Justice for Youth

The Movement to Restore Youth is a campaign of the Children’s Defense Fund – California (CDF-CA) to protect, invest in and heal justice-involved youth in California. The Movement to Restore Youth focuses on keeping youth out of the juvenile justice system whenever possible, and ensuring fair, positive and developmentally-appropriate treatment for youth inside the juvenile justice system.

CDF-CA leverages its research expertise, policy analysis, deep involvement in developing innovative local solutions, and engagement with a broad range of stakeholders to advance key policy priorities of the Movement to Restore Youth:

  • End the Punitive Incarceration Model
    Juvenile justice systems have failed youth, families and communities by focusing on punishment rather than rehabilitation. California’s state and county systems continue to utilize correctional practices in archaic locked facilities that are ineffective, developmentally inappropriate for youth and counter to the intent of the juvenile justice system. This must end.
  • Invest in Community-Based Solutions
    Youth succeed when they are served through community-based alternatives to incarceration. Approaches to youth justice should focus on prevention, diversion and investment in communities.;
  • Protect the Dignity, Humanity and Childhood of Youth
    Our youth are just that — youth. Their brains are still developing and they must be treated in positive, developmentally appropriate ways that focus on relationship building, skills development, and healing trauma.
  • Build Systems that are Fair, Accountable, Healing and Non-Violent
    Juvenile justice systems have been chronically unfair, disproportionately impacting youth of color. The systems have suffered from a lack of data, transparency and accountability. We must transform our systems to promote healing and accountability.
End the Punitive Incarceration Model

Juvenile justice facilities in California are outdated and must be transformed. Many facilities were built in the 1950s and 1960s based on an approach of concentrating large number of youth in regimented, penitentiary-like facilities far from their homes. These facilities — some which even mimic adult prisons — embody a correctional approach to juvenile justice that has been proven to be costly, inhumane and ineffective for young people. The result has been rampant abuse, scandals and lawsuits at the county and state levels, as well as high rates of recidivism. Instead of building skills for a career or for college, youth in the juvenile justice system learn how to be institutionalized.

The Camp Kilpatrick Redesign Project and the Creation of the LA Model

The Camp Kilpatrick Replacement Project, a project funded by California state realignment legislation to rebuild Camp Kilpatrick, offers a historic opportunity to rethink Los Angeles County’s approach to juvenile justice and reverse decades of outdated practices that have led poor outcomes in the nation’s largest juvenile justice system. CDF-CA has partnered with juvenile justice advocates, researchers, youth and community to provide input, research, guidance and oversight to ensure the new LA Model represents transformative change informed by best practices and community input. CDF-CA serves on the county advisory committee, leads committees rethinking programming and staffing, and facilitates community and advocacy engagement in the project, in efforts to achieve the following goals:

  • Transform facility design, programming and opportunities available to incarcerated youth at and leaving Kilpatrick, ensuring that the LA Model is integrated, effective, trauma-informed and based on best practices.
  • Improve educational attainment, health and mental health outcomes of incarcerated youth in LA so that fewer young people return to the camp system or enter the criminal justice system, and so that more youth graduate high school, secure high quality jobs, heal from past trauma, and realize their potential.
  • Ensure youth and communities most impacted by juvenile justice are driving the change.
  • Serve as a model for countywide probation camp reform in Los Angeles and across the state.

Read more about the LA Model in our new report, A Culture of Care for All: Envisioning the LA Model.

End Youth Solitary

Across the United States, we lock up some 70,000 young people in solitary confinement every year, on average for 22 hours a day. Juvenile facilities across the country have locked children in solitary confinement with little public oversight, knowledge, or legal limits. This treatment undermines healthy child development and, ultimately, the safety of facilities and the public.

Solitary confinement creates unsafe facilities and further traumatizes already vulnerable youth. In fact, 75% to 93% of youth in the juvenile justice system have experienced trauma (compared to the national average of 35%); solitary confinement can exacerbate the symptoms of trauma. Nationally, over half of the youth who committed suicide while in a correctional facility were in solitary confinement at the time.

The United Nations has called for an absolute ban on solitary confinement for youth in all countries.

California now has an opportunity to become a leader among states and through its 58 counties, to create a new chapter in juvenile justice history — away from decades of lawsuits and Department of Justice monitoring.

SB 1143, authored by Senator Leno and co-sponsored by Children’s Defense Fund-California, drastically curbs the use of solitary confinement in juvenile facilities and requires public accountability of counties and the state by requiring documentation and reporting when it is used.

Take action now and urge your representatives support this important and common sense public policy!

Invest in Community Based Solutions

Invest in juvenile justice solutions proven to rehabilitate youth, and stop wasteful spending on punishment models that furthers recidivism

Juvenile justice systems have relied too heavily on incarceration and locked facilities. These interventions are expensive, harmful and counterproductive for the vast majority of youth. We must stop warehousing youth in the juvenile justice system and instead redirect resources to implement rehabilitative programming and systems.

