Reimagining Youth Justice in Los Angeles County

January 20, 2021

In late 2020, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to dismantle the nation’s largest and most complicated youth probation department to form the Department of Youth Development. The new department will focus on alternatives to incarceration that disproportionately harm Black, Indigenous and young people of color.

This historic shift has been nearly a decade in the making with important progress made along the way. “Probations officers were placed in schools to interact with children who had challenges with truancy, low-grades and behavior—but no criminal background,” says Jai Phillips, CCF’s Program Officer for Youth Development and a member of the Youth Justice Work Group who was involved in the legislation. “We need folks who are trained in youth and child development to be serving these young people.”

The Youth Justice Work Group (YJWG), a diverse and committed group of youth leaders, community advocates, service providers, County representatives and justice partners, convened in 2017 with the community to determine how to best reinvest the probations department’s $80 million budget surplus that was intended to be spent in the community. One of the main results of these efforts was Ready To Rise, a public–private partnership between the California Community Foundation, Liberty Hill Foundation and the Los Angeles County Probation Department that centers on the best practices of healing, learning and opportunity to reduce youth involvement with law enforcement.

“It was quite clear that even more needed to be done, that we needed to reimagine an entirely different probations department,” Phillips recalls. He, along with the other members of the Youth Justice Work Group, pushed-forward to create “Youth Justice Reimagined”, funded in part by grants from CCF and other funders and donors. The report envisions a youth justice system rooted in healing and wellbeing, racial equity and youth development. Informed by this report, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Shelia Kuehl and Mark Ridley-Thomas created a motion to end the Probation Department’s supervision of juveniles, passing control to a newly created Department of Youth Development. The motion was unanimously approved by the board of supervisors.  With the formation of this new department, Los Angeles County stands together with the community, so that all youth have the chance to live up to their full potential.


PHOTO: A Place Called Home & CDTech – Community Development Technologies


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