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Los Angeles Supervisors to Vote on Comprehensive, Countywide Youth Diversion Program

WitnessLA

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County Supervisors are scheduled to vote today on a motion determining whether or not they will give the go-ahead to a comprehensive plan for a countywide youth diversion program designed to redirect the trajectories of thousands of LA youth who would otherwise be headed for the juvenile justice system.

A committee established this year wrote a detailed, highly researched report on youth diversion strategy, with the goal of “minimizing youth contact with the juvenile or criminal justice system.”

The report, “A Roadmap for Advancing Youth Diversion in LA County,” outlines a three-phase strategy that, according to one of its authors, could have the first stage of the proposed new diversion program up and running within 18 months — or even less.

If fully implemented, the roadmap has the potential to make Los Angeles County, which has the largest juvenile justice system in the U.S., one of the nation’s “most forward thinking counties” in improving the wellbeing of kids who might otherwise struggle with “the lifelong consequences of justice system involvement,” the report said.

Although there is a great deal of variation in diversion programming nationwide, a wide array of research has established that involvement with the justice system produces long-lasting collateral damage for young people.

Justice contacts such as arrest, probation supervision and stays in juvenile lockups are not only stigmatizing but interrupt the young person’s positive development and, lead to an increased risk for dropping out of high school, along with additional childhood trauma. Even one justice system contact reportedly greatly hikes the risk of further justice system contact.

This kite string of consequences too often follows kids into adulthood, affecting one’s ability to earn, leading to increased family disruption and a markedly increased risk of adult incarceration.

About 11,000 youth arrests were reported throughout Los Angeles County in 2015, the report said, “including status offenses, misdemeanors, and low-level felonies,” which would have been legally eligible for diversion in lieu of arrest or citation, under the California Welfare and Institutions Code.

Los Angeles County has made progress in reducing the number of arrests and citations for kids in the last 12 years. According to Department of Justice statistics, the total number of youth arrests and citations plummeted from 56,286 arrests and citations in 2005 to 13,665 in 2015.

This is in part due to a general long-term drop in youth crime, which was helped when, through the passage of Senate Bill 81, the “Juvenile Justice Realignment Bill” signed into law in 2007 by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the state drastically reduced and reformed its scandal-plagued California Youth Authority (basically a prison system for youth), and directed that all but a very small percentage of law-breaking juveniles be kept in California’s counties instead of far away from home in the mostly cleaned-up state facilities.

But, as the report points out, the statistical change was also a product of a concerted effort by child advocates and others to reduce “youth involvement in the justice system” altogether, “through collaborative, data-driven efforts” to persuade county officials to treat low-level misbehaviors as a flag that a youth needs help, not a reason to call police.

LA County Probation is now working to close as many of its juvenile camps as is possible, and to turn those remaining camps and juvenile halls into therapeutic, research-guided, “trauma-informed” environments that help and heal, not punish. Campus Kilpatrick, which opened this past summer, is the flagship and pilot for the department’s new ethic.

Juvenile facilities are expensive and have notoriously poor statistical outcomes. For instance, the cost per youth per year in an LA County juvenile probation camp is estimated at more than $247,000, with a recidivism rate (as defined by rearrest within one year) of approximately 33 percent.

In contrast, there are successful community-based organizations such as Centinela Youth Services, which has partnered since 2013 with the Los Angeles Police Department on a restorative justice diversion program that keeps youth who qualify out of the juvenile system if they break the law. This Juvenile Arrest Diversion Program, or JADP, costs an average of $4,000 or less per youth, with a recidivism rate of 8 to 11 percent.

Another urgent reason for the new program to be voted on today, according to juvenile advocates, is the matter of racial disparities.

Even as juvenile arrests declined throughout LA County, racial disparities have grown. Youth of color continue to be disproportionately impacted at all stages of the juvenile justice system, when controlling for offense, and represent 95 percent of youth in the county’s probation camps and juvenile halls.

Early in the process, the  ad-hoc Youth Diversion Subcommittee, supported by consultants from the nonprofit research center Impact Justice, set out five basic goals for the new plan:

  1. Increasing and improving collaboration between law enforcement, community-based organizations and other youth-serving agencies;
  2. Reducing the overall number of youth arrests, referrals to probation and petitions filed;
  3. Reducing racial and ethnic disparities in youth arrests, referrals to probation and petitions filed;
  4. Increasing the number of youth who are connected to services that address their underlying needs without acquiring an arrest or criminal record;
  5. Improving health, academic, economic and other outcomes for youth.

This story was written for WitnessLA.

Change Yourself and Change the World

All of us during our lives as children, adolescents and eventually adults need some encouragement. As the individuals we are, we tend to learn differently, have different perspectives and take risks on different levels. For those like myself, words of encouragement were really needed in my life to fulfill my true potential in the activities that I engaged in.

Always being in juvenile hall and camps as a kid I did receive a lot of encouragement to break out of my shell and try to think differently. It took a long time for me to grow, but I hope for you it comes quick.

Knowing that many of you in detention centers may possibly hear or read these words gives me the feeling of talking to myself when I was a kid. Many thoughts enter my mind: What would I tell myself? What have I learned since? What has impacted me? Was it worth it?

