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Competitive process opens today for first-of-its-kind initiative to end girls’ incarceration. The initiative aims for comprehensive system change efforts, led by county probation departments and community organizations.
SACRAMENTO – The Office of Youth and Community Restoration (OYCR) of the California Health & Human Services Agency and the Vera Institute of Justice announced today the opening of the competitive application process for a statewide technical assistance effort: Ending Girls’ Incarceration in California Action Network (“the Network”). The Network aims to reduce, and ultimately eliminate, the incarceration of girls in the state of California. This groundbreaking collaboration will offer four counties—led by their probation offices in collaboration with other system leaders—the opportunity to receive funding from OYCR and technical assistance from the Vera Institute of Justice to implement equitable policies and gender-responsive programs for girls and gender-expansive youth.
“This is the right moment to transition girls and gender-expansive youth out of the juvenile justice system,” said Judge Katherine Lucero (Ret.), Director of the Office of Youth and Community Restoration. “We have long known that programs in the youth justice system simply haven’t worked for girls, who are frequently held in custody for reasons other than public safety. With funding from OYCR and expertise in youth justice policies and gender-responsive programming from the Vera Institute of Justice, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform our youth justice system, not just for girls, but for all youth.”
In 2021, over 1,400 girls and gender-expansive youth were detained in California—typically in correctional facilities that are unable to provide long term solutions to the challenges facing young people. Incarcerated girls and gender-expansive youth are disproportionately poor, LGBTQ, and youth of color—an inequity that is rooted in a long history of criminalization of girls of color in California, particularly for Black, Native American, and Latina girls. Most girls in California are incarcerated for low-level offenses that research shows can be safely addressed through community-based alternatives. Evidence tells us that the challenges that most commonly drive the incarceration of girls and gender expansive youth—such as sexual abuse or commercial sexual exploitation, family conflict, and housing instability—are effectively addressed through gender-responsive programs that are lacking in many communities in California and nationwide. Participation in the Network is an opportunity for counties to implement best practice and help bring California closer to zeroing out girls’ incarceration, while also improving community-based services for all young people.
“Ending the incarceration of girls and gender-expansive youth in California is bold, but it’s achievable with the partnership and collaboration of government, service providers, and advocates,” said Lindsay Rosenthal, Director of the Initiative to End Girls’ Incarceration at the Vera Institute of Justice. “With the financial support and leadership of OYCR and by leveraging data, best practices, lived experience, and on-the-ground expertise, we can provide young people with safety, healing, and opportunity in their communities and address how race and gender discrimination lead to arrest and legal system contact in the first place.”
This Network’s trailblazing collaboration and funding indicate California’s readiness and belief in this work, which builds on progress that has already been made in the state. In 2019, the Vera Institute of Justice began working with government officials, community organizations, and coalitions of directly impacted youth in Santa Clara County to make systemic changes addressing the root causes of incarceration of girls and gender-expansive youth. By implementing gender-responsive programming over the last two years, Santa Clara County has seen girls’ annual detention admissions decline by more than 60 percent, steadily holding the average daily population between zero and one girl in detention each month for a full year, and sending no girls to long-term placement since July 2021.
“Through our partnership with Vera and Santa Clara County, we’ve built alternatives to incarceration that move girls and gender-expansive youth from system involvement to self-determination,” said Abigail Richards, Co-Executive Director of the Young Women’s Freedom Center, which provides support, mentorship, training, employment, and advocacy to young women and trans youth of all genders in California with public system involvement. “Our success in Santa Clara shows what’s possible when we invest in the leadership of those most impacted and ensure they are at the forefront of systems change work. We’re committed to seeing youth across the state having access to holistic support and solutions that actively disrupt system involvement and enhance freedom.”
With the input of OYCR, Vera Institute of Justice will select four California county probation departments, who will lead work in collaboration with local juvenile justice partners to develop county-specific, court-based policy solutions that will cut girls’ incarcerations. The Network will also build gender-responsive programming to better support girls and gender expansive youth in the community. OYCR will provide grants of up to $125,000 to each site to support administration and coordination over the course of the first year. Counties with bold and effective plans can receive grants of up to $250,000 from OYCR to continue this work beyond the first year—funds that can be used to support probation departments to implement reforms and for community-based organizations to build capacity towards programmatic solutions.
“Fundamentally, the role of probation is to bring a research-based approach to our work with youth,” said Nick Birchard, assistant chief probation officer, Santa Clara County Department of Probation. “When the research tells us something, we listen, and the research is telling us that girls in our system need a different kind of programming to succeed. Here in Santa Clara County, our focus has shifted to building the programs and services girls need in their communities so they don’t stay in Juvenile Hall, and it’s working. This Network brings to others in the state the resources and know-how that were instrumental in our ability to zero out girls’ incarceration in Santa Clara County.”
Interested counties must submit their application materials no later than February 28, 2023, by 7pm PST; Vera will review applications as they are received. As part of the site selection process, Vera will schedule interviews with county leadership upon review of the county’s application. All applicant interviews will be completed by March 17, 2023. Selected counties will be announced by March 24, 2023. For more information about this initiative, how to apply, and when the information session will take place, visit the Ending Girls’ Incarceration in California webpage.
For more information about CalHHS OYCR, visit the OYCR website.
For more information about the Vera Institute of Justice, visit the Vera website.