New LA County Department of Youth Development Aims to Transform Youth Justice

Youth Will Be at the Heart of Department’s Strategic Planning

Los Angeles County, guided by its Board of Supervisors’ commitment to reimagining the juvenile justice system, took a major leap forward this week as a new Department of Youth Development (DYD) officially launched. While the nation as a whole has been shifting toward a model of rehabilitation versus punishment, the County’s new Department of Youth Development goes a step further, with a goal of transforming the way County systems treat youth and invest in their development, well-being and safety.

“Youth justice is not simply about making sure we provide equitable alternatives to arrest and system involvement,” said Vincent Holmes, the Department of Youth Development’s newly named Interim Director. “It also means ensuring that every young person in LA County has access to youth development and care-first opportunities they deserve.”

While previous reforms and interventions have reduced the number of young people involved in the justice system, with fewer than 450 youth in County juvenile halls and camps, thousands of children are arrested or cited in LA County annually. Evidence shows that their lives are disrupted by even first-time contact with the justice system and that negative outcomes increase exponentially with deeper system involvement.

Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell, who chairs the Board of Supervisors, sees the Department of Youth Development’s mission as a necessary step towards improving community safety and equity in LA County.

“This department will further extend the County’s ability to meaningfully invest in and improve the lives of young people who are counting on us to do so. Our Black and Brown youth continue to be disproportionately represented in our justice system that isn’t truly serving them. The Department of Youth Development is one of the tools we have to change this,” she said. “Intentionally working with youth and equipping them with the skills and resources to succeed is how we fulfill our goal as a County of shifting from failed systems built solely on punishment to proven solutions for youth development that strengthen the overall vitality and safety of our communities.”

Black youth and other youth of color are increasingly and disproportionately impacted by the negative effects of justice system contact at every stage.

Roughly 80% of arrests or citations of minors are for alleged “status offenses,” like violating curfew, or involve alleged non-serious, non-violent misdemeanors or felonies that are legally eligible for referral to community-based diversion and development services that better support positive outcomes for both youth and community safety.

The Department of Youth Development will centralize the County’s response to this miscarriage of justice, guided by research on equity and adolescent development and in collaboration with young people with lived experience and other County partners.

“We say our youth are our future, so we must protect their future, in collaboration with their family and support systems, in a care-first environment that prioritizes their well-being and supports their growth instead of penalizing them as they progress into adulthood,” said Supervisor Hilda L. Solis. “The establishment of the County’s Department of Youth Development is the commitment we are making to not only their future but also the County’s future.”

Holmes brings over 32 years of public sector experience with the County and the Los Angeles Superior Court, including extensive work in building innovative programs serving justice-involved populations through the ATI Incubation Academy, Measure J/Care First Community Investment (CFCI), the Gang Violence Reduction Project and My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, among others. Since 2017, he has helped advance the collaborative planning and design of the County’s innovative Youth Diversion and Development model upon which the new Department of Youth Development will build. He has built relationships with justice system partners and is well respected by local leaders, community and youth who will be needed to support the department’s transformative youth development agenda.

As it launches, the Department of Youth Development also has the advantage of leveraging work by the County’s Youth Justice Reimagined initiative. Holmes is excited to continue to work alongside youth advocates with lived experience who helped inspire the Board’s bold vision of youth justice.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said the work is innovative, but well grounded in research.

“Historically, youth justice systems have emphasized incarceration which often means just giving up on youth instead of investing in prevention, rehabilitation and second chances.  The County is following the successful example of other local jurisdictions like San Francisco, Houston and St. Paul in being bold and innovative—thinking outside the box in creating and reforming youth justice,” she said. “The Department of Youth Development is a great step forward for reimagining LA County’s criminal justice system because we know and data shows that we have more success in helping young people thrive as well as improving community safety by providing rehabilitative, health-focused and care-first programming.”

Offering early and equitable access to resources that assist young people as they grow and develop can change the trajectory of their lives. Expanding youth diversion and development programs to continue to equitably reduce youth justice system involvement, building additional capacity for youth centers and youth development, and supporting credible messengers in schools and other youth-serving systems are just some of the key elements of the Department of Youth Development’s initial vision.

“Supporting our youth means reaching them with resources to help them thrive before they are ever at risk of coming in contact with the justice system, from mental health services to good-paying jobs when the time is right,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn. “With this new department, we’re stepping up our commitment to make those resources available to all young people, in every neighborhood.”

Supervisor Kathryn Barger emphasized the importance of other County departments’ support of this work.

“We must help the youth in our system realize their full potential so they can be successfully integrated into our workplaces and communities,” she said. “In order to holistically meet the needs of justice-involved youth, all our County departments must work together to equip them with every tool to succeed physically, academically, mentally and emotionally. As Dr. D’Artagnan Scorza, our Executive Director of Racial Equity, has emphasized time and time again, it’s crucial that we engage with our youth as soon as possible and set them on the best path forward to thrive.”

This historic moment is possible thanks to the incredible vision and tireless efforts of a wide range of partners, including youth leaders like Jacob Jackson.

“It is important to center youth who are impacted through every portion of the process, making young people’s health and wellness the department’s core values,” Jackson said. “Don’t be scared of change. The Department of Youth Development should be the home and support that some folks currently lack whether they’re homeless, in foster care, incarcerated or system impacted.”

Moving forward, the Department of Youth Development hopes to engage an even larger group of young people in shaping the strategy of the department through community convenings and other interactions. Anyone interested in following the Department of Youth Development’s life-changing work can sign up for updates at dyd.lacounty.gov.

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