Care First, Jails Last: Hope Fuels Movement
By Julio Marcial, Senior Vice President of Programs
On the morning of Tuesday, May 9th, an 18-year-old young man, Bryan Diaz, was found dead of a drug overdose at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall. His life mattered. And in his memory—and on behalf of all youth who have suffered inside our county’s youth prisons—we move forward with our ongoing work toward reimagined approaches to justice that invest in communities rather than prisons.
This was our vision in 2018 when Liberty Hill launched the Our Kids, Our Future Fund. We raised nearly $10 million from donors and foundations to support a five-year strategy to shrink the youth justice system, close youth prisons, and invest in a robust youth development ecosystem. This fund propelled a movement that has yielded historic systemic change.
- Half of youth jails closed.
- Youth incarceration decreased by 60%.
- Youth arrest rates decreased by 65%.
- LA County established the Department of Youth Development with an initial $50 million.
Liberty Hill also partnered with Los Angeles County to divert funds away from incarceration and toward healing through the Ready to Rise program. The $3.2 million pilot that started in 2019 has grown to a $40 million program that now supports 49 youth development organizations who in turn have touched the lives of 25,000 young people over the last three years.
Our goal is to build a youth development system that replaces traditional structures of punishment and incarceration with emerging best practices centered on healing, learning, and opportunity. This year, Liberty Hill also is convening a passionate group of community-based organizations who are shaping the Liberation Fund at Liberty Hill, with a goal to zero out the incarceration of girls and gender-expansive youth in the Los Angeles County criminal legal system.
This youth justice work has brought advocates, allies, youth, families, and communities together. And it is in this unity that we will hold tight to all that we’ve won and move forward, even in the face of setbacks. Two weeks before Bryan’s death, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors passed a motion to spend $28 million to reopen a previously shuttered youth prison, Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall, and bring in reserve sheriff’s deputies to fill staff vacancies. Los Padrinos, which was closed in 2019, is one of the facilities named in a lawsuit from nearly 300 former incarcerated youths who allege they were sexually abused while being held by the county.
This is a massive step backward for our youth development movement, but we move forward in hope.
Community leaders, youth and Liberty Hill staff are testifying at public meetings and standing strong against a system that disproportionately criminalizes youth of color and dismisses the unique needs and backgrounds of girls and gender expansive youth of color, many of whom have suffered chronic trauma in their young lives.
Liberty Hill also continues to convene and support youth development organizations who are centering youth voices and focusing on healing, accountability and renewal.
Sustained financial support from our partners is essential to this fight.