By Hayden A. Beaulieu
Sacramento is the capital of the world’s 5th largest economy. Things happen in that city that affect everyone- not just Californians. We have the power to set a positive example for other states and nations. The power of the people to invest in youth and their growth and development is the greatest power we have. SB284 not only gives youth and their families a hope of a unified front against our in-justice system, it protects our communities from corporate and system-backed destruction of the life-saving bonds that can only be formed between youth, their families, and their peers in their home communities.
The bill, introduced by California State Senator James Beall, is also called the Keep Youth Closer to Home Act. The bill is designed as an amendment to W.I.C. §912, which requires each individual county to pay $24,000 per year for each youth they send to the Department of Juvenile Justice (California’s youth prison system). The new bill proposes an increase from $24,000 to $125,000. This price increase would serve as a way to encourage counties to keep their youth closer to home, rather than sending them to far-away prisons and group homes.
The fact is that youth rely on local support systems to grow. It has been proven through tireless research that sending youth far away from home as a punishment almost always leads to increased criminal and/or reckless behavior. As a Dream Beyond Bars Fellow at Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ), I had the opportunity to speak before the California State Senate Public Safety committee. I spoke my own words of support and gave copies of our Dream Beyond Bars report to the senators. When I spoke to the senators at the committee and to their advisors in private meetings, I felt like I was carrying the weight of California’s children on my shoulders. I shared my own story of being sent far away from home, being incarcerated in an adult jail in Arizona when I was 15, as well as the trauma these experiences have inflicted on me.
This bill aligns with the goals of CURYJ, one of which is to create local community-based alternatives to the incarceration of youth. With more children remaining in their communities rather than being sent far away, organizations like CURYJ will be able to have a greater impact on these kids’ lives. Healing cannot be facilitated by the same public entities that arrest and punish youth. Kids in DJJ see system-backed programs as a personal attack rather than a helpful platform for self-improvement, and the effects are indicative of this. Overall, this bill represents a major stepping stone on the path towards closing youth prisons and building youth leaders.
It was inspiring to see my peers gathered before the senate committee. It felt as if we were truly making a difference, which we were. Memories of my own past came into mind when I spoke. When I was 15 years old, I was sent from my home in Washington state to live in Arizona. I was completely removed from my home. I had no access to my community, which is the very essence of healing. You cannot fix trauma without community.
The senators were intimidating. They spoke in response to our testimony with cold, concise, and analytical phrases. Some of them appeared skeptical as to our cause. I was scared that the bill would not pass the committee. Thankfully, it passed, and it’s on its way to further review before it reaches the full senate floor.