In Los Angeles County, approximately 1,200 youth are incarcerated in the county’s three juvenile halls and 14 probation camps. The LA County Probation Department’s budget has continued to go largely toward maintaining locked facilities, while there is a dearth of resources for community-based solutions. The research is clear that youth are better served in their community in alternatives to incarceration. California needs to stop wasteful spending and shift resources to community-based interventions that have been shown to work, including community-based alternatives to incarceration, restorative justice, diversion programs, positive youth development, and strong reentry programs.

CDF-CA is working with key organizations, bringing youth, families, and communities to the table of decision-making and directing juvenile camps to strengthen their re-entry programming and advocating for the County to invest in day reporting centers, stronger diversion programs, and reducing the number of young people who are sent to camps and that do not need to be there.

Promoting Transparency and Accountability

Creating a data-driven juvenile justice system in LA County

There is currently little data available on the experiences and outcomes of the nearly 15,000 children under LA County’s Probation Department’s care. Many departments in the county have antiquated data systems and insufficient resources dedicated toward data collection and evaluation. Additionally, different agencies — including Probation, Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE), and Department of Mental Health — are charged with collecting and tracking different pieces of information, fragmenting data collection and tracking efforts. As a result, limited information is consistently collected, aggregated and analyzed on probation youth experiences, and even less is shared publicly.

CDF-CA is working with researchers from University of Southern California, University of California - Los Angeles, the Advancement Project, and the LA County Probation Department to study how youth and their families fare before, during, and after their contact with the probation system. The project is designed to help Los Angeles County better understand the experience of youth who become involved in the juvenile justice system and to recommend needed improvements in data collection and tracking, as well as identify opportunities for prevention, early intervention, and rehabilitation. The recently released report included findings and recommendations centered on the need for a more integrated approach to juvenile justice, including in data systems and data sharing, to ensure we are effectively serving youth and preventing them from ever being incarcerated or from recidivating.

Pushing for state leadership and accountability from the Board of State and Community Corrections

The Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) was created in 2012 as a stand-alone agency with a mission to promote public safety throughout state-local partnerships, through technical assistance, grant-making and oversight. The agency administers federal and state grants to counties, develops state regulations for county facilities and law enforcement staff, and collects data on a variety of key points. The BSCC is the most influential state agency focused on juvenile justice.

Despite this enormous responsibility, the BSCC remains relatively unknown by both justice stakeholders and the general public. Moreover, the agency has struggled with fulfilling its juvenile justice mandate — it currently focuses largely on adult issues – as well as effectively implementing some of its responsibilities, as detailed by the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO, 2013) and the California State Auditor (CSA, 2012).

CDF-CA is partnering with the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ), as well as a growing collaboration of other advocates and community groups, to monitor the activities of the BSCC, promote accountability and transparency in its decision-making, ensure meaningful community input into policies and practices of the agency, and increase the leadership of the agency on juvenile justice issues.

Data and Publications

Get the latest research and data on juvenile justice in California and beyond.

Our Publications

The Los Angeles County Juvenile Probation Outcomes Study
Children’s Defense Fund - California | April 2015
Examines current data practices and the path of representative youth through the Probation system, and developed a comprehensive set of recommendations to improve youth outcomes.

Rising Up, Speaking Out: Youth Transforming Los Angeles County’s Juvenile Justice System
Children’s Defense Fund - California | January 2015
Five young people share their own unique experiences inside probation camps and amplify key recommendations from an important UCLA focus group study on how to improve conditions inside Los Angeles County’s camps. 

INFOGRAPHIC: Justice for All
Children’s Defense Fund ­ - California | November 2013
An illustrated account of the Camp Kilpatrick Replacement Project, a Los Angeles County realignment project that will replace a 50­-year old probation camp in Malibu with a model facility focused on treatment and rehabilitation. 

Reforming the Nation’s Largest Juvenile Justice System
Children’s Defense Fund - California | November 2013
The most detailed account of the Camp Kilpatrick Replacement Project, a county realignment project to replace a 50­-year old probation camp in Malibu with a model facility focused on treatment and rehabilitation. 

Other Resources

Guiding the LA Model: A Case Study at Three Sites
Jorja Leap, PhD; Carrie Petrucci, PhD; and Karrah R. Lompa, MSW | July 2015
Examines the implementation and adaptations of the Missouri Model at three distinctly different locations, focusing particularly on understanding the implementation and adaptation processes other sites had experienced to help inform the process as Los Angeles County continues to reform its juvenile detention practices and philosophies.

Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison
Nell Bernstein | June 2014
An examination of the history of juvenile “reform” schools, the rise and fall of the rehabilitative model, and the reality of what happens behind bars to already traumatized teens: further physical, sexual, and mental abuse. 

Juvenile Detention Facility Assessment
Annie E. Casey Foundation | May 2014
A guide to help Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative sites improve conditions in juvenile detention facilities, including the U.S. Department of Justice regulations for the prevention, detection and response to sexual misconduct in juvenile facilities as part of its implementation of the Prison Rape Elimination Act. 

Trauma and the Environment of Care in Juvenile Institutions
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network | August 2013
This brief outlines how the environment of secure confinement facilities can traumatize youth or exacerbate existing trauma. 

