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2015

New Report: Economic Costs of Youth Disadvantage, and High-Return Opportunities for Change

Thursday, 30 July 2015 Posted in 2015, Federal Update

A new report from the White House Council of Economic Advisers explores the barriers that disadvantaged youth face, particularly young men of color, and quantifies the enormous costs this poses to the U.S. economy. In particular, this report focuses on the significant disparities in education, exposure to the criminal justice system, and employment that persist between young men of color and other Americans.
 
The report highlights the economic costs of youth crime stating, "The average annual cost of incarceration for a single juvenile is over $100,000—far more costly than the sticker price of tuition at the most expensive college in the country or a year of intensive mentoring. This suggests that government expenditures on crime could be redirected toward higher-return investments that generate larger benefits for the wider economy."
 
Incarceration vs. Other Investments
 
Read the full report here

The EPA’s 2020 Environmental Justice Action Agenda: A Call to Protect Our Nation’s Youth from Hazardous Conditions While Incarcerated

Tuesday, 28 July 2015 Posted in 2015, Federal Update

By Nicholas Bookout, CFYJ Fellow
 
On July 14, 2015, The Human Rights Defense Center sent a letter to the EPA – endorsed by CFYJ – urging the agency to include the United States’ prisoner population in its 2020 Environmental Justice Action Agenda. Much to the excitement of criminal justice and environmental advocates, the following day an EPA staff person responded by saying that the Environmental Office will acknowledge this gap in EPA policy and include the prisoner population in its 2020 agenda. 
 
Per Executive Order 12898, government agencies are to, “Focus federal attention on the environmental and human health effects of federal actions on minority and low-income populations with the goal of achieving environmental protection for all communities.” As such, the EPA is currently drafting its Environmental Justice 2020 Action Agenda, which seeks to, “Make a visible difference in environmentally overburdened, underserved, and economically distressed communities.” 
 
With prison population being disproportionately both low-income and individuals of color, there is no question that the prisoner population comes from overburdened and economically distressed backgrounds. Furthermore, the 2.3 million yearly incarcerated Americans, 100,000 youth amongst them, are exceedingly exposed to harmful environmental conditions. The HDRC provides numerous examples of this environmental overburdening; these circumstances include prisoners facing close proximity to toxic waste, prolonged exposure to contaminated drinking water, and sickness resulting from exposure to coal ash. Thus, the prisoner population, by and large, faces harmful conditions of industrial pollution both prior to and during incarceration. 
 
However, as the HRDC letter articulates, the EPA does not currently take the prisoner population into account as it formulates this action agenda. Therefore, millions of Americans, and thousands of children, are continually exposed to hazardous environmental conditions. Luckily, with the EPA’s acknowledgement of this gap in policy, there will soon be an effort to remedy these injustices. 
 
Unfortunately, the United States still locks up thousands of children in the adult criminal justice system. In an effort to recognize another negative consequence of this practice, and to positively influence the conditions of confinement for adults and youth alike, the Campaign for Youth Justice wholly endorsed the HRDC’s letter. CFYJ is excited that the EPA will include the prisoner population in its 2020 Environmental Justice Action Agenda, taking a small yet important step towards justice for our nation’s youth. As such, we also hope that the United States government and American People, as supposed global leaders in the realm of Human Rights, will take note of yet another injustice in our nation’s criminal justice system, and work towards reform that will increasingly remove our nation’s youth from these harmful circumstances of imprisonment. 

Encouraging Young Leaders to Fight for Juvenile Justice Reform

Friday, 24 July 2015 Posted in 2015, CFYJ Updates

IMG 0983
 
By Samantha Goodman, CFYJ Fellow
 
As part of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice's 2015 Youth Summit, CFYJ Policy Director Carmen Daugherty, along with DC Lawyers for Youth Executive Director Daniel Okonkwo and Free Minds Senior Poet Ambassador Gary Durant, presented on Keeping Young People Out of Adult Courts, Prisons, and Jails. The presentation was part of an annual two-day summit for emerging leaders in the field of juvenile justice hosted by CJJ and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
 
Following Hill visits, where the attendees (aged 16-25) met with members of Congress and/or their staff to discuss and share stories on the need for youth justice reform, Daugherty challenged participants to consider how reform movements get started. Together, Daugherty, Okonkwo, and Durant helped the young leaders understand the difficulties and best ways to build a campaign or movement. Participants reflected on engaging unlikely allies, unifying one goal, and mustering commitment to the cause.
 
