Liberty Hill Convenes Key Players on Moving from Youth Incarceration to Diversion

by Crystal Shaw on November 09, 2017

On October 30, Liberty Hill convened a group of activists, advocates, foundation representatives and government leaders to a forum on youth justice called “Reimagining Public Safety.” The event, which was cosponsored by Youth Justice Coalition, Social Justice Learning Institute, Community Coalition, Children’s Defense Fund, Centinela Youth Services and California Funders for Boys and Men of Color, marked the launch of Liberty Hill’s new effort aimed at ending youth incarceration as we know it.

During her opening remarks, Liberty Hill President and CEO, Shane Murphy Goldsmith, explained how Liberty Hill is addressing youth incarceration by bringing the people who are directly impacted together with allies to strategize about how to build power and win. Shane stated that Liberty Hill’s vision for ending youth incarceration as we know it is three-fold, with plans to 

  • Expand successful youth diversion programs to limit arrests and incarceration.
  • Create a community-based youth development system.
  • Close unnecessary probation camps and juvenile halls once and for all. 

At the event, Liberty Hill convened a diverse set of stakeholders committed to advancing youth justice reform, including both inside decision makers and external community activists.

The panel discussion, which included James Anderson of Anti-Recidivism Coalition, Lupita Carballo of Youth Justice Coalition, Jessica Ellis of Centinela Youth Services, Judge Peter Espinoza of the L.A. County Office of Diversion and Reentry, and Patricia Soung of Children's Defense Fund-California, focused on youth arrest diversion. During the discussion, Jessica Ellis defined diversion as “something that interrupts a case from its next legal step,” while Patricia Soung added, “Diversion is something to be thought of throughout the criminal justice process, from the point of arrest to sentencing.”

When asked what makes youth diversion a smart investment and why, James Anderson said, “When we look at people for people, and when we realize that these are humans that have potential, the fact that they could come home, that’s the true investment, right?

But we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to do what? To continue a broken system when we could be putting that back into the communities to really help leverage the brilliant minds of these young kids.”

Lupita Carballo spoke about the importance of having system-impacted people at every step of juvenile justice reform, from discussion to implementation, and posed the question “How can you be a voice to the voiceless individual without knowing what that person is going through?”

Also in attendance was County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who spoke about the need for an overhaul of the probation department. “We have to do more than only make policy, but we have to drill down and make sure the policies that we put forth are followed,” he said.

Prior to the event, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas submitted a motion to implement the findings of a new youth diversion report, entitled “A Roadmap for Advancing Youth Diversion in Los Angeles County, and allocate $26 million for a new Diversion and Youth Development division within the department of Diversion and Reentry. On November 7, following an L.A. Times editorial calling for change in how the county approaches youth justice, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to pass the motion. Liberty Hill’s Director of Youth Justice submitted a letter to the editor in support of the Supervisor’s move to tackle youth diversion.

Judge Espinoza, who would be involved in heading the new Diversion and Youth Development division, detailed at the youth justice roundtable what that program would offer, stating “Successful youth diversion reduces the number of people that are having law enforcement contact.” He elaborated, “We have a robust menu of services that includes treatment for untreated mental health issues, substance use disorder issues, educational issues, job readiness services, arch training, anything you can imagine that would divert the interest of young people from life on the streets to other possibilities.” With a successful youth diversion and youth development program, Judge Espinoza envisions a future for youth justice that would help “keep a young person’s information from being entered into anybody’s criminal database.”

Los Angeles is making major strides in reimagining youth justice, but there is still great opportunity to do more. The Los Angeles County juvenile justice system is the largest in the nation, and there are still over 1,100 youth incarcerated in locked facilities, including three juvenile halls and 12 probation camps.

Check out more photos from the Reimaging Public Safety event on Facebook.

See video of Liberty Hill Director of Youth Justice, Julio Marcial, providing testimony to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors at 3:04:31.