Growing Up Locked Down: Youth in Solitary Confinement in Jails and Prisons Across the United States
ACLU and Human Rights Watch | October 2012
An exploration of the impact of isolation of solitary confinement on teenagers based on interviews and correspondence with more than 125 young people in 19 states who spent time in solitary confinement. 

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
Michelle Alexander | January 2012
An examination of the U.S. criminal justice system and its impact upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. 

No Place for Kids: The Case for Reducing Juvenile Incarceration
Annie E. Casey Foundation | October 2011
This report highlights successful reform efforts from several states and provides recommendations for how states can reduce juvenile incarceration rates and redesign their juvenile correction systems to better serve young people and the public. 

The Missouri Model: Reinventing the Practice of Rehabilitating Youthful Offenders
Annie E. Casey Foundation | January 2010
An examination of Missouri’s award-winning, unconventional approach for dealing with the most hardened juvenile offenders that is producing incredible results with less money. 

Our Partners

The following organizations are working hard to bring justice to youth in California.

Advancement Project

Advancement Project is a next generation, multi-racial civil rights organization. Rooted in the great human rights struggles for equality and justice, we exist to fulfill America’s promise of a caring, inclusive and just democracy. We use innovative tools and strategies to strengthen social movements and achieve high impact policy change. http://www.advancementproject.org/

Anti Recidivism Coalition

The Anti-Recidivism Coalition changes lives and creates safe, healthy communities by providing a support and advocacy network for, and comprised of, formerly incarcerated young men and women. Together, we serve as a bridge to transformation, purpose, and redemption. http://www.antirecidivism.org/

Archdiocese of Los Angeles – Office of Restorative Justice

The Office of Restorative Justice reaches out to the incarcerated, victims, and the families of both. Our staff advocates for changes in the criminal justice system on the County, State and Federal levels, and strives to educate the community about the system and its affect on those involved in it. http://www.la-archdiocese.org/org/orj


Citizens for Historical Opportunity, Preservation and Education in Randolph County is a grassroots, non-profit organization dedicated to furthering historic preservation, heritage education, community development, and heritage tourism in Randolph County. http://www.c-hopewv.org/

Cal State LA

Building on the strengths of this rich diversity, our University prepares students for success in advanced studies, in their careers, and throughout their lives. California State University, Los Angeles graduates constitute a major leadership force in Greater Los Angeles, a microcosm of the global society. http://www.calstatela.edu/

Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice

The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ) is a nonprofit nonpartisan organization whose mission is to reduce society’s reliance on incarceration as a solution to social problems. http://www.cjcj.org/

Ella Baker Center for Human Rights

The Ella Baker Center is named for an unsung hero of the civil rights movement who inspired and guided emerging leaders. We build on her legacy by giving people opportunities and skills to work together to strengthen our communities so that all of us can thrive. http://ellabakercenter.org/

Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch defends the rights of people worldwide. We scrupulously investigate abuses, expose the facts widely, and pressure those with power to respect rights and secure justice. Human Rights Watch is an independent, international organization that works as part of a vibrant movement to uphold human dignity and advance the cause of human rights for all. http://www.hrw.org/

Jorja Leap and Associates

Jorja Leap has been a member of the UCLA faculty since 1992. As a trained anthropologist and recognized expert in crisis intervention and trauma response, she has worked nationally and internationally in violent and post-war settings. http://luskin.ucla.edu/jorja-leap

UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs

At the convergence of the fields of social work, urban planning, and policymaking, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs identifies and develops emerging areas of research and teaching and cultivates leaders and change agents who advance solutions to society’s most pressing problems. http://luskin.ucla.edu/

University of Southern California

The University of Southern California is one of the world’s leading private research universities. An anchor institution in Los Angeles, a global center for arts, technology and international business, USC’s diverse curricular offerings provide extensive opportunities for interdisciplinary study, and collaboration with leading researchers in highly advanced learning environments. http://www.usc.edu/

USC School of Social Work

The mission of the USC School of Social Work is to improve the well-being of vulnerable individuals and communities, advance social and economic justice, and eradicate pressing societal problems in complex and culturally diverse urban environments throughout Southern California, the nation and the world. Our mission is achieved through value-driven, scholarly and creative social work education, research, and professional leadership. http://sowkweb.usc.edu/

Youth Justice Coalition

The Youth Justice Coalition (YJC) is working to build a youth, family and prisoner-led movement to challenge race, gender and class inequality in Los Angeles County’s and California’s juvenile injustice systems.The YJC uses direct action organizing, advocacy, political education, transformative justice and activist arts to mobilize system-involved youth, families and our allies – both in the community and within lock-ups – to bring about change. http://www.youth4justice.org/

Youth Law Center

Using a range of strategies, YLC works to eliminate abuse and neglect of children, to reduce out of home placements and incarceration, and to assure that those who are removed are held in safe, humane conditions. YLC takes action to ensure that the legal rights of vulnerable children are protected, and that they receive the support and services they need to become healthy and productive adults. http://www.ylc.org/