Some states have made great strides in reforming their juvenile justice systems, moving away from incarceration to community-based alternatives.
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But how do states and local agencies fund the range of community services that many advocates believe are needed?
In Fort Worth, Texas, a closed youth facility became a new source of funds, said Samantha Harvell, principal policy associate at the Urban Institute.
“The former facility was sitting on a valuable piece of property,” she said. The nonprofit that owned it, Lena Pope, leased the land to a shopping center developer for 60 years, netting about $1 million a year, she said. That money now provides education and counseling services to children and older youth.
“It’s a strategy that creates a consistent funding stream moving forward,” Harvell said.
A variety of ideas — ranging from repurposing old youth prisons to participatory budgeting to taxing cannabis — are detailed in a report released today by the Urban Institute. Harvell is one of four authors of the report.
“It’s time to shift the conversation to a solutions-based approach,” she said.
To that end, the report looks at successful efforts to fund services in communities — particularly the underserved ones that have a disproportionate number of young people in the juvenile justice system.
Money has been freed up as incarceration rates drop and youth prisons close, but the trick is to prevent that money from flowing to other state needs, according to the report.
Harvell cited the example of Kansas, which enacted sweeping juvenile justice reform in 2016.
“Kansas is a really good example of a state that had a significant budget gap but was still able to preserve more than $12 million,” she said.
“The [reform] legislation had a ‘lockbox mechanism’” mandating that the money go to specific purposes, she said. Funds were used for evidence-based programming for youth under supervision in the community.
A range of ideas from a range of stakeholders
The Urban Institute worked with the Youth First Initiative and garnered ideas from many other stakeholders.
“It’s incredibly important to have legislative champions,” said Carmen Daugherty, policy director at Youth First Initiative, an advocacy group devoted to closing youth prisons and investing in community-based services.
The report advises fostering relationships with policymakers ahead of the budget cycle, learning the language of budgeting and building a strong constituency.
In addition to capturing savings from facility closures and leveraging their land value, the report detailed two other funding strategies:
- Use existing state and federal funding in new ways.
- Adopt innovative methods, such as new taxes and participatory budgeting.
Many justice-involved youth are part of families covered by Medicaid. Others are in the child welfare system, the authors noted. Tap this money to provide community services, the report advised.
For example, Wraparound Milwaukee is a nonprofit funded by the Milwaukee Family Division of Youth and Family Services, as well as Wisconsin’s Medicaid agency and the state agency for child protective services. The funds are pooled and “decategorized,” the report said, so the organization has spending flexibility as it provides different types of care for youth with serious behavioral, emotional and mental health needs.
In Onondaga County, N.Y., 10 different child and family services were pulled into one department. which now oversees child welfare, mental health, juvenile justice, school-based initiatives and a youth bureau. The change allowed flexible use of funding, Harvell said.
“In one agency they were able to think creatively,” she said.
Innovative methods to fund youth services have included a local tax enacted in Pinellas County, Fla., and Oakland, Calif.
In Boston, the mayor’s office created a youth organization, Youth Lead the Change, that decides how to allocate $1 million of the city’s budget. This participatory budgeting process has been adopted in Seattle and elsewhere, the report said.
Opportunity zones, social impact funds and cannabis taxes also can fund community services, the report said.
The report argues for a community-based ”continuum of care” for youth and families.
“Money needs to go back into investing in the community service supports,” Daugherty said.
Recreational facilities, effective mentoring and programs that engage youth are needed, she said. Immediate interventions for youth should be available, she said, plus resources such as family therapy and substance abuse treatment.
The communities themselves need affordable housing, jobs and economic development, she said.
“Operating youth prisons sucks up the majority of [juvenile justice] funding,” Daugherty said. “We want to bring those millions of dollars back to their communities.”