Keeping in line with the theme of the summit, Daugherty explained the problems with trying and incarcerating youth as adults. She presented state-by-state efforts and statistics, inviting the attendees to get involved in programs in their communities.
 
"There are no best practices for how to house kids in adult facilities because kids don't belong there," Daugherty said to the young leaders.
 
Okonkow outlined the DC Judge Our Youth Campaign and Durant shared his personal experience as a juvenile in the system as well as a poem he wrote when first involved with Free Minds.
 
For more information on how you can get involved in our efforts for juvenile justice reform, call the Campaign for Youth Justice at (202) 558- 3580. 

Announcing the 2015 Multi-System Integration Certificate Program

Thursday, 09 July 2015 Posted in 2015, CFYJ Updates

The Center for Juvenile Justice Reform (CJJR) at Georgetown University‘s McCourt School of Public Policy is pleased to announce that the application window for the 2015 Multi-System Integration Certificate Program is now open through August 21, 2015. The Multi-System Integration Certificate Program will be held October 29 - November 4, 2015 at the Georgetown University Hotel and Conference Center, and is designed to support local jurisdictions in their efforts to improve outcomes for youth known to both the child welfare and juvenile justice system (i.e. crossover youth) through a multi-disciplinary approach that highlights integration and collaboration.
 
The purpose of the certificate program is to bring together current and future leaders to increase their knowledge about multi-system reform efforts related to crossover youth, improve the operation of their organizations in serving this population, provide an opportunity for the development of collaborative leadership skills, and create a mutually supportive network of individuals across the country committed to systems reform. Participants receive instruction from national experts on cutting edge ideas, policies and practices including multi-system approaches, cost efficiency procedures, collaborative leadership techniques and proactive communication strategies.  After completing the program, participants will be responsible for the development of a capstone project -- a set of actions each participant will design and undertake within their organization or community to initiate or continue collaborative efforts related to crossover youth.
 
Additionally, the program highlights CJJR’s Crossover Youth Practice Model, which has been proven to assist jurisdictions in strengthening practices and policies related to crossover youth. CJJR has aligned the Multi-System Integration Certificate Program and the Crossover Youth Practice Model as a way to enhance knowledge of multi-systems issues in jurisdictions around the country, thereby assisting them in improving both child welfare and juvenile justice outcomes for these youth. In further support of this approach the program focuses on issues such as family engagement, behavioral health, education, and racial and ethnic disparities – as well as innovative and flexible financing strategies.
 
We encourage you to apply to the Multi-System Integration Certificate Program and consider passing along information about this opportunity to your colleagues and partners. For more information, please visit our website where you will find detailed information about the program, including how to apply, tuition, and available subsidies for those with financial need.  Again, applications are due by August 21, 2015. Please direct questions to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

National League of Cities to Hold Leadership Academy on Juvenile Justice Reform

Wednesday, 08 July 2015 Posted in 2015, CFYJ Updates

NLC IYEF

WHAT: A two-day convening of teams of city officials and local partners to learn about opportunities to engage in and lead juvenile justice reform efforts, to take place in September 2015.

Despite substantial decreases in juvenile crime rates during the past decade, the nation’s juvenile justice systems remain in great need of fundamental reforms. For example, the availability of high-quality, community-based alternatives to incarceration for youth and supports for reentry is uneven and racial and ethnic disparities within the juvenile justice system are unacceptably large. A number of states and local jurisdictions have made significant progress in improving these systems, relying on evidence-based models that hold youth accountable for their actions in developmentally appropriate ways. In some states, local governments – including cities – have assumed greater responsibility for community-based treatment, diversion programs, and re-entry. These promising developments provide the basis for new and expanded city-led efforts to improve outcomes for young people and communities across the nation.  
 
The Models for Change initiative of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is playing a key role in reshaping the juvenile justice system, grounded in core principles of fundamental fairness; developmental differences between youth and adults; individual strengths and needs; youth potential; responsibility; and safety. Models for Change has supported counties and states in reforming the way they treat young people who are charged with crimes. Local officials say that Models for Change has helped them improve public safety and support youth, even as they grapple with tight budgets and tough fiscal decisions. 
 
Mayors and other city officials have unique opportunities to drive further improvements in their local juvenile justice systems. Municipal leaders and their community-based and faith-based partners can explore new roles and resources in collaboration with the courts and juvenile probation. City agencies (particularly in consolidated city/county governments) may also stand to benefit financially from the adoption of promising juvenile justice reinvestment strategies.  
 
