The Haywood Burns Institute Issues Statement on Los Angeles County’s New Department of Youth Development

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – July 1st marked another important milestone in Los Angeles County’s effort to mitigate generations of systemic racial and ethnic discrimination that has resulted in appalling disparities in youth incarceration and perpetuated a cycle of crime, poverty, family separation and trauma.

Now, the care, supervision and support of young people that come in contact with justice system in Los Angeles will begin to transition from the county’s Department of Probation to the Department of Youth Development.

The W. Haywood Burns Institute is encouraged by the collaborative progress the County of Los Angeles has made in partnership with deeply committed youth and  community leaders along with County stakeholders who together are forging a new paradigm for youth justice by investing in youth development and implementing the bold vision laid out in the 2020 report, Youth Justice Reimagined.

“The Burns Institute has been lifting up race equity strategies in communities around the country for nearly 20 years. Los Angeles County is demonstrating that this type of re-imagining of the justice system is possible with courage and determination,” said Tshaka Barrows, co-executive director at W. Haywood Burns Institute. “State government will now need to empower the county to give the Department of Youth Development the authority to transition all aspects of juvenile probation.”

Under the previous system, young people convicted or charged with breaking the law would be sent to large juvenile detention camps with appalling levels of abuse and safety concerns.

“As a father, I depend on the success of DYD so my daughter never has to experience what I did in the probation system,” said Mainor Xucanx with the Arts for Healing and Justice Network based in Long Beach. “I want the new department to hire people that care and have passion for the work, like community organizers and peace builders. I want resources, mental health, housing and education resources to be shared directly with youth and communities.”

This new model of youth justice in L.A. County, which received unanimous support from county supervisors, continues the county’s movement toward a “care-first” model that provides youth with medical and therapeutic support while remaining close to family and community.

“Although this is a milestone for Los Angeles, it is critical for the county to keep its promises and fully fund the Department of Youth Development. Experiencing incarceration should not be the standard in which youth are able to access needed services,” said Gloria Gonzalez with the Youth Justice Coalition.

A coalition of youth advocacy organizations, that includes Arts for Healing and Justice Network and Youth Justice Coalition, worked closely with Los Angeles County government to design a new system that steered juveniles away from incarceration after the state stopped accepting youth into its detention centers and after numerous abuse complaints filed against the county’s probation operations.

“There is a real opportunity to see transformative change in Los Angeles as a result of years of community advocacy,” said Samantha Mellerson, co-executive director at the W. Haywood Burns Institute. “This is a moment in which we should all be paying close attention.”

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