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Keeping Youth Out of the Juvenile Justice System: Creating Policy and System Change

By Lauren Gase, Spark Policy Institute and Taylor Schooley, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health

Each year, roughly one million young people are arrested in the United States. Contact with the justice system is not only a public safety issue – research shows that it can lead to a range of negative health and social outcomes, including damaging family functioning, decreasing high school graduation and employment rates, increasing the risk for involvement in violence, and worsening mental health outcomes.

Contact with the justice system is also an equity issue; persons of color are disproportionately represented at every stage of justice system processing. It should concern anyone interested in promoting health, educational achievement, and community and economic development.

The public health sector can be a strong leader in creating justice systems transformation because it has experience bringing together diverse stakeholders to facilitate meaningful dialogue and collaborative decision-making. Public health focuses on prevention, holistic wellbeing, and the root causes of poor outcomes. It is grounded in using data to drive decision-making to identify opportunities for improvement.

To illustrate this, we’ve gathered examples of several jurisdictions that have begun to advance promising solutions to justice reform in partnership with public health:

  • In Los Angeles County, California, the Board of Supervisors established a new division of Youth Diversion & Development within the integrated Health Agency. This division is tasked with coordinating and contracting community-based services in lieu of arrest or citation for youth countywide.
  • In King County, Washington, Executive Dow Constantine announced an executive order to place juvenile justice under the purview of the public health department. The order aims to change policies and system to “keep youth from returning to detention, or prevent them from becoming involved in the justice system in the first place.”
  • A recent analysis from Human Impact Partners examines the impacts of youth arrest on health and well-being in Michigan and identifies a number of recommendations, including diverting youth pre-arrest, training agency personnel to be trauma-informed, sealing youth records, and changing state sentencing laws.

To promote health, safety, and racial equity, we need to transform our current justice system to create the social, economic, and political conditions that allow individuals, families, and communities to thrive. Some jurisdictions have begun to advance public health solutions to justice reform, but there is more to be done. We need to think differently about the role of multiple partners – including law enforcement, courts, health, schools, social services, and community-based organizations – in creating opportunities for young people to avoid or minimize formal processing in the justice system.

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November SparkNews: Keeping the Momentum

Spark Policy Institute

Spark logoOur original plan for this month was to write about thankfulness – how thankful we are for you, our partners, who are the best part of what we do. We are grateful and humbled every day that we get to work alongside such inspiring people and organizations, whose efforts and initiatives are making a difference throughout the country. But we also want to touch on the election and its implications. We work with partners who have been advancing policy and community strategies to address important issues at all levels, from individual lives to how communities, cities, regions and the country respond to problems. During times of significant political and social shifts, it can be difficult to maintain the momentum of this work. Yet, the importance of it has not diminished; if anything, it is even more important.

Core to who we are at Spark is our commitment to engage in learning and reflective processes in a way that helps our partners identify what still holds true about how you can act to advance the issues you care about, and when and how you need to adapt. We also want to reaffirm our commitment to addressing inequity, ensuring voices are heard, accepted, and respected, while building capacity, in an effort to drive meaningful systems change for all.

Read the rest of the newsletter. Want to receive more updates like this? You can also subscribe to our newsletter to receive monthly updates.

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Our Commitment to Addressing Inequity

Spark Policy Institute

Complex problems are just that: complex. They stem from complicated interactions among multiple actors, against the backdrop of history, systems, and institutions. Within these interactions, we cannot overlook the way race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, country of origin, religion, economic status – all the things that make us unique, and the “isms” they engender – are entangled with inequities. Nor can we overlook the need to address these biases in order to drive the meaningful change we are all looking to create.

Our mission at Spark has long been to develop innovative and research-based solutions to society’s complex problems. After a summer of devastating violence and expressions of xenophobia and hate across the country – as well as outpourings of generosity and stories of strength – we are more committed than ever to addressing structural inequities head-on in order to create meaningful systems change.

