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In society you constantly hear the phrase, “our children are our future,” and regardless of their mistakes or transgressions, all youth should be able to thrive, have access to resources and be given an opportunity to succeed. The reality for many of our youth in Los Angeles is quite the opposite, especially if they took a wrong turn in life or made poor choices. Ranked as one of the worst states for incarcerating youth, Los Angeles takes a big piece of the pie when compared to the rest of California. Fortunately, efforts to improve L.A.’s juvenile justice system has focused more on prevention, intervention, and diversion and creating community-based alternatives to law enforcement interaction and detention.

Alumni range in age from 16 to 25. Currently, 63% of alumni are Latino, 35% African and African American, 5% Asian, and 5% are other ethnicities. The majority of alumni currently reside in Hollywood, East LA, South LA, Watts, and Long Beach. More than 20% percent of alumni rely on some form of government benefits to support their basic needs and approximately 21% live in transitional or emergency housing. 

When diving into the statistics of incarcerated youth in Los Angeles, as reported by the Los Angeles County Commission on Juvenile Justice, African American and Latino youth are overrepresented in juvenile halls and camps making up a combined 80% of the total population. Furthermore, this population has historically lacked access to re-entry resources that are age-appropriate upon their releases such as mental health counseling and support, stable and healthy housing environments, job and college preparation and support, creative outlets to cope and heal from their trauma and supportive networks. Of notable concern is our youth’s involvement in gangs and gang activity as a means to find supportive networks, albeit unhealthy ones. According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 14 to 30 percent of adolescents will join a gang at some point in their life. The influence of gang membership on delinquent behavior is not a short-term event that people grow out of, rather it can transition into adulthood including an increased likelihood of dropping out of school, becoming a teenage parent, or struggling to find stable employment. According to the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), the city is home to over 450 active gangs with a combined membership of 45,000 individuals.

Data from the CA State Los Angeles School of Criminal Justice, in collaboration in the Children’s Data Network show that a staggering number of youth involved in the juvenile justice system have also crossed over into the foster care system and vice versa. Young adults leaving foster care and the juvenile justice systems face significant challenges as they transition to independence, typically without permanent connections, the assistance of a family, or other support. In addition, the factors that lead to a young person’s interaction with the juvenile justice or child welfare systems such as trauma, abuse and neglect, lack of resources, substance abuse or mental health issues, often coincide with those that contribute to higher risks of criminal activity. Four out of five LA Probation youth have received at least one referral for suspected maltreatment, with many experiencing their first referral early in childhood. The prevalence of referred and substantiated maltreatment, case opening, and foster care placement was significantly higher among Black and Latino youth exiting Probation. Los Angeles also faces an epidemic of intergenerational cycles of system involvement among the youth of color and children born to teen parents or system involved parents. These youth are more likely to enter the child welfare or juvenile justice system themselves showing an increased need for our youth to receive services that are geared towards their needs.

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