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CYS' Black Equity Priorities

“Justice that is not rooted in equity, in social welfare, and in community is not justice at all.”  

  - DeRay McKesson

As youth arrests go down, racial disparities for Black youth go up. These harrowing statistics (seen below) exist across the country, including the city of Los Angeles. In order to support, uplift, invest, and work with our communities, we must prioritize Black Equity. By prioritizing Black Equity, CYS joins the fight to repair harm rooted in disinvestment, neglect, and systemic racism, not just for the Black community, but all marginalized communities.  


No work in the justice and school systems is complete without a deep commitment to dismantling long standing systemic inequities that disproportionately impact specific sub-populations. Oftentimes law enforcement agencies and community corrections struggle at realizing that some of the most critical investments to be made in communities they are recruited and hired to service are empathy,  consistency and the willingness to commit to the vision of positive change.

“Our children are not broken. Instead they are contending with toxic dosages of adversity.” 

- Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, Former Surgeon General of California 

Illustrations of Disparities: 


When the underlying causes of systemic inequities are not addressed, even seemingly good policy and programming efforts can often lead to widening inequities. For example, within the last decade, there has been a significant push to reduce the punitive practices of school suspensions and arrests. On the surface, there is a reduction for youth in Los Angeles as well as in California, at large. However, upon closer analysis, Black youth in Los Angeles were four times more likely to miss school due to a suspension compared to white youth in 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Education.  Additionally, data from the California Department of Education demonstrates that 8% of Black youth were suspended compared to 3.2% of youth overall in the state in the 2021-2022 school year.  


Commonly, when schools reduce suspensions overall, the disparity for Black youth becomes starker, meaning suspensions for Black students are not reduced at the same rate as the harshest practices continue to be used disproportionately for Black students.  


Here is that same phenomenon demonstrated in the arrests of youth in Los Angeles.  As arrests reduce overall, the disparity for Black youth increases dramatically.  Black youth make up only about 8% of the total population of youth in the city, yet they comprised 18% of LAPD youth arrests in 2010 and rose even higher to 33% of LAPD youth arrests in 2019. 


Even as momentum for diversion from the juvenile justice system increases locally and nationally, racial disparities remain present. Across the country, 52% of juvenile justice cases for white youth were diverted from formal processing, compared to 40% of cases for Black youth. This indicates that white youth have benefitted more from juvenile justice reform efforts compared to Black youth (Sickmund, M., et al., 2021). Multiple studies show even after controlling for possible contributing variables like impulsivity, gang membership, and behavior, Black youth receive more police contact and harsher school discipline.  White youth report more offences before a first arrest, receive fewer formal proceedings and less restrictive sentences for the same crimes in which Black youth are three times more likely to receive a referral to court, a longer sentence, and more confinement.


Locally, within the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), there were 7,395 youth arrests, citations, and diversions reported between 2014 and 2017. Within those four years, arrests and citations decreased while diversion referrals increased, which generally, is a good thing. However, Black youth comprised 25% of the Los Angeles School Police Department arrests, citations, and diversions even though they only represent less than 9% of the entire student population of LAUSD (Allen, T., et al., 2018). If you are interested in current and specific data, regarding arrest rates, check out the Million Dollar Hoods website. Their “Map Room” is an interactive map that allows anyone to create reports, generate statistics, and check out other reports that have been made. 


These harmful disparities indicate ever-present systemic inequities. They are alarming and they need to be addressed.


Centering Black Equity is Essential: 

  • Focusing simply on "equity" often leads to further inequity for Black people.


  • Across just about every measure of equity, Black people fare worse than any other demographic sub-group due to Anti-Blackness in policies and implementation of policies.  

  • Anti-blackness hurts everyone and impedes our collective healing as a unified community.  

  • To reform harmful systemic practices in order to ensure equity for all youth and families, we must prioritize solutions that resolve the most entrenched forms of inequity that impact Black people the most harshly. 

"The liberatory potential of centering Blackness is the light it shines not on Black identity alone; it’s also about exposing the systems of power that marginalize us all." 

- Anne Price, Jhumpa Bhattacharya, and Dorian Warren of the Insight Center for Community Economic Development - Centering Blackness: The Path to Economic Liberation for All  

How CYS Establishes Equity Protections Within Our Diversion Work: 


We review all referrals for the following red flags and seek out accountability with referral partners:

  • Was the “arrest-able” behavior instigated or escalated by an adult? Ensuring we are holding adults more accountable than youth. 

  • Was this incident an indication of a victim of bullying finally responding in self-defense?  

  • Was this an escalated response to a minor incident that would have otherwise not been elevated to law enforcement in another neighborhood or with another demographic? 

  • Is this a pattern within certain schools or group homes contacting the police without providing their own supports and interventions first?  

  • Were police called due to an institutional policy rather than a true safety concern? 

  • Are there any adults getting in the way of a youth participating in diversion services? 


We incorporate key strategies to avoid widening the net of who is impacted by the justice system:


  • Centering our diversion and prevention work in jurisdictions with the highest disparities. 

  • Divert cases from the next legal step they otherwise would have taken. For example, if there was not enough evidence to file and arrest, then diversion is not appropriate, and the case should be dropped.


  • Differentiate diversion from prevention.  If a clear crime was not committed, diversion is not appropriate. 


  • Establish clear and objective diversion referral eligibility criteria.


