National Center for Youth Law

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Activists Flood the Halls of the State Capitol Calling for Investments to Transform Youth Justice

May 6th, 2019

Contact: Miranda Perry, 510-835-8098 ext. 3046,  

Sacramento – Youth activists and advocates descended on the State Capitol on Monday in support of legislative efforts to transform the youth justice system in California. The mass mobilization was called by the National Center for Youth Law to maintain the momentum for efforts to divert youth away from exposure to the harmful effects of juvenile system involvement by maximizing the availability of health-based community diversion programs for youth as an alternative to system involvement for low-level offenses.

The advocates called on the legislature to support one-time budget requests totaling $110M from Assembly Public Safety Chair Reggie Jones-Sawyer and Assembly Select Committee on Native American Affairs Chair James Ramos. “Last year I secured $37.3 million to create the Youth Reinvestment Grant (YRG), a new fund that improves the outcomes of vulnerable youth populations by connecting them to trauma informed and community-based interventions in lieu of arrest, detention or incarceration,” said Assemblymember Jones-Sawyer. “60 California cities, counties and federally recognized tribes, have applied for the YRG requesting over $53.5 million dollars. Now, more than ever, California has demonstrated that it’s time to stop locking up our youth and start investing in their future. This year, I am requesting another $100 million to help dismantle the School to Prison Pipeline, an investment that will save the lives of our ‘At-Promise Youth.’ These funds will provide the state with a large return on investment including savings from reducing our incarcerated population and investing in the education and workforce skills of California youth.”

The advocates also expressed strong support for Assemblymember Kansen Chu’s one-time $10M budget request to fund Senator Bill Monning’s SB 433, a bill that would establish 3-5 pilot county level youth development and diversion offices that will coordinate services and ensure they are consistent with the funds’ youth development and public health approach.

In 2017, more than 56,000 children and youth in California were arrested by law enforcement officers. Two-thirds of those arrests were for status and misdemeanor offenses. Research has shown that non-detention alternatives, particularly for low level offenses, are more appropriate responses to curb youthful behavior, and avoid pushing youth deeper into the juvenile justice system.  Most importantly, communities that have intentional diversion programs show improved outcomes for youth and public safety.

Assemblymember Chu highlighted the fact that the harmful effects of system-involvement are not borne equally by all of the State’s children, “A disproportionate number of those who become system involved are children of color, children with disabilities, girls, youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer, and foster children,” said Chu.  “The support we provide to children before they even enter the system could mean a whole different trajectory for their lives and much better outcomes for them as adults.”

Assemblymember Ramos added, “This issue is of critical importance to tribal communities. Today’s Native American youth have inherited a legacy of historical trauma caused by loss of home, land, culture, visibility, and language as the result of centuries of eradication and assimilation-based policies. Early system involvement for them, frequently the result of bias, is a continuation of this destructive legacy. Bringing resources to Tribes in our state to expand programs informed by the weight of history and their current lived experience will strengthen our tribal communities and will be an important step in improving outcomes for all Native American youth.”

According to Senator Monning, “diverting youth from the justice system and connecting them to community-based services will increase the likelihood they will not reoffend.” This reduced recidivism will mean communities benefit from fewer calls for police services, reduced demand for bed space in detention facilities, and reduced demand for court proceedings. Monning said he introduced SB 433 “to help counties make public health centered interventions and diversion programs more widely accessible to children and communities. With this infrastructure support, counties can better use their existing resources to prioritize the health and well-being of youth as well as improve public safety without children suffering the harms of system involvement.”

Frankie Guzman, Director of the California Youth Justice Initiative at the National Center for Youth Law which played a leading role in the development of these proposals, says together they represent a transformative moment for California’s system of youth justice. “Young people have the capacity to learn and grow from their mistakes. We need to encourage this in a community based, developmentally appropriate way. By meeting their needs, in their own communities, before they are formally involved in the juvenile system, we can improve outcomes not only for these children but for their entire communities.”

The elements being considered by the legislature are:

  • $100 million to fund Local Diversion Programs for youth disproportionately impacted by arrest and incarceration over a 3-year Youth Reinvestment Grant period
  • $10 million to fund Trauma-Informed Diversion Programs for Native American Youth
  • $10 million to fund 3-5 pilot county Offices of Youth Development and Diversion