. “Smaller counties already have limited resources and this bill just adds to the burdens they have to endure. This is not fair to our youth or counties.” 

Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, also cast “no” votes for both pieces of legislation. Both were approved as budget trailer bills, meaning they did not pass through policy and appropriations committees before arriving on the Assembly and Senate floors. 

“You know a bill is bad when Democrats jam it through the process at the last minute without proper committee hearings, transparency or public input, and still only received the minimum number of votes required to pass,” Wilk wrote in a prepared statement. “SB 823 barely passed the Senate because it was bad policy that puts victims at risk and increases financial burdens on counties.” 

Sen. Henry Stern, D-Calabasas, voted in favor of both bills. Stern did not respond to a request for comment as of press time. 

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