By Kate McCracken.

A non-descript, seemingly unimportant building in Sacramento is the location of a series of meetings that will determine how California allocates nearly $80 million for local juvenile justice facilities. Here, the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) has convened an executive steering committee (ESC) to decide on Senate Bill (SB) 81 Round 2 funding, which has met several times over the past few months. Instrumental decisions on the future of rehabilitative services for California’s justice-involved youth are made in these meetings — yet for the most part, they carry on without any acknowledgment from the greater public.

This time there is a difference. Members of the public attended these meetings and made substantial contributions to the ongoing conversations of ESC members. Organizations such as the National Center for Youth LawBurns Institute, and The California Endowment partnered with CJCJ to articulate a new direction for the funding stream. And it made an impact.

This past Friday the BSCC released the draft request for proposals (RFP) to the public for comment. This document guides counties’ applications to secure funding for local juvenile justice facilities. The RFP is promising in comparison to its predecessor, which allocated $220 million dollars to 13 counties. The direct engagement of juvenile justice reform organizations resulted in clear discussion of best practices throughout the RFP.

However, the RFP is not perfect. It does not explicitly state counties must progress beyond minimum standards and embrace best and promising practices. It subtly encourages county practitioners to re-think their approach to juvenile justice and utilize research on what we know works for serving young people. Is this subtle encouragement enough to push counties beyond the status quo? We will wait and see when the RFP is released in the coming months and counties submit their applications.

The BSCC has significant responsibility to guide and direct counties to restructure their approach to juvenile and criminal justice. In this era of crime decline and de-incarceration, California’s law enforcement leaders have a diverse menu of effective alternatives to incarceration available to them. This RFP is a step in the right direction. Yet, CJCJ continues to encourage the BSCC to strongly invest in structuring funding opportunities that result in innovation and creativity at the local level.

Once the final RFP is released, the question will lie in the hands of the counties, but not theirs alone. Community members and other systems leaders should involve themselves in the application process to ensure community need and input are calculated into the final proposal. Will they recognize the need for long-term juvenile justice reform and submit a proposal rooted in innovation, or will they just reinvent the wheel?

The process is not yet complete. Engaged community members, research organizations, and justice reform advocates should voice their thoughts on the draft RFP. The BSCC responded to the request for more public engagement by creating a public comment period that is open until Monday July 28th at 5pm. Elevate your expertise and tell the BSCC how to best create opportunities for rehabilitative services at the local level for justice-involved youth.

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Originally posted at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.