How Local Leaders Can Help Our Most Vulnerable Young People

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City governments and city leaders continuously grapple with the costs of the “deep end” of the juvenile justice system. Deep-end youth include the roughly 30,000 young people placed in detention facilities who may be better served in targeted community-based services in the city.

Deep-end youth constitute our most vulnerable and marginalized young people. Many deep-end youth experience housing instability, mental health issues and low education attainment.

The National League of Cities’ (NLC) newest white paper, “Toward an Expanded City Role Supporting Youth in the Deep End of the Juvenile Justice System,” explores the struggles deep-end youth face and opportunities for cities to intervene.

The task of minimizing the number of young people in the deep end can be daunting for local leaders, but it is not one they need to take on alone. City leaders have direct access to local authorities and community services to form systems-minded partnerships for the most effective reform. For example:

  • In November 2017, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors created the Office of Youth Diversion and Development to partner with the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angles County Sheriff’s Department, and community agencies to successfully begin diversion programming for 80 percent of 13,665 arrests and citations issued to county youth.
  • The DC ReEngagement Center in Washington, D.C., run by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, streamlines disconnected youth’s access to unique engagement and education programs by serving as a “single door” to its partnering organizations, which include DC Public Schools, public charter schools, community-based organizations, and faith-based organizations.
  • Re-Engage Dubuque engages young people in Dubuque, Iowa, with a network of support from Dubuque Community School District, Northeast Iowa Community College, Project Hope, and IowaWorks to provide education alternatives, job opportunities, and one-on-one coaching.

Ultimately lack of supports and services for deep-end youth is an underlying systems issue that affects multiple local government priorities, from public safety to achieving higher rates of school completion and job force participation.

Additionally, due to the disproportionate rate of youth of color entering the deep end, equity must be a central focus of local efforts.

This report, made possible with support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, will serve as a starting point for city leaders determined to offer deep-end youth real opportunities to succeed.

About the Author: Adam Bieda is the Menino Fellow in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. He is a senior at Boston University.