LA County Creates New Department of Youth Development/Public News Service

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Los Angeles County, the nation’s most populous county, is revamping its approach to juvenile justice, launching a new Department of Youth Development, which will take a more supportive and less punitive approach.

The agency debuted on July 1 and aims to divert teenagers from the justice system to social services.

Vincent Holmes, the Department’s acting director, said more children with petty crimes will bypass the courts, incarceration and probation.

“Instead, you’re going to be referred to a community organization that understands the dynamics and culture of your community,” Holmes explained. “This agency is going to engage with you and your family unit, to do an assessment and figure out exactly what kinds of services you might need, what kind of care plan needs to be created for you.”

Young people can be offered counseling or make amends through a restorative justice program. The county’s previous diversion programs operated through a patchwork of agreements with local police departments, serving just 700 youths last year, according to Holmes. But he pointed out that about 85 percent of youth arrested in Los Angeles are charged with crimes, making them eligible for diversion programs; approximately 6,500 per year as of 2018.

Holmes noted that the first thing to do was to expand the diversion program to the entire county. Part of the goal is to reduce the number of young people of color caught up in the juvenile justice system.

“We think this is definitely a way to address the patchwork and disproportionate representation that we see of black and brown youth in our justice system, Holmes argued.

A 2021 study by the Sentencing Project found that young Latinos were 28% more likely than their white peers to be detained or committed to juvenile facilities, which is a big improvement from 2021, when young Latinos were incarcerated 80% more often than young whites.

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