  • Place less emphasis on “priors” for youth in highly policed areas. 

  • Ensure that special protections and advocacy for youth in foster care or youth with special needs are provided. 

  • Develop protocols for declining inappropriate cases, and for when to go into advocacy-mode. 

  • Provide “up stream” solutions to change policies and practices in the community to dramatically reduce the policing of children.  This often includes training in restorative responses for schools. 

The Black Equity Priorities of CYS:  


It is essential to end all police contact for Black youth, starting with the communities that are over-policing Black youth at the highest rates. We believe this can be accomplished by focusing on the following areas:


  • Law Enforcement: Through comprehensive training and technical assistance to alter beliefs, policies, and practices, CYS’s law enforcement partners increase diversion referrals as well as bring down the racial disparities within their referrals. 


  • Schools: A restorative and trauma-informed shift in beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors toward youth results in less contact with school police, a decrease in arrests, and more awareness around racial disparities within diversion referrals. 


  • Advocacy/Policy:  The CYS Transformation Team is dedicated to advocating on behalf of youth and families experiencing unfair treatment, whether that be due to their race, gender, sexuality, class, or learning needs. This team has and will continue to push for putting an end to outdated punitive practices like school expulsions and will continue fighting against unjust and unnecessary arrest charges. 


  • Invest in the Black Community: The Black community experiences, most disproportionally, systemic disinvestment—disinvestment in healthcare, housing, education, and economic mobility. To combat this, and in addition to restorative justice services, we connect families to long-term and preventative community resources. 

  • Data: We use data to inform ourselves and our partners, seeking transparency and accountability between organizations to make sure services reach youth that are experiencing the highest disparities.  


  • Research: We utilize current research to inform our work, best practices, and to assess where disparities most heavily lie, both geographically and demographically.  


  • Reform: CYS is part of the LA Youth Uprising Coalition, which is a network of community-based organizations committed to principles of black equity. Together, this network achieves substantial influence on massive juvenile justice reforms in LA, with reverberating impacts across CA.  

Our Long-Standing Commitment to Equity Has Produced Outcomes Such as: 

  • Serving as a local and national leader in restorative justice-centered diversion work and diverting tens of thousands of youths of color from the justice system since 1975.  

  • Shifting local and national focus on youth diversion from post-arrest to pre-arrest to interrupt justice system involvement at the earliest point possible. 


  • Focusing all of our work in communities with the highest rates of arrest and harsh school discipline practices for youth of color and transforming those practices.  


  • Providing training and technical assistance for law enforcement partners to implement diversion decision criteria that remove subjective factors and focus only on concrete facts (age, crime type) to determine who gets offered diversion opportunities. 


  • Decreasing youth arrests by 95% in two major school districts in Los Angeles County through training of law enforcement and school personnel, facilitation of prevention and diversion services, and collaboration with other local community-based organizations. 


  • Supporting another local school district to transform from having five times the county average of suspensions and expulsions to institutionalizing many restorative practices that have reversed those rates.  The district eliminated their School Dean positions that primarily handled student discipline issues and replaced them with new Intervention Specialists positions that focus on trauma-informed supportive services instead of enforcing punitive discipline policies. 


  • Partnering with civil rights attorneys to influence key policy changes and provide direct advocacy when needed to protect our youth and families. 


  • Collaborating with justice officials to eliminate or dismiss charges when there are clear questions of legitimacy regarding the charges. 


  • Reviewing agency arrest data by race with law enforcement partners to examine for had been referred to diversion and who had been arrested to inform intentionality around equity. 



Where We Are Going Next: 


CYS has effectively put restorative justice diversion on the map with the strong outcomes of our Everychild Restorative Justice Center that prove that keeping young people out of the justice system and providing restorative responses rather than punitive harsh punishments leads to more community healing and safety for all involved. This work and data have been instrumental in informing Los Angeles County’s current commitment and investments in expanding diversion for youth across all 55 municipal police departments  in the County and the Sheriff’s Department. 


But what if all our communities could have healthy systems of support for all youth and families such that the needs of youth are proactively addressed before problems escalate? Let us imagine and work towards a world where no one ever feels the need to call police on a child because other restorative and supportive solutions are in place and accessible. 


In all of this, we let the data guide our work to ensure these solutions address the long-standing inequities our systems have levied most harshly on Black youth and families. 



Allen, T., Bryan, I., Guerero, A., Teng, A., and Lytle-Hernandez, K. (2018). “Policing Our Students: An Analysis of L.A. School Police Department Data (2014 - 2017).” Los Angeles, CA. The Million Dollar Hoods Project. 


California Department of Education 2021-22 Suspension Rate Report.  


Million Dollar Hoods Map Room. 


Padgaonkar NT, Baker AE, Dapretto M, Galván A, Frick PJ, Steinberg L, Cauffman E. Exploring Disproportionate Minority Contact in the Juvenile Justice System Over the Year Following First Arrest. J Res Adolesc. 2021 Jun;31(2):317-334. 


Price, A., Bhattacharya, J. and Warren, D. (June 2020). “Centering Blackness: The Path to Economic Liberation for All.” Insight Center for Community Economic Development. 


Sickmund, M., Sladky, A., and Kang, W. (2021). Easy access to juvenile court statistics: 1985-2020.  


U.S. Department of Education Civil Rights Data Collection. 

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