The Challenge: Shifting resources from incarceration to prevention
For more than two decades, California implemented “tough on crime” policies in response to escalating levels of violence that led to severe penalties and high levels of incarceration, especially for youth. The state was spending nineteen times more on youth incarceration and the juvenile justice system than on prevention programs.
In 1996, The California Wellness Foundation launched the first of several campaigns to engage the public and encourage policymakers to invest in prevention approaches to violence and crime.
- Resources for Youth. Launched 1996, this campaign encouraged an “Honest Dialogue” on youth violence, relying on bi-partisan polling and the voices of youth and their mentors to promote investment in prevention versus the over-reliance on suppression and incarceration.
- Choices for Youth. To build upon the successful policy shifts from the prior campaign, this campaign was launched 2001 to support community investment in promising and proven strategies to prevent youth violence and support youth development.
- Keeping Youth Safe. In 2004, this statewide videoconference linked 1,300 community leaders from Redding to San Diego in a day-long discussion on youth violence prevention issues and policies, providing tools for participants to continue the advocacy efforts.
Within a few years of launching the campaign, the Schiff-Cardenas Crime Prevention Act (later renamed the Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act) was passed, which allocated more than $120 million in its first year towards community-based preventative approaches to youth delinquency. The Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act created a stable source of funding for youth violence prevention and even in the face of successive state budget crises, state-funded youth crime and violence prevention programs were protected. In addition, state funding was secured for after school programs through the passage of Prop 49.
Seventy-two partners representing law enforcement, health professionals and community leaders signed on to the effort to demand a shift in public spending from an over reliance on incarceration to prevention. Young people were engaged and participated in advocacy efforts in local communities and in Sacramento.
The campaign received widespread radio, TV, print and online media attention throughout the state and reached a broad range of audiences, including Spanish-language and multi-ethnic markets. As a result, the campaign successfully conveyed the message that in order to make communities safer, youth need resources and choices.
Craft strong central messages
The campaign was centered on one key theme: violence against youth is a problem that affects all of us. Under this umbrella, the campaign called for an honest, bipartisan dialogue centered on the choices and resources available for youth. Community leaders and youth, including youth who had been given second chances, were engaged to become powerful messengers. Their real-life messages, including “nothing stops a bullet like a job,” resonated with the public and policymakers.
Focus efforts on policymakers
To inform and educate policymakers and opinion leaders on the facts about youth violence prevention, the campaign distributed portfolios of materials, including factsheets, strategies, perspectives, polling data and scorecards. In addition, these leaders were brought together at key moments in high profile videoconferences and regional events.
Leverage reach of media
Recognizing the limitations of paid media, a primary strategy was to garner media attention through press events, editorial board meetings, placement of op–eds, and the release of reports that ranked and rated community safety, to reach the public and policymakers.