On Monday, California Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-South Los Angeles) officially requested $100 million in budgetary dollars to launch a “Youth Reinvestment Fund” aimed at improving outcomes for juvenile justice system-involved youth through trauma-informed diversion and community-based services.
“Thousands of California youth are incarcerated every year for low-level offenses and they deserve better,” said Assemblymember Jones-Sawyer. “It’s time we stop locking up our children and start investing in their future.”
Law enforcement officers arrest juveniles approximately 62,000 times each year, Assm. Jones-Sawyer points out in his letter requesting funding. Last year, officers arrested or cited more than 40,000 minors for misdemeanors and “status” offenses—like truancy, violating curfew, running away, and underage drinking—that would not violate state law if committed by an adult. (And national data shows that while kids of color and white kids commit status offenses at roughly the same rates, youth of color—especially black youth—are far more likely to be arrested and incarcerated for status offenses than their white peers.)
Taking kids out of their homes and communities and locking them up increases their odds of dropping out of high school, struggling to find employment, and experiencing homelessness, and often adds to kids’ trauma.
“Approximately 8 out of 10 youth arrested are referred to probation and of those youth, a quarter of them are detained,” the Youth Reinvestment Fund proposal states. Yet, “research has shown that non-detention alternatives, particularly for low level offenses, are more appropriate responses” that do not further ensnare youth in the juvenile justice system.
“Youth in conflict with the law, who are provided responses to their behavior that directly address their immaturity and underlying health and mental needs, see far better health and educational outcomes; they earn more money, contribute more tax revenue, and do not rely on public support such as housing assistance and food stamps,” according to Jones-Sawyer’s letter urging fellow legislators to approve the fund. “This more appropriate approach can have the added benefit of reducing the disproportionate impact the juvenile justice system has on youth of color, children with disabilities, girls, LGBTQ youth, and foster children.”
Out of the $100 million, which proponents call a “down payment” on youth diversion in CA, $75 million would be allocated for local diversion programs over a period of three years.
A Closer Look at Where the $75 Million Will Go
Ten percent of the $75 million would go to a “lead public agency” that would conduct interagency collaboration with law enforcement, social services, and nonprofits to implement the diversion programs.
A total of 87 percent of the $75 million would be portioned out by that agency to community organizations serving kids in communities with high juvenile arrest rates—particularly for kids of color, LGBTQ kids, and foster youth—and the greatest need for trauma-informed alternatives to incarceration.
The final 3 percent would pay for grant administration costs incurred by the California Board of State and Community Corrections.
Jones-Sawyer praises San Francisco’s Huckleberry Youth Program’s diversion services “which serve as a single point of entry for crisis intervention, assessment, service integration and referral of arrested youth,” as a model, as well as San Diego’s Community Assessment Teams juvenile diversion efforts.
Los Angeles, too, has invested in diverting youth from criminal justice system involvement.
Finding that youth diversion efforts across the county did not equally benefit young people of all races, and often depended on where kids lived, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted last November to adopt a “historic” plan to ramp up juvenile diversion countywide.
A total of 13,665 arrests and citations were issued to the county’s young in 2015, according to the Department of Justice Statistics. And approximately 11,000 of those 2015 arrests—“including status offenses, misdemeanors, and low-level felonies”—would have been legally eligible for diversion in lieu of arrest or citation under the California Welfare and Institutions Code, had LA County’s new program been up and running.
Data has shown that who are successfully diverted from lockup in LA County are far less likely to end up in the juvenile justice system later for a different offense.
“In L.A. County, only 11 percent of youth who participate in diversion programs return to the system, compared to 33 percent of those who were incarcerated, a pattern that is reflected in youth justice programs throughout the state,” Assm. Jones-Sawyer and Liberty Hill President Shane Goldsmith write in an op-ed for the LA Sentinel.
“Los Angeles County has the largest number of youth who are incarcerated and detained in the nation, and the future of this program will surely inform the rest of the nation,” Jones-Sawyer and Goldsmith continue. “It is time for the rest of California to catch up and definitively say that prisons are no place for our children.”
At the city-level, the Los Angeles Police Department, too, has a partnership in an unusually effective diversion program for youth that, according to both the cops and juvenile advocates, seems to really work. (Read more about it: here.)
$15 Million to Boost Use of Social Workers in Juvenile Public Defense
A total of $15 million of the $100 million fund would go toward putting social workers in county public defender offices. That money would be prioritized for counties that have high arrest rates for kids of color, that have tried but failed to secure funding for social workers in the public defender’s office, and that have high school graduation rates below 75 percent. Grants would be between $45,000 and $500,000, and counties would have to match 25 percent of the grant amount to receive the funding.
Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Contra Costa already have social workers installed in their public defenders’ offices. The three counties, “have a grossly insufficient number of social workers compared to the caseload of each office,” according to the fund ask. “For example, in Los Angeles County, public defenders refer certain cases to social workers based on their discretion. In total, social workers only see about 5-10% of the total cases that come through in Los Angeles.” Contra Costa County only has one social worker who helps with adult cases. The county recently asked for additional AB 109 funding to pay a second social worker to help with juvenile cases, but their request was denied.
The Final $10 Million to Help NA Youth
A pot of $10 million would be set aside for trauma-informed, community-based diversion programs for Native American youth, who have suffered from “intergenerational trauma,” which “continues to have devastating effects among children in Indian country, and has resulted in substantial social, spiritual, and economic deprivations, with each additional trauma compounding existing wounds over several generations,” according to Jones-Sawyer’s funding request.
While Native American kids represent just one percent of the total U.S. population, they “represent 2% to 3% of youth arrests in categories such as theft and alcohol possession,” the proposal states. “Similarly, they are committed to adult incarceration at a rate 1.84 times that of whites and are placed under the jurisdiction of the criminal justice system at a rate 2.4 times that of whites. In California, where we have a substantial Native American population, they represent from 29% to 42% of juveniles held in secure confinement.”
The Board of State and Community Corrections will prioritize funding for programs that focus on serving the needs of Native American kids who experience high arrest rates, high suicide rates, high rates of alcohol and substance use, and average high school graduation rates below 75 percent.
“We see a future where youth prisons are not needed, offering an opportunity to rethink how we use those spaces and financial resources. We know that youth who need a second chance often fall into trouble because they never had a first chance – a first chance to succeed in their schools and their communities. Resources should be redirected toward prevention programs that provide the educational, employment and social support that all children need to thrive.”
During Tuesday’s announcement, Assm. Jones-Sawyer and Senator Steven Bradford, who introduced the fund in the state Senate, was joined by Assm. Brian Dahle (R-Bieber), who serves as the Assembly Republican Leader, Assm. Mark Stone (D-Monterey Bay), Liberty Hill’s Shane Goldsmith, and other community partners, including Frankie Guzman, a juvenile justice attorney with the National Center for Youth Law, who was incarcerated for six years as a teen.
“California invests $1 billion in its youth justice system to incarcerate, penalize, and otherwise marginalize young people, many of whom are youth of color, many of whom suffer from developmental disabilities, or other issues,” Guzman said. “We hope that this investment will be the beginning of many more investments” in decriminalizing California’s young people.
Both the Senate and Assembly are expected to approve the budget ask, although proponents say they are unsure of whether Governor Jerry Brown will ultimately sign off on the funding.