Started in 1962, Commonweal is a California nonprofit health and environmental policy organization with headquarters in Marin County. Commonweal has specialized programs in 13 areas including global environmental and ocean health, cancer help, medical education, adolescent development and the arts.

The Juvenile Justice Program began in 1992 under the direction of attorney David Steinhart. The Juvenile Justice Program was successor to earlier adolescent health programs at Commonweal, including a highly regarded youth counseling program as well as a residential care facility for court-referred youth. Between 1982 and 1992, Commonweal took an active interest in the plight of youth confined in California’s harsh Youth Authority institutions. Commonweal published four investigational books on the “CYA” in that decade.

For nearly 30 years now, the Juvenile Justice Program has been a leading advocacy voice in the field, helping policymakers, courts, probation, attorneys, service providers, advocacy organizations and others develop youth crime and violence prevention programs, adopt safe alternatives to youth incarceration and build an effective national agenda of juvenile justice reform.

All of the work of the Juvenile Justice Program is supported by private foundation grants.

Key program milestones include:

The CYA Reports: 1982-90: Commonweal published four books documenting the overcrowding, violence, gang activity and program failure within the California Youth Authority (CYA).

The California Youth Violence Prevention Initiative: 1997- 2005, Commonweal joined other advocates in this California Wellness Foundation initiative to reduce access to firearms and expand state resources for youth crime prevention.

The Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI): 1995-present, Commonweal has been a technical assistance provider to the Annie Casey Foundation’s JDAI–a national initiative promoting safe alternatives to detention some 37 states.

Crime prevention program development: Commonweal worked with California legislative leaders to design the Schiff-Cardenas Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act which has provided more than $1.6 billion to local units of government for youth crime and violence prevention programs over the last 15 years.

California juvenile justice realignment: Commonweal had a lead state role in the design of Senate Bill 81 (2007) which moved all nonviolent youth out of state correctional facilities to local control. Commonweal helped lawmakers create the Youthful Offender Block Grant (YOBG) fund which pays counties over $100 million per year to serve former state-incarcerated youth.

Juvenile Justice and Mental Health: In 2014-15, Commonweal advised lawmakers and helped draft budget provisions appropriating $20 million to restore the Mentally Ill Offender Crime Reduction (MIOCR) grant program with half of the funding dediacted to the support of programs servng juveniles with mental health treatment needs.  In 2005, Commonweal co-drafted California legislation creating new court based evaluation and disposition procedures for youth with mental health disorders in delinquency proceedings. Commonweal advised the California Endowment’s Healthy Returns Initiative (2005 -2010) on new procedures and services for justice system youth with mental health problems.

Data systems and performance measures:  In 2014-15, Commonweal Program Director David Steinhart chaired a statewide Juvenile Justice Data Working Group, established by legislation to produce a report analyzing and recommending upgrades for state and local juvenile justice data systems in California (the report was submitted to the Legislature in January 2016 and is available on the Board of State and Community Corrections website).  As far back as 2001, Commonweal drafted legislation requiring the state Attorney General to track California data on transfers of juveniles to adult criminal courts. Commonweal also helped draft the 2009 California “Juvenile Justice Master Plan” of the State Juvenile Justice Commission.

Board of State and Community Corrections: In 2012, Program Director David Steinhart was appointed by the state Senate to the California Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) which has important juvenile justice system oversight and funding responsibilities. He chairs the Juvenile Justice Standing Committee (JJSC) of the Board.