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Despite disagreement on the details, Contra Costa County supervisors said they are of like mind about achieving the best possible outcomes for young people in the county’s juvenile justice system.

During an almost-12-hour meeting that featured budget presentations from 10 agencies, including the Sheriff’s Department, and more than three hours of public comments, supervisors said they expect county officials to work together over the next year or more to decide whether to close either the Orin Allen Youth Rehabilitation Facility near Byron or Juvenile Hall in Martinez.

That discussion, supervisors said, will be part of a more overarching dialogue about reimagining how youth justice is carried out in Contra Costa County. Several supervisors on Tuesday said they expect Chief Probation Officer Esa Ehmen-Krause and District Attorney Diana Becton to collaborate with others on a task force.

“To hear how the board is deciding the fate of our youth, especially our black and brown youth, is ridiculous and disgusting.”

Chala Bonner, Safe Return Project

Ehmen-Krause’s department on Tuesday recommended closing the Byron facility in mid-2022, but Becton said she supports keeping the Byron Boys Ranch open and favors closing Juvenile Hall. Supervisor John Gioia said Becton and Ehmen-Krause should bring different perspectives to a situation they both want to succeed.

“The task force is more than about Juvenile Hall; it’s about the system,” Gioia said.

East Bay elected officials have been hearing increasing calls to redirect funding from law enforcement agencies to mental health, affordable housing, homeless services and youth support services.

The Contra Costa board is no different. On Tuesday, almost all the public speakers addressed either the Boys Ranch-Juvenile Hall issue, or “defunding” the Sheriff’s Office.

Calls to close Juvenile Hall

Several deputy district attorneys and public defenders were among the many who called for the closure of Juvenile Hall.

Dr. Lonnie Bristow of Walnut Creek, who blasted a Probation Department recommendation to close the Orin Allen facility and move some of its programs to a relatively empty Juvenile Hall, said that would please bean counters far more than social workers.

“That (Probation) report has little or no perspective on the social side of what we’re talking about,” said Bristow, who said supervisors should instead heed a Grand Jury report that called early this year for keeping the Byron Boys Ranch open and closing the hall.

Chala Bonner, an activist with the West County-based Safe Return Project, said, “To hear how the board is deciding the fate of our youth, especially our black and brown youth, is ridiculous and disgusting.”

Deputy Public Defender Nicole Eiland stated simply that Juvenile Hall is bad for children.

“I have stood for years and watched families wither in the face of the juvenile justice system,” Eiland told the supervisors. “We want to keep our children out of trauma-inducing facilities like Juvenile Hall.”

A popular idea among area supporters of defunding law enforcement is forming a non-police mental health crisis response program. Contra Costa supervisors like that idea, too, though they did not say whether they would fund it with money from the Sheriff’s budget.

Gioia said the city of Walnut Creek has been working on something like that for a year in conjunction with county health officials, and the Board of Supervisors could help move that process forward.