Governor Newsom, please don't lose your resolve
Open letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom:
As California's governor, you've proven especially adept at recognizing critical moments and responding to them with powerful and eloquent statements. Perhaps no more notably was this admirable quality on display than during the summer of 2020 — a time of heightened racial unrest and with Black Lives Matter demonstrations demanding change throughout the state. You never shied away from the issues at hand, and even promised that California would do better. You punctuated this pledge by decrying that "so often we try to meet the moment with rhetoric. We feign resolve."
At the time, those words resonated with me. Now, two years later, they read as regrettably prophetic.
Thankfully, you can still meet this moment. You still have the power, privilege, tools and support to truly transform communities, particularly communities of color, for the better. Please don't let this moment pass. Please don't feign resolve.
With the state legislative session concluded and with many bills awaiting your signature or veto, there's no better time to prove your political mettle and help lead California into the future you profess to desire — one supported by systems that are health-focused and equitable.
A good place to start would be to follow through on your stated, and much celebrated, goal to "end … juvenile imprisonment as we know it."
Your 2019 proposal to shift the state's Division of Juvenile Justice from the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to the state's Health and Human Services Agency was a landmark recognition of the state's historic failure to adequately serve youth, particularly Black and Brown youth. You committed at that time to moving California toward a public health-based approach to help youth in distress to heal, develop and learn from their mistakes, rather than investing in systems of control and punishment.
Since those visionary proposals, though, your budgets have continued to prioritize prisons and probation departments at the expense of youth and communities of color. This has effectively shifted the culture and racial inequity of the former youth prisons to county facilities. It's a far cry from revolutionizing the system.
Your continued support of probation-backed punitive approaches over community and health-based solutions is heartbreaking for many reasons. It goes against more effective strategies proven and recommended by child-welfare advocates and professionals. It also introduces scores of children to untold harm and trauma, including sexual abuse by the very people entrusted with ensuring their safety, as has been alleged in Los Angeles County.
Gov. Newsom, please don't lose your resolve.
Assembly Bill 503, also known as End Endless Probation, recently cleared the state legislature and sits on your desk. As does Assembly Bill 2417, also known as the Youth Bill of Rights. Your signature of support on these much-needed reforms would move the state closer to meeting the moment you envisioned we could.
AB 2417 would ensure that young people incarcerated in county facilities are made aware of their rights and how to report violations of them. A Youth Bill of Rights had been in place for young people incarcerated in state facilities, and there's no reason that children in local facilities aren't given the same consideration and respect.
AB 503, put simply, institutes a presumptive six-month limit on juvenile probation — there currently is no limit — and introduces systemic accountability that will allow courts to make decisions based on a child's best interest. Currently, youth of color are significantly more likely to be placed on probation, and kept there for longer terms, than their white peers. This bill would go a long way toward bringing the juvenile justice system in alignment with the racial equity-based ideals expressed by you and a majority of Californians.
There is no reason for thousands of our state's children each year to go through the traumas associated with incarceration in local jails and indefinite probation.
Gov. Newsom, please meet this moment — as you promised you would — and show California's children and communities of color that you truly do care about their futures. Please show us that you are committed to going beyond the rhetoric and making actual investments to effectuate healthy change. Please use your position and influence to facilitate — and fund — healthy approaches. Please show us our trust in you as a changemaker and a visionary was not misplaced.
Please, Gov. Newsom, don't lose your resolve.