A few years ago, we developed Spark’s organizational commitment to diversity and inclusion:

Spark Policy Institute believes diverse perspectives are key to achieving meaningful change. We are committed to fostering an organizational culture where all people are treated fairly; supporting communities with tailored approaches that lead to a successful future; and ensuring all voices are heard, particularly those most affected by the change.

Since then, we have been working to actualize this commitment, ensuring it is not just words; that it is embedded in our relationships, work, and culture. What does this mean in practice? It means we:

  • Recognize the assets, diverse voices, perspectives, and knowledge communities bring to the table in a way that fosters trust, respect, and acceptance.
  • Approach all of our interactions with integrity.
  • Keep equity front and center.
  • Respect lived experience and social identity.
  • Continue to focus on internal and external capacity-building, providing fair and equitable access to culturally-appropriate tools, learning, and support.

While we cannot dismantle centuries of institutional “isms” overnight or in isolation, we can each take steps toward a more just, equitable world. We can show, through words and deeds, that we are committed to driving meaningful systems change. Complex problems take time, resources, and hard work to solve. We believe with diverse voices, innovation, and continued dedication, they can be solved.

And we won’t stop until they are.

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June Spark News: Changing the World, One System at a Time

Spark Policy Institute

Spark-notext-highresThis month, we’re looking at how organizations can support large-scale systems change, either as a backbone, partner, evaluator, fiscal intermediary, or through many other roles. But we would be remiss if we didn’t take a moment to talk about what happened in Orlando. Earlier in June, we witnessed the worst mass shooting in our country’s modern history. In the wake of the shooting, there has been a lot of discussion about how we got here and where we go.

As some of you may know, Spark was originally conceived to replicate, improve on, and expand the types of systems change work that one of the founders helped to lead in response to the Columbine High School shooting. During that process, over a hundred leaders from across the system, community and private sector came together to try to find a systemic solution. They found some small changes, but it took years before anything significant shifted. Spark was created to help catalyze, accelerate, learn from, and scale systems change efforts across issues and needs. It was born of a recognition that meaningful change doesn’t happen in a vacuum – it requires a cross-system, cross-sector approach.

The why of what happened at Pulse on June 12 is complex and there is no easy – or singular – way to prevent similar incidents happening in the future. But we can work toward achieving a solution together by recognizing the complexity of the situation and the ways in which we all play a part in creating, implementing, and continuing to improve that solution.

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April SparkNews: It’s about People

People in a community

Sometimes, it is all too easy to get caught up in the how of work that we forget the why. How do we identify the leverage points that will cause a systemic shift? How do we sustain change? These are important questions and they constitute the bulk of what we DO, but they don’t answer the WHY. Why do we engage in systems change work? At the end of the day, often the answer is: because of people. Because we want to make a meaningful difference that improves the lives of people in our communities. They are the heart of systems change, the reason behind it in the first place.

People in a communityAt Spark, we keep this focus by thinking through outcomes – the change we want to see in the world – and keeping these outcomes at the forefront of all of our work. For example, our work with Healthy Schools Collective Impact isn’t just to build a stronger system for school-based health and wellness in Colorado; it’s to better serve students and teachers, and to ultimately improve student outcomes. We have also developed a series of tools that help us keep this focus on people, such as the Tools for Engaging Nontraditional Voices and Tools for Integrating an Equity Lens toolkits, as well as other great resources such as this blog and brief on how advocates can use storytelling as a powerful tool for change. In addition, this newsletter includes a great new resource from Fourth Quadrant Partners on “emergent strategy”, which hinges on the idea of expanding agency – the capacity to act – to a greater number of players in a strategy, reminding us of the value of community in a strategy and the power of incorporating multiple insights to improve our work. This reminder of why we are here also drives us to identify ways outside of work to improve our communities through volunteerism, which is highlighted in a great blog this month by Laura Trent and Alison McCarthy, two project managers at Spark. Read more.