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Resources from Los Angeles County Youth Diversion

Publication date: 
Friday, December 8, 2017

County of Los Angeles: A Historic day for Youth Justice

On November 7, 2017, the County of Los Angeles Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to approve a motion by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Janice Hahn to establish a comprehensive county-wide approach to youth diversion. The motion originated from recommendations in a report titled “A Roadmap for Advancing Youth Diversion in Los Angeles” created by the Youth Diversion Subcommittee of the Countywide Criminal Justice Coordination Committee (CCJCC), which was comprised of system-involved youth, county departments, law enforcement agencies, community-based organizations, and a national criminal justice consultant. The following provides key points of the approved motion, which includes recommendations from the report:

  • Community-based diversion efforts in lieu of arrest or citation coordinated by a central office
  • The establishment of a central office entitled “Youth Diversion and Development” as a division of the Office of Diversion and Reentry (ODR)
  • Provide four new positions to YDD with expertise in youth development, mental health and social health, legal and justice issues.
  • Data collection on youth arrests and other factors on an ongoing basis at both the program and county levels to monitor public safety and youth-wellbeing known as the “Digital Diversion Referral System”.
  • Creating a steering committee with members from the previous Youth Diversion Subcommittee to provide communication and guidance on implementation, systematic challenges, data and evaluation and future efforts on youth diversion, development and wellbeing.
  • Mandating the Chief Executive Officer of Los Angeles County to report within two weeks of potential funding sources within the CEO Office, Department of Probation and Department of Mental Health
  • Directing Office of Diversion and Reentry to report back orally and in writing within 180 days on the implementation status of youth diversion, recommended updates to the budget, and a bi-annual report that encapsulates demographic data on youth diversion in the county of Los Angeles.

 

Dr. Robert Ross, President of the California Endowment, during the motion hearing of the County Board of Supervisors on youth diversion estimated that 80 percent of youth now being arrested in the county could be diverted to community-based programs. Dr. Ross explained that diversion strategies such as restitution, community service and health services have proven to effectively reduce recidivism rates. He commended the efforts of the subcommittee and the county to divert youth from interacting with the juvenile justice system and held that the motion marked a historic day for justice reform for the county and even, the nation.

While the need to establish the countywide approach to youth diversion was generally agreed upon by all stakeholders, the approved motion was only a first step to an ongoing movement to achieve youth justice. Sam Lewis of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition and Jessica Ellis of Centinela Youth Services both impressed upon the Board that system-involved youth or youth directly impacted by the juvenile justice system should steer the direction of youth diversion programs in the county moving forward. Jessica Ellis went even further to suggest that the County should provide stipends, per diem, or travel reimbursements for system-involved youth that have actively participated in developing the county-wide approach to youth diversion as well as involvement in future meetings with the county on youth diversion.

Community-based organizations and system-involved youth highlighted that the current approach to diverting youth from the juvenile justice system heavily involves interaction with law enforcement rather than community-based organizations and that the County should not only focus on youth diversion, but more strongly on youth development. Dayvon Williams, who was formerly incarcerated and a member of the Youth Justice Coalition (YJC) urged that the County invest in youth centers. He expressed that the County of Los Angeles, which has incarcerated the largest share of Black and Latino youth in the country, do not have any youth centers focusing on youth development. Similarly, Kim McGill of YJC urged the County to protect information about youth from being placed on arrest databases, protecting youth from pronouncing guilt upon initial contact with law enforcement, and preventing escalation of charges due to participation in youth diversion programs. Julio Macial from the Liberty Hill Foundation supported suggestions put forward by YJC and system-impacted youth emphasizing that rehabilitation happens through relationships alluding to the role of community-based organizations in both diversion of youth from the juvenile system and providing youth justice.

LA County’s youth diversion program has the potential to be a model for the rest of the country. As implementation results of the program are reported to the Chief Executive Office, the success of the program lies in providing support to the community-based organizations intimately interacting with youth and conducting youth diversion strategies. Additionally, strong oversight of the program is critical to ensure that youth are given the necessary resources and assistance. While the County is mindful of the expressed concerns for oversight, philanthropy can play a role in ensuring that youth diversion is properly conducted. Ultimately, testimonies from the motion hearing emphasized that system-impacted youth lead the conversation and future actions on youth diversion.

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