Regardless what your ethnicity is, I was you in juvenile hall, I was you in camp, I was you possibly going to the California Youth Authority, and I was you charged as an adult.

Now here I am in prison for a crime committed as a juvenile, 16 years and still on a level four [prison] yard with more to go, but I’ve turned my negative into a positive and if you allow me a few moments of your time [I’ll] share a very serendipitous moment of my life.

Growing up I was always reserved and was never the attention seeker or class clown, but like all of us I did crave attention and acceptance. Unfortunately because of this I missed out on a lot of activities, fun and possible friendships I could have made. Eventually the activities that my friends and I engaged in helped me break out of my shell because of their encouragement to go for what I wanted. Their reasoning was that since in my mind I already felt that the answer would be no or that I would fail, then how much more could it hurt if I actually tried and got a no or failed? But what if I did not fail or get a no?

Applying this approach to my studies, situations or attempts of success only helped me gain self-esteem and confidence, especially when I received a yes or I achieved my task. Never sell yourself short. I never did again.

Many would think that being 17 years old and given a sentence of 69 years to life for attempted murder that I would hate life, be angry, depressed and completely heartless. Well, in the beginning, I was all of those things. I was never getting out; unless I made it go, I was going to die in prison. My mother would pass away while I was in here, maybe my sisters as well.

Until I began my journey of discovering myself, of growing up and coping with my situation. I did this by playing sports, exercising and reading books. I found ways to get out of here and find interests in something.

While I was doing this, my family was out in the community working, going to school, living their lives and my three sisters were getting older; so was my mother. Couple more years pass by and letters aren’t really coming in anymore, I’m getting fed up with being in prison and my sisters are in junior high messing up. Here is when my journey really came into bloom.

Unfortunately, I robbed myself of being a big brother to my sisters, I robbed myself of being there to support them and I deprived them of a positive role model. I was fortunate enough to be eligible to enroll in college courses offered at New Folsom Prison. That is level four 180 design [the highest security level in California], so just being offered something to do was a blessing. There was so much going on at that time, it was hard to focus on anything, let alone something positive.

When I started my first college course, counseling, I liked it. It was nothing like junior high or high school, I really cared about what I felt, what the information meant to me and that my opinion not only mattered, but was essential.

Around this time, my sisters began to do bad in school: Their grades were not so good, not doing homework, don’t want to go, stressed; you know, all the growing pains we all have. New friends, new school, new adventure and an entire new outlook of life. I was a teen before the whole world changes when we discover relationships, parties, drugs, alcohol and everything else that comes with.

When I would speak with my mother I would share all that I had learned and how so much that she taught me was now completely realized. I would constantly share my discoveries with my sisters, life lessons only now seen. I began to really feel bad for all the pain I had caused my mother after finally seeing the bigger picture of life. Just like when I realized there is more to life than school; well, there is more to life than gang banging, drugs, money and girls.

I would have great conversations with my mother and other adults about current events, life and the impact of crime against myself and my family, and the victims. I became another adult nagging at my sisters, writing them every time I had an “aha” moment that I attached to a life experience. I did the best I could through communication and example and it paid off.

Many of my friends were proud of me for taking initiative to better myself. My girl was proud, my cousins, ex-girlfriends and friends. My words and thoughts expressed not only were accepted completely by my sisters, but were put in use. My sisters picked up their grades, they love school and are interested in college; some of my childhood friends went back to school to earn their GEDs, and some went on to learn new skills for a better job. One friend of mine became a teacher!

The sole motivation was “Now if he is in prison and doing this, then I should too.” Many people saw me in a different light. I saw myself differently. Many came to me for help on how to start their own higher education journey. This accomplishment of earning my AA degree changed my life and those around me.

As I speak to you, I am speaking to my 13-, 14-, 15-, 16- and 17-year-old self. I was you. I was immature, the hood was my world, my friends were my world. I grew up in Sylmar Juvenile Hall, Central Juvenile Hall, camps McNair, Gonzalez, Munz and Mendenhall in Los Angeles County.

Sadly, I would only last 30 days out before I went back in. I missed out on life, experiences and most importantly my family.

No matter how young or old you are, you can always find and learn new life lessons. Let my mistakes be yours, learn from my mistakes and improve your life. Start with one small goal, like I will read a book and do a book report on it, I will learn algebra and do my best at it or I will do 50 push-ups straight.

Then go to your next goal. Never be afraid to fail, because if you do fail it’s still a win. It’s still a win because you have learned something about yourself so the next time around, you got some experience.

You never know whom you will inspire, whose lives you can enrich by one action. Imagine accomplishing a goal for yourself and in turn you caused five others to accomplish something they never would have done. Be positive, change yourself, change the world.

Michael Arreygue is serving a sentence of 69 years to life in Salinas Valley State Prison in Soledad, California, for attempted murder.

The Beat Within, a publication of writing and art from incarcerated youth, was founded by David Inocencio in San Francisco in 1996. Weekly writing and conversation workshops are held in California, six other states and Washington, D.C. Submissions and new partners are welcomed. Write to him at dinocencio@thebeatwithin.org.