Los Angeles County is moving to dismantle the largest youth justice system in the country and begin to transition the County’s youth justice system to a rehabilitative, care-first model by 2025. The action was taken in response to a report titled “Youth Justice Reimagined” produced by the County’s Youth Justice Work Group which called for reducing the size and scope of the juvenile probation system and reallocating resources from youth incarceration and supervision to a healing restorative model. The plan is consistent with the County’s “care first” approach and in accordance with a growing body of literature on juvenile justice. Rather than a punitive system in a prison-like setting with large institutional buildings and barbed wire distant from young people’s communities, this Youth Justice Reimagined vision proposes a home-like setting in communities with 24/7 youth centers and support teams made up of people who develop personal relationships with the young people in their care.
“Our youth simply can’t get well in a cell,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.
LA County’s youth justice system is the largest in the country with approximately 500 young people in the County’s two juvenile halls and six probation camps. Research indicates that the current system often fails to help young people thrive and is characterized by stark racial inequity. A single arrest nearly doubles the likelihood of a young person dropping out of high school, and Black youth are six times more likely to be arrested and 25 times more likely to be incarcerated than their white peers.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, author of the motion, said, “We know now that we will have more success in helping young people to thrive, as well as improve community safety, by providing rehabilitative, health-focused, and care-first programming. We have a lot of analysis and planning still to do, but today’s motion affirms that this is our vision and this is what we plan to build.”
The action taken today mirrors similar efforts in jurisdictions around the country that are reimagining their approach to youth justice including San Francisco, Houston and St. Paul.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, co-author of the motion, said, “The County must resist the tendency towards institutionalizing youth and instead seek out trauma-informed practices that make space for hope and healing and insist on structures that promote positive youth development and rehabilitation. Punitive youth justice systems give up on youth before offering them a chance. The County must be bold in reforming its youth justice system to recognize capacities for rehabilitative change and promote the belonging, usefulness, and competencies that justice-involved youth need to empower themselves and lead healthy, responsible, and caring lives.”
The Youth Justice Work Group included more than 100 staff from County departments, community leaders, labor partners and current and former justice-involved youth, working over many months to reimagine a youth justice system that is rehabilitative, health-focused, and care-first.