Time to focus on rehabilitation for juvenile offenders

Young people at a meeting with a psychotherapist. (Photo: Photographee.eu, via Shutterstock)

Recent reports found that youth detention facilities are failing to adjust spending rates even after facility populations have drastically dropped. California youth are not committing violent crimes at the rate that was once predicted, leaving many detention hall beds empty.

The declining juvenile crime rate is an opportunity for the state to transform the juvenile criminal justice system with a larger focus on rehabilitating system-involved youth and lowering recidivism rates – an effective solution for state safety and the budget. As the article outlines, California spent an average of $284,700 last year to incarcerate a single youth, and juvenile facilities were operating at or below 50% capacity.

California is heading down a path of progress and there is much work yet to be done, but in Los Angeles County, major progress is already being made.

As founder and president of the non-profit New Earth, I’m encouraged to see the spotlight being shone on the rapidly shifting landscape of juvenile incarceration in California. We believe in empowering these neglected youth with a useful education and professional skills that will lead to reduced recidivism rates and a much lower crime rate among youth.

To make this happen, we are transforming a jail into a college. Camp David Gonzales, a former detention camp, will now be the first youth detention center in the world to be repurposed into an education enrichment center. The ground has been broken and the transformation has begun to create a voluntary residential career-training center.

Through this six-month immersive program, embedded in a positive and supportive culture of healing, mentorship, physical activity and job skills training, participants will be educated in one of two career tracks – Culinary Arts or Construction – with job placement upon completion.

In addition, they will learn soft skills, receive transition support, learn financial literacy and speak with life coaches on planning and goal setting.

There is precedence for transforming, not just people’s hearts and minds, but systems of oppression for the citizens of this country. We believe that investment in our youth with effective and innovative education and programming will help stop the pipeline to mass incarceration and work towards equity for all Americans. With this trend in California toward a more just system for youth, one that provides them with valuable education and personal development programming that they need to thrive, we are heartened about the path forward.

Through a partnership and collaboration between New Earth, the L.A. County Probation Chiefs, and County Supervisors Kuehl and Solis, along with other county departments and non-profit community-led organizations, this historic venture is currently under way. Where there were once walls and barriers, there will now be hope and expansion.

From the governor’s commitments to improving the juvenile justice system, to the historic partnership that we’ve created with L.A. County and L.A. County Probation, we are encouraged that this decrease in juvenile crime will be met with further new and innovative solutions to empower our youth.

Editor’s Note: Harry Grammer is the founder and president of New Earth. For those interested in applying, visit the website at www.tcila.org to find out more and sign up to receive updates on when the applications will open for our Summer 2019 inaugural cohort.

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