Board Moves to Shut Down Pipeline From Foster Care to Juvenile Justice

(Left to Right): Michael Nash (OCP), Taylor Lytle (ARC), Xavier Bruttomesso (National Foster Youth Institute), Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Dr. Jacquelyn McCroskey (Children’s Data Network), Jesse de la Cruz (Alliance for Children’s Rights), Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, Lawrence Winston (NFYI), and Julio Marcial (Liberty Hill). All photos by Martin Zamora / Board of Supervisors.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion aimed at preventing foster youth from becoming entangled in the juvenile justice system, and ensuring supportive care for those do.

Such “dual status” or “crossover” youth, who fall under the jurisdiction of both the dependency and delinquency systems, are a particularly vulnerable population: a 2016 report by Cal State Los Angeles showed that three-quarters of dual status youth had a mental health diagnosis, and one-tenth had attempted suicide.

“The issue of dual status youth is fundamental to the very question of how the County can improve its social safety net,” said the motion’s principal author, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “The foster care to juvenile justice pipeline is real, and all too common. Once foster youth cross over to the delinquency system, the outcomes are grim – one-third of dual status youth are not even enrolled in school. Now is the time to reverse these trends.”

His coauthor, Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, added, “We are seeing the same kids who have lived in foster homes end up in juvenile halls and probation camps. We are losing a generation of youth to the system, but these youth are in our care and we have a responsibility to do better. They need informed supportive services so they can break free from the cycle of neglect, trauma, and delinquency and forge their own path to a better life. I hope this report will help us find ways to address this issue and provide our youth with the tools they need to succeed.”

Julio Marcial, Director of Youth Justice with the Liberty Hill Foundation, Taylor Lytle, Youth Advocate with the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), and Jesse de la Cruz (Alliance for Children’s Rights), provide testimony during the Board of Supervisors meeting.

Taylor Lytle entered the foster care system at age 11, only to become a victim of abuse in her foster placement and placed on unnecessary psychotropic medication that, as she described, “robbed me of my voice and ability to advocate for myself.” She was first arrested and sent to juvenile hall at age 13 for an incident at her group home, and cycled in and out of juvenile hall and probation camps for probation violations over the next four years. “I feel like the system failed me,” she told the Board. “I spent most of my teenage years incarcerated for violations like school suspensions, drug use and running away from placements – clear signs of the trauma and anger I was experiencing. I wish somebody would have just helped me reconnect with my siblings and offered me guidance. Once you enter the justice system, it is so hard to get out of it. I am hopeful that this motion can change that, and I look forward to participating in finding the solutions.”

Several other former dual status youth, connected to advocacy organizations like Alliance for Children’s Rights and National Foster Youth Institute, provided compelling testimony at the Board meeting.

Liliana Flores was referred to the foster care system after experiencing physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her parents. “I was put in a group home where there was gang activity and drugs on a daily basis. I was hurting and got caught up in it. I was arrested twice and put in juvenile hall by the age of 16,” she said. “I continued to bounce around from juvenile halls to group homes without any guidance or help in regards to my education, social skills, or citizenship. During my teenage years, I felt like the system completely forgot about me. It is important that, with this motion, we change this dynamic. I don’t want any youth to have to experience what I did.”

Michael Nash, Executive Director of the Los Angeles County Office of Child Protection (OCP), speaks in support of the motion, which charges the OCP with convening the workgroup that will draft the Countywide plan.

“I’m excited about this motion because it calls for a collaborative approach,” said Children’s Data Network co-director Jacquelyn McCroskey. “One of our organization’s recent studies found way too many of our youth have been moving back and forth across the child welfare and delinquency systems. They and their families are too important not to bring all resources to bear in support of creating better futures.”

The newly approved motion charges the Office of Child Protection (OCP) with creating a countywide plan for dual status youth – and those at risk of becoming such youth – that is informed by an understanding of their particular needs and the policy changes underway. The motion passed unanimously, with minor amendments and suggestions to ensure disparities among LGBTQ youth are addressed as well as legal relief and record clearing offered to dual status youth.

