In the spirit of our September series on Campus Kilpatrick and the LA Model, we are pleased to share the introduction from a policy report (2017) commissioned by The Children’s Defense Fund and written by Hailly T.N. Korman (Bellwether Education Partners), Carly B. Dierkhising (California State University, Los Angeles), and additional contributors:
The juvenile justice system in Los Angeles County has been broken for too long. The outdated, institutional, and sometimes harmful camps that house youth labeled “delinquent” have been just one glaring example. But beyond the system, reform efforts themselves have suffered at times – whether from mistrust, or too often happening in a vacuum or behind closed doors. As a result, communities impacted by the system and advocates alike have felt frustrated by treatment proven to be ineffective and even damaging, as well as by failures to meaningfully include the voices of many stakeholders. The Probation Department and other agencies have expressed their own wariness of outsiders who may not fully understand their day-to-day challenges. An us-versus-them mentality can persist to the detriment of youth within the system.
The Campus Kilpatrick project has offered a vehicle to bring LA’s juvenile justice system into the 21st century. Just as important as the ultimate outcome – a new facility focused on therapeutic, holistic, small-group treatment – has been the process of getting there. The project reflects an attempt to change the way stakeholders and system leaders work together for change; towards this end, Children Defense Fund-California led a process in late 2014 to form subcommittees, each co-chaired by a county and non-county representative and composed of representatives from county agencies and the Board of Supervisors, advocates, researchers, funders, youth and family. These subcommittees were tasked with developing recommendations for probation’s programming, staffing and training, and education and data collection. They developed joint vision and mission statements and guidelines for working together respectfully. And ultimately, they set out together to learn about and propose best practices to be implemented in LA.
Importantly, CDF-CA undertook this project with a clear understanding that incarceration — which is still what this facility does — has never been shown to increase public safety, but has been correlated with higher rates of recidivism and trauma. We maintain that incarceration must always be a last resort, not a first impulse; it must always be for the shortest duration possible. And while we revamp the way youth are treated in facilities with more dignity and respect, we must at every moment revisit whom and for what reasons we are removing youth from their homes, and keep youth out of locked facilities wherever possible. We must continue to scale back incarceration, and rightsize a system we spent billions to build over decades by seriously considering closing expensive facilities that are now half-empty.
Transformations don’t happen over night. Just as the new camp – both the facility and what it represents – is taking years to develop, building trust is also a lengthy process in need of ongoing attention and commitment. In part, this process has served to remind the County that stakeholders and community are key partners, not foes, in change, and vice versa. As efforts continue to implement this project and shift the whole culture and approach of the largest probation department in the country, shared ownership over what happens to youth in the County’s care must continue too. The potential is vast. We hope this project can create the true public-private partnership necessary to create meaningful systemic transformation for youth and families, and in turn be a model to the rest of the county, state and country.
Alex Johnson Children’s Defense Fund – California
Patricia Soung Children’s Defense Fund – California
Michelle Newell Office of Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas