When the idea for sweeping juvenile justice reform across Los Angeles County took root five years ago in an unlikely place – a health care system– it marked the beginning of an unprecedented collaboration between youth advocates, health services and law enforcement.
Through a year-long, community-driven planning process, stakeholders examined a growing body of evidence that showed mental health treatment and other social supports could be more effective in improving outcomes for youth who come into contact with law enforcement than traditional punishments. Together — and with action by the Board of Supervisors — they set out to replace involvement in the criminal justice system with strengths-based case management that would connect teens to services like mentorship and mental health services. In doing so, the Youth Diversion and Development program was born.
At first, the list of police departments and community organizations participating in YDD was short, but year by year it grew. When the Sheriff’s Department agreed to divert youth across its entire jurisdiction, Refugio Valle, the program’s lead, said he knew they’d finally hit their stride. Today, the YDD network spans from Long Beach to the Antelope Valley.
For Michael Sanders, who oversees the YDD program at Asian Youth Center in Lancaster, he’s seen youth consistently make personal gains in education, relationships, health and employment. “Without this program, the one-on-one support and the Sheriff’s involvement, I think some of them would have really given up,” he said. “But we give them an opportunity, six months to make a change, and they can get their record expunged.”
DHS’ Office of Diversion and Reentry proved to be just the incubator needed to help grow the concept, Valle said. “ODR is a place where folks are really empowered to make things happen.”
YDD helped paved the way for the development of a community-led vision to reimagine youth justice countywide and now they are preparing to spinoff to expand the work. On July 1, YDD is moving into the new Department of Youth Development, which is tasked with scaling the program countywide and coordinating investments in youth development and capacity-building needed to equitably reduce justice system involvement for youth.
“The creation of the new Department of Youth Development is a testament to the success of advocates and community stakeholders who have been fighting for years for a centralized office with collective power focused on youth development,” said Michelle Newell, co-Deputy Director at ODR who works closely with YDD on youth justice work. “This is a big step forward for youth justice transformation in LA County.”
See for yourself how YDD works to give youth “a second chance” in this recent Spectrum News 1 feature that highlights the work of our partners at Alma Family Services and LASD. Watch: