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A Spotlight on Colorado’s Reform Efforts: A sneak peek into our upcoming State Trends Report

Jessica Sandoval Tuesday, 08 October 2013 Posted in 2013, Across the Country

During the second week of Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM) CFYJ will take a look back at the reform efforts that improve the lives of youth by decreasing the chances that they would come into contact with the adult criminal court.  Here at CFYJ our mission is just that, and we partner with state organizations, advocates, youth and families to launch and win state legislative campaigns for youth justice.

In the years at CFYJ, I have had the pleasure of working with many states to organize campaigns for juvenile justice reform to remove youth from adult court.  The work has been tedious, exciting, rewarding and challenging.  It is all worth it because we know from the research that youth in adult court are 34% more likely to recidivate at higher rates than those retained in the juvenile court.  At the Campaign for Youth Justice we have worked diligently to create our campaign model to be successful in states where there is interest in building grassroots campaigns.  We provide a myriad of technical assistance options to our partners such as, campaign planning, policy assistance, coalition building support, media assistance and training, hearing preparation, policy and political analysis.  We know that the research supports our mission and we believe after 8 years of state based campaign work that the trends emerging are not by accident. On October 10th, we will be releasing our latest State Trends report which examines the states who have in the past several years changed state policies to remove youth from the adult court.

Colorado is no stranger to these successes.  In 1993, I was living in Colorado when the state expanded their laws to prosecute youth more harshly.  It happened during a special legislative session to address a crime wave.  This effort was led by then District Attorney Bill Ritter.  Fifteen years later, in 2008 when the legislature passed a significant direct file reform bill, it was vetoed by Governor Ritter. It was tragic, but we were hopeful that with a new Governor coming into office we could do it again. 

In 2011, with families and youth, good data, media, an engaged coalition, and a skilled organizer we were ready to engage in a major campaign to end direct file.  Building community support, strong spokespeople and legislative champions were all priorities.  Our role in the campaign was to provide policy and media support as well as support the organizer of the Colorado campaign housed at the Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition.  There were two major pieces of legislation introduced, House Bill 1139, a jail removal bill and House Bill 1271, the direct file reform bill.  HB 1139 was passed and signed into law in March 2012 helping to drive the energy needed to pass HB 1271.  The bill was hotly contested and debated.  On April 20, 2012 Governor Hickenlooper signed HB 1271 into law.  Victory!

Having been involved with this effort since 2009, I believe that the strong organizing effort with communities, youth and families, in addition to good data, incredible legislative champions and influential coalition members made this Colorado campaign a success. I was happy to have Colorado lead these efforts and I encourage other states to consider doing the same.  If you are a state that is considering doing a reform campaign I urge you to contact us.  We are happy to help!

To continue following other state reforms during the month of October, continue to visit CFYJ's blog and to engage in our social media campaign check us out on Facebook and Twitter using #statetrends #youthjustice #YJAM

In solidarity,


Submit your #Playground2Prison Snapshot and Win YJAM Swag! Winners Selected Every Friday in October!

Angella Bellota Thursday, 03 October 2013 Posted in 2013, Take Action Now

Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM) is in full swing! Throughout October, local partners will be hosting YJAM events raising awareness and taking action to end the incarceration of kids in the adult criminal justice system. 

To continue awareness efforts, CFYJ wants to give you a chance to walk away with some YJAM swag! Whether you’re attending a YJAM event in your state or if you’re following the YJAM actions online, we want everyone to have a chance to take action during Youth Justice Awareness Month! 

Check out the details on how to participate:    

  1. Using the hashtag, #Playground2Prison with your snapshot – share your thoughts on why its time to end #Playground2Prison:
    • Tell us why you believe its time for youth justice reform
    • Tell us how you or your community have taken action to improve the lives of youth
    • Highlight a statistic/reason youth should not be placed in the adult system 
    •  Tell us why you decided to take action during YJAM this year

     2.   Submit your snapshot:  

    • As an email, to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Need messages for your #Playground2Prison snapshot? Let us know and we can send you templates! 

Remember to get creative! Each week Campaign for Youth Justice will select a winning photo and send that person their very own YJAM goody bag! Show your support for youth justice reform and join us in ending the #Playground2Prison. 


