Shane Murphy Goldsmith is the President and CEO of the Liberty Hill Foundation, a social justice grantmaking organization with a 40-plus history. She also serves on the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners. Shane seeks to find ways of bringing philanthropy, community partners, policy makers, youth and law enforcement together to reimagine public safety through smart investments in our youth, giving them the opportunities they all deserve.
The Challenge: One day, I was sitting in a Police Commission meeting and heard a story that gave new purpose to my life. The LAPD was arresting thousands of kids each year who the officers did not want to arrest. Meanwhile, there was a community-based alternative to arrest, called pre-arrest diversion, in which the kids fared far better. The only reason the officers were arresting these kids rather than diverting them was that the community organization did not have the capacity to serve one more kid.
At the time, there were about 12,000 kids being arrested in LA. In fact, LA arrests and incarcerates more kids than anywhere in the world. Most of these kids are poor and Black or Latino, another symptom of economic inequality and structural racism. Once kids are arrested for offenses like stealing shoes from a store, school yard fights, tagging a wall, doing drugs, they are trapped in a labyrinth from which few escape. Most kids who are arrested end up being pushed out of school and into the adult criminal justice system, many become homeless, battle addiction and other health and mental health problems, and die too young. However, when young people go to a community-based restorative justice diversion program where they are held accountable for their actions, connected to health, education, housing, jobs, leadership development, their trajectory changes for ever. They get the second (or third or fourth) chance they deserve to fulfill their potential.
The Hunch: I knew that pre-arrest diversion would not shut down the labyrinth forever. But it was a start. I knew that if community organizers, advocates, and youth leaders who had been working to dismantle this system for decades were given the resources they need, they could win.
The Proposal:Focused on Los Angeles, I proposed to find ways of bringing philanthropy, community partners, policy makers, youth and law enforcement together to reimagine public safety through smart investments in our youth, giving them the opportunities they all deserve.
The Stanton Journey: Through my work with brilliant community organizers, a much larger vision was crafted. We sought out to end youth incarceration as we know it and replace it with a youth development system we would build from the ground up, all led by young people of color who were directly impacted. We invited other foundations to partner with us. Together, we providing funding to leaders on the frontlines to create a blueprint and do the organizing and advocacy to bring it to life. Elected officials, law enforcement leaders, and other government officials stepped up to champion our cause. Our strategy was to “Shrink, Close, and Invest.” We would shrink youth arrests by 50%, close half the youth jails, and (re)invest hundreds of millions of government dollars into a youth development system we would have to build from scratch.
I visited Washington D.C., Oakland, San Francisco, King County, Washington, and Santa Clara County,California to learn how they were eliminating youth incarceration and building community-based youth development systems. I was able to bring organizers, advocates, youth leaders and foundation program officers with me to several of these places so we could learn together. Many elements of our vision existed in these places. We got a crash course in how to craft, win, and implement these solutions.
I had the honor of conducting oral history interviews with 10 kids who had been incarcerated. I will carry their stories of injustice, trauma, resilience, love, and power with me always. I provided stipends to them to create art projects about their stories.
Together, we raised $4M to fuel community organizing and advocacy. Pre-arrest diversion has expanded from a few LAPD divisions to all 21, plus it is being implemented in 7 other law enforcement agencies in LA County. We have reduced arrests by 23%, closed 8 out of 14 youth jails, invested $110M in government funds into a new system of youth development that we are building together, led by the vision and power of our youth leaders.
Where I Am Now: This has inspired a life long journey. It all started when my baby brother was arrested at 17. He has been in and out of jail and homelessness ever since. I would not be me if it weren’t for him. I do this for my brother and for all our kids. There is so much more work to do to bring them justice and set them free. Onward!