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2015

YJAM Recap 2015: SHARING STORIES, Why we start with stories, and move them to Action

Thursday, 29 October 2015 Posted in 2015, CFYJ Updates

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The balloon launch at the end of a strenuous 200+ mile “Journey for Justice” bike ride across Missouri was symbolic as much as it was ceremonial.  Tracy Wade McClard launched Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM) in memory of her son, Jonathan, who took his life when he was incarcerated as an adult at age 17. Seven years later—YJAM has grown exponentially and Tracy’s fight to end the prosecution of youth as adults continues.  As the balloons released, so did the stories of the hundreds and thousands of youth who have been tried, sentenced and incarcerated in the adult criminal justice system.

 

Throughout October, youth, communities, advocates and policymakers from 23 states in 70 events have shared stories of youth in the adult criminal justice system, because the first step to change often begins with the power of a story. Stories this month culminated across four major themes—the adolescent brain, racial and ethnic disparities, solitary confinement, and family engagement.  Stories relayed through poetry, video, research, and art highlighted the need for change.

 

·         Dr. Abigail Baird from Vassar College shared the research on brain science, “We prohibit young people from engaging in a whole host of things because we feel that they lack the maturity to fully grasp the potential consequences of their actions. In spite of this, we support the idea that an adolescent who commits a violent act has somehow overcome the well-known cognitive and behavioral limitations of their age and should now, in the eyes of the court, been seen as an adult.”

 

·         A young man who has been incarcerated as an adult since he was 16 wrote : “In many ways, I was raised in the prison system. I first learned to shave in the county jail at 16, A 65-year old crack dealer showed me how. I learned to tie a tie at age 27, and my boss, a cool sergeant, showed me how it was done. I grew up in here, and I am fortunate that I was taken in by older guys who were positive people. It could have been worse for me, and for many children now entering our prisons, it is worse. “

 

·         Public defenders across the country shared stories of racial and ethnic disparities in the system, “My job is to fight for [them]. Little do they suspect that when I say fight, I don’t just mean the battle that is their case, but the larger war against racial injustice.”

 

·         Reverend Laura Downton called upon the stories of the 80-100,000 youth and adults housed in solitary confinement each day, “To address the moral crisis of solitary, we must affirm that there are no throw away people, and no throw away children. Where cycles of trauma persist, we need interventions that lead to restoration and life. Children should never be placed in solitary confinement. And our young people should not be subjected to confinement in jails and prisons designed for adults. We owe their future, the future God dreams for each of them, an opportunity to flourish.”

 

·        Family member, Keela Hailes, shared her story as a parent, “In my eyes, my son went from a sixteen-year-old-child to a thirty-year-old-man overnight, absent the completed brain development.  In his own eyes, he had no other choice but to go from a child to a man overnight to cope with his new surroundings.  He served out his sentence, came home and tried to be a productive member of society; however, two years later, he reoffended and was sent back to jail. I believe kids should be held accountable and am advocating for common sense measures that hold youth accountable and give them an opportunity to rehabilitate. Studies have shown us that this can, and should happen in the juvenile justice system.”

Stories prompt us to take action.

 

President Barack Obama signed a proclamation this month declaring October 'National Youth Justice Awareness Month' and called on Americans to "observe this month by getting involved in community efforts to support our youth, and by participating in appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs."

 

Policy makers on every level joined his call—state governors also issued proclamations in support of YJAM—including Governor Gary Herbert of Utah and Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan.  So did Mayor Ashton Hayward of Pensacola, Florida .

 

Members in the US House of Representatives held a hearing on juvenile justice, and the US Senate saw the introduction of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, a bill that would limit solitary confinement for youth in federal custody, allow for expungement of certain federal crimes committed as youth, and allow for sentencing review for youth sentenced in the federal system to life without parole.

 

States filed legislation this month to reduce the number of youth prosecuted as adults in Wisconsin (Assembly and Senate), Florida (House and Senate) and Michigan.

 

As we close out October, I leave you with the call to action from youth advocate, Morehouse Student, and formerly incarcerated youth, Alton Pitre, “As fellow caring human beings and advocates for justice, now is the time to challenge ourselves to get involved in this movement. We must use our personal stories and experiences to change the minds and hearts of those in power. Our children deserve to be treated like the children they are.”


