Agenda for a Just Future,Corporate Spotlight,Philanthropy,Youth & Transformative Justice

LA County Youth Justice System is Shrinking

December 16, 2021
By Courtney Kassel

Four years ago, we set out to end youth incarceration as we know it. And four years later, arrest rates for youth under the age of 18 have declined by 53%; incarceration rates have declined by 66%; more than 50% of youth jails have been closed; and there’s been a reinvestment of more than $200 million from punishment to care. There are now fewer youth in juvenile halls or courtrooms and far smaller probation caseloads. Yet, the implementation work continues to develop the nation’s largest Department of Youth Development.

The nation is watching Los Angeles County with great anticipation and for good reason. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has set an ambitious and strategic agenda for youth justice focusing on health and equity, and with each step the County, in partnership with Liberty Hill community partners, are engaging in a transformation. In particular, the county is building upon the historic achievements of our community organizers who fought for and helped establish the Division of Youth Diversion and Development, the Youth Commission, the Probation Oversight Commission, the Alternatives to Incarceration Initiative, and the Anti-Racism Initiative. All of these bodies have affirmed the need for investing in equitable, effective youth and community development alternatives to punishment approaches and systems.

Several of L.A.’s sports teams have stepped up over the past year to demonstrate their commitment to social change, including the Los Angeles Dodgers. To date, the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation and Kershaw's Challenge have raised more than $415,000 for this critical work. This marks a bold step forward and a significant investment in our work in Los Angeles. Recently, in partnership with the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation, we convened the California Funders for Boys and Men of Color (CFBMOC) (CFBMOC) Southern California Regional Action Committee (So Cal RAC) at Dodgers Stadium.

Liberty Hill and our co-chair CEOs at The California Endowment, the Weingart Foundation, California Wellness Foundation, and the Ballmer Group, hosted community organizers and advocates, foundation staff, and Los Angeles County elected officials—including District Attorney George Gascon—for a discussion on building and supporting strong community leadership and coalitions that are transforming L.A. County’s justice system in policy, practice, and funding.

Since the inception of the CFBMOC So Cal RAC and the creation of the Our Kids, Our Future Fund in 2018, Liberty Hill has served as the backbone for this initiative and has awarded approximately $5 million in grants to 13 organizations and coalitions that are building progressive power and working to end youth incarceration as we know it in Los Angeles County — with plans to award additional grant dollars in the coming year.

The progress of the past several years has energized, inspired, and reinforced our belief in the transformative power of youth and community-centered leadership. However, we also learned important lessons about the power of inertia within systems of oppression and the very real need to remain vigilant in the implementation of these hard-fought victories.

As we continue to work to hold public systems accountable and change the tide of centuries of disinvestment and structural racism, we need to pay particular attention to the implementation of our vision. We are committed to not letting the status quo continue to prevail.

While we celebrate the victories in youth justice reform amidst a global pandemic, we must also recognize the long road ahead to make this successful.

Related Article: Implementation Beyond Headline Victories