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California Provides Major Boost to Pre-Arrest Diversion for Youth

In a stunning victory for youth justice advocates, the California legislature and Governor agreed to fund two new NCYL-crafted proposals totaling $41.3 million that offer meaningful diversion and rehabilitation opportunities for youth who come into contact with the justice system. These new funds aim to improve outcomes for vulnerable youth at risk of, or in conflict with, the law by providing developmentally-appropriate services proven effective at promoting community health and public safety.

The Youth Reinvestment Fund is a one-time state expenditure of $37.3 million distributed over a three-year grant period to improve outcomes for youth accused of low-level or status offenses by increasing the availability of trauma-informed, community and health-based interventions in lieu of arrest and incarceration. $1 million is specifically set aside to address the needs of Native American youth. Funds are also allocated to integrate social workers into public defenders offices in order to address the root causes that bring youth into the system.

The Fostering Success Fund provides $4 million to specifically support foster youth who are at risk of being criminalized for minor misbehaviors and low-level offenses by providing trainings to law enforcement, and group home and shelter staff that includes adolescent development practices, de-escalation techniques, culturally relevant and trauma informed interventions, as well as increasing the availability of services for children in group homes and shelters that addresses their underlying needs.

Youth in conflict with the law who are met with community-based responses that account for and address their underlying health and mental health needs in a culturally appropriate manner, see far better life outcomes than youth who are not, thereby resulting in enhanced public safety.

Arresting and incarcerating youth for minor offenses leaves them less likely to graduate high school, more likely to suffer negative health-outcomes, and more likely to re-offend. Thousands of California youth are incarcerated every year for low-level offenses. The fact that there are more than 120 youth lockups in California that incarcerate thousands of children at a cost of $1 billion a year is evidence that this approach has been disastrous, especially for youth of color who make up 80% of the children in California’s youth prisons. These youth deserve a better approach, one that will have the added benefit of reducing the disproportionate impact the justice systems have on youth of color, children with disabilities, girls, LGBTQ youth, native youth, and foster children.

NCYL and the more than 100 legal advocacy groups, youth development organizations, and public agencies including probation and law enforcement that support these initiatives applaud the steps the legislature and Governor Jerry Brown have taken to begin to transform youth justice in California.

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