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Case studies

Arts and Juvenile Justice

REFORMING LA COUNTY’S JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM THROUGH ARTS EDUCATION

Launched in 2014, the Los Angeles County Arts Commission’s juvenile justice work reflects a deep commitment to Countywide reforms calling for a less punitive, more rehabilitative approach focused on therapeutic, holistic, smallgroup treatment as well as a reduction of the rates of youth incarceration. Cross-agency collaboration with the County’s Probation Department and Department of Education has demonstrated that engagement in the arts is a powerful force for personal growth and it encourages new approaches for promoting positive youth development.

The rebuilt Campus Vernon Kilpatrick opened in April 2017 as a flagship for the LA Model; a shared vision for a new model of juvenile justice in LA developed by more than 100 stakeholders. Its 42,000 square foot Malibu campus accommodates 120 minors in a setting that forgoes the cell structure typical of most prison architecture; instead it offers virtually open air, dormitory style living, with individual cottages fitting a dozen teens each. In this environment, students form supportive communities by attending classes and engaging in team-building exercises together. The Arts Commission contributed to the design and implementation of dedicated creative learning and performance spaces at the facility.

With Arts Commission oversight, non-profit arts service organisations with a mission to serve incarcerated youth are contracted to coordinate the delivery of arts instruction in all nine Probation camps and three juvenile halls in the County. Instruction in music, dance, theatre, visual art and creative writing promotes skill building in the arts as well as social and emotional development. Additionally, teaching artists work in six high schools associated with the Probation Department’s five Juvenile Day Reporting Centres. In these high schools, youths who have mandatory check-in requirements from the Court or their Probation officers engage in arts-based activities that promote positive behaviours, rehabilitation, school success and readiness to enter viable jobs in the creative economy.

The Arts Commission and its partners work together to deter involvement with the juvenile justice system and to foster supportive learning environments for youths who are incarcerated. The goal is to provide access to arts instruction that helps youths develop the social, emotional, educational, professional readiness and life skills that enable them to avoid incarceration or productively re-enter society after incarceration.