New Report Evaluates Efforts to Improve Youth Justice in California

New Report Evaluates Efforts to Improve Youth Justice in California

March 2, 2021 | Caroline Glesmann


Ending voluntary probation for young people. Reducing or eliminating the use of law enforcement on school campuses. Gaining seats at policymaking tables that influence decisions regarding juvenile justice or education systems.

These actions are just a few examples of what a group of California community-based organizations and their coalition members—including youth directly impacted by the juvenile justice system—accomplished in the last several years. Support from the Positive Youth Justice Initiative (PYJI) helped make these changes possible.

Since 2017, PYJI has funded community organizations in 11 California counties to work collaboratively with local coalitions to accelerate a statewide movement toward a juvenile justice system focused on youth development. This approach was a shift from the initiative’s previous strategy of funding probation agencies and other system partners to lead youth justice reform.

The organizations funded by PYJI represent communities of color where youth are over-represented in and inequitably treated by the juvenile justice system. Despite their limited resources compared to the systems they are working to change, these organizations and their community partners are leading the call against mass incarceration and in support of disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline and eliminating racial disparities throughout the system.

Evident Change recently completed an evaluation of PYJI, which is funded by Sierra Health Foundation, The California Endowment, The California Wellness Foundation, and the Zellerbach Family Foundation. The evaluation aimed to find information that Sierra Health Foundation and its philanthropic partners can use to support communities in strengthening local infrastructure for organizing and advocacy toward a better youth justice system.

Evaluation findings included the following.

  • PYJI helped increase partners’ capacity for promoting young people’s growth, development, peer learning, and peer connections in the youth justice organizing and advocacy space. This included helping partners build out their youth organizer staffing and programming, which deepened partners’ ability to engage young people and support them in skill building, peer collaboration, and advocacy efforts.
  • PYJI provided support for organizers to engage in networking, relationship building, peer-to-peer learning, healing, and strategy design, which promoted connections within the PYJI network. In turn, these connections helped bolster the statewide movement around youth justice system transformation.

What are some of the larger implications of these findings? Several partners reported noticeable shifts in the local advocacy landscape or in community power to advocate for a healthy justice system since the start of their PYJI grants. One partner said, “Whereas before we were pushing onto systems, now we are being engaged as part of the solution.”

The full evaluation report is available here.

Caroline Glesmann   Caroline Glesmann is a researcher at Evident Change.