Juvenile Justice Initiative


Youth violence continues to be one of the major health and safety problems affecting young people in Oakland and Alameda County.

  • Research shows that youth with five or more arrests have a greater than 90% likelihood of being arrested again, unless they receive appropriate intervention services.
  • Seven out of ten youth are rearrested within one year of being released from out of home placements.
  • According to a recent analysis of 2003 Oakland Police Department data, arrests of youth under the age of 25 represented 32% of total arrests.
  • Youth 17 and under were arrested for violent offenses at a higher rate than youth 18-25.
  • A trend analysis of victim data from 1999-2003 revealed that youth under 25 represented over 50% of felony assault victims, 38% of misdemeanor assault victims, 42% of homicide victims, 32% of robbery victims, and over 60% of forcible rape victims.

In order to tackle the roots of violence among and against youth, Safe Passages developed the Juvenile Justice Initiative. The initiative seeks to implement a system of graduated supports and sanctions for youth offenders that engages Oakland’s multiple public systems and communities.

Since 2002, Safe Passages has brought together key agencies, such as: the Alameda County Juvenile Court, the Probation Department, the Public Defender’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office, the Oakland Police Department, and various community-based service providers to develop comprehensive programs to give youth offenders a critical second chance to get their lives back together.

The Youth Offender Policy Committee has overseen the development and implementation of three key strategies:

  • Project First
  • Oakland Police Department Early Diversion Program

These initiatives serve to prevent youth from entering the juvenile justice system and to reengage repeat youth offenders in school and positive work experiences.

Helping First Time Youth Offenders Stay Out of the System

Existing data on first time youth offenders in Oakland and Alameda County presents compelling argument for intervening quickly with these youth. An analysis of Alameda County Probation Department data reported that:

  • Approximately 4 out of 10 first time offenders will commit another crime within a year of being released from juvenile hall or probation.
  • First time youth offenders constitute 65% of the juvenile arrests in Alameda County.
  • Recidivism rates for youth on court-ordered informal probation is over 45% and recidivism rates increase significantly for youth once in court-ordered placement, to over 70%.
  • In July 2003, the City of Oakland updated its Violence Prevention Plan, which compiled information on existing violence prevention programs and concluded that there were little to no resources for first-time offenders.

In an effort to develop a best practice, research based program in Oakland, Safe Passages worked with the Oakland Police Department in the implementation of Project First. The project combines several program components derived from national model programs cited by the Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJDP) including the Repeat Offender Prevention Program (ROPP). Recent evaluations of this program in several cities show that youth who are taught of their strengths, develop empathy, learn how to anticipate the outcomes of their actions, and to see alternatives to negative behavior, are more likely to do better after leaving a juvenile institution. Evaluations comparing ROPP youth to youth receiving probationary services only, showed that ROPP juveniles:

  1. Made more immediate improvement in grade point average,
  2. Significantly increased their completion of court-ordered obligations for restitution, work, and community services, and
  3. Had significantly fewer of the high sustained petitions for new offenses.

In Oakland, this model has been adapted and goes by the name Project First. It offers assessment, case management and intervention services to first-time offenders on Court Ordered Informal Probation and their families. A multidisciplinary team provides intervention services that include mentoring, counseling, education/vocational services, and after-school enrichment activities. Parent counseling/education and support groups are also provided.

Case management is a significant component of Project First, as case managers broker services for youth and their families based on needs identified at the initial assessment while maintaining one-to-one contact with the youth on their caseload. Youth participate in any number or combination of activities, such as Positive Minds mentoring group, family counseling, after-school enrichment activities, and/or academic tutoring on a weekly basis. Additionally, the project offers Parent Education and Support groups.

Safe Passages and the Oakland Police Department have partnered with the following community service providers in the development and implementation of this program: The Mentoring Center, Center for Family Counseling, Covenant House. Oakland Police Department Early Diversion Program.