#Girls Justice Day: Focus on Girls & Juvenile Justice

Thursday, 29 October 2015 Posted in 2015, Across the Country

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Written by Jeannette Pai-Espinosa, courtesy of JJDPA Matters Blog 

Today, October 29, we join together to recognize Girls Justice Day because sadly, despite decades of attention, the proportion of girls in the juvenile justice system has increased. At the same time,their challenges have remained remarkably consistent, resulting in deeply rooted, systemic gender injustice.

Every day in this country, girls who are survivors of violence, sexual abuse, neglect, and family dysfunction are driven into the justice system. Too often, it’s because we criminalize the actions they take to protect themselves and to deal with their trauma. Girls are rarely detained for offenses that cause a risk to public safety—they are significantly more likely to face arrest for “status offenses,” which are actions that would not be considered a crime if they were adults, such as running away.

New data recently released by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention shows that despite declines in overall youth incarceration, the number of system-involved girls is increasing and those girls are disproportionately girls of color. In fact, data that show 61 percent of incarcerated girls are girls of color, and that black girls are twice as likely as white girls to be incarcerated.

For juvenile justice reform to be truly effective, it must consider the context of girls’ lives, address their needs, and attack the disproportionate detention of girls of color. The good news is that momentum for change is building, even at the highest levels of our government.

On October 28, The White House Council on Women and Girls and the Domestic Policy Council’s Urban Affairs, Justice and Opportunity team hosted an all-day forum called “Girls of Color and Intervening Public Systems: How Can Communities Interrupt the Sexual Abuse-to-Prison Pipeline?”

This convening focused attention on the social impact of trauma and the connection between adverse childhood experiences—such as sexual abuse, young motherhood, commercial sex trafficking—and juvenile justice system engagement. As President Obama noted in his September 19th speech to the Congressional Black Caucus, we must change the ways our nation supports women and girls who are most at-risk, including many women and girls of color.

During the meeting, Vanita Gupta, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, stated, “Protecting young women and girls from sexual assault and abuse is a fundamental right.  Federal law requires that our schools protect our students from sexual abuse. Schools are too often responding with suspension expulsion and arrest.”

She also told the young women who attended: “You are not alone.”

Fran Sherman, speaker and author of the recent report, Gender Injustice, noted that, “Everyday girls with trauma enter the juvenile justice system for behavior related to their trauma and that school failure disproportionately drives girls of color into the justice system.”

During a panel of Federal officials OJJDP Administrator Robert Listenbee announced the release of the OJJDP Policy Guidance on Girls in Juvenile Justice. The policy statement includes recommendations that include a ban on status offenders being placed in the juvenile justice system and a phase out of the use of valid court orders. OJJDP believes that the needs of girls must be addressed in a developmentally appropriate manner.

We couldn’t agree more.

Which is why we are excited that yesterday also brought the announcement of the first recipients of the National Girls Initiative’s Innovation Awards, a program designed to spotlight and support creative efforts to advance systems-level juvenile justice reforms for girls. Support for the seven recipients comes from a mix of government and philanthropic funds and will drive new resources to state, local and tribal efforts to address girls’ needs, and to share information on evidence-based practices that are trauma-informed and gender and culturally responsive. The National Girls Initiative is a collaborative effort of both American Institutes for Research (AIR) and The National Crittenton Foundation (TNCF); it works to elevate the voices of girls and their families as partners in reforming the juvenile justice system.

For me the highlight of the day at the White House was the panel of youth advocates from Girls for Gender Equity in New York City. Nowhere is the call to action for reform more clear, passionate and commanding than through the voices of young women survivors. Possessed with the courage born of commitment, and compassion for the girls yet to come, they share the reality of their lives as evidence of the need for change. As leaders, they teach us that we must invest of ourselves to achieve true change.

So today, on Girls Justice Day, while it appears that movement and transformation is near, we must stand with these young women leaders to continue to press forward for reform that addresses the needs and potential of girls in or at risk of entering the juvenile justice system. This includes the long overdue passage of reauthorization of the JJDPA.