The OCP is uniquely poised to lead this work. It will liaise with the Juvenile Court; convene affected youth, and the County departments and community stakeholders serving them; identify funds to enhance services; and build on improvements already underway.

OCP Executive Director Michael Nash, a retired presiding judge of the Juvenile Court and longtime advocate for dual status youth, said, “I view this motion as an excellent opportunity for the OCP to work with all the relevant stakeholders to move this effort forward.”

“There are few children more in need of our collective hard work and commitment than those who are been impacted by both the child welfare and criminal justice systems,” Probation Director Terry McDonald said. “We believe that by strengthening our partnership and resolve, we can improve the lives of young people who have experienced far too much trauma and often neglect.”

“Having worked in both Probation and child welfare, I can tell you from firsthand experience that these youth have experienced trauma and need all the support we can provide,” added Department of Children and Family Services Director Bobby Cagle. “I look forward to working with my colleagues across County departments to ensure these youth have caring adults in their lives to provide them with a safe and loving environment.”

Addressing the Epidemic of Gun Violence

L-R: Joni Novosel, Center for Healthier Communities; Albert Melena, San Fernando Valley Partnership; Paul Carrillo, Crossroads; Anthony Ortiz Luis, Valley Care Community Consortium. Photo by Henry Salazar/Board of Supervisors

Seeking to address the epidemic of gun violence, the Board of Supervisors voted to evaluate potential ordinances for restricting the availability of firearms and for strengthening gun control regulations, as well as to consider creating a new agency to coordinate violence prevention strategies.

Photo by Bryan Chan/Board of Supervisors

“We’ve had enough moments of silence, of praying for slain co-workers, school children and neighbors,” said Board Chair Sheila Kuehl, principal author of the motion. “We need to be taking every possible action and refuse to be satisfied by anything short of a comprehensive approach to this public health crisis that addresses not only gun violence but child and elder abuse, and domestic and intimate partner violence. We want to prepare a comprehensive plan to ensure that every man, woman, and child in this county is free from violence.”

Every year, about 30,000 people nationwide die as a result of gun violence, and 85,000 people are injured. In Los Angeles County, firearms kill an average of at least three people every day.

Photo by Bryan Chan/Board of Supervisors

“It is imperative that we broaden the conversation beyond just tightening regulations for firearms and gun safety,” said the motion’s co-author, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “We must take a comprehensive approach – including looking at the problem from a public health perspective – to help our communities break the patterns that ultimately result in acts of violence. Our work must encompass stricter gun laws as well as a range of violence prevention strategies.”

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas noted that 100 people were killed in mass shootings in Parkland, Florida; Sutherland Springs, Texas; and Las Vegas, Nevada, just in the last five months. In the US, 7,000 children under age 18 are wounded or killed by gunshots every year. Firearms are the third leading cause of death among those ages 1-17. These statistics, however, do not even begin to address the psychological trauma inflicted on families and communities.

Patti Giggans, Peace Over Violence, testifies in support of the motion. Photo by Henry Salazar/Board of Supervisors

“Regulating guns and curbing gun violence remains a divisive issue but we must prevail in developing common-sense and innovative policies because – make no mistake – gun violence is a public health crisis,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.

Following the mass shooting of San Bernardino County public health employees at a Christmas Party in December 2015, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas introduced a motion asking for a report on gun violence prevention regulations. The report, released on June 2017, found that several local governments in California have adopted constitutional gun control regulations that are stronger than those in Los Angeles County. It also discovered that various County departments have a range of violence prevention initiatives, but these efforts are not coordinated.

Barbara King-Wilson, with Mothers Demanding Action, testifies in support of the motion. Photo by Henry Salazar/Board of Supervisors

In their motion, Board Chair Kuehl and Supervisor Ridley-Thomas wrote, “Establishing a single Office of Violence Prevention that is responsible for coordinating the County’s myriad violence prevention programs can be a first step towards the County’s adoption of a more strategic approach to preventing gun violence in our County. Such an office will also be able to help the County identify the gaps in our current array of violence prevention programs.”