For more information about Youth Justice Awareness Month, click HERE

YJAM is a Time to Reflect and Celebrate Efforts in the States

Wednesday, 02 October 2013 Posted in 2013, Across the Country

Photo By Richard Ross
National Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM) celebrates those states that have taken a giant step in improving the justice system for kids. Over the past several years, four states have launched successful "Raise the Age" efforts to reduce the automatic prosecution of 16 and 17 year olds in the adult criminal court that impact more than 20,000 young people.
Connecticut led this effort by changing its law in 2007 and was recently featured in a report, “Juvenile Justice Reform in Connecticut: How Collaboration and Commitment Have Improved Public Safety and Outcomes for Youth”, highlighting how it achieved this success. Many individuals, organizations and state leaders are featured in the report, most notably the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance (CTJJA).  As a result of the CT campaign, 8,000 youth will no longer be automatically tried in adult court.
In 2010, Mississippi passed legislation to remove 17 year olds from automatic prosecution in adult court (with certain exceptions).  This new law, which went into effect  in July, 2011, was championed by the Mississippi Coalition for the Prevention of Schoolhouse to Jailhouse, the NAACP, the MS ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
During the 2013 session, the Illinois legislature passed legislation to remove 17 year olds charged with felonies from automatic prosecution in adult court, a move which gives 4,000 more youth the opportunity to access rehabilitative services and programs in the juvenile justice system.  The Illinois Juvenile Justice Initiative and the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission spearheaded these efforts. And Massachusetts raised its age to 18 in the 2013 session, thereby giving 6,000 youth an opportunity to participate in juvenile justice programs, rather than the adult criminal justice system.  Citizens for Juvenile Justice advanced these reforms.
All these "Raise the Age" efforts will improve outcomes for youth and communities by increasing access to more effective programs and services in the juvenile justice system. We applaud the state officials in these states who championed these initiatives -- CT, MS, IL and MA -- and the advocacy groups who advocated for these policy reforms. For the ten states with lower ages of juvenile court jurisdiction remaining -- NY, NC, GA, LA, MI, MO, NH, SC, TX, WI -- the pressure is on!  

6th Annual Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM) Kicks Off Today!

Tuesday, 01 October 2013 Posted in 2013, Take Action Now


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By Tracy McClard
The 6th annual Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM) officially launches today. I hope you are as excited as I am! 
I started Youth Justice Awareness Month in October of 2008 during the most tragic time of my life.  Earlier that year my 16 year old son, Jonathan, died in an adult facility in Missouri. I was so devastated and angry that I wanted to make sure the American public was made aware of how we treat children who come in contact with the adult criminal justice system in this country.   YJAM provides families, youth, students, advocates and organizations a perfect opportunity to raise awareness and educate the public about the tragedies that happen when children are placed in the adult criminal justice system. It is also an opportunity for all of us to take action locally, so we can build a movement that will end the criminalization of our children.
It’s easy to get involved in this movement!   In the time that I have been YJAM Chair, I have seen student groups, local churches, families, advocates, and state leaders, organize a variety of events that have built awareness as well as launched policy campaigns to end the prosecution of children in the adult system. Events can be as large as leading your own community-wide 5K walk/run or as simple as hosting a film screening or community discussion. Many organizations have also been able to raise awareness on the great services they provide to local youth and families, along with achieving fundraising goals for their work to continue. 
For YJAM 2013, I will be running “4 Miles 4 Youth” and blogging about my experience as well  as asking people to join me through a virtual run  as a way to fundraise for Families and Friends Organizing for Reform of Juvenile Justice (FORJ-MO), an organization I founded to change the Missouri state laws that turn our children into adults, with horrific outcomes, once they enter the adult criminal justice system.  If you are interested in participating virtually, please visit, here.   
To showcase the amazing reform efforts across the country and in honor of Youth Justice Awareness Month, on October 10thCampaign for Youth Justice is releasing its newest report, State Trends Legislative Victories from 2011-2013: Removing Youth from the Adult Criminal Justice System. This report demonstrates what is possible when families, youth, and advocates work together to educate policy makers and make justice reform a reality.
I encourage all of you to follow the Campaign for Youth Justice as they spearhead Youth Justice Awareness Month. For more information about events happening nationwide, the 2013 YJAM issue themes, and how you can join us through social media, visit, here. and click on “Awareness Month.” 
Also, follow CFYJ on Facebook and Twitter

JJDPA Matters

Monday, 09 September 2013 Posted in 2013, Research & Policy



By Jill Ward


“It is therefore the further declared policy of Congress to provide the necessary resources, leadership, and coordination (1) to develop and implement effective methods of preventing and reducing juvenile delinquency; (2) to develop and conduct effective programs to prevent delinquency, to divert juveniles from the traditional juvenile justice system and to provide critically needed alternatives to institutionalization; (3) to improve the quality of juvenile justice in the United States; and (4) to increase the capacity of State and local governments and public and private agencies to conduct effective juvenile justice and delinquency prevention and rehabilitation programs and to provide research, evaluation, and training services in the field of juvenile delinquency prevention.” - PUBLIC LAW 93-415-SEPT. 7, 1974

This, in part, is the originally stated purpose of the landmark federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) signed into law by President Gerald Ford on September 7, 1974.  Thirty-nine years later, that purpose still rings true.