As part of a strategic partnership with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the National League of Cities (NLC) Institute for Youth, Education, and Families will host a Municipal Leadership for Juvenile Justice Reform Leadership Academy on September 23-25, 2015. This convening will provide city officials with the skills and knowledge they need to consider and take up leadership roles in juvenile justice reform, giving participants intensive access to national experts, promising practice examples, peer sharing, and local action planning.  
 
WHERE: The Marriott-Renaissance Depot Hotel, Minneapolis, Minn.
 
WHO: City elected officials, senior city staff and other community or juvenile justice system stakeholders applying in city teams of up to three persons each.
 
NLC will select teams up to 10 cities to attend the leadership academy. Each city may nominate a team of up to three representatives that must include at least one of the following individuals: the mayor; a city council member; or a senior representative of the mayor’s or city manager’s office.  Other team members may include but are not limited to:  senior representatives of city agencies including police departments; juvenile court officials including detention or probation officials, prosecutors, public defenders, or judges; and community-based service providers implementing programs for youth at-risk of involvement or youth currently involved in the juvenile justice system.
 
NLC will select, on a competitive basis, a diverse set of cities of various sizes from different regions of the country to participate in the leadership academy. Preference will be given to cities that are members in good standing of NLC. NLC will use selection criteria that include evidence of high-level municipal leadership and commitment to improving outcomes for youth involved in the juvenile justice system, collaboration among relevant city, county and state agencies, and a clear indication of how the leadership academy can catalyze local efforts.
 
WHEN: The leadership academy will take place on September 23-25, 2015, beginning with an opening dinner and program on Wednesday evening and concluding with lunch on Friday. Interested cities must submit applications via e-mail (see instructions below) on or before July 15, 2015. We encourage early applications. NLC will announce all selections by July 29, 2015.
 
BENEFITS: Selected city teams will learn about best practices and lessons learned from the Models for Change initiative; explore successful efforts to improve juvenile justice initiatives in cities across the country, especially through diversion and re-entry initiatives and efforts to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities; gain access to and guidance from juvenile justice experts; and strengthen their relationships with peers in cities across the nation. 
 
Following the Leadership Academy, NLC will invite participating cities to join the NLC Juvenile Justice Peer Learning Network, s group that provides ongoing opportunities for city leaders to learn and receive support from nationally-recognized experts in the field and from peers in other cities.
 
TRAVEL: NLC will reimburse participants for airline travel (up to a maximum of $500) as well as hotel and other travel-related costs in accordance with NLC’s travel reimbursement policies. Meeting participants will receive reimbursements promptly upon submission of travel receipts following the convening. 
 
FOR MORE INFORMATION about the application materials or the leadership academy, please contact Laura Furr at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (202) 626-3072, or participate in the Question and Answer session at 3:00 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, July 1, 2015.

Washington Lawyers’ Committee Report: D.C. Youth Facing Deplorable Conditions in Adult Jail

Tuesday, 07 July 2015 Posted in 2015, Take Action Now

By: Nicholas Bookout, CFYJ Fellow 
 
On June 11th, 2015, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs released a report entitled, “D.C. Prisoners: Conditions of Confinement in the District of Columbia.” This report discusses the dreadful conditions faced by those housed in D.C. jail facilities, including vermin and pest infestations, heightened suicide rates, a crumbling physical infrastructure replete with leakages and mold, and an understaffed and undertrained correctional staff. 
 
While the reported conditions are dehumanizing and unacceptable for any individual, imagine being a child in such a facility. Unfortunately, at the time of this report, this was the reality being lived by 25 of D.C.’s youth under the age of 18. D.C. law permits youth under 18 to be housed in the D.C. jail, both for pretrial and post-conviction detention. To learn more about D.C. youth in the adult system, check out this 2014 report by DC Lawyers for Youth and the Campaign for Youth Justice.  
 
In addition to simply living in this deplorable environment, these youth face additional problems associated with being children in an adult facility. For example, in an effort to keep youth separated from adults in the D.C. jail, there is the excessive use of solitary confinement, in some instances a full two months of 23 hours a day in solitary confinement with only one hour of recreation. 
 
At a point in their lives when family involvement is critical, youth are limited to video visitation, unable to spend time with family members in person. Life for a juvenile in a D.C. adult facility is not limited to physical and emotional depravity, however. Per this report, education programming is vastly limited, and youth are therefore denied the mental stimulation their developing brains desperately need. Additionally, research shows us that youth who are transferred from the juvenile court system to the adult criminal system are approximately 34% more likely than youth retained in the juvenile court system to be re-arrested for violent or other crime.
 
The Washington Lawyers’ Committee makes strong recommendations to improve conditions of confinement for D.C. inmates, including:
  • Closing the Central Detention Facility and the Correctional Treatment Facility and construct a new, safer, more effective facility
  • Expanding the Secure Residential Treatment Program
  • Correcting deficiencies in suicide prevention and youth confinement
  • Conducting a review of training of correctional officers tasked with specialized functions related to mental health or the juvenile unit
  • Revising current policies restricting “Good Time Credits”--a program which reduces sentences for successfully completing academic, vocational, and rehabilitation programs
  • Returning management of the Correctional Treatment Facility to District control
The recommendations are the product of a study that brought together legal, civil rights and criminal justice experts, as well as senior federal and District of Columbia judges.  With the assistance of the DC JOY campaign, DC Council should embrace these recommendations and take action to remove youth from the D.C. Jail.   

Liberty and Justice for All--Except You

Marcy Mistrett Monday, 06 July 2015 Posted in 2015, Across the Country

July fourth is the 239th birthday of the United States of America.  While the country gathers to commemorate the vision of the founding fathers’ as they signed the Declaration of Independence, I can’t help but to think about populations who were excluded from the founding documents.  The Bill of Rights, for example, extended to only those who were governed—at the time that meant only white men.  The enslaved, women, First Nation persons, and children were among those individuals exempt from the promises of freedom and liberty protected by the Bill of Rights.
 
More than two centuries later we have made progress in terms of extending these protections to more of our citizens.  Youth, however, are not one of those groups.   One hundred years after the establishment of a separate juvenile court, we are still depriving children of their liberty, incarcerating more than 60,000 youth per year, the vast majority for non violent crimes including truancy and running away from home.  More egregiously, we continue to lock up nearly 100,000 children charged as adults in adult jails and prisons each year, many for property and drug offenses.  We persist in implementing and supporting these harmful policies despite the lowest juvenile crime rates in 30 years.  The youth crime rate has fallen approximately 43% since the 1990’s, and the most serious crimes have fallen even more rapidly—the number of murders involving a juvenile fell by 67% over a similar time period.  
 
Youth prosecuted as adults forfeit their rights to a childhood and are expected to take on the responsibilities of adults. Below find rights of childhood that youth tried in the criminal justice system forfeit:
 
1.Right to be seen as a child who is capable of making mistakes; even egregious ones. 
 
Despite brain research and Supreme Court findings that adolescent brains are different from adults, youth tried as adults are no longer afforded the rehabilitative presumption of juvenile court; instead they are punished as adults with a focus on retribution. 
 
Furthermore, an abundance of research shows that most serious youth offenders will age out of criminal behavior, and that harsh punishment experienced in the adult system actually leads to an increase in re-offending, making communities less safe. 
 
2 .Right to equal treatment.
 
Children are not all treated the same in the adult criminal justice system.  African American, Latino, and Tribal youth are between 2-9 times more likely to be prosecuted in adult court than their White counterparts.  These disparities grow even larger by sentencing, with African American young men receiving the harshest sentences for their actions.
 
3. Right to safety.
 
Children in the adult criminal justice system forfeit their rights to safety.  Housed in adult facilities, they are much more likely to be sexually, physically, or emotionally victimized by other inmates and correctional officers.
 
4. Right to be part of a family.
 
Youth in adult facilities often lack access to their families.  Frequently held far away from home, in facilities that often prohibit in-person visits or charge exorbitant rates for phone calls, youth often lose touch with their families when they are in adult facilities. 
 
Unlike in youth facilities, where best practices encourage family engagement in the rehabilitation of a young person, youth in adult facilities are presumed to be independent of their families.
 
5. Right to learn.
 
Many adult facilities don’t offer education opportunities. Those that do are limited in their scope, and aren’t aligned with state education standards, so many youth don’t earn credit for the schoolwork they completed while detained.  Only 1 in 10 children who have been incarcerated continue their education after release. 
 
6. Right to repair their wrongs.
 
 Youth prosecuted as adults aren’t able to make amends to their victims and communities. The voices of victims matter. Too often the government assumes victims want retribution and punishment, and exclude them from the lengthy court process. Research shows that some victims favor restorative justice practices which allows for the victims to be heard and have a voice in determining outcomes. Restorative justice practices increase the chances of a young person being rehabilitated and staying away from future criminal behavior.
 
 
7.Right to respect and dignity as a human being.
 
Violent security tactics, pepper spray, shackles, and other abhorrent practices become all to normal for youth in adult jails and prisons. Not only do youth lose their right to safety through these conditions, they lose their right to compassion and humanity.
 
Far too many youth enter the adult criminal justice system only to come out as uneducated, unskilled adults--far from being able to declare any independence from the system or their families. As we reflect upon our nation's independence, let's not overstate how far this country has come  in regards to the rights of our young people.

NJJDC: Promoting Safe Communities; Recommendations to the Administration

Marcy Mistrett Wednesday, 01 July 2015 Posted in 2015, Federal Update

COVER
 
Today the National Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition (NJJDPC) released, “Promoting Safe Communities; Recommendations to the Administration,” a bi-annual call to action for the federal government to use it’s leadership to end the inhumane practices used against youth in contact with the law. 
 
Despite significant reforms over the past decade to reduce youth incarceration and out-of-home placements, there are still far too many youth being locked up in our juvenile and criminal justice systems. Despite falling crime rates and a 45% decrease in youth arrests over the past decade, the United States still arrests more than 600,000 youth a year, the vast majority of whom could be more effectively treated in community-based settings.  Each year, we incarcerate 55,000 children in state prisons, most who are there for non-violent crimes.  An additional 250,000 youth are prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system annually; and on any given night more than 6,000 youth are held in adult jails and prisons.
 
With strong federal leadership, the pace of juvenile justice reforms can be accelerated.  Research over the past 25 years has increased our understanding of what works and how to best approach juvenile delinquency and system reform.  Many jurisdictions across the country are implementing promising reforms, and there is an increasingly clear path for moving toward community and evidence-based approaches to reducing adolescent crime. 
 
In its final 18 months in office, the Administration has the opportunity and responsibility to support effective systems of justice for our youth and should begin by focusing on the following five priority areas: Restore Federal Leadership in Juvenile Justice Policy; Support and Prioritize Prevention, Early Intervention, and 
Diversion Strategies; Ensure Safety and Fairness for Court-Involved Youth; Remove Youth from the Adult Criminal Justice System; Support Youth Reentry.
 
In a moment of  bi-partisan agreement that our juvenile and criminal justice systems are inhumane, ineffective and costly, it is time for the Administration to take action on behalf of our nation’s youth. 

A Call to End the Placement and Poor Treatment of Children with Disabilities in the Juvenile Justice System

Marcy Mistrett Wednesday, 01 July 2015 Posted in 2015, Research & Policy

The National Disability Rights Network released its alarming report on the needs of children and youth with disabilities who come in contact with the juvenile and criminal justice systems. “Orphanages, Training Schools, Reform Schools and Now This: Recommendations to Prevent the Disproportionate Placement and Inadequate Treatment of Children with Disabilities in the Juvenile Justice System” is an urgent call for action for Congress, juvenile justice administrators, and advocates.
 
The report reminds us that disparities in the treatment of youth in the juvenile and criminal justice systems is not limited to racial and ethnic disparities or gender—in fact, 65-70 percent of youth in the justice system meet the criteria for a disability, a rate that is three times higher than that of the general population.  Disabilities extend beyond children with mental health needs and learning disabilities and include youth with cognitive impairments, physical disabilities, the deaf and blind, and others. Summarizing practices in schools, juvenile justice and child welfare systems, the report consistently finds that despite what we know about brain development and the success of child-youth centered, family involved, community based services—we still consistently try to “discipline” the disability out of children, often by incarcerating them in inhumane conditions, without access to their families and the necessary services to get them connected and prepared to succeed as adults. 
 
Furthermore, the report shows how the failure of many other systems’ understanding of how to properly support youth with disabilities leads to an over-referral of these youth into the juvenile justice system (e.g. schools, law enforcement, mental health, child welfare). Once there, a lack of accommodation needs such as the need for sign language, courtroom accommodations, and an inability to accurately understanding his/her rights may lead the child to more severe outcomes, including being certified or direct filed into adult court. 
 
Several case studies demonstrating ways that Protection & Advocacy Agencies (P&A) can help with advocacy of youth in court and legislative change included several stories of youth charged as adults.  One case study in California outlined a young man with autism who stabbed his stepfather during a behavior episode. His stepfather was treated and released from the hospital the same night; the young man was charged as an adult and found not competent to stand trial.  The P&A was part of a team who advocated that this young man be held in a juvenile facility until proper placement could be identified. Advocacy efforts allowed him to be released from custody and placed into a community home where he could continue to maintain his close ties to his family, church and community, rather than to a regional developmental center, far away from his supports. 
 
Diane Smith Howard, author of the report states the importance of providing services to youth with disabilities so they aren’t ultimately fed into the adult system, “Research has clearly shown us that the adult system and adult methods of discipline used within that system, such as isolation, do not effectively rehabilitate youth with disabilities, nor are they effective for youth in general.  Yet we persist on using them.   One reason for this is the failure to provide effective and readily available community based services for youth with disabilities, which results in their referrals into the juvenile justice system, which then acts as a feeder for the adult system.  Or worse in some cases, feeds youth directly into the adult system.  In makes no sense to allocate additional funding for programs that are not research based and run contrary to what we know.”
 
Call to Action: The report makes key recommendations to Congress, the Administration and State Legislators to improve conditions for youth with disabilities.  Highlights include: 
  • Funding P&A for juvenile justice programs
  • Fund the statutes that provide services for this population including Medicaid community-based services, IDEA and PREA
  • Reauthorizing the JJDPA with language that eliminates the valid court order and prohibits the use of solitary confinement for all youth, including those housed in adult facilities. 
  • The U.S. Department of Education (ED) and Department of Justice (DOJ) should fully enforce all provisions of Title VI, Title IX, the ADA Section 504, and the IDEA, including all obligations under these statutes for youth in correctional facilities, so that education of youth in these settings is equal to that provided to students in other public schools.
  • ED and DOJ should expand the scope of their investigations to include youth in federal custody (Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Immigration Detention and other federal programs).
  • States should develop and support programs that provide training in the following rights, laws and regulations: IDEA, ADA, and Section 504, Title VI and Title IX, disparate impact claims, harassment/hostile environment claims, Due Process rights applicable to all public school students, and state specific civil rights laws, to all stakeholders in the juvenile justice system.

 

CFYJ’s Summer Institute Series: Understanding Youth Solitary Confinement

Mette Huberts Friday, 26 June 2015 Posted in 2015, CFYJ Updates

Amy Fettig

By Mette Huberts, CFYJ Fellow

CFYJ’s first Summer Institute event of 2015 focused on the practice of Youth Solitary Confinement and the harmful effects it has on children. Amy Fettig, a member of the ACLU’s National Prison Project Senior Staff Counsel and the director of ACLU’s Stop Solitary Campaign, informed us about the destruction that solitary confinement can cause for youth both physically and mentally. In addition, she emphasized the need for reform in terms of correction officer trainings as well as general public awareness. 

The practice of solitary confinement, both for adults and children, reflects the rigor of the zero tolerance laws and the belief that the solution to disobedience and misconduct is to simply “lock ‘em up”. Correction facility officers and guards have known no other course of action, therefore understanding it to be both normal and expected to put an individual in solitary confinement. For children, this proves especially true. In an adult facility, children enter the system alone and afraid. They are often quickly targeted as prey by the older inmates, leaving them more vulnerable to rape and abuse. For years, prisons and jails have “solved” this issue by putting youth in solitary confinement as protection. While this may physically separate them from the immediate danger at hand, solitary confinement poses an extreme danger in itself. 

Fettig explained that because a minor’s brain is still developing, solitary confinement poses higher risks to youth than to adults. After only seven days in solitary, she informed us, measurements of youth brain activity have already begun to decrease. The child’s inability to obtain sufficient mental health support, education, recreation time, and other necessary services attributes to slowed brain development and often to the formation of a mental illness. Fettig then referred to the tragic story of Kalief Browder in testament to the long lasting damage solitary can do to a youth’s mind, even after being released. In an attempt to attack the root of the problem and prevent more stories like his, she called for reform and the ending of practices such as the direct transfer policy in New York, which allows 16 and 17 year old kids to be immediately tried in the adult court system at the prosecutor’s discretion. 

By identifying both the effects of solitary confinement on youth as well as the problematic policies that force youth into solitary, Fettig helped us recognize and understand the pressing need for change. She concluded by encouraging all of us to be present in the fight against solitary and to act to bring awareness to our own communities. She mentioned her work with the Student Alliance for Prison Reform and their continuing success with a petition calling to end solitary confinement for youth in the federal system, encouraging us to spread the word on our own campuses. Fettig’s discussion has reminded us once again that there is something bigger at stake here. Solitary confinement for youth must be abolished, and while right now this may feel like a large goal, it is up to us and our communities to start demanding policy change one by one, a change that will ultimately save lives.

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