Mission and History
The Youth Justice Coalition (YJC) is working to build a youth, family, and formerly and currently incarcerated people’s movement to challenge America’s addiction to incarceration and race, gender and class discrimination in Los Angeles County’s, California’s and the nation’s juvenile and criminal injustice systems. The YJC’s goal is to dismantle policies and institutions that have ensured the massive lock-up of people of color, widespread law enforcement violence and corruption, consistent violation of youth and communities’ Constitutional and human rights, the construction of a vicious school-to-jail track, and the build-up of the world’s largest network of jails and prisons. We use transformative justice and community intervention/peacebuilding, FREE LA High School, know your rights, legal defense, and police and court monitoring to “starve the beast” – promoting safety in our schools, homes and neighborhoods without relying on law enforcement and lock-ups, preventing system contact, and pulling people out of the system. We use direct action organizing, advocacy, political education, and activist arts to agitate, expose, and pressure the people in charge in order to upset power and bring about change.
In 2003, at a series of three meetings attended by 62 people – who were or had been arrested, detained, incarcerated and/or deported, and/or who were leaders of groups working inside juvenile halls, Probation camps, jails or prisons came together to discuss the impacts of the system on Los Angeles and prioritized four organizing campaigns:
1. Exposing and Dismantling the War on Gangs as a War on Youth of Color including challenging the lack of due process and community input in the implementation by police, sheriffs and the courts of gang suppression tactics including gang injunctions and gang databases that serve to sweep thousands of youth into the system without notification, appeal, removal or resources;
2. Improving conditions of confinement for youth at LA County juvenile halls, County Jails, State Prisons and the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ – formerly California Youth Authority), including organizing for the shut down of DJJ and its replacement by community based youth development and rehabilitation centers, and ending the use of extreme sentences for youth (including Life Without the possibility of Parole – JLWOP);
3. Reducing the County’s use of detention and incarceration by 75% within 10 years, including closing dilapidated and inhumane county and state lock-ups; and
4. Pushing the County to develop community-based owned and operated alternatives to school suspension/expulsion, arrest, court, detention and incarceration.
In the fall of 2007, the YJC founded FREE L.A. High School for youth ages 16 to 24 to:
- Build stronger youth leadership, through a curriculum that trains young people in developing basic academic and life skills, direct action organizing, campaign research, media and communications, arts activism, public policy development and advocacy and transformative justice to heal from violence and to prevent future violence.
- Eliminate barriers and discrimination for system involved youth to enroll in high school; to train youth in organizing and public policy development; to produce alternatives to the criminalization, suspension, expulsion and arrest of students; as well as to challenge the policing and intense prison-like environments of too many schools in poor communities and communities of color.
- Support the youth development and educational needs of YJC members and other youth. The school serves as an alternative to detention and incarceration for youth who face confinement, an educational site for youth who have been suspended or expelled from schools or entire districts, a school for youth returning home from lock-ups, and a more respectful and smaller program for youth who have left traditional schools discouraged.
In 2011, the Youth Justice Coalition also initiated its Education Is A Right Campaign to support local schools, create school district and police policy, and work to pass state legislation to dismantle the school-to-jail-track. As part of this work, the YJC created RESPECT in 2012 to train teachers, students, parents, administrators and school police officers in the use of transformative justice and positive intervention behavior supports as alternatives to school suspension, expulsion and arrest.