Back then, leaders in the juvenile and criminal justice field recognized the need for national leadership to address the all too common practice of jailing children with adults, the overuse of incarceration to respond to non-violent and status offenses, and the lack of alternatives to appropriately meet the needs of young people in ways that helped them and strengthened the community.  Congress stepped up and passed this bi-partisan law to provide policy direction and support for states. 

Most recently reauthorized in 2002, the JJDPA embodies a partnership between the federal government and the U.S. states, territories and the District of Columbia to protect children and youth in the juvenile and criminal justice system, to effectively address high-risk and delinquent behavior and to improve community safety.  It is the only federal law that sets out national standards for the custody and care of youth in the juvenile justice system, provides direction and support for state juvenile justice system improvements, and supports programs and practices that have significantly contributed to the reduction of juvenile crime and delinquency.

At the heart of the Act are four core protections that states must adhere to in order to receive federal support for their state system.  These protections help ensure the health and well-being of youth:

•    Deinstitutionalization of Status Offenders (DSO) keeps status offenders, such as runaways and truants, out of secure facilities;
•    Adult Jail and Lockup removal (Jail Removal) prevents youth from being placed in adults jails and lock-ups (with limited exceptions);
•    Sight and Sound Separation provides that when youth are held with adults (as occurs in limited instances) they be separated by both sight and sound from adult offenders;
•    Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) requires that states address the disproportionate contact of youth of color at key contact points in the juvenile justice system – from arrest to detention to confinement.

By most all accounts, the law has been a success.  The JJDPA has created a national floor that incentivizes states to embrace these core principles.  The federal dollars that flow through the law also help fund both evidence-based programs and promising new innovations and are critical in leveraging other state and local funding to improve state justice systems and reduce recidivism.  Without a strong federal law that is sufficiently resourced, we risk losing a major tool to help sustain current protections for youth and to advance additional reform. 

Unfortunately, federal funding has been repeatedly cut over the last decade.  Federal dollars available to support implementation of the JJDPA and other state and local reforms has steadily declined by 83 percent from 1999 to 2010.   And, the recent budget sequestration has further diminished federal investment in states to develop and implement state and local prevention and early intervention efforts that keep kids on the right track and contribute to the prevention and reduction of youth crime and violence.

Ensuring that the JJDPA does not continue to suffer drastic cuts or is not completely defunded is particularly critical to states’ compliance with the jail removal and separation core protections.  Although funding has diminished drastically since 2000, the limited funding states continue to receive through Title II of the JJDPA has helped the majority of states comply with the core protections.  Loss of JJDPA funds would be a huge step backward as many states would have little incentive or ability to comply with these protections, further undercutting policies to keep youth out of adult jails and prisons and other de-incarceration efforts.

Federally supported juvenile justice programs also enable communities to provide critical treatment and rehabilitative services, in safe conditions, that are tailored to the needs of youth and their families; protects public safety; and holds youth accountable.  Continued federal cuts will threaten these efforts to keep youth and families safe, and keep juvenile crime rates down.

The 39th birthday of this landmark law is the right time to highlight how far we’ve come and to make sure the purpose laid out nearly 40 years ago this month continues to be advanced and supported by Congress.  

In recognition of the passage of the JJDPA, advocates are making September 10 a National Day of Action to call on Congress to invest in the JJDPA and related juvenile justice programs.

Tell Congress we must continue to invest in the policies and programs that work for all our young people.   Tell them JJDPA matters.

This is part of the ACT4JJ Campaign's JJDPA Matters Blog Project, a 16-week series that launched Sept. 10, 2013. You can find the full series at the JJDPA Matters Action Center, click here.

Protecting Youth Behind Bars

Wednesday, 04 September 2013 Posted in 2013, Research & Policy

 T.J. Parsell, Author, Filmmaker and Human Rights Activist gives his powerful and personal account of his sexual victimization experience while in prison.

To highlight the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), landmark legislation signed into law ten years ago this week, the American Bar Association (ABA) convened a panel of experts at the ABA's offices in Washington, D.C to discuss the impact of the law and the challenges in ensuring full implementation.  The panel included the Honorable Bobby Scott (D-VA) who was an original cosponsor of the PREA legislation; Mary Lou Leary, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice; T.J. Parsell, Author, Filmmaker and Human Rights Activist; Professor Brenda Smith of the American University's Washington College of Law; and the Honorable Reggie Walton of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. 

Carmen Daugherty, the Vice Chair of the