Jeannette Pai-Espinosa is the President of The National Crittenton Foundation and the Co-Director of the National Girls Initiative of OJJDP. Additionally, she is chair of the National Foster Care Coalition and a member of the Women’s Services Advisory Committee for SAMSHA.

Implicit Bias Spurs Racial Sentencing Gap

Nils Franco, CFYJ Policy Intern Thursday, 29 October 2015 Posted in 2015, Research & Policy

A Bureau of Justice Statistics­­–sponsored working paper published on October 23rd provides new analysis of racial disparities in federal sentencing outcomes for adults between 2005 and 2012. The paper suggests that judicial discretion causes growing differences in sentences between black and white men.

The report finds that black men received sentences 5 to 10% longer than white men for the same crimes, even when accounting for factors like criminal history. The authors did not find a significant difference between the sentences of white and black women.

This eight-year period saw a trend of more lenient sentencing for the study’s population. However, more lenient sentencing only increased racial differences in sentencing, according to the report. Females and white men experienced a greater decline in sentence length than black men.

Insufficient data existed to determine if prosecutorial discretion was a significant cause of racial disparity to begin with, but racial differences at the prosecutorial stage held constant through the eight year period. Therefore, the authors determine judicial behavior to be responsible for the growing sentencing gap between white and black men.

Examining the influence of federal judges on that gap, the researchers find that individual judges’ behavior determine much of the sentencing disparity. Generally, judges who sentenced blacks to longer-than-average sentences also sentenced whites to longer-than-average sentences. Some judges sentenced blacks and whites almost equally, but the most punished black men significantly more harshly than white men. On the other end, some judges’ sentencing practices produced “especially large” racial differences.

This variation from one judge to the next cannot be accounted for by “unobserved, systematic differences between whites and blacks,” the authors find. In other words, the disparity is not solely caused by correlatives of race (e.g., education and demeanor).

Racial bias influences judicial sentencing decisions, and this influence appears to have grown between 2005 and 2012. To address this issue, the National Center for State Courts has published resources and strategies for judges to minimize and better understand race’s implicit role in sentencing outcomes.

The best way to handle counterproductive criminal justice mechanisms is to replace them altogether with evidence-based practices. But at times, this comprehensive reform is not possible, and incremental progress is necessary. In the case of adult prosecution of youth, incremental reform often promotes judicial discretion to send cases back to the juvenile court. Ensuring judges consider the potential role that race may play in their decisions is crucial to equitable reform outcomes for all youth.

An executive summary of the working paper from the Bureau of Justice Statistics can be accessed here.

 

Written by Nils Franco, CFYJ Policy Intern

Utah’s Governor Gary Herbert declares October "Juvenile Justice Awareness Month"

Anne-Lise Vray, CFYJ Intern Tuesday, 27 October 2015 Posted in 2015, Across the Country

On Friday, Gary R. Herbert, Utah’s Governor since 2009, officially proclaimed October “Juvenile Justice Awareness Month”, acknowledging that “the juvenile justice system is best equipped to work with teenagers in making meaningful changes that maximize opportunities for youth offenders to realize their full potential.”

This proclamation is part of a movement of positive changes for youth justice in Utah. Indeed earlier this year, in its 2015 general session, the state’s legislature passed a bill that reduced the number of felonies for which 16 year-old kids would face Utah district (adult) court jurisdiction.

One of Governor Herbert’s stated priorities being education, he regularly calls for youth to be agents “for positive change”. Accordingly, by keeping children out of the adult criminal justice system and giving them the tools to rehabilitate and turn their lives around, they are more likely to become agents for positive change.

The Utah Governor’s proclamation is one of many resolutions and declarations that have been passed all over the country, showing an increasing and widespread support for juvenile justice reform; support that we hope one day will fully prevent youths from being tried, sentenced and incarcerated as adults.

Despite this important step forward, Utah still has a long way to go, as it is for example one of the few states still ignoring or refusing to comply with federal guidelines intended to prevent sexual assault in prisons. The Prison Rape Elimination Act is a key piece of legislation for guaranteeing children’s basic safety in prison, since one of its 4 main requirements is to keep youth under 18 strictly separated from adults. However, for “budgetary” reasons, Utah has so far refused to apply this federal law.

