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Supervisors used false data to justify building Dublin juvenile hall

By David Scharfenberg Daily Planet staff
Wednesday December 12, 2001

OAKLAND – The Alameda County Board of Supervisors relied on faulty data earlier this year when it voted to build a 420-bed juvenile hall in Dublin, according to a new report by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, an Oakland-based nonprofit with a national reputation on juvenile justice issues. 

Community activists opposed to the project, which is currently in the planning stages, praised the nonprofit’s report Tuesday at a press conference in Oakland.  

“The numbers are not right, according to the top experts in the country,” said Van Jones, director of Books Not Bars, a San Francisco-based advocacy group, “and it’s time to shut (the project) down.” 

The NCCD report alleges that a 1998 study, prepared for the county by Rosser International of Atlanta, Ga., erred when it projected growth in youth detention rates. The inflated figures, the report contends, provided false justification for the large number of beds in the proposed facility. 

The current juvenile hall, an aging 299-bed facility in San Leandro, holds young people younger than age 18 awaiting trial. In many cases, the detention center also holds young people who have already been through trial and are waiting for placement in a group home or other program. 

Rosser officials would not comment on the council’s report. But Supervisor Gail Steele, who voted for the new juvenile hall, dismissed the group’s criticism. Steele said the 1998 Rosser study, and a 1991 report before it, may have projected slightly inflated detention rates. But, she said, the errors are not significant enough to justify a wholesale re-evaluation of the supervisors’ decision. 

“I do not think the studies are fundamentally flawed,” Steele said, predicting that the construction of the new $117 million detention hall, part of a larger $176 million Dublin complex approved by the Board of Supervisors, will go ahead as planned.  

The county is currently preparing an Environmental Impact Report for the complex. The county is scheduled to complete construction in September 2005. 

Activists have argued that the proposed juvenile hall is much too large for the area, saying it would rival the 498-bed facility in Chicago’s Cook County, which contains 5 million citizens, compared to Alameda County’s 1.4 million. 

They have also argued that the hall would be too remote from urban areas, making it difficult for parents to travel to the facility. 

Rachel Jackson, state field director for Books Not Bars, said the county should build a smaller hall, with about 250 beds, in Oakland.  

Jackson also said the county should focus on expediting young people through the justice system, and developing alternatives to detention to cut down on any overcrowding at the juvenile hall. 

“The county is choosing to invest in incarceration,” said Jackson, “and detention is actually harmful. It’s harmful to the youth themselves, and it’s harmful to public safety.” Jackson said exposure to criminals only encourages unlawful behavior. 

Supervisor Keith Carson, who represents Berkeley, also called for a full examination of alternatives to incarceration. 

“Today, across the country, there are a number of programs in place that would be better than the first step being juvenile hall,” Carson said. “We need to do an assessment of all the alternatives out there.” 

But Steele said it is unrealistic to expect a significant investment in alternatives, given that youth programs have never received heavy funding.  

“I have spent a lifetime trying to create programs to keep kids out of the hall,” said Steele. “The funding for intervention programs is like a twinkle in the eye. It has never been there.” 

Steele said the projected budget deficit will only make it more difficult to put preventative programs in place. She said the county should, instead, focus on building a new facility while it has the opportunity. 

“I choose not to give up on our kids,” Carson responded, when told of Steele’s remarks. But, he said he was not optimistic about the Board of Supervisors reversing course on the new juvenile hall.