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Group calls for overhaul of LA County juvenile justice system

Craig Clough | January 15, 2015

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Image from Chlidren's Defense Fund policy brief "Rising Up, Speaking Out."

Image from Chlidren’s Defense Fund policy brief “Rising Up, Speaking Out.”

policy brief from the Children’s Defense Fund-California, is calling for an overhaul of Los Angeles County’s juvenile justice system.

The report, “Rising Up, Speaking Out: Youth Transforming Los Angeles County’s Juvenile Justice System,” uses the experiences of five young people who were incarcerated to offer recommendations for improving the conditions inside LA’s juvenile detention facilities.

One punitive practice the brief focuses on is LA County’s use of solitary confinement.

“Solitary confinement has long been one of our society’s more primitive methods of addressing misbehavior,” James Anderson, one of the young people, said in a statement. “The problem with solitary confinement is the overwhelming evidence showing the negative, long-lasting effects this approach has inflicted upon everyone, especially our younger generation.”

Some stories told are difficult to read, such as authorities’ pepper-spraying children for minor offenses, forcing them to stand 45 minutes in desert heat while officers sat in the shade, withholding personal hygiene products and forcing youth to go hungry and live in filthy conditions.

The brief highlights certain educational programs that incarcerated youth say they found helpful and suggests improvements to the “boot camp” approach taken at many facilities that participants said stripped them of their dignity.

The brief offers five recommendations based on studies it says offer positive, alternative solutions:

  • Increase the availability and diversity of programs.
  • Foster mentorship and supportive relationships with adults, including probation officers.
  • Cultivate the dignity of youth at camp through increased privacy, cleanliness and nutrition.
  • Increase connections with family and community.
  • Improve camp discipline and management procedures.

“We need systems that heal young people and prepare them to thrive in their communities. We cannot have systems that do further harm to young people who already enter our juvenile justice system having experienced significant trauma in their lives,” Alex Johnson, executive director of Children’s Defense Fund-California and a former LA Unified school board candidate, said in a statement.

Rising Up, Speaking Out provides a roadmap for how to get there that builds on the current efforts by Los Angeles County leaders and policymakers to develop the ‘L.A. Model,’ a new approach to juvenile justice. While the County has taken some important steps forward, the findings in this report underscore that change must go much further to ensure a paradigm shift in how we treat and value our most vulnerable young people.”


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