Several people testified in support of the motion.“We applaud the County for taking the initiative to explore how to reduce the number of guns on the street,” said Paul Carillo, executive director of the nonprofit Southern California Crossroads.“We also know from personal and professional experience that reducing violence requires changing the mindset of those who live in violence-impacted communities.”

“I’m here to endorse this big idea to look at how millions of people can live together without doing intentional harm to each other,” added Patti Giggans, executive director of the nonprofit Peace Over Violence. “I’m also here to express support for it being comprehensive and not just about guns and gangs. It’s so important to including domestic violence, sexual assault, and other intersectional aspects of violence.”

 

Shutting Down the Pipeline from
Foster Care to Juvenile Justice

Amid sweeping changes in child welfare policy at the federal and state level, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas announced a motion aimed at slashing the number of foster youth who become entangled in the juvenile justice system, and ensuring supportive care for those who do touch both systems. The Board of Supervisors will hear the motion on March 20, 2018.

Such “dual status” or “crossover” youth, who fall under the jurisdiction of both the dependency and delinquency systems, are a particularly vulnerable population: a 2016 report by Cal State Los Angeles showed that three-quarters of dual status youth had a mental health diagnosis, and one-tenth had attempted suicide. Moreover, a 2011 study by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation found 4 in 5 such youth rely on public welfare benefits during early adulthood.

“Many of these youth have been victims of serious trauma, and getting caught up in the justice system only traumatizes them further,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “Half of dual status youth in the County are struggling in school or not attending regularly. Too many may end up languishing in juvenile hall due to insufficient community-based placements. We can and must do better.”

Los Angeles County has a history of addressing the particular needs of dual status youth. It was one of the first counties in California to let youth remain in both the dependency and delinquency courts to improve service delivery. In 2012 and 2013, the Board approved Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ motions to improve prevention, intervention, funding for services, and data collection for this population.

The landscape has changed in the intervening years. Continuum of Care Reform in California is fundamentally altering the types of housing available for youth in the child welfare system, ending the concept of group homes as we know it. Meanwhile, the Families First Prevention Services Act will affect financing streams for federal child welfare. This is a critical time for Los Angeles County to lead on this issue and shut down the pipeline from the foster care system to the juvenile justice system.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas latest motion, coauthored by Supervisor Hilda Solis, charges the Office of Child Protection (OCP) with creating a countywide plan for dual status youth – and those at risk of becoming such youth – that is informed by an understanding of their particular needs and the policy changes underway.

The OCP is uniquely poised to lead this work. It will liaise with the Juvenile Court; convene affected youth and the County departments and community stakeholders serving them; identify funds to enhance services; and build on improvements already underway. OCP Executive Director Michael Nash, a retired presiding judge of the Juvenile Court and longtime advocate for dual status youth, said, “I view this motion as an excellent opportunity for the OCP to work with all the relevant stakeholders to move this effort forward.”

“There are few children more in need of our collective hard work and commitment than those who are been impacted by both the child welfare and criminal justice systems,” Probation Director Terry McDonald said. “We believe that by strengthening our partnership and resolve, we can improve the lives of young people who have experienced far too much trauma and often neglect.”

“Having worked in both Probation and child welfare, I can tell you from firsthand experience that these youth have experienced trauma and need all the support we can provide,” added Department of Children and Family Services Director Bobby Cagle. “I look forward to working with my colleagues across County departments to ensure these youth have caring adults in their lives to provide them with a safe and loving environment.”

Righting the Wrongs of the War on Drugs

By Mark Ridley-Thomas

Supervisor, Los Angeles County

I am, and will remain, concerned that legalizing the sale of marijuana could be detrimental to the health and safety of vulnerable neighborhoods, leading to unintended consequences that cannot be offset by overblown estimates of the profit that commercialization might bring. Still, I recognize that Prop. 64 offers an opportunity to address at least some of the profound injustices perpetrated by the War on Drugs, especially against people of color.

Even though marijuana use is fairly consistent across race, blacks have been four times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession. And their punishment persisted long past the time they spent behind bars, because having a conviction on one’s record made it difficult, if not impossible, to find a job, obtain housing, secure student loans, earn a professional license, etc.

All of those missed opportunities had lasting repercussions, sometimes felt across generations. It also further widened the racial divide, socially and economically.

Prop. 64 is not without flaws but nevertheless carries tremendous potential for righting the wrongs of the past, basically by giving people a chance to start over. It retroactively reduced certain convictions – felonies became misdemeanors, misdemeanors became infractions – and dismissed some convictions altogether. For youth, it also allowed court records to be destroyed, giving them a clean slate.

Many people, however, remain unaware that they are entitled to legal relief under Prop. 64. Others are deterred by the cumbersome process, which can include having to hire a lawyer to petition the court.

We have an obligation to help them.

Together with Supervisor Hilda Solis, I have authored a motion to create a plan for facilitating the resentencing of minor marijuana convictions in Los Angeles County. The Office of Cannabis Management would collaborate with various county departments and agencies, as well as the courts and community stakeholders, to develop strategies that are timely, accessible, and cost-effective.

The motion also seeks to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, particularly racial disparities in law enforcement. A disturbing pattern has emerged in jurisdictions that legalized marijuana. In Alaska, for example, overall marijuana-related arrests fell post-legalization but blacks were still arrested 10 times more often than whites. In Washington D.C. and Colorado, the ratio was closer to 4:1 and 3:1.

Throughout my career, I have made criminal justice reform a priority. I have worked to improve relations between law enforcement and the public they are sworn to protect and serve; to facilitate resentencing under Prop. 47; to create diversion programs for the mentally ill, who should not be in jail in the first place; and to support reentry programs aimed at helping ex-offenders become productive members of society after serving their time.

Too many lives have already been upended, and communities adversely affected, by actions that, as of New Year’s Day 2018, are no longer considered crimes in California. If we, as a society, value justice and improving lives, then we must make the most of correcting wrong-headed criminal justice practices of the past and promote a future that is defined by enlightened accountability.

A Roadmap for Probation Reform

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas introduced a motion to accept the final recommendations of a study that evaluated ways to reform Los Angeles County’s troubled Probation Department. It endorsed the findings of the LA County Probation Governance Study, which was the culmination of 18 months of work by Resource Development Associates (RDA), a consultant team that included local and national experts in justice reform.

The commissioned report made seven primary recommendations:

  • Develop a uniform mission statement, instituted to advance reform efforts;
  • Reorganize the Probation Department with youth and adult divisions to create needed specialization for each population;
  • Strengthen community partnerships and develop community-oriented offices;
  • Use structured decision making and validated risk/needs assessments to better place and track services;
  • Close and repurpose juvenile facilities, including one or two juvenile halls;
  • Address staffing, hiring and training issues; and
  • Invest in IT systems and use of data.

“There is consensus that these primary recommendations are essential to reforming Probation,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “The key now seems to be how to integrate, coordinate, and ensure that accountability systems are in place to advance this agenda to achieve stated benchmarks, with outcomes, to support clients and our communities.”

“Accepting RDA’s primary recommendations, and directly linking them to the efforts already underway on Probation reform, is the responsible thing to do,” he added. “The ultimate goal is a transformed department with clients’ well-being at its core.

Board Chair Sheila Kuehl said, “This report underscores the need to continue many of the positive actions that the County has been taking in recent years to strengthen and transform the nation’s largest probation department into a model for the rest of the country.”

“It also provides a practical framework for continued implementation of these important reforms,” she added. “I, and my fellow supervisors, are committed to seeing that this Probation Department provides not only oversight and supervision but also robust support systems for the adults and children in our care. Doing so better ensures the safety of all County residents.”

“RDA has done the crucial work of drawing on past reports, existing research, and input from the Probation Department and community stakeholders to craft an important and comprehensive set of recommendations,” said Josh Green, criminal justice program manager at the Urban Peace Institute, and an active community stakeholder working on juvenile justice reform. “The opportunity we have now is to imagine an implementation plan that recognizes the essential role of Board, the Department and community members, while also thinking about how we can all hold one another accountable.”