Number of “At Risk” Kids of LA County Served For $397,071? Zero
In January of 2015, the Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council of Los Angeles County (JJCC) approved the allocation of $8 million of county money to fund a pilot program called New Directions Early Intervention and Diversion Program. The New Directions pilot, which was an offshoot of an earlier program, and which would be overseen by Los Angeles County Probation, and would help kids who were considered “at risk,” or who had already experienced one brush with the law, to move their lives in a more positive and productive direction, while also keeping them out of the justice system.
The idea was that Youth Directions would serve 240 youth over a three year pilot phase. In that time, the 240 kids would be case-managed by three probation officers who would refer them out to appropriate community-based organizations where they would receive “tutoring and homework assistance, recreational and social activities, substance abuse classes and counseling, mentoring activities, multi-cultural activities, teen clubs, and conflict resolution education.”
Some youth advocates weren’t thrilled that a law enforcement agency was going to be running New Directions, instead of a community-based organization with a proven track record. Yet positive intervention and diversion programs are sorely needed in LA County, and at least New Directions would refer their kids out to community organizations for the needed services. Thus, all in all, the $8 million allocation was viewed as a welcome step forward.
Moreover, the particular cache of money that New Directions’ $8 million was being drawn from was woefully overdue to be spent on such youth programs.
About that cache of money:
As WitnessLA reported in July 2015, LA County Probation was sitting on what was then $21.7 million in state-allocated juvenile justice funds that were supposed to be spent toward creating a comprehensive plan of youth services that prominently includes community-based programs to keep at risk kids out of the county’s justice system—and on related programs to help kids already in the system with reentry so that they don’t bounce right back in again after they are released.
Yet, for reasons that no one could adequately explain, probation spent some of the money, and sat on the rest.
The source of the dollars in question comes from a funding stream created by the Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act (JJCPA), which was itself created by the Crime Prevention Act of 2000 in order “to provide a stable funding source for local juvenile justice programs aimed at curbing crime and delinquency among at-risk youth.”
The funds, which are allocated on a per capita basis to the state’s 56 participating counties (Alpine and Sierra counties opt out), are mandated to be spent to fund a range of programs that help kids. The methods used are required to be evidence-based—aka programs “that have been demonstrated to be effective…”
Each year the various counties have to propose how they are going to spend the money received—which for LA has been in the neighborhood of $28 million annually. Then at year’s end, they are expected to document how the funds were, in fact, spent.
After we reported on the JJCPA mattress money, there was a big push to use the funds as they were intended to be used. Hence the allocation of $8,000,000 for New Directions.
Zero, Zero, and Zero
There was however one small problem with the cheering new program that was supposed to jump start in FY 2015/2016. According to New Direction’s filing with the Board of State and Community Corrections, and another report presented at two LA County Probation Commission meetings last month, since its launch, New Directions has served “exactly zero youth” and referred kids to “exactly zero” community programs for exactly zero homework assistance or tutoring, or recreational activities, or classes, or counseling, or….well,you get the idea.
The only money spent in the fiscal year was $397,071 in salaries and benefits for three probation officers….who were doing case management….for zero LA County kids.
Worse, at a JJCC meeting held on January 11, probation officials reported that for the current fiscal year of 2016/2017,** the second year of the three-year pilot, the only expected dollars to be spent would again be the $397,071 for the three probation officers salaries. In other words, it was likely that zero kids would also be served for year two.
A quick glance at your personal calendar will tell you that we are now in the middle of month ten of that second fiscal year of 2016/2017. And, indeed, there are reportedly no kids served. In other words, by March 31, the cost of serving no kids rose to: $694,874, with that number bouncing up another $33,089 at the end of April, for a total of $727,963. And on it goes.
Jeremy Loudenback of the Chronicle of Social Change went to that January JJCC meeting and reported that according to Tasha Howard, director of contracts and grants management for the Probation Department, New Directions was having trouble spending its money “because $1 million allocated from a portion of JJCPA money by the Board of Supervisors to expand the program had not yet come onto the books until late in the process.”
Why, after funds were voted approved by the necessary bodies in January 2015, and the board of supervisors approved the “expansion of the program” in 2014, we are in April 2017 with no sign of resolution, while the dollars for the salaries of three probation officers continue to go out the door, is a question that still remains unanswered.
The matter of whether the county should just cut their losses and shut down the New Directions program was brought up for discussion and an advisory vote at the March 9 meeting of the LA County Probation Commission, However, on March 9, a member of county counsel put the motion on hold to be discussed and voted on at the March 23 commission meeting, because it was it was not on the agenda for the earlier meeting.
At the March 23 meeting, however, although there was a bit of discussion, there was no vote. (And, just to be clear, even when a vote does come, it is only advisory, not binding.)
We will, of course, be following this zero kids served issue.
**In our original story we actually underestimated the money spent thus far to serve ghost children. This has now been corrected.