Six Things to Know about Long Beach Youth & the Justice System

Aug. 31, 2019 / By

Graphic by Carlos Villicana.


About a quarter of Long Beach youth will experience criminalization in school or by police while about 35% know people personally caught up in the system. Given the scale, what can be done to create more access to opportunities for youth?


The data comes from a survey put forth by a team of VoiceWaves Youth Reporters, who, with the help of a Long Beach health department mini-grant, sought to find out the needs of system-involved youth.


Comprised mostly of low-income, youth of color ages 14 to 24, a total of 197 survey responses led to the six following conclusions.


  1. Trauma and stress are way too common in youth’s lives :

63% of youth participants said they have experienced extreme stress or trauma in some frequency with 31% experiencing such on a daily or weekly basis.


The impact trauma has on youth is well documented. As USC lecturer Tracy Webb notes in the Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma, young people who experience trauma are at risk of experiencing truancy, health issues and becoming systems-involved. 


  1. Youth don’t know where to go for help. Even if help is available, youth find it hard — real hard — to talk about their emotions and problems.


Youth believe talking is the most effective method of coping with trauma, according to our survey. And yet, very few have places to turn to when they want to talk.

About 17% of youth can talk to parents or family about their problems, 9% talk to trusted community members and only 2% can talk to a trusted teacher or counselor.


Most youth who do talk to someone about their problems said they have had positive experiences. 


However, perhaps the most sobering finding was that one in every three Long Beach youth reported that they “never talk” to anyone about their emotions. 


  1. Getting through the pain: Youth generally sleep, create, and cry to cope with negative emotions


Survey participants were asked to identify their preferred coping mechanisms when they felt angry, anxious, sad or stressed. About 60% prefer to sleep, 49% turn to creative arts and music, 47% will eat food and 41% would cry.


While some of these factors can be deemed healthy — and were described as healthy by youth — some other less common coping skills include alcohol and drug consumption, sexual activity and lashing out violently at objects or other people.


  1. Youth find some support at home, but not much at school or in the community


Youth were asked to report what resources they have access to. The youth’s most accessible resource is knowing “trusting and non-judgmental people,” which 71% report they have. Having enough food for the day or a supportive parent ranked high as well, respectively receiving about 68% and 65% of positive responses.


However, less than half said they had access to a supportive teacher, a school counselor, healthcare or a job. Even fewer reported having access to an after school program, a mental health counselor or other resources.


  1. Youth reeeeeally don’t think school detention or incarceration works as a deterrent


Youth were also asked to rank what resources they thought were most and least effective at keeping them out of becoming systems-involved. The following were considered to be the least effective:


  • Only 24% of youth believe school detention to be mostly effective or absolutely effective.
  • 42% of youth thought youth prisons were mostly or absolutely effective.
  • Probation was also considered to be mostly or absolutely effective by 52% of youth. While that represents a slim majority, take a look below at what resources youth thought really made a difference — and by a large margin.
  1. What youth think really makes a difference: 


When asked to rank what they considered as the most effective methods for ensuring they did not become systems-involved, 88% of youth voted for having a supportive family. Access to jobs received 80% of votes, trailed closely by creative media and arts programs at 79% and athletics at 78%. Below are the top 10 considered to be “absolutely effective” by youth.



Our survey was designed, implemented, and analyzed by our My Brother’s Keeper youth team: Alvin Engo, Benyamin Chao, Carlos Villicana, Luis Sanchez, Yesenia Pacheco with mentorship from Michael Lozano and Montzerrat Garcia Bedolla with support from the City of Long Beach, Department of Health and Human Services’ My Brother’s Keeper Initiative.


Carlos Omar

Carlos is a longtime resident of North Long Beach who graduated from CSULB's journalism program in 2019. While there, he held multiple editorial positions at the Daily 49er and served as managing editor for the inaugural edition of DIG en Español. His passion for social change was sparked by growing up in an underinvested portion of the city, and continues to be fueled by the desire to see a day when all people live in healthy communities.