We can hope that Utah will go further on the path towards youth justice and adopt more important reforms soon. 

 Written by Anne-Lise Vray, CFYJ Intern

 

Staring at the Wall

Curtis, an inmate in solitary Friday, 23 October 2015 Posted in 2015, Voices

A Poem Written About Solitary Confinement

This is poem written by an inmate named Curtis. He was 16 when he was charged as an adult, and was 22 when he wrote this. He is serving a 40 year sentence. Curtis wrote the poem earlier this year about being in solitary. As of this week, he is still in solitary. 

 

I was warned there’d be times like these

But nothing could’ve prepared me for Dr. Swartz

Who comes around once a week

Peeking in my cell like he knows me better than I know myself



I’ll bet he gets a kick out of seeing a 22 year old

Who has been locked away in a cell since he was 16

Who has 30 more to go if a blessing doesn’t come through this damn wall

That he’s been staring at for the past 6 hours



I often come to this wall to somewhat free my mind

Or to drown out my annoying cellie

Who can’t stop talking about his boring relationship with his girlfriend he can’t seem to stop fighting

Even though she calls the cops on him every time



Or sometimes when the lights go out and the prison raucous is done for the day

I guess to seek mental refuge from this place

Other times just to reflect on what life was like before 23 and 1

When it was cookouts, huggies and hamburgers



Yeah, that always brings a smile to my face

Lately that’s been the routine

I start reflecting and end up with this smile

Staring at this damn wall!

Then here comes this Dr. wanting to know why I’m sitting here smiling at the wall

I give him the usual “nothing”



But to be honest

I smile to keep from crying

 

 

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 Illustration by JP Trostle

#YJAM: Family Engagement During Youth Justice Awareness Month

Keela Hailes Thursday, 22 October 2015 Posted in 2015, Voices

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My name is Keela Hailes and I am a mother and juvenile justice advocate and I am sharing my story during Youth Justice Awareness Month in hopes that it will help other families.

A few years ago, while living in Washington, D.C., my son was incarcerated hundreds and hundreds of miles away from me and the rest of his loved ones. Every day in Washington, D.C., parents are being separated from their children because they are being sent to adult prisons in other states. All too often, these adult prisons are very far from home. Because Washington D.C. is not a state, and does not have a Federal facility, our children are sent to remote and often times inaccessible Federal adult prisons all across America. As a woman who has always prided herself for being a stickler for self-accountability, I'm not suggesting that my son should've gotten away with a slap on the wrists. However, research has shown that placing children in adult prison's, rather than juvenile facilities makes them highly susceptible to repeat criminal behavior, negative influence from adult prisoners, and physical and sexual abuse.
 
Typically, I don't go around discussing brain development, but it goes to the heart of an issue that's near and dear to me, as well as thousands of other parents, across the country. Brain science is crucial in understanding how teenagers make decisions and act upon them. The Myelin Sheath is essential to brain development; it covers nerve cells that allow impulses to travel fast and efficiently.  It’s not fully developed until the age of twenty-five with the frontal lobe being the last area of the brain to be myelinated.  The frontal lobe houses the area of the brain where we process higher brain functioning like reasoning, problem solving, planning and executing behavior, and impulse control. 
 
Because we know this about the brain, society is very careful about the things that we allow kids to do before the age of 18. For example, youth cannot buy cigarettes or alcohol. They cannot get a driver’s license or even vote for the President of the United States. These decisions take a higher level of reasoning and analytical skills that have not been properly developed in the teenage brain. If we know this is true, then why does it seem rational to treat kids with adult sanctions when they engage in unlawful behavior?
 
I think about these things because one day I received a call that my sixteen-year-old son was arrested for armed robbery.  I sat stunned on the other end of the phone and wondered if the caller had the right number or right mom for that matter.  After the initial shock, thousands of questions flooded my mind, “Why in the world would he do something this stupid?”  “What was he thinking?” or “Was he thinking at all?”  I was an involved parent who monitored my son’s friendships and education, what was going on?
 
After the details of the robbery were laid out on the table, I was no longer in denial about my son’s involvement. I wanted him to not only be held accountable but soundly rehabilitated.  I knew nothing about the juvenile justice system and had assumptions about what a juvenile judge would offer as next steps, which in my mind would include programs, counseling and therapy.
 
My world was rocked again when I learned that my son would be charged as an adult and sent to the DC jail. Again, those same questions permeated my mind, “Why in the world would the government do something so stupid as to send a child to spend even one second in a jail?” “What in the world are they thinking?”, or “Are they thinking at all?” 
 
Unfortunately, my questions were never answered because my son was swiftly sent to the DC jail, even before having a hearing.  He sat unproductively on the juvenile unit of the DC Jail waiting where he was physically assaulted by a Correctional Officer, received zero services, and was finally shipped 1,500 miles away to Devils Lake, North Dakota to serve out his 3 year sentence.
 
The negative effects of this experience are still felt today. In my eyes, my son went from a sixteen-year-old-child to a thirty-year-old-man overnight, absent the completed brain development.  In his own eyes, he had no other choice but to go from a child to a man overnight to cope with his new surroundings.  He served out his sentence, came home and tried to be a productive member of society; however, two years later, he reoffended and was sent back to jail.
 
I believe kids should be held accountable and am advocating for common sense measures that hold youth accountable and give them an opportunity to rehabilitate. Studies have shown us that this can, and should happen in the juvenile justice system.
 
Keela Hailes is a Program Manager for Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop and a spokesperson for the Campaign for Youth Justice, and is committed to ending the practice of trying, sentencing, and incarcerating youth under the age of 18, in the adult criminal justice system.
 
 
Below is some sample language that you can use to help spread awareness of National Youth Justice Awareness Month. 
 

TWEETS


  • To help their children, families need information about juvenile rights and responsibilities. #YJAM

  • Children charged as adults, are still children who need the support of their families. #YJAM

  • Families lack basic information about the process of the courts, and their legal rights, and the role of various players in the system. #YJAM

  • Without family engagement, effectively addressing any treatment needs of the child is difficult. #YJAM

  • Many inmates say that their success upon re-entry to society can be attributed to their strong family connections. #YJAM

FACEBOOK


  • President Barack Obama has signed a proclamation declaring October 'National Youth Justice Awareness Month' and calls on Americans to "observe this month by getting involved in community efforts to support our youth, and by participating in appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs." http://sparkaction.org/content/president-proclamation-yjam #YJAM #youthjustice #JJDPAmatters

  • Children don’t grow up in systems, they grow up in families. Help youth incarcerated as adults by finding resources and joining advocacy groups for youth. #YJAM
 
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#YJAM: The Story of Jabriera Handy - Juvenile Justice Advocate

Tuesday, 20 October 2015 Posted in 2015, Voices

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This theme for this year's Youth Justice Awareness Month is, "The Power of Sharing Stories". All month long CFYJ will share stories of youth and family members that have been impacted by the adult criminal justice system. This week we share the story of juvenile justice advocate, Jabriera Handy 

Jabriera grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. When she was 16, she got into an argument with her grandmother. As Jabriera’s grandmother was disciplining her, Jabriera tried to get her off her. Jabriera left the house, and later that day her grandmother died of a heart attack because of the argument. She was tried as an adult for second degree murder, second degree assault and first degree assault. When she went to court for a hearing, she was two days away from turning 18, so she plead guilty to the charges for fear of the trial dragging out longer and her punishment being worse. She was taken to a juvenile facility initially where she received resources such as education, group time, and mental health help. This was short lived however. She later was taken to an adult facility where she had to shower with women twice her age and was shamelessly exposed to a squat and cough in front of everyone while menstruating. She was placed on lockdown three times, once for misconduct, once with no reason, and the last time was because of a fight. The last lockdown was supposed to last two weeks but ended up being 36 days. When in lockdown, there was no contact with prison staff, only being housed in the same area as other inmates. 
 
When she was released she was denied many opportunities. She asked for vouchers for food and services that other inmates receive upon release, but she was denied those too because felons don’t receive them. She wanted to attend University of Baltimore College, but was automatically rejected due to her felony charges. She had no place to stay. Then she met the Just Kids Maryland Campaign who assisted her and worked to get her record expunged. Now she works with Just Kids as an Assistant Youth Organizer where she has been working for four years. Now she works to share the stories of other youth such as herself because she knows too well that the issue of youth incarcerated as adults needs to be addressed. While also being a single mother of a 2-year old, she has been a mentor to youth and has been an advocate and a catalyst for change.

#YJAM: The little conversation about luck

Shawn Kelly, Intern with the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, a project of the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights. Thursday, 15 October 2015 Posted in 2015, Voices

Shawn Kelly Intern4

So what can I write about from my perspective? I mean I am not a lawyer. I’m not a judge or politician. I am just an intern in the New Orleans juvenile public defender’s office. But I am young black male. I am 20 now but only three years ago, I could have been in the same place a lot of the kids in the system are in. See I came from a lower income area, I went to public school, and I also did my fair share of juvenile misbehaving. The only difference between my story and so many of the kids we see on these streets…I got lucky.

Now that’s not to take away from my own hard work but it’s the truth. I got lucky to have good parents who are still married and raised me the best they could even with financial struggles. I was lucky enough to go to a really good public high school (The real purple and gold, Warren Easton). I was lucky enough that I never got caught when I misbehave and when I did misbehave I had people behind me to check me whenever I stepped out of line. But for a lot of kids in this city, they don’t have that luck.

See, their reality is going to schools that don’t teach them. Their reality is growing up in single parent homes where their mother has to struggle to provide. Their reality is much different than mines but it’s close enough where I can feel it and understand that could have been me. But for many of the people in this juvenile system, they don’t know that reality. They just see black bodies committing crime. That’s all they see and they stand on their high horse. We have judges that chastise young men for sagging their pants. But do they ask if that young man even had enough money to buy a belt? People chastise young women for selling their bodies in these streets. But do they ask if that young woman has been sexually abused like so many others?

So when I think of my story of how lucky and blessed I am, I get upset a little bit. I think of my accomplishments like graduating high school and going to college and I think why can’t others achieve this? I don’t think it’s because they didn’t pull themselves up by the boot straps and work hard. I don’t think it’s because they have terrible parents and terrible schools. No, it’s none of that. It’s so much bigger and terrible than that. It’s so many combinations of things that these young people will never understand. We can’t teach them all about inequalities that are so deep in this country. I still don’t understand it and I am a sociology and African American studies student. We can’t tell them to stop selling drugs when getting a job at McDonald’s is only paying $7.25 an hour and you need a high school diploma to work there in some places.

As a wise man once said, “the streets are always hiring”. We can ask for many things from youth but I think we need to start asking the question that I ask myself.  I ask myself, what can I do? What can I do so more people make it in this world? People need to ask that question. Especially those in our juvenile system that didn’t need the luck and were privileged and now send those unprivileged to jail. What can you do to help more make it and less fail? Once you ask that question and have a honest discussion in your mind, then maybe just maybe, we all can have a discussion about this system and see how we can help people.

Join LCCR, the Joan Mitchell Center, and community co-sponsors as they bring the Juvenile-in-Justice exhibition to New Orleans as part of National Youth Justice Awareness Month.

Created by acclaimed photographer and advocate for juvenile justice reform Richard Ross, Juvenile-in-Justicedocuments the experiences of children in prisons around the nation through powerful photographs and personal narratives. The traveling exhibit brings viewers into spaces normally hidden from view to tell the stories of the most vulnerable members of our society. Exhibit Runs Oct. 23- Nov. 20.

Written by Shawn Kelly, Intern with the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, a project of theLouisiana Center for Children’s Rights. Shawn is 20 years old and currently attends Loyola University in New Orleans, where he is the President of the Black Student Association. He is one of our paid interns, funded through the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), through its Young Men’s Voices have Power in New Orleans (YMVP-NOLA) program.

 

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#YJAM: Dear Mr. President, It's time to stop the torture of solitary.

Rev. Laura Markle Downton, Director of U.S. Prisons Policy & Program National Religious Campaign Against Torture Thursday, 15 October 2015 Posted in 2015, Across the Country

solitaryWritten by Rev. Laura Markle Downton, Director of U.S. Prisons Policy & Program National Religious Campaign Against Torture Breaking Down the Box from NRCAT 

The Pope, legislators on both sides of the aisle, President Obama, and even prison officials all agree: the use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons is a human rights crisis that must be addressed.

