Youth Development Versus Criminalization: Investing In Los Angeles’ Young People

This month, three juvenile justice advocacy groups released “Building a Positive Future for L.A.’s Youth: Re-imagining Public Safety for the City of Los Angeles With an Investment in Youth Development.” The Violence Prevention Coalition of Greater Los Angeles, L.A. for Youth, and the Youth Justice Coalition collaborate in this paper to call for new efforts in Los Angeles, on the city and county level, to better serve youth populations through providing opportunity for engagement instead of cultivating youth criminalization.

Youth development “is the promotion of language, theories, programs and practices that recognize and build on the strengths of youth, families and communities,” and according to the report, is the foil of practices and efforts that define young people by their “risk factors or problems.”

The paper highlights that effective youth development — done largely through investing in community-based programs, youth-driven advocacy efforts, and public decision-making that includes young people — needs to be given financial priority in Los Angeles over continuing to increase funds directed to LAPD.

The report overall advocates that focusing on these specific programs and a local government infrastructure that includes young people is “essential” to advancing the goals of public safety and investing in all too frequently under-resourced and over-policed communities of color. The consequences of criminalizing policies are woven throughout the paper in narratives from young people who are now advocates themselves after having had development opportunities.

A survey of youth development spending in Boston, San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles reveals that L.A. has a lot of catching up to do with these other major cities, which have been actively tending to this issue over the course of the last century. As far as the ratio of police spending to youth development spending, New York’s ratio is 3.7, Boston’s ratio is 2.7, and San Francisco’s is .8. In contrast, Los Angeles’ police to youth development spending ratio is 14.5.


To turn the tide, the report includes a lengthy list of detailed recommendations aimed at the county, the city, and the probation department. It calls on Los Angeles to prioritize creating support systems and in-roads for youth such as establishing youth development departments (YDD) that operate within government. These departments would take over current efforts (like LA Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Summer Night Lights program), as well as spearhead the separation of youth from L.A. County Probation custody (through taking over administration of detention halls, camps and juvenile field probation).

Recommendations envision a restructuring of local government spending to fund the creation of 650 “peacemaker” job positions (for community and school intervention) and 35,000 new youth jobs funded by the county. Learning from other cities’ successful youth development efforts, the paper outlines new ways to create space for youth, such as initiating joint use agreements with schools and relationships with parks departments so that these spaces can house youth development centers at times when they would otherwise sit empty.

These are just a few of the ways in which the paper’s authors outline a vision for a Los Angeles focused on youth development. To read the full list of recommendations and related policy details, read the report here.

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