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Local News

Chief Probation Officer discusses this year's closure of state Division of Juvenile Justice

A painting of trees, flowers, and a newt.
A mural at Juvenile Hall, which was painted in 2020 by residents led by local artist Danza Davis.

With state facilities for serious juvenile offenders closing, counties will have to provide programs for young inmates, sometimes until they are 25.

The State Division of Juvenile Justice, or DJJ, will close on June 30 of this year. That means young people charged with serious or violent offenses incarcerated in state facilities will be sent back to county juvenile halls to complete their sentences. The DJJ stopped accepting most new inmates in 2021, the year after Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB 823. The advocacy group Pacific Juvenile Defender Center characterized the law as “historic legislation to close California’s Division of Juvenile Justice, the state youth prison system founded in 1942 on a nineteenth century training model and the subject of many legal challenges and reform efforts over its approximately 80 year existence.”

But it’s difficult for small rural counties to replicate the scale of the services the state can provide. Juvenile offenders can stay in youth facilities until they’re 25 years old, but they have to be kept apart from younger inmates.

Izen Locateli is the Chief Probation Officer for Mendocino County. He also runs the juvenile hall, which came close to being shut down in 2018. He says the county only has one youth at the state facility, and that person is “significantly older” than the current population at Juvenile Hall. He plans to send that inmate to another county to be with a similar-aged cohort. But Locateli stressed that counties are now in a difficult position.

During budget time five years ago, the Board of Supervisors and Executive Office considered closing Juvenile Hall. Since then, Locateli has closed sections of the Hall and capped the number of inmates at 20, though the physical capacity of the facility is 42. The average daily number of inmates ranges from 8-12. Keeping the Hall open does seem to have put Mendocino County in an advantageous position…

Local News
Sarah Reith came to Mendocino County in 2008 and worked as a reporter and freelancer, joining KZYX as a community news reporter in 2017. She became the KZYX News Director in March, 2023.