A budget that the Contra Costa Superior Court will consider adopting Friday would close six courtrooms, including the Juvenile Law Courtroom in Richmond.
For the 2012-2013 fiscal year, more than $7 million is estimated to be cut from the county court’s budget, while an additional $8 million is planned to be taken out the court’s reserves by the state. The court has responded with deep cuts to its baseline budget that will have repercussions beyond Martinez. The closing and relocation of the juvenile court and its judge, Joni Hiramoto — expected to take effect at the end of the year — would eliminate the face of Richmond’s successful truancy program.
Hiramoto grew up in Richmond and has been a local judge for more than 10 years. Along with Sgt. Brian Dickerson of the Richmond Police Department’s Youth Crimes Unit, she has played an active part in the city’s daytime curfew program, which started in 2010 and which both Dickerson and Hiramoto said has reduced truancy.
According to the Richmond Police Department, 400 minors have been stopped during the school years of 2010-2012. Juvenile criminal arrests for the 2010-2011 school year decreased 3 percent from 2009-2010, and 9 percent from 2008-2009.
“I’ve been giving my heart and soul to this part of the county,” Hiramoto said.
The court has not yet cleared details, but Mimi Lyster, public information officer for the Contra Costa courts, said she plans to release more information as soon as decisions are cemented. The consensus between Hiramoto and Dickerson is that, although Hiramoto plans to commute to the Martinez courts from Richmond, it is unlikely that she will be assigned to the Juvenile Courts and continue the truancy program.
The program works with minors stopped during daytime curfew hours from 9:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Dickerson said he considers the program highly successful, and that it has achieved nearly 100 percent improvement. He attributed a large part of its success to Judge Hiramoto, who he described as attuned to the needs of Richmond.
Moving the juvenile court out of Richmond could also affect the number of youths and their parents who are on time to their court appearances, Hiramoto said. It’s almost a 30-minute difference in travel time by car, and more than 2 hours difference taking the bus or BART.
“I just don’t see it working if you move it that far away,” Hiramoto said.
Dickerson said he’s concerned that the Martinez courts might focus more on punishing truants than finding a reason why the minor skipped school in the first place, which is not how the Richmond court focused its cases.
“Our main goal is to find the cause as to why kids aren’t going to school, and in court we find those root causes, and we’re able to offer local resources,” Dickerson said.
Dickerson said he’s concerned that cases in Martinez will stack up and the judges handling them won’t have the time and resources to focus on continuing the truancy program.
Hiramoto said she would like to help Martinez judges implement the program, and that schools might fill in the gap if it is eliminated.
“A positive incentive program can work anywhere, especially schools,” Hiramoto said. “That’s where I got my idea from.”
She also said the Contra Costa Superior Court should not be blamed for the decision.
“I know it is really hard for the community, and the judges on the executive committee know that, and they don’t want to do this,” she said.