The Frontline Impact Digest

Liberty Hill Foundation Launches The Liberation Fund

By Lisa Small, Liberty Hill Director of Youth & Transformative Justice

Hill

Last year, a lawsuit published by the L.A. Times shed light on the harrowing experiences of girls and gender-expansive (GGE) youth who have been subjected to repeated sexual abuse within Los Angeles County youth prisons.

This lawsuit, filed by nearly 300 youth residing in multiple facilities, reveals a pervasive and distressing pattern of sexual assaults spanning over five decades, dating back to the 1970s and continuing to this day. It presents a deeply unsettling account of systemic failures and horrifying instances of child abuse that went unchecked within publicly funded County departments responsible for ensuring the safety of youth and communities.

These allegations are very serious, and the trauma experienced by the survivors will leave lasting scars. The demand for accountability and change is urgent. Nevertheless, a year has passed, and L.A. County has continued to increase its investments in these perilous facilities.

Since late 2017, through the Our Kids, Our Future Fund, Liberty Hill has raised nearly $10 million from donors and foundations to support a strategy to shrink the youth justice system, close youth prisons, and invest in a comprehensive positive youth development ecosystem. We have seen enormous wins come to fruition through this work including the decrease in youth incarceration by 60%, youth arrest rates decrease by 65%, and half of the youth jails closed.

However, since November 2021, incarceration rates for girls and gender expansive youth have increased by 50%. It was anticipated that our youth justice policy victories would pave the way for the decarceration of GGE youth, but it has become unmistakably clear that a one-size-fits-all approach to youth justice will not end youth incarceration for all.

This is where the Liberation Fund comes into play.

Through a community-informed process that began in January 2023, Liberty Hill selected ten organizations to chart the path to decarceration for GGE youth, using targeted approaches that reflect their unique experiences. This collective is developing a comprehensive plan that will outline specific, interconnected strategies to effect systemic and lasting change. It will amplify the voices and leadership of affected youth, scale proven programs, and welcome additional allies and champions to this cause.

This is a transformative approach to addressing the root causes underlying youth incarceration for these particular populations. It is a recognition that for too long GGE youth have been criminalized for their own trauma and neglect, failed by multiple and intertwined systems, often beginning with their families of origin, and kept in confinement, not for public or community safety, but due to the false and dangerous perception that there is “nowhere else for them to go.”

The solutions for keeping GGE youth safe, empowered, and supported are known. However, community-based solutions that prioritize these approaches have historically lacked funding and visibility. The Liberation Fund aims to rectify this by directing resources toward grassroots initiatives with the experience and knowledge to provide the vital support that actually works.

To bring an end to youth incarceration as we know it in L.A. County, we must emphasize the intersectionality of youth justice, gender justice, racial justice, trans liberation, reproductive justice, workforce development, educational equity, and gender-based violence.

The Liberation Fund is not just a program; it represents a movement for change and justice. Achieving this vision takes sustained philanthropic support. It will require all of us working together to bring about transformational change and prevent the horrific abuses of the past from ever happening again.

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Liberation Fund