A Case for Better Funding of California’s Community Alternatives to Juvenile Detention and Probation

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Juvenile Justice Information Exchange on 6/1/2021 by Emma Knight


Supporters of the juvenile justice status quo wrongly claim that community-based organizations are not yet strong enough to serve all youth who may otherwise cycle through juvenile courts, detention centers and on and off parole rosters. Ideally, opponents to reform say, youth would be served by nonprofits close to home, but that cannot happen until enough suitable nonprofits are available. This line of thinking ignores the community-based direct services already offered in many areas, from life coaching in Oakland to legal support in Los Angeles. Failing to adequately support these existing community services keeps us stuck in a cycle of waiting.

Instead of waiting for community-based organizations to grow above and beyond their present capacities, how about we actually do the work required for their growth?

In California, the Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act began in 2000 to provide counties with flexible grant funding for community-based youth services, with the overall goal of reducing youth involvement in the juvenile justice system. Since that act’s implementation, counties have generally received more than $100 million each year toward meeting its mandates. In the 2019-20 fiscal year, the allotment amounted to a whopping $167 million. Nevertheless, these mounting funds have primarily been used to fund law enforcement, specifically probation departments, with comparatively little spent on community-based organizations.