August 4, 2021 14:39

L.A. County Takes First Step in ‘Care-First’ Youth Justice Reform

A  five-year plan to transform juvenile justice systems in Los Angeles County  will be based on a “care-first” model, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The plan, presented this week in a motion by the County Board of Supervisors, emphasizes rehabilitation and support by placing youth in “home-like settings,” and will create a new Department of Youth Development.

The settings would include specific treatment and support services to help better treat youth who were convicted of crimes to return to society after incarceration.

Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Mark Ridley-Thomas released their motion Tuesday detailing further action that the county needed to take to better reform their juvenile justice facilities in response to a report by the Youth Justice Work Group  (YJWG) that was released in October.

The first step in the reform “calls for a gradual wind-down of the probation department’s juvenile operations and an initial $75 million investment in the Department of Youth Development in the next county budget, which is approved in June,” reported the Los Angeles Times.

Although the plan was approved unanimously Tuesday, it could take more than five years to completely finish.

The five-year plan has three recommended phases outlined in the  October report.

Phase one includes establishing the needed administrative and planning support to carry out the reform, phase two includes initial launches of support centers and services and phase three continues to expand on programs built in phase one and two.

The YJWG report also calls for nine core values that Kuehl and Ridley-Thomas emphasized in their motion, including racial and ethnic equity, restorative and transformative justice, transparency and accountability and evidence-informed design, among others.

“We will always have young people that need to be isolated from the community because they’re dangerous and it’s [best for] public safety,” said supervisor Sheila Kuehl.

“So, there will be locked facilities, but I don’t believe that we want to see them look like prisons with barbed wire.”

According to the article, youth incarceration in Los Angeles County already has racial disparities, with Black youth over six times more likely to be arrested and 25 times more likely to be incarcerated in comparison to youth their age in L.A. County who are white.

The largest justice system in the nation, Los Angeles County’s disparities are reflective of the racial disparities within the juvenile system across the nation.

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, even though in 2019 only 14 percent of youth in the United States were Black, Black boys made up 42 percent of juvenile facilities. Black girls made up 35 percent.

In addition to racial disparities, a 2004 US Department of Justice Investigation found “unsafe and abusive conditions” in the county’s juvenile facilities as well as civil rights violations.

According to the motion, the county is confident in their reform after similar juvenile justice reform efforts have been taken successfully in New York City, through the  Department of Community and Youth Development,  and by Oregon’s Youth Development Division, among others.

Kuehl and Ridley-Thomas noted in their motion that the push for reform wasn’t a criticism  of the services already provided by officers and facilities in LA County.

“After more than a decade of incremental reform, it is time for the County to truly reimagine youth justice,” said the motion. “In the same way that the Board has embraced a care first, jail last approach to the criminal justice system, it is incumbent upon the Board to embrace a care first youth development approach to youth justice.”

Critics of the program claim that there aren’t enough housing options and community support needed to make the program successful.

The transition into less traditional incarceration measures for youth represents a steep decline in youth incarceration, which decreased 60 percent from 2000 to 2019 in the United States, according to data from the Prison Policy Initiative.

Read more:

How Juvenile Probation Lands More Kids in Jail

Los Angeles County Weighs Alternatives to Jail for Mentally Troubled

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