“Now is the time for the county to reaffirm its commitment to a new youth justice model. When we invest in young people, we invest in their communities and in public safety. This model signifies a paradigm shift, which can only be actualized through the restructuring of the current system and the resources that sustain it.”
These words — part of a motion delivered by Los Angeles County supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Mark Ridley-Thomas in November 2020 — gave us so much hope after years of failed attempts to reform a fundamentally flawed system. For more than a decade, youth justice advocates in Los Angeles have fought to transform a juvenile system that invests in the harm of young people — particularly Black and brown youth, who make up 90% of youth on probation and even more in camps and halls — instead of in their potential.
With this motion, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved Youth Justice Reimagined, a set of recommendations that has the power to change the focus of the county’s youth system from punishment and control to health and well-being. This reimagining includes recommendations to equitably reduce the size and scope of the system, reallocate resources from youth incarceration and supervision to a healing restorative model, and improving staff well-being. Finally, change was coming.
But the question is, when?
Considering what’s at stake, not enough has happened since that day almost a year ago. The board’s motion included an initial investment of $75 million for Youth Justice Reimagined, which was supposed to come from the probation department’s budget, as it would ultimately be replaced by a new Department of Youth Development. But county CEO Fesia Davenport’s 2021-2022 budget, released in April, did not include any funding for it. Davenport said the entire plan, including the new youth development department, was “premature.”
In response to community outcry, county officials first scraped together a mere $17.3 million in the June budget for the Youth Justice Reimagined model, less than a third of what was promised. Under continuous pressure, during last week’s meeting, the board approved another one-time $27.4 million allocation in the supplemental budget for a Youth Justice Reimagined Development Fund. The additional funds certainly get us closer to the $75 million that was promised but identifying sustainable and ongoing funding is still necessary to truly implement Youth Justice Reimagined.
If county leaders feel they lack the resources to fully realize this plan, Los Angeles Youth Uprising (LAYUP) — a coalition of youth, advocacy and social justice organizations working to dismantle the racist juvenile system — has a solution for where to start.
According to a recently released report, juvenile probation currently has over 400 vacant positions which account for approximately $72 million of the $570 million L.A. County Probation Department receives to surveil and jail a dwindling number of young people in lockup and on probation. The county should eliminate these positions as most have gone unfilled for years, likely because youth justice supervision has decreased by 30% since 2018 and youth incarceration has decreased even more dramatically, 50% since March of 2020. Not only are these positions unnecessary, the dollars associated with them are simply collecting dust.
We must eliminate this system that runs on incarcerating children, slaps them with violations, uses pepper spray to create “safety” and functions with complete impunity for the harm they cause.
We thought the L.A. Board of Supervisors recognized those needs when it boldly voted in favor of Youth Justice Reimagined. While the board stepped up to partially fund the plan, it also continues to increase money for LA County Probation, the system that dehumanizes the young people it is charged with protecting.
Stop sending these mixed messages. If the board is truly committed to a “new youth justice model,” it will act with urgency and do what is necessary to fully realize the promise it made to the youth of Los Angeles County. Cutting vacant positions is an easy place to start.