By Michael McCutcheon & Sunny Zhou
SACRAMENTO, CA – In 2021 alone, more than 1,400 girls and gender-expansive youth were either incarcerated or detained in California, according to information provided this week by a coalition that notes the youths are disproportionately of color, LGBTQ, and poor.
Yet, justice proponents said research has shown that the low-level offenses for which these youths are typically criminalized for can be effectively mitigated through community-based programs. However, correctional facilities are largely still unable to provide such programs.
Ending Girls’ Incarceration in California Action Network has announced the Office of Youth and Community Restoration (OYCR) and the Vera Institute of Justice will provide a statewide technical assistance effort.
The effort, they said, is designed to reduce, and eventually eliminate, the need for incarcerating girls and other gender-expansive youth with OYCR providing the funding and the Vera Institute of Justice providing the expertise.
“This is the right moment to transition girls and gender-expansive youth out of the juvenile justice system,” said Judge Katherine Lucero (Ret.), Director of the Office of Youth and Community Restoration.
Lucero added, “We have long known that programs in the youth justice system simply haven’t worked for girls, who are frequently held in custody for reasons other than public safety. With funding from OYCR and expertise in youth justice policies and gender-responsive programming from the Vera Institute of Justice, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform our youth justice system, not just for girls, but for all youth.”
The Network said it has already built upon the foundations established by the 2019 collaboration between the Vera Institute, government officials, and a variety of community organizations, with the first implementation of gender-responsive programming occurring in Santa Clara County, which has seen a more than 60 percent decline in their annual detention admissions of girls.
“Ending the incarceration of girls and gender-expansive youth in California is bold, but it’s achievable with the partnership and collaboration of government, service providers, and advocates,” said Lindsay Rosenthal, Director of the Initiative to End Girls’ Incarceration at the Vera Institute of Justice.
“With the financial support and leadership of OYCR and by leveraging data, best practices, lived experience, and on-the-ground expertise, we can provide young people with safety, healing, and opportunity in their communities and address how race and gender discrimination lead to arrest and legal system contact in the first place,” Rosenthal added.
Through this program, four California county probation departments will be chosen to work alongside local juvenile justice groups in the implementation of court-based reform and development of community-based alternatives to Juvenile Hall. Selected sites will receive grants of up to $125,000 their first year, with the possibility of an additional $250,000 to continue their work based on the efficacy of their plans.
“Through our partnership with Vera and Santa Clara County, we’ve built alternatives to incarceration that move girls and gender-expansive youth from system involvement to self-determination,” said Abigail Richards, Co-Executive Director of the Young Women’s Freedom Center, which provides support, mentorship, training, employment, and advocacy to young women and trans youth of all genders in California with public system involvement.
Richards added, “Our success in Santa Clara shows what’s possible when we invest in the leadership of those most impacted and ensure they are at the forefront of systems change work. We’re committed to seeing youth across the state having access to holistic support and solutions that actively disrupt system involvement and enhance freedom.” davisvanguard.networkforgood.com”