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Central Park Five: Setting the Record Straight

Tuesday, 08 January 2013 Posted in 2013, Research & Policy, Take Action Now

By Liz Ryan

"Central Park Five" is a "must see" for any youth justice advocate. The documentary tells the story of five youth ages 14 -16  Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise  who were arrested in New York City in 1989, and after being interrogated for hours by law enforcement, falsely confessed to the rape and physical assault of a woman jogging in the park. They were convicted and sentenced to 6 to 13 years each in the justice system.

 

Produced by renowned documentarian Ken Burns, his daughter Sarah Burns, and her husband David McMahon, the film features moving interviews with McCray, Richardson, Salaam, Santana and Wise and their families, as well as others involved in their cases, and shows press reports, film clips of their interrogations, and footage of the case throughout the process.
 
Gut-wrenching and profoundly sad, this documentary highlights many of the the problems with the justice system that led to their wrongful conviction and are still prevalent in our justice system: police interrogating youth for hours without lawyers and coercing youth to confess to crimes they did not commit; prosecutors overlooking DNA evidence and other information crucial to the case; and a press corps sensationalizing the case with shocking language, virtually convicting the youth before the trial, and then hardly covering the fact that the convictions were vacated and the youths exonerated a dozen years later.

To add insult to injury, the young men, after having served a collective total of 41 years in prison for a crime they did not commit and being exonerated in 2002, have not received compensation from the city of New York. Their attorneys filed a lawsuit in 2003, but the film indicates that the legal case is "unresolved" almost a decade later.
 
Unaddressed - but underlining the facts and issues covered throughout the film - is the fact that state law allowed these youth to be prosecuted in adult criminal court and placed in adult prison to serve their sentences. If this case can teach us anything, it is that youth are different from adults and need to be treated differently in police and state custody. Additionally, despite what should have been a tough lesson for New York, the state remains one of two states in the country that continues to charge all 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. 

The film also fails to mention the immense impact of this case on juvenile justice policies around the country. In the decade following the case, almost every state in the country changed their laws to make it easier to try youth as adults in adult criminal court. We now know just how misguided this was. 
 
 
While difficult to watch at times and profoundly moving, this film can be used to engage community members on youth justice issues and spark dialogue about justice system policies and practices. Here are some ways you and your community can get involved. 
 
Click here for the film trailer and showtimes.
 
Click here to follow the Central Park Five on Facebook.
 
Click here to take action in support of compensation for the Central Park Five.
 
For more background and to help educate others, here's a terrific article on the documentary
 

In Response to Newtown: Recommendations from the Juvenile Justice Community

Monday, 07 January 2013 Posted in 2013, Across the Country, Research & Policy

As a member of the National Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Coalition (NJJDPC), we participated in drafting a statement and recommendations for the Congress and the Administration in response to the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

The tragic December 14th shootings in Newtown, Connecticut shook our nation’s confidence in its ability to prevent future violence and keep our children and our communities safe. While the Newtown incident was horrifying and shocking, it represents a small portion of the violence experienced by America’s youth. Tragedies like Newtown are exceedingly rare, but invite us to remember that in far too many communities, violence is common. As lawmakers discuss potential solutions to keep our communities and our children safer, including limits to the widespread accessibility of firearms, both illegal and legal, in the United States, we offer the expertise of the National Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition (NJJDPC) and provide recommendations for a comprehensive approach to reduce violence and keep children and communities safe.

We hope that Congress and the Administration will utilize these recommendations in addressing potential policies to prevent these tragedies from occurring in the future.

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