Improving the Juvenile Justice System: What Works

March 6, 2020 | by NCCD

improving jj

New resources from NCCD and the Positive Youth Justice Initiative (PYJI) aim to support communities working toward a healthier juvenile justice system by describing what works.

Four briefs highlight findings from NCCD’s evaluation of PYJI, which supports community-based organizations in 11 California counties. These organizations, in partnership with other grassroots groups and youth and family members most affected by the juvenile justice system, have improved policies at the local and state levels by dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline, ending “voluntary” probation, and centering youth and community voices in policy decisions.

The briefs offer in-depth looks at these positive changes:

Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline

RYSE Youth Center (Richmond) and Mid-City Community Advocacy Network (San Diego) drafted or supported district-wide resolutions—approved by the school boards in their respective counties—that prioritize restorative justice and other alternative practices over punitive discipline approaches such as suspensions and arrests.

Using social media campaigns, Fresno Barrios Unidos drew awareness to school-based policies that criminalize youth and encouraged schools to hire school counselors rather than on-campus law enforcement.

Sacramento Area Congregations Together conducted a successful campaign to end Sacramento City Unified School District’s contract with the City of Sacramento Police Department for school resource officers.

Ending “Voluntary” Probation

Through public pressure, the Youth Justice Coalition and its partners contributed to the Los Angeles County Probation Department eliminating the use of “voluntary” probation. Under this practice, thousands of young people—mostly youth of color—reported to probation officers and/or the district attorney despite not being court involved.

Sigma Beta Xi, Inc. initiated a successful class action lawsuit, filed by the ACLU, against the Riverside County Probation Department’s Youth Accountability Team (YAT). Under a settlement agreement, youth are no longer enrolled in YAT for non-criminal behavior, such as tardiness and academic performance. Black and Latino youth were disproportionately placed on “informal” probation through YAT.

Informing State Legislation

PYJI partners and their local coalitions provided research and personal testimony to inform California state legislation, resulting in the governor’s approval of 11 bills that contribute to a healthier justice system. More information on the individual legislation is included in the “Community Victories” brief.

Together, these local organizations are accelerating a statewide movement to focus on youth well-being, improved system practices, and reduced justice system involvement.

The evaluation’s findings point to the importance of investing in community organizing and advocacy—with a focus on engaging system-impacted young people—in order to improve the juvenile justice system. NCCD is proud to have contributed to this effort.

PYJI is funded by Sierra Health Foundation, The California Endowment, The California Wellness Foundation, and Zellerbach Family Foundation. Along with the Community Victories brief, the other three briefs are available on the NCCD website: “Transforming Juvenile Corrections,” “Highlights of Youth Involvement,” and “Disrupting the School-to-Prison Pipeline.” For more information on the NCCD evaluation, see the interim report or visit the PYJI website.

Photo provided by The Center at Sierra Health Foundation