Are We Doing More Harm Than Good?

By Patricia Soung

Children's Defense Fund-California, Youth Justice Coalition, Urban Peace Institute and Anti-Recidivism Coalition have joined together to voice concern about "voluntary supervision" by the Los Angeles Probation Department over youth who have no prior court or probation involvement. In their report, "WIC 236 - 'Pre-Probation' Supervision of Youth of Color With No Prior Court or Probation Involvement", the youth advocacy organizations argue that supervision by a law enforcement agency, like probation, is not the appropriate response to a demographic of overwhelmingly youth of color who are struggling with mostly school performance problems, like poor grades and attendance. California's Welfare and Institutions Code section 236 (WIC 236) is the statute that grants probation departments across the state the authority to intervene, through direct or indirect services, in the lives of any young person, including those who have not been accused of violating the law. It is a practice law enforcement officials believe deters youth delinquency but some community organizations are questioning whether this practice is doing more harm than good.

Numerous research studies have demonstrated that law enforcement's work with low-risk youth can be ineffective or actually serve to "widen the net" – increasing rather than preventing eventual youth involvement with the court, detention and incarceration systems.

In 2014-15 in Los Angeles County, more than 17,000 youth who had no history of court or probation involvement were labeled "at risk" and being engaged by probation as well as district attorney officials in their schools or communities. The organizations hope to engage other community-based stakeholders and government agencies in examining WIC 236 supervision. Ultimately, they argue for shifting resources away from law enforcement entities towards education and community-based interventions that more appropriately serve youths' needs.

To read the new report, visit www.cdfca.org/library/wic-236.html