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What Would You Do with $158 Million Dollars?

By the end of 2023, California will have issued $158 million to its counties; money intended to serve youth transitioning from state to county facilities. This money is from a series of Juvenile Justice Realignment Block Grants promised under SB 823, a senate bill that marks the closure of state-run Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) facilities.

If you were to ask community based organizations (CBOs), serving youth who are impacted by the justice systems, what they could accomplish with $158 million dollars, the possibilities would be endless. Many of these organizations have filled in the gaps where the state and counties fall short. CBOs offer system-impacted youth opportunities in the form of internships, jobs, and programming. They offer resources such as gate-money, networking, and community building. To date they have done this without additional funding intended for this work on the ground.

Most CBOs work closely within the community and operate with limited resources. They have become places for youth and families impacted by the justice system, to collaborate, advocate, and heal. It stands to reason that these funds then should go to the places and types of CBO’s in the community where this work is already being done.

Probation Needs More Money? But, for What?

Instead these funds are being funneled to county probation departments, which operate juvenile halls throughout the state. These halls have become the sites of Secure Youth Treatment Facilities (SYTFs), the local replacements to DJJ. Youth, committed to STYF or less-restrictive programming will be transferring from the state to the county level by the end of June 2023. Many youth justice organizers have repeatedly voiced concerns about this transition, especially as counties have failed to communicate their plans for ensuring the proper care of youth.

Despite these failings, probation departments have seized on this transition to increase their funding and influence. Probation is already well resourced and will now receive hundreds of millions more. There are record numbers of low juvenile hall occupancies coupled with the money provided by other state grants.

From the Youthful Offender Block Grant (YOBG) to the Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act (JJCPA) program, probation has access to hundreds of millions of dollars, and many times they are over represented in grant allocations. In 2022, JJCPA allocated more than half of its total funds to probation, with a whopping $67 million (63% of the total JJCPA funds) of it going to probation salaries and benefits. Regardless of these resources, and the SB 823 funds, county probation departments claim they need more money.

The ask for more money from counties is a surprise to many CBOs who have reached out to probation countless times to help with the transition. Many of these CBOs are already supporting youth coming out of DJJ– they offer alternative programs that could serve as less restrictive programming than SYTFs. Time and time again, CBOs have proven effective at serving justice involved youth; despite this, state officials did not include CBOs in this grant allocation, and county officials did not consult with them for transition plans.

The reluctance of county probation departments to work with CBOs is reflective of their inability to collaborate with the communities they serve. It also sheds light on an intention to continue to find additional ways to profit off of the monitoring and housing the states most vulnerable youth, rather than actually serving them and their best interests. 

When the State Lacks a Service, Community Fills it

When it comes to helping young people thrive, youth serving organizations are the most prepared, offering restorative and collective approaches. What would it look like if CBOs received the block grants being offered under SB 823?

These grants, which will continue to pour into counties until 2025, will end up totaling $559 million, but the funds don’t end there; the state will continue to provide $208,800,000 annually to counties after 2025. In the hands of CBOs this money could mean continued gate money” for youth being released from detention facilities. Gate money is currently only offered to adults released from prison. However, many CBOs understand youth being released from detention facilities need similar support. Instead of waiting for the state to act, California Alliance for Youth and Community Justice began offering gate money in 2022 for youth being released from DJJ. These are the types of fast acting solutions CBOs offer.

Grant money could also increase youth internship opportunities at organizations like Communities United Restorative Youth Justice , Fresh Lifelines for Youth, Young Women’s Freedom Center, Homies Unidos, and Youth Justice Coalition to name a few.

Punitive approaches have proven to be more costly, financially to the state, and emotionally costly to youth’s well-being. If the goal is care with the intent of successful integration into community in a way that reduces recidivism, probation has failed in that front. The state should look beyond probation’s outdated and harmful practices and avoid the exponential cost of funding their failures year after year. Give the money to the communities, give the money to the programs that have the youths’ best interest in mind.

Author’s Bio - Grecia Reséndez is a justice advocate, mother, scholar, and the loved one of multiple formerly incarcerated individuals. She is a policy analyst with the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. 

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