The United States is a global outlier in its use of mass incarceration and systemic use of solitary confinement, a practice long considered a form of torture. On any given day in the U.S., it is estimated that between 80,000 to 100,000 adults and youth –disproportionately people of color– are held in solitary. That number does not include people in local jails, juvenile facilities, or in military and immigration detention. That number does not tell you their names nor their stories, but it tells the story of a moral crisis.

In solitary, people spend 23 hours a day in a cell the size of an average parking space. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has stated that solitary in excess of 15 days should "be subject to an absolute prohibition” based on scientific evidence of its psychological damage. He has called for a ban on its use for children, persons with mental illness, and pregnant women.

Our faith traditions teach us the importance of community, belonging, and connection. So it’s no surprise that isolation fundamentally alters the brain . It creates and exacerbates mental illness. Half of all prison suicides occur in conditions of solitary confinement. Such conditions are profoundly damaging for anyone, but for children, who are still developing, the experience is particularly devastating. In isolation, young people are denied access to treatment, programming and tools necessary for growth and development. Children in adult facilities across the country are subjected to solitary confinement for weeks or even months at a time.

Pope Francis has spoken out powerfully against the use of isolation, calling “confinement in high security prisons” a form of torture, and has said that torture is “a grave sin, but even more, it is a sin against humanity.” In September, the Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA) released a statement acknowledging that “prolonged isolation of individuals in jails and prisons is a grave problem in the United States.” This summer, President Obama announced that the Department of Justice will conduct a nationwide review of the use of solitary, saying, “Do we really think it makes sense to lock so many people alone in tiny cells for 23 hours a day for months, sometimes for years at a time?”

To address the moral crisis of solitary, we need these words to lead to decisive action. So earlier this month, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture joined 126 organizations, including 39 religious organizations, in delivering an open letter to the White House calling on President Obama to ensure the nationwide review outlines a clear path toward ending the torture of solitary confinement. This call included the support of more than twenty national religious organizations – including the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Union for Reform Judaism, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada, and the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church.

To address the moral crisis of solitary, we must affirm that there are no throw away people, and no throw away children. Where cycles of trauma persist, we need interventions that lead to restoration and life. Children should never be placed in solitary confinement. And our young people should not be subjected to confinement in jails and prisons designed for adults. We owe their future, the future God dreams for each of them, an opportunity to flourish. To that end, a bipartisan coalition of United States Senators recently introduced the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, which includes provisions that would largely prohibit the solitary confinement of youth in federal prisons. 

Despite widespread national momentum to confront the use of solitary, for children and adults, much work still remains to turn words into action. In California, despite calls from may including the faith community to act, legislators there have failed to pass critical legislation to prevent young people, disproportionately youth of color, from placement in solitary in the California juvenile justice system.

The time is now to face the moral crisis of solitary confinement and bring it to an end. The time is now to turn words into action, and work for a future of possibility for our communities, especially for our children.

This week, join the conversation on solitary confinement of youth by using the hashtag #YJAM. Below is sample language you can share on social media!

TWEETS

  • Youth in adult facilities face a “lose-lose”situation, in order to segregate them from adults, they are often placed in isolation. #YJAM
  • Solitary confinement is torture. Ask NRCAT https://vimeo.com/129764024  #YJAM
  • Girls often get placed in solitary confinement for insubordination and not violent behavior #YJAM
  • Many youth in solitary will do things they’d never do otherwise such as talk to themselves of self-harm. #YJAM
  • Solitary confinement can lead to severe depression and has shows to correlate with suicide rates. #YJAM

FACEBOOK

  • President Barack Obama has signed a proclamation declaring October 'National Youth Justice Awareness Month' and calls on Americans to "observe this month by getting involved in community efforts to support our youth, and by participating in appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs." http://sparkaction.org/content/president-proclamation-yjam #YJAM #youthjustice #JJDPAmatters

