UCLA scholars earn contract to re-envision care for young people in the juvenile legal system

UCLA scholars and research partners Elizabeth Barnert and Laura Abrams.
UCLA scholars and research partners Elizabeth Barnert, left, and Laura Abrams. Photo by Michael Troxell
2 min read

Two UCLA professors will help California create standards of care for young people moved to county-run programs after the closure of the statewide juvenile prison system. With a three-year, $1 million contract from California Health & Human Services’ new state Office of Youth and Community Restoration, Laura Abrams of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare and Elizabeth Barnert of the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine will help design a program called Stepping Home. Its aim is to provide a suite of services and support for youth held accountable for serious crimes so that they may successfully rejoin their communities as thriving young adults.

“We are working as consultants to the state to create and implement a more ideal, less harmful youth justice system,” said Barnert, who specializes in pediatrics. A state law enacted in 2020 led to the closure of California’s troubled juvenile corrections facilities, with hundreds of young people moved to their home counties to join camps, ranches and other supervised living arrangements. During this transition and into the future, Stepping Home will provide a framework of care that prioritizes community safety and creates an environment of healing, accountability and rehabilitation. Services will include physical and mental health care, educational and vocational programs, life skills training and gang intervention.

The program will also promote evidence-based assessment tools for judges, probation officers, behavioral health providers, educators and community leaders so that they can partner with young people and their families to design effective individualized plans. Abrams and Barnert are longtime research collaborators whose work was recognized with a UCLA Public Impact Research Award in 2022.

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