Positive Youth Justice Initiative Evaluation

External Evaluation: 2017 to 2021

To accelerate a statewide movement toward a juvenile justice system that focuses on well-being, reduces system involvement and improves justice system practices, The Center decided to strengthen the capacity of coalitions led by youth and families impacted by juvenile justice system throughout California to advocate for the transformation of juvenile justice locally and across the state. In early 2017, with support from Sierra Health Foundation, The California Endowment, The California Wellness Foundation and the Zellerbach Family Foundation, 11 nonprofit community-based organizations and their countywide collaboratives received a total of $1.3 million as partners in Organizing for a Healthy Justice System.

The Center, through a competitive process and in consultation with representatives of the coalition partners, selected The National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD) to carry out the external evaluation of Organizing for a Health Justice System. NCCD is drawing on a range of data sources, including focus groups with youth advocates and staff at the coalitions, surveys and analysis of data provided by the coalition partners in their progress reports, among other approaches, to respond to the following questions:

  1. How (if at all) does the advocacy environment/infrastructure in the counties with funded community partners change over the grant period?
  2. To what extent and in what ways (if any) does community power to advocate for a healthy justice system in the counties with funded community partners change over the grant period?
  3. What lessons are learned by The Center and community partners about organizing for a healthy justice system?

Interim Findings

NCCD provided an a PYJI interim report (.pdf) to The Center in January 2019. The report focuses on activities and accomplishments of PYJI-funded partners and their coalitions between January and June 2018. During the first six months of 2018, community partners in the 11 counties collectively engaged 441 young people and 407 family members in activities such as organizing and advocacy, research, and leadership development. Close to two thirds (61%) of engaged youth have current or previous juvenile justice system involvement.

In addition to and through their success engaging youth, NCCD found that PYJI-funded partners are changing the local advocacy environment and increasing community power to advocate for a healthy justice system, as illustrated by these brief examples:

  • PYJI youth from Fathers & Families of San Joaquin spoke at the State Capitol in support of the Youth Reinvestment Fund, which the governor signed into the 2018–19 state budget (for $37 million).
  • The San Diego Organizing Project described building a “powerful relationship” with San Diego County’s chief of probation. They reported that “[the chief] has already done our initial asks: reducing use of pepper spray, reducing use of solitary confinement, improving food, and expanding visiting hours.”
  • PYJI partners and their coalition members in several counties gained 14 seats at local policymaking tables that impact decision making related to juvenile justice or education, including the appointment of a youth leader from the Youth Justice Coalition to Los Angeles County’s Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council and the swearing in of the first youth of color on the Orange County Juvenile Justice Commission.

These are just a few of the many accomplishments that NCCD describes in the report. NCCD also identifies lessons learned, such as the centrality of youth to the effort, and recommendations for The Center, including to continue to encourage other funding organizations to shift practices related to supporting community organizing and advocacy.

While some of the successes documented in the report reflect work that had started before the grants from The Center, the NCCD evaluation team found that support through the Organizing for a Healthy Justice System initiative has helped the coalition partners accelerate the work, deepen their ability to develop youth leaders, and strengthen organizational and community capacity and power for advocacy, including conducting base-building activities to grow local networks of allies and champions, deepening engagement with system-impacted youth and their families, and engaging in peer-to-peer opportunities to share, collaborate and learn.

External Evaluation: 2013 to 2016

Sierra Health Foundation launched the Positive Youth Justice Initiative (PYJI) in 2012 with the goal of improving the lives of young people involved with the juvenile justice system. From 2013 to 2016, managed by The Center at Sierra Health Foundation, the initiative supported public systems in California counties in designing and implementing a series of reforms through an integrated model that invests in youth, treats trauma, provides wraparound service delivery and strengthens local infrastructure.

An independent, external evaluation team from Resource Development Associates (RDA) was selected to evaluate this phase of the initiative. The evaluation culminated with the report, Moving Positive Youth Justice Forward: Lessons Learned from Investing in Public Systems (.pdf). The RDA team distilled lessons for public agencies that are implementing systems reforms and for funders of public systems-led initiatives. In addition, they reported the progress that the PYJI-funded counties made in their systems reforms. These included increased interagency partnerships and collaboration, integrated staff training and increased access to services for justice-involved youth. At the same time, the systems had to manage competing priorities, inconsistent staff buy-in, limited data capacity and other challenges. RDA’s report concludes, “Thus, while funded counties made great progress in moving toward systems that treat and support youth in a more holistic and developmentally appropriate manner, ultimately Sierra Health Foundation felt that the approach fell short of the transformational change that PYJI sought to promote.”