California Youth Justice Advocates Applaud Historic Step Towards Ending Youth Incarceration

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Black & Magazine Newswire

California youth advocates applauded the state legislature for taking a critical step this week to close the state’s youth prison system, the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), a move that now offers a historic opportunity to advance racial equity and transform the youth justice system. The effort to close DJJ the right way led by community members who were formerly incarcerated at DJJ and experienced this traumatizing system firsthand.

“This moment represents the end of California’s outdated corrections model for dealing with vulnerable youth through punishment and control,” said Frankie Guzman, director of the Youth Justice Initiative at National Center for Youth Law. “It represents the end of our state’s failed policies that ripped youths out of their communities, subjected them to unacceptable levels of abuse and neglect in remote prisons, and destroyed countless lives and entire communities. In order to achieve our vision for youth justice, we must ensure that youth, community, and development experts play lead roles in developing and implementing new, effective approaches to serving all youth.”

The bill, SB 823 would create meaningful state oversight of a realigned youth justice system, invest in healing centered evidence-based approaches grounded in youth development for high-needs youth, and help prevent the transfer of youth to adult prisons, a majority of whom are Black youth and youth of color. Closure of DJJ will keep young people closer to their home, families, and needed services.

“With the Governor’s signature on SB 823, a historic achievement will be complete. Historic status is not conferred only by legislative actions and signatures; to be accurate this narrative must record the tenacity, hard work and commitment of incredible advocate partners we have had the privilege to work alongside to help make this happen,” said Chet P. Hewitt, president and CEO of The Center at Sierra Health Foundation. “We celebrate this extraordinary moment for youth across this great state, and acknowledge work remains to be done. Let the struggle for equity and justice continue.”

The bill provides state support for successful implementation and full funding to counties to increase their ability to serve realigned youth at all levels of need locally. SB 823 will also provide oversight and accountability of county systems to ensure youth well-being is prioritized and funds are used effectively.

“This victory is also a symbolic victory,” said Daniel Mendoza, a youth justice and policy advocate at Fathers and Families of San Joaquin. “While this is a joyous moment, we know that ‘power concedes nothing without demand.’ I am one of many individuals who was incarcerated in my youth, and we have an opportunity to change the narrative and tell our own stories. We need to continue to advocate to ensure we close youth prisons the right way. We need to continue to organize and mobilize at all levels and make sure our values are reflected in policies, practices, and budgets. La Lucha Sigue.”

In addition, the bill requires that the state create a plan for improving its data collection system, and for counties to report important data on programs, services, and youth outcomes. The bill also includes safeguards to prevent needless transfers of youth to adult courts and state prisons by giving counties the resources and authority to treat youth locally up to age 25.

A recent poll commissioned by The California Endowment on state voters’ attitudes toward the California’s youth prison system showed that:

  • More than two-thirds of voters, 68%, support the idea of closing youth prisons and replacing them with a new agency that would provide non-probation based youth development and public health services.
  • Voters offer widespread and broad support for a number of policies to reduce the number of youth who are incarcerated.
  • By more than a two-to-one ratio, voters prefer to have a youth development agency rather than the probation system take responsibility for incarcerated youth as youth prisons close.

About The California Alliance for Youth and Community Justice

The California Alliance for Youth and Community Justice (CAYCJ) is an alliance of over 30 youth advocacy organizations in over 15 counties in California. For more information, please visit www.caycj.org.

About the California Funders for Boys and Men of Color

The California Funders for Boys and Men of Color (CFBMoC) brings together CEOs from the state’s leading philanthropic institutions to help shape a better future for boys and men of color in the state. The CFBMoC aligns the resources, networks and voices of California foundations to build the momentum, public will and policy attention necessary to improve outcomes and expand opportunities for African American, Latino, Asian Pacific Islander and Native American boys and young men. For more information, please visit cafundersforbmoc.org, Twitter @CABMOCFunders and Instagram @cafundersforbmoc.

SOURCE California Funders for Boys and Men of Color

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