Youth Justice Reform in 2020

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Author: Ridha Kapoor is a CJJ Communications Intern for Fall 2020. 

For more reasons than one, 2020 has been labelled an unforgettable year for the history books. Living in a time where criminal justice has received a mass of public attention, making its way from protests to social media up to the 2020 ballot, support and reform geared towards youth affected by the justice system has become a much awaited reality.

From the East coast to the West, the biggest cry for community development yet has caused state officials to rethink how much funding should be invested in law enforcement and how much in community-based alternatives. This year, California’s mid year budget review looked a lot different than it ever has before. As of July 28th, California’s governor has established a Juvenile Justice Realignment Block Grant program to provide county based custody, care, and supervision of youth who are realigned from the Division of Juvenile Justice. The bill would also award one-time grants to provide resources and assist counties in the development of a local continuum of care.

Due to the national calls from the public to reduce the overpour of funding for law enforcement and alternatively increase community development, schools across the country are now defunding police placed at educational institutions. Also known as School Resource Officers, they are tasked with the patrolling of school grounds and are disproportionately arresting students of color. Commencing in Minneapolis, home of George Floyd, school districts throughout the country are ending their relationship with police departments. Explaining the decision to end the schools’ contract with the city police, Minneapolis school board chair Kim Ellison said, “Our students of color are treated differently in our schools, and that’s no longer acceptable to us.” Following Minneapolis’s lead, several school districts are in the process of alternatively investing in counselors, nurses, and more. The removal of said officers now happening in schools across the country ultimately contributes to the dismantlement of the school-to-prison pipeline and is one piece of the broader movement for youth justice reform.

This year the state of Florida has made a rare and groundbreaking decision to contract collaboration between it’s justice department and a youth focused non-profit organization. Approved by it’s governor June 29th, Florida bill S 1056 authorizes the Department of Juvenile Justice to contract with the PACE Center for Girls to provide alternatives to institutionalization or commitment for girls and young women through services including, but not limited to, education, counseling, training, and advocacy. The PACE Center is now authorized to receive funding appropriated in the General Appropriations Act and is exempt from taxation. This decision not only supports a vulnerable population and non-profit organization, but can potentially encourage other state juvenile justice departments to collaborate with their communities to support youth services.

Studies have shown that at a disproportionate rate, youth embedded in the justice system have a higher rate of mental illnesses and suicidal tendencies. With the conversations surrounding both mental health and the U.S. justice system slowly but surely becoming destigmatized, Colorado took it into its hands to address their intersection with bill CO S 42. This bill addresses both mental health and substance abuse, issues swept under the rug in most juvenile facilities, and reauthorizes the Legislative Oversight Committee concerning the treatment of persons with behavioral health disorders in the criminal and juvenile justice systems. 

Following four months and counting of mass protests initially sparked by George Floyd’s killing, both local and national government forces have been scrambling to respond by reform for both our criminal and juvenile justice systems. Listed above are just a few of the local level youth justice ballot initiatives passed this year. Getting these initiatives enacted this year is of monumental importance, but it does not stop there. Several others have been proposed and failed to be enacted, further alluding to the fact that although awareness is being made, the push for change cannot stop now. With police departments, courts, jails, and juvenile facilities being paid for by local taxes and fixed by state, county and city voters, we have the power to redirect where our officials' attention and our tax dollars are going, whether it be through voting, protests, or other individual and communal efforts.