National Leadership, Local Models for Juvenile Justice Reform
Last Thursday, Los Angeles City Councilman Tony Cárdenas traveled to San Francisco to meet leading juvenile justice policy experts from Northern California at the San Francisco State University Downtown Campus. Councilman Cárdenas is running unopposed this November in a new Congressional district in Los Angeles and will be sworn into office in January 2013 as one of California’s newest members of Congress.
Mr. Cárdenas was very explicit with the policy advocates that his number one issue priority as a member of Congress will be juvenile justice reform. The purpose of the meeting was to obtain California-based expertise in developing a broad reform platform, and to better understand the federal policy landscape and where reform trends in California intersect.
He described how many of his childhood friends from the Pacoima area in Los Angeles had contact with the juvenile justice system and had little access to rehabilitative services or treatment options. Mr. Cárdenas was adamant that systemic shifts need to occur in order to direct federal and state funding towards those community-based models that demonstrate results.
In the afternoon, Councilman Cárdenas and his policy staff conducted a site visit at San Francisco’s Youth Guidance Center, the location of both the juvenile court and the juvenile hall facilities. The purpose of the site visit was to see first hand how San Francisco’s innovative Juvenile Collaborative Reentry Team (JCRT) model is dramatically reducing recidivism and transforming conventional thinking on juvenile court proceedings.
A recent blogpost from the Human Resources Management Corporation highlighted findings from the San Francisco Probation Department that the JCRT model has produced a 44% reduction in recidivism for youth returning from out-of-home placements, compared to youth who not did not participate in the program. Noting that JCRT court participants are not first time offenders and have committed higher level offenses, the authors wrote that the 44% reduction in recidivism is “exciting to those who work in juvenile justice.”
Mr. Cárdenas, along with several CJCJ staff, was able to observe a session of JCRT court convened by San Francisco Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kelly. This particular court was a progress update for a young man who had been in out-of-home placement yet was starting to turn things around with the support of his family, community-based services, and probation staff.
Councilman Cárdenas was clearly moved by seeing the JCRT court’s supportive model; the judge, probation officer, public defender, and community case manager work together in a well-coordinated manner that is entirely focused on the success of the young man. During the debrief session after court, Mr. Cárdenas was energized by the experience and discussed with CJCJ staff about how to maintain program funding and take the model to scale.
Mr. Cárdenas will head to Washington D.C. in January having witnessed some of the best juvenile justice models in California, both at the morning session with advocates and the afternoon site visit. Juvenile justice advocates offered to provide resources for him on policy issues. They also expressed their interest in maintaining on ongoing state-federal dialogue on the progress of policy reform efforts. With the current political and fiscal challenges in Washington D.C., committed juvenile justice champions are needed to advance policies and funding streams that are in alignment with current data-driven research on effective juvenile justice practices.
The post above is reprinted with permission from the Center on Juvenile & Criminal Justice.
Brian Heller de Leon is the Policy and Government Outreach Coordinator for the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. He has a background in community organizing, police-community relations and the implementation of national best-practice strategies for youth and gang violence reduction.