Asm. Ammiano: “We can’t punish them into success”
In California politics, adult criminal justice Realignment often overshadows necessary conversation about juvenile justice reform. Today proved to be different with the Assembly Select Committee on Justice Reinvestment hearing that focused specifically on juvenile justice. Asm. Ammiano opened the hearing commenting that young people demonstrate the ability to respond to individualized interventions, stating “we can’t punish them into success.”
Juvenile justice experts, Commonweal’s David Steinhart and CJCJ’s Brian Goldstein described remarkable parallel reductions in youth crime and youth incarceration rates. Of California’s juvenile justice reform, Mr. Steinhart indicated, “we have come a long way.” He reminded us that in 1996 there were over 10,000 youth confined in the state youth correctional system, known as the Division of Juvenile Facilities (DFJ). This is a stark difference to the approximate 700 youth now confined in DJF.
Brian Goldstein, CJCJ’s Policy Analyst, utilized this information as an opportunity to discuss opportunities to serve high-needs youth at the local level. He highlighted probation-operated youth programs that have proven to be more effective at promoting positive outcomes as compared to the state system. It is imperative for counties to have adequate funding, technical assistance, and peer-to-peer support in order to maintain these promising interventions. The state has existing accountability bodies such as the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) that have the responsibility to monitor the use of juvenile justice funds in a transparent manner. He echoed Mr. Steinhart’s emphasis on collection and use of data to provide accountability for funding allocations to county-based youth services.
Both experts expanded on the importance of data in California’s decision-making process. Unfortunately, updated statewide juvenile justice data has not been released since 2011. This is due to budget cuts that have limited the capacity of the Department of Justice to collect, verify, review, and release data in a timely and useable fashion. The two experts urged the Assembly members to support improvement of the current data collection infrastructure, both at the state and local level, as this information is essential to policy making in California.
Additionally, experts on trauma-informed services and educational programming provided insights on what works when serving youth locally. They stressed that use of data was critical to developing, monitoring, and improving service delivery and youth outcomes. Further, Matt Cervantes with the Sierra Health Foundation discussed a recently launched strategy designed to address crossover youth: those youth who are exposed to both the dependency and delinquency systems. This Positive Youth Justice Initiative (PYJI) is working in four counties and elevates collaboration across county departments. A fundamental piece of the PYJI approach will be an independent data-analysis of county outcomes. This initiative is worthy of recognition and examination as we advocate for a 21st century approach to juvenile justice.
The hearing concluded with the voices of those most impact by the justice system, young men and women of color. Young leaders described their pathways into the justice system and how the system impacted them. Their voices are essential in providing context and insight into the data counties collect on their programs. The combination of data and youth voices will result in strong policy recommendations that promote better outcomes of young people.
Today’s hearing provides hope that juvenile justice reform has not been forgotten in the Capitol. The Assembly members demonstrated interest in the issue, recognizing the needs around data collection “came across loud and clear.” As we move forward in this legislative session, it is essential to highlight this necessity at every opportunity. All the experts that presented, the assembly members, and local law enforcement practitioners recognize the need for data-decision making, which requires accessible and reliable data. We must begin to work towards making this a reality.
Posted in Blog, Political Landscape
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