In the past, youth justice in California has tried a tough and heavy-handed approach, particularly on youth of color. We now know from solid research of youth development and juvenile justice that punishment should be our last approach, a recourse only taken when more effective options such as mental health services and community-based programs don’t work. Incarceration can have lifelong consequences on a young person. A prison stint means a youth is more likely to become a high school dropout and more likely to be chronically unemployed.
Almost 10 years ago, California decided to focus instead on rehabilitation, which resulted in the reduction of kids in state facilities from 10,000 to approximately 680. County facilities across the state have had similar reductions. It is now time for us to go a step further and reduce youth incarceration and reimagine how we prepare all of our youth for second chances and successful futures.