Almost two months after the beginning of this fiscal year, the San Francisco Juvenile Probation Department (JPD) is still attempting to finalize a funding process that has troubled many advocates in the violence prevention and juvenile justice community. This community also continues to reel from the recently announced funding recommendations for the Crime and Delinquency Prevention grants from the Mayor’s Office on Criminal Justice (MOCJ). While the relatively new JPD Chief, William P. Siffermann, familiarizes himself with the extensive network of community-based organizations (CBOs) that serve probation youth, the new acting department head at MOCJ, Allen Nance, remains resistant to cooperation with the community. The resulting chaos is unifying the CBOs that contract with JPD and MOCJ, many of which now stand united under the Juvenile Justice Providers Association.

As local CBOs serving probation youth struggle to maintain services for the city’s young offenders and their families under expired contracts and during a summer of increased gun violence, they are uncovering clues to suggest that MOCJ may not want them to be as prevalent in San Francisco as they have been.

Jessica Hazard al-Tawqi is the Chair of the Juvenile Justice Providers Association, a loose network of 26 CBOs in San Francisco that has strengthened under Hazard al-Tawqi’s leadership in the aftermath of MOCJ’s contentious funding process. Hazard al-Tawqi has stepped into the fray to advocate for a comprehensive juvenile justice plan for San Francisco. She says that MOCJ’s funding recommendations failed to acknowledge the strengths and importance of neighborhood CBOs, turning its back on ground-level programs.

According to its own literature, MOCJ stands responsible for developing San Francisco’s public safety policies to promote “stronger, safer and healthier communities.” Its policy must be supported by “partnerships with other public safety agencies, community-based organizations, and the public.” Since the funding process and decision for the 2006-07 fiscal year, advocates question whether any community partnerships will be maintained – and even more importantly, whether a concrete policy for violence prevention and juvenile justice in San Francisco actually exists.

In the 06-07 funding process, MOCJ decided to fund specific services that required CBOs to alter their current practices in order to qualify. Two organizations found their strongest programs cut completely in favor of a smaller set of services that would limit its reach in the community. Though MOCJ offered training to CBOs to learn how to implement the new services it required, MOCJ still opted to fund larger CBOs, many that operate outside the communities that require the most services.

Second, MOCJ cut funding to CBOs that are located in the communities they serve, and replaced them with larger organizations that can offer behavioral and therapeutic services for youth. Smaller organizations who have worked in concert with public agencies, law enforcement and their communities in an effort to institutionalize years of juvenile justice reform and community support for at-risk youth now find themselves without enough funding to maintain staff. CBOs serving the Sunset, District 4, and Excelsior and Outer Mission/Ingleside and District 11, have lost all funding for juvenile justice programs.

According to Hazard al-Tawqi, MOCJ’s diversion of funds from street-based service providers to larger CBOs that offer therapeutic treatment will certainly benefit youth in the system - however, she maintains that a balance is required.

“JJPA is asking, ‘who will do the frontline work when a crisis arises, when someone is hurt or killed in the community?,’” said Hazard al-Tawqui. “If agencies like Brothers Against Guns, United Playaz, Bernal Neighborhood Center and Sunset Youth Centers are not funded to serve their communities, then who will go to the communities in the middle of the night, when the problems happen?”

Hazard al Tawqui emphasized that all treatments and services will benefit the kids, but the services won’t get to the kids if the street-based programs are not in place to establish the necessary trust with the community.

Services for high-risk populations, recognized in Mayor Newsom’s 2006 Summer Safety Plan, found their funding cut because MOCJ no longer intended to fund “at-risk youth,” choosing to give money to organizations serving youth in the justice system.

Finally, despite a decision to change the funding practices for CBOs, MOCJ failed to foresee the need for a transitional plan for youth who would be affected by its funding decisions. While gap funding and supplemental money has been routed to impacted CBOs through JPD and the Department of Children, Youth and Their Families in the short-term, MOCJ Director Nance instructed CBO leadership that he had little interest in accommodating funding needs through supplemental funding.

Meanwhile, CBO clients and staff are in crisis, forced to close out caseloads immediately, lay off staff and seek emergency funding. Most organizations have tried to maintain, but have been trying to work out additional government funding while also dealing with an intensely violent summer.

It has fallen on the CBOs themselves to determine how to transition youth into new programs or other services still funded. As of late August, MOCJ has not provided any information to explain which of the new organizations will serve which communities.

The lack of a transitional plan is only a symptom of the greater problem in MOCJ: despite its rhetoric to promote public safety in the city, it has never created a comprehensive plan that links juvenile justice to community violence prevention. MOCJ’s haphazard funding cuts to ongoing, evidence-based programs are an example of its inability to come up with a positive plan that unites the advocates and the communities most in need.

The greatest concern to the advocates remains MOCJ’s indifference to the successes San Francisco has achieved in its juvenile justice system. While innovations and improvements are always possible, San Francisco maintains a juvenile detention rate that is half the average for the state.

According to numbers compiled by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, a San Francisco-based criminal justice policy organization, juveniles are unlikely to be arrested and processed for status offenses, like truancy or curfew violations, because the system in place attempts to assist the youth at the first signs of trouble. Since 1995, San Francisco has reduced the use of youth detention in the Youth Guidance Center by 38%. Even while these numbers decrease, San Francisco youth are committing less crime. Since 1995, the total arrest rate for juveniles has decreased by 46%.

The effort to ensure that San Francisco youth are provided with community-based treatment and support has evolved since the 1960s. For almost 50 years, San Francisco has struggled to create a humane and effective juvenile justice system. From 1951 through the late 1980s, many reports detailed the overuse of detention for the city’s troubled youth and the absence of alternatives. Kids caught in the system were not treated to effective rehabilitation largely because probation officers only accessed a narrow range of services for the kids.

CBOs have been responding to that need for the benefit of their communities and the city with good results. CBO leaders say that MOCJ’s effort to marginalize their work will not proceed without a strong reaction from them, the areas they serve, and the youth in or affected by the juvenile justice system.

MOCJ’s budget and allocations for fiscal years 2004 through 2007 have been requested under San Francisco’s Sunshine Ordinance by the JJPA to determine whether CBO funding has increased or decreased over the three-year period. According to Hazard al-Tawqi, the documents received do little to shed light on the question.

“There is no sequence, no years indicated, no information on the documents to tell us what we are looking at,” said Hazard al-Tawqui. “We are waiting for additional information that may explain the documents they sent.”

An important interest to Mayor Newsom has long been the accountability of those who serve San Francisco. Advocates in the juvenile justice community are wondering whether MOCJ should look at its own funding decisions to determine whether its actions are in concert with San Francisco’s interest in public safety and violence prevention. Defunding CBOs who serve San Francisco’s most at-risk kids may not prove to be a measure San Francisco is willing to tolerate.