Keeping Juveniles Out of the System: LA County Steps Up

la county juvenile justiceSending a young person to a Los Angeles County juvenile probation camp to be supervised and rehabilitated costs about $247,000 a year.

Providing programs in the community to keep that same person out of trouble costs a fraction of that — several thousand dollars a year or even less.

Providing programs in the community to keep that same person out of trouble costs a fraction of that — several thousand dollars a year or even less.

And the results? Many kids, even those who committed serious crimes, are less likely to fall back into the juvenile justice system if they are kept out of a camp than if they are sent to one. They do even better if they never enter the justice system in the first place. If they break the law and are met with a cop who instead of arresting them directs them to a vetted and validated community-based program, and they successfully complete it, they walk away with a clean record, a fresh start and solid guidance toward a successful future — which is the entire point of juvenile justice laws.

Smarter thinking (and spending) in juvenile justice in this state began in earnest 10 years ago with a piece of legislation designed to decrease the bloated population of California Youth Authority prisons, the cruel and abusive state institutions where counties were sending their supposedly toughest youth offenders. Juvenile justice realignment, as it was known, reversed the financial incentives, making it more costly for counties to off-load youth onto the state while giving locals the money and the freedom to experiment with programs to reduce recidivism.

The results are astonishing. Juvenile crime has plummeted. Probation camps are closing.

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