Success and Impact

Campaign Helps Reform Juvenile Justice, Education Systems In Santa Clara County

art of young person from behind flexing their arms

In 2017, the National Center for Youth Law launched a campaign to transform the Santa Clara County, California, juvenile justice and education systems and cultivate within them a more supportive environment for the youth they impact. While that work remains ongoing, it has already led to significant — and much needed — change for the better.

When NCYL began its campaign in Santa Clara County — the most populous county in Northern California — the county was incarcerating far too many youth, especially Black and Latino youth, and youth in the system struggled to succeed in school because of the lack of support.

NCYL identified community-based organizations, advocacy groups, and stakeholders within the systems and engaged them to begin the process of creating reform. This led to trainings, informational meetings that increased awareness of issues and available funding streams, and the development of coalitions. Through these partnerships, NCYL was able to effectively advocate to local and state lawmakers and create change.

Santa Clara County Highlights

Since NCYL launched its campaign in Santa Clara County, the outcomes have been encouraging. The number of Santa Clara County youth who are incarcerated has reduced by half, dropping from 153 in January of 2018 to 77 in July of 2020 , and the county, through the support of NCYL and local partners, successfully secured $3 million from the NCYL-supported California Youth Reinvestment Fund to invest in youth diversion programming in the community as well as $3 million for the Probation Department to improve supports for youth who are incarcerated for serious offenses.

Among other highlights in Santa Clara County, NCYL:

  • Helped improve police practices when interacting with youth through advocacy and the creation of an implementation guide to help law enforcement better understand recent changes in law and more appropriately support youth;
  • Directly engaged with 330 youth with lived experience in the juvenile justice system to support and train them in holding system leaders accountable and advocating for reforms;
  • Ensured 88 youth who were on probation and their families had access to the educational supports they needed to succeed;
  • Ensured legal support for 130 Santa Clara County youth and families whose rights were violated; and
  • Educated more than 160 school, probation, court system, and community-based organization stakeholders on the rights of youth on probation and/or in foster care.

Changing laws

Through its partnerships with Santa Clara County youth, families, and leaders, NCYL also helped draft and successfully advocate for the passage of six bills that advanced justice for young people:

  • SB 439: Prevents children younger than 12 from being pushed into the juvenile justice system. Prior to this, Santa Clara County incarcerated eight to 10 youth younger than 12 each year.
  • SB 1391: Ended District Attorneys’ ability to prosecute youth younger than 16 in the adult justice system.
  • AB 1811: Allocated $4 million in the Fostering Success Fund to resource community-based services for youth in foster care group homes and shelters.
  • AB 1812: Secured $37.5 million for Youth Reinvestment Grants to create alternatives to arrest and incarceration for youth across California.
  • AB 1454: Set $15 million to expand and strengthen the Youth Reinvestment Grant program to fund additional diversion programs.
  • AB 965: Helps youth sent to prison be released earlier by allowing them to earn good time credits for participating in education and prison programming.

NCYL continues seeking support to address the structural racism inherent in Santa Clara County’s juvenile justice and education systems, elevate the voices of youth and families most impacted, and protect the health and safety of system-involved youth during and after the COVID-19 crisis.