Even as Los Angeles County has seen a sizable drop in the number of youth in its juvenile justice system over the past decade, the county’s Board of Supervisors is hoping that a countywide juvenile diversion program could improve matters even more.
On Tuesday, the supervisors will vote on a proposal that would launch an action plan for creating a comprehensive plan for youth diversion across the county.
“[K]eeping young people out of the traditional justice system whenever possible through diversion programs is a promising strategy for improving the social, academic, economic and health outcomes of young people and ultimately reducing recidivism and improving public safety,” according to a motion from Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Janice Hahn.
The proposal calls declining numbers of youth in L.A. County’s camps and halls “a positive trend to build upon.”
But creating an effective and coordinated juvenile diversion program across the county has proven difficult.
According to a report released by a task force with county’s Education Coordinating Council, there are 16 programs across the county that divert youth at the point of arrest or citation.
Most are run by law enforcement agencies, with four programs organized by community-based organizations and two by school districts. Some, like the El Monte T.O.R.C.H. Academy Boot Camp, take a tough approach, while a couple of others, including Centinela Youth Services, emphasize training and restorative justice practices.
But access to programs that offer an opportunity to minimize future entanglement with the justice system are clustered in certain parts of the county.
“It is unacceptable that a young person in one ZIP code can benefit from opportunities like restorative justice and mentoring, while another young person arrested for the same offense in a different location cannot,” said Ridley-Thomas in an email to The Chronicle of Social Change. “Through this motion, the County can identify the elements of its most effective and cost-efficient diversion models, and develop a plan for scaling up those programs.”
At stake in future discussions about diversion programs in the county are the role of community-based models and a reckoning with effective practices. The board motion noted the growth of 236 youth on so-called voluntary probation – a Probation Department program that allows school-based probation officers to work with at-risk youth who have yet to enter the system, as long as parental consent is granted.
Despite an increase in this population – which now exceeds the number of youth on formal probation – questions remain about the impact of the program.
The board motion also calls for Los Angeles County to seek funding from state, federal and local funding streams, as well as through a partnership with the Center for Strategic Public-Private Partnerships.
The Board of Supervisors is set to vote on the motion at its meeting tomorrow.