A Bright New Future for Youth Justice: L.A. County Board of Supervisors Approves Creation of Department of Youth Development
Victory! We are on our way to Ending Youth Incarceration As We Know It!
On Tuesday, November 24, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to dismantle the largest youth justice system in the nation in favor of a care-first model that would emphasize emotional support, counseling, and treatment. This landmark vote lays the groundwork to transition the Los Angeles County’s youth justice system out of the Probation Department and invest an initial $75 million to a new Department of Youth Development. This new direction will also serve as a national model for how to shift from a system rooted in control and punishment to one rooted in care.
The move was based on a set of recommendations laid out in a report titled Youth Justice Reimagined, produced by the county’s Youth Justice Work Group, which was funded in part by grants from Liberty Hill and other funders and donors.
Though the number of youth in care of the probation department has declined significantly in recent years, Los Angeles County’s youth justice system remains the largest in the nation with approximately 3,500 youth on probation and 500 incarcerated youth in the county’s two juvenile halls and six probation camps.
As with county jails, the youth justice system is characterized by ongoing racial inequities. Black youth are six times more like to be arrested and 25 times more likely to be incarcerated than their white peers. Research shows that a single arrest nearly doubles the likelihood of a young person dropping out of high school.
This vote is a milestone in Liberty Hill’s years-long youth justice campaign, which employs a Shrink, Close, and Invest strategy. We know that as we shrink the number of arrests and close juvenile halls and youth jails, we will free up public funds to invest in a youth development system that builds on the strengths of youth, so that they have the resources and opportunities to thrive.
As part of our strategy, Liberty Hill, in partnership with other funders and donors:
- Supported and managed new coalitions
- Funded the creation of a detailed action plan to transform the L.A. County youth justice system
- Fundraised and provided grant support to social justice organizations led by and building power with those most impacted
- Developed customized capacity building support to strengthen organizational infrastructure and leadership development for youth providers
- Brought new funding partners to the table to resource justice reinvestment through collaboration and convenings
For Liberty Hill and our partners, this victory is the latest step in a journey that goes back more than a decade, each step laying the groundwork for the next. Liberty Hill’s grant recipients organized and won the following victories, with enormous support and mobilization from you all:
- Incubated and managed the Brothers, Sons, Selves Coalition, which has helped reduce suspensions of Black and Brown LAUSD students by more than 70%.
- Funded community organizers to develop a three-year blueprint to shrink and transform L.A. County’s youth justice system policy, practice and funding.
- Development of the new Division of Youth Diversion and Development, including $26 million to divert youth from arrest and prosecution.
- Community representation on the Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council, ushering in a new $25 million budget and plan toward youth development
- Passage of $37.3 million for the statewide California Youth Reinvestment Fund
- Passed “Raise the Age” at the state with even higher local standards to establish a minimum age of 12 years old for prosecuting youth in juvenile court.
- Closed and converted Camp Gonzales from a youth prison to a residential career and educational training center for system impacted youth
- Closed 9 probation camps and one juvenile hall between 2017 & 2019
- Advocated for the release of 100 youth from incarceration due to the threat of coronavirus in March 2020
- Launched Ready to Rise, a $25M partnership with L.A. County Probation, California Community Foundation, and Liberty Hill to resource and build capacity of youth development organizations to begin to build a new youth development system
Now, Youth Justice Reimagined lays out a path to a new vision of community safety that leaves behind the sadistic and racist “tough-on-crime” system that has existed for decades. There is now a countywide mandate to divest from punitive, carceral approaches and invest in supportive, youth-focused, community-based care rooted in restorative and transformative justice approaches.
Your efforts ensured that Liberty Hill’s leadership and its grantees had seats at the table during the year of stakeholder engagement that went into reimagining youth justice. You made calls and wrote letters in critical moments for transformation. You helped make room for youth who had been personally impacted by the current youth justice system, and whose insights, born of experience, were key to crafting the report’s recommendations.
Coming on the heels of our collective victory last month in passing Measure J, the overhaul of our youth justice system puts Los Angeles County on the cutting edge of transforming the criminal legal system. Years of effort, persistence, and grassroots power-building have cast aside cruel and destructive dogma for compassionate, equitable policy rooted in science, strong enough to build new institutions rooted in care instead of punishment.
There’s more work to do to win justice for the nearly 500 young people locked up today, and the thousands more locked out of the opportunities that should be available to all in Los Angeles County.
But the path is lit, and together with many hands at work, the load will not be as heavy.
Thank you to all of the dedicated activists and organizations who made this victory possible, including: Youth Justice Coalition, Community Coalition, Inner City Struggle, Khmer Girls in Action, Anti-Recidivism Coalition, Urban Peace Institute, Children’s Defense Fund-CA, Brotherhood Crusade, Social Justice Learning Institute, Brothers, Sons, Selves, L.A. Youth Uprising Coalition.