#YJAM: Solitary Confinement: Cost of Incarceration

Amy Fettig, Senior Staff Counsel & Director, Stop Solitary Campaign, ACLU National Prison Project. Thursday, 15 October 2015 Posted in 2015, Across the Country

 

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Amy Fettig, Senior Staff Counsel & Director, Stop Solitary Campaign, ACLU National Prison Project

“Being in a room over 21 hours a day is like a waking nightmare, like you want to scream but you can’t. You want to stretch your legs, walk for more than a few feet. You feel trapped. Life becomes distorted. You shower, eat, sleep, and defecate in the same tiny room. In the same small sink, you “shower,” quench your thirst, wash your hands after using the toilet, and warm your cold dinner in a bag. I developed techniques to survive. I keep a piece of humanity inside myself that can’t be taken away by the guards . . . There’s no second chance here.

These are the words of a young girl named Lino Silva – but this wasn’t written decades ago during a World War and it wasn’t written from a gulag in some far-off, brutal dictatorship.  A child wrote this in a youth facility in California

It is terrible to think that any child would be forced to live such an experience anywhere at any time.  But the truth is that these same words could be written by thousands of children any day in America if they are held in our criminal justice system – either in youth facilities or in adult jails and prisons. 

While in solitary, youth are locked in a cell for 20 hours or more a day with limited access to exercise, reading and writing materials, contact with family members or other human beings, educational programming, drug treatment, or mental health services. Although solitary confinement is well known to harm even previously-healthy adults, for children, who have special developmental needs, the damage is even greater. Young people’s brains are still developing, placing them at a higher risk of psychological harm when subjected to isolation and sensory deprivation. Indeed, the vast majority of youth suicides occur in isolation.

This is bad enough, but these negative effects on kids are usually exacerbated by that the fact that youth frequently enter such facilities with histories of substance abuse, mental illness and childhood trauma, which are only aggravated by the stark deprivations of solitary confinement.  Moreover, in solitary confinement access to programming and pro-social development that might facilitate a youth’s rehabilitation is virtually nonexistent. 

Why would we ever subject our kids to such treatment?  Fortunately, the public, our political leaders, doctors, lawyers, families, and enlightened corrections and juvenile justice officials across the country are increasingly asking this question and coming up with the same answer: 

We must never subject kids to solitary confinement.

Efforts are now underway to end this barbaric practice.  Legislators in some states, like New Jersey and Nevada, have passed laws to limit solitary confinement of youth in their juvenile justice systems.  At the federal level, several bipartisan bills, the REDEEM Act, the Mercy Act, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act have also been introduced to end the practice for youth held under federal jurisdiction.  And some states, for example New York and Massachusetts, have moved away from using solitary confinement in their juvenile systems.  Internationally, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has called for a global ban on the solitary confinement of children under 18.  But we need more!!  Thousands of kids are still subject to this practice in our backyards.  It’s now time for every state and community in the United States to act in the best interests of our children and STOP Solitary for all youth.

This week, join the conversation on solitary confinement of youth by using the hashtag #YJAM. Below is sample language you can share on social media!

 

TWEETS

  • Youth in adult facilities face a “lose-lose”situation, in order to segregate them from adults, they are often placed in isolation. #YJAM
  • Solitary confinement is torture. Ask NRCAT https://youtu.be/PwlPPCkr8q4 #YJAM
  • Girls often get placed in solitary confinement for insubordination and not violent behavior #YJAM
  • Many youth in solitary will do things they’d never do otherwise such as talk to themselves of self-harm. #YJAM
  • Solitary confinement can lead to severe depression and has shows to correlate with suicide rates. #YJAM

FACEBOOK

  • President Barack Obama has signed a proclamation declaring October 'National Youth Justice Awareness Month' and calls on Americans to "observe this month by getting involved in community efforts to support our youth, and by participating in appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs." http://sparkaction.org/content/president-proclamation-yjam #YJAM #youthjustice #JJDPAmatters
  • Youth are being held in solitary confinement inside adult prisons sometimes due to administrative response to not knowing how to house youth. The issue of youth incarcerated as adults has demanded the attention of the nation, especially since President Barack Obama has signed a proclamation declaring October 'National Youth Justice Awareness Month' http://sparkaction.org/content/president-proclamation-yjam #YJAM

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