Citing the need for “repair and healing,” members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to expand therapeutic approaches to juvenile detention Wednesday, calling on department officials to create plans for mentorships with formerly incarcerated adults, restorative justice programs and more time outdoors.
The unanimously approved plan presented by Supervisors Holly Mitchell and Sheila Kuehl also directs county officials to increase educational opportunities and provide support for substance abuse recovery.
“We have found that the punitive approach to justice only leads to worse outcomes for justice-involved youth — and adults for that matter — but does not make communities the least bit safer,” Supervisor Holly Mitchell said. “Many of these kids are some of the most vulnerable and most in need of an alternative rooted in harm repair and healing.”
Los Angeles and 57 other California counties are now responsible for an increasing share of youth who have committed serious offenses. Last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and the California Legislature agreed on a plan to shut down the state’s Division of Juvenile Justice, relying on counties to house and supervise young people charged with murder and rape until age 25. The state is also sending millions of dollars to local governments to implement more effective rehabilitative programming.
L.A. County is now temporarily housing eight of these young people at the Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall, but longer-term plans must be made for dozens more youth who could be locked up for years following pending juvenile court rulings.
L.A. County will use $8 million in state funding to send up to 45 young men to Campus Kilpatrick until it finds a permanent facility.
Following a recommendation by a committee of probation officials and youth advocates, a portion of the funding will be used for a “credible messenger” program at the camp, located in a rugged, remote area of Malibu.
First pioneered by former Black Panther Eddie Ellis, the use of formerly incarcerated adults as guides for youth entangled in the justice system has taken off in recent years. Such mentors are being used by New York City’s Department of Probation, the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services in Washington, D.C., and by Social Advocates for Youth in San Diego.
Ezekiel Nishiyama, a 21-year-old advocate with the Anti-Recidivism Coalition who spoke at Tuesday’s supervisors meeting, said the use of credible messengers could dramatically shift the culture at detention facilities. During four years of incarceration in L.A. County and at the state’s Division of Juvenile Justice, Nishiyama said he had little hope for his future — until he received support from a mentor provided by a community-based organization.
“As young people, we all need a mentor, we all need someone who is going to support us at our worst with the vision that we will become the best versions of ourselves,” he said.
The board motion approved by supervisors aims to support more rehabilitative opportunities at Kilpatrick, which opened four years ago but has offered little therapeutic programming.
The supervisors directed county leaders to explore establishing a charter school on campus, community college classes and substance abuse counseling.
Within 60 days, county officials must also create a plan for a restorative justice program at the Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar and at Campus Kilpatrick. The county will partner with the nonprofit Healing Dialogue and Action to help young people understand the damage caused by their crimes and how their actions have impacted victims.
Kruti Parekh, coordinator of the L.A. Youth Uprising Coalition, hailed the board's decision to implement new ways of working with young people locked up in detention facilities.
“We see time and time again that hurt people hurt people,” she said. “Public safety looks like making sure that restorative justice, healthy programming and credible messengers are inside of Campus Kilpatrick.”