Most residents in Los Angeles County and across the state support closing juvenile detention facilities and replacing them with community-based programs for youth, according to a survey commissioned by The California Endowment.
Market researchers surveyed 1,042 California residents, 84 percent of whom are registered to vote. At the beginning of the survey, 61 percent of respondents said they supported closing all “youth prisons.” (Here, the term “prisons” used in the survey refers to all juvenile lockups, approximately 120 of which are juvenile halls and camps run by local probation departments. The state controls four facilities for juveniles.)
After researchers revealed facts about juvenile incarceration—like cost and racial disparities—the initial 61 percent supporting closure of youth lockups jumped to 68 percent.
Nearly all of the Californians who took the survey reported that they supported community-focused prevention programs and other alternatives to incarceration for young people.
“Putting kids in prison is only going to make them angrier when they are released,” one respondent wrote. “Teaching them self-discipline is a better answer.”
Another survey-taker said that locking kids up can make them “hardened,” when “they could be better assisted outside prison walls.”
Of those surveyed, 89 percent of supported the use of restorative justice approaches, which require people to take responsibility for their crime by meeting with their victim and working to repair the harm done.
The same percentage of Californians supports requiring additional training for government agencies that serve youth, to improve employees’ understanding of the negative impact that trauma has on kids and teens.
And 88 percent support increasing funding for mental health services, as well as sports, arts, and other after school programs that help keep young people out of the juvenile justice system.
“Californians understand what the research clearly shows: incarcerating young people is a failed strategy that must be replaced with what works,” said Dr. Robert Ross, President and CEO of The California Endowment. “It’s time to shift our thinking and our tax dollars from punishment to prevention.”
Since 1980, the state’s population of incarcerated kids has plummetted 75 percent, but the facilities—and the spending—remain. According to the CA Board of State and Community Corrections, two-thirds of CA counties are running half-empty juvenile detention facilities.
And while the cost to lock up one kid per day is approximately $400, the cost to run community-based services can be as little as $75 a day.
The survey results are particularly noteworthy for Los Angeles, where the county’s board of supervisors is considering shuttering as many as six probation camps.
“These poll results reflect what the community has been saying for a long time,” said Kim McGill, an organizer with the Los Angeles-based Youth Justice Coalition. “The first step toward creating a more just and humane system is to close youth prisons, and redirect that money into community-based youth development.”