Ventura County's Approach to Latino Youth on Probation

Posted March 10, 2018
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
An evening reporting center for Latino youth in Ventura County, California

Two evening report­ing cen­ters at com­mu­ni­ty-based orga­ni­za­tions in Ven­tu­ra Coun­ty, Cal­i­for­nia, are tak­ing a dif­fer­ent approach to pro­ba­tion. It involves box­ing, silk-screen­ing t‑shirts, tutor­ing and eat­ing togeth­er every night, like a family.

This shift towards com­mu­ni­ty-based pro­gram­ming, made pos­si­ble through part­ner­ships between the orga­ni­za­tions and the Ven­tu­ra Coun­ty Pro­ba­tion Agency, is what’s need­ed across the coun­try, said Nate Balis, direc­tor of the Casey Foundation’s Juve­nile Jus­tice Strat­e­gy Group. Youth on pro­ba­tion need access to mean­ing­ful and rel­e­vant youth devel­op­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties, and espe­cial­ly to pos­i­tive role mod­els and orga­ni­za­tions in their home neigh­bor­hoods,” Balis said. His­tor­i­cal­ly, how­ev­er, sig­nif­i­cant part­ner­ships are scarce between pro­ba­tion agen­cies and com­mu­ni­ty-based orga­ni­za­tions root­ed in the neigh­bor­hoods where many court-involved youth live.

The first evening report­ing cen­ter opened in Ven­tu­ra in 2013 at a local Boys and Girls Club’s teen cen­ter. The sec­ond cen­ter opened in the sum­mer of 2017 at One Step à la Vez, a non­prof­it start­ed by young peo­ple almost 10 years ago. The pro­grams are locat­ed in major­i­ty Lati­no com­mu­ni­ties that have the high­est num­ber of youth sent to secure deten­tion for pro­ba­tion violations.

The evening report­ing cen­ters take a pos­i­tive, rather than puni­tive, approach, aim­ing to con­nect young peo­ple with their com­mu­ni­ty. Both cen­ters offer the same pro­gram­ming to all youth from the com­mu­ni­ty, regard­less of whether or not they are on pro­ba­tion, in an effort to encour­age pos­i­tive rela­tion­ships. In pre- and post-pro­gram sur­veys, young peo­ple report that they have fun and are hap­py to have the chance to just be teenagers.

Thanks to the suc­cess of the first 147 youth that pro­ba­tion referred — 78% of whom con­tin­ued to attend after their man­dat­ed par­tic­i­pa­tion end­ed — the pro­ba­tion agency is work­ing with its part­ners to increase the num­ber of youth served. It has issued a Request for Pro­pos­als for a third site in the county.

The Boys and Girls Club’s teen cen­ter is at capac­i­ty, serv­ing 10 youth from pro­ba­tion at a time in addi­tion to anoth­er 60 to 80 teens from the com­mu­ni­ty who attend the cen­ter on a dai­ly basis. The pro­ba­tion refer­rals have broad­ened to include youth on more inten­sive pro­ba­tion due to their risk scores. The sec­ond site at One Step à la Vez is larg­er so it is open to all youth on pro­ba­tion, regard­less of whether they have vio­lat­ed, and also serves as a drop-off cen­ter when law enforce­ment offi­cers pick up youth for low-lev­el offens­es such as loi­ter­ing or tres­pass­ing. It is ramp­ing up to reach its capac­i­ty of 12 youth referred by pro­ba­tion. The goal is to use the pos­i­tive pro­gram­ming at the cen­ter to curb vio­la­tions before they occur.

While finan­cial and oth­er con­straints are a real­i­ty for Ven­tu­ra County’s pro­ba­tion depart­ment like any oth­er, Super­vis­ing Deputy Pro­ba­tion Offi­cer Tressie Nick­el­ber­ry says the depart­ment is com­mit­ted to shift­ing its approach to youth on pro­ba­tion away from a puni­tive mod­el and towards one that offers youth oppor­tu­ni­ties to suc­ceed, and that the depart­ment gets bet­ter results when it part­ners with com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions. Impor­tant­ly, the depart­ment is will­ing to alter and expand pro­gram­ming as it learns from its work. Our over­all goal,” says Nick­el­ber­ry, is to pro­vide as many youth as we can with pos­i­tive con­nec­tions to their com­mu­ni­ty in the hopes that this will lead them away from the juve­nile jus­tice system.”

Relat­ed Resources

  • Log on to JDAIcon­nect to see Ven­tu­ra Coun­ty’s pre­sen­ta­tion at the 2017 JDAI Inter-Site Con­fer­ence on devel­op­ing col­lab­o­ra­tive, data dri­ven and cul­tur­al­ly response approach­es to strength­en alternatives.
  • Join JDAIcon­nect to talk juve­nile jus­tice with peers around the country.

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