Agenda for a Just Future,Youth & Transformative Justice

Department of Youth Development Launches

July 28, 2022
By Courtney Kassel

After nearly two decades of activism from local organizers, Los Angeles County has made history by launching a new Department of Youth Development!

This new department is a part of a larger trend in youth justice transformation taking place in Los Angeles County: Since 2017, ten youth prisons have closed. And between 2017 and 2022, youth incarceration rates dropped by more than half, according to the Los Angeles Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council.

There are currently fewer than 450 youth now in County youth prisons, but thousands of children are still being arrested or cited in LA County annually. And evidence shows that their lives are disrupted by even first-time contact with the youth justice system. These negative outcomes increase exponentially with deeper system involvement. That’s why the roadmap for a new vision of youth justice was outlined in the Youth Justice Reimagined report, co-authored by many of Liberty Hill’s longtime grantees. Its purpose was clear— to make the shift from youth prisons to community-based services and create more resources for low-income youth across LA.

Thanks to the work of many dedicated community activists, Los Angeles County is transforming its approach to youth justice and moving toward a system centered on prevention, mental health resources, and youth development.

We have seen numerous examples of this shift such as the creation of the division of Youth Diversion & Development (YDD), the Ready to Rise public-private partnership between Liberty Hill, the California Community Foundation, and The County Probation Department —which has become a model of using public dollars to fund youth development and social services—and the work of the L.A. County Youth Commission.

We have also seen historic thought-partnership between County leaders and elected officials, community organizers, philanthropic partners, and youth and adults with lived experience, working together to ensure this shift is done in collaboration with those most impacted.

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But now the hard work of implementation begins.

So far, the County has pledged $25 million a year for 22 full-time positions in the new department—which will be designed to focus on the underlying trauma the youth are struggling with—and to advance alternatives to youth arrest and incarceration in Los Angeles County. But local activists and organizers are fighting for increased funding to truly reimagine the justice system in Los Angeles, as outlined in the Youth Justice Reimagined Report.

The formation of this new department is an important first step on the roadmap to community-based care alternatives that will help us end youth incarceration as we know it in L.A. But in order for that vision to become a reality, we have to support and sustain it.

If we rise to this challenge, L.A. can be a model for transformative justice across the country. We are up to the challenge. And L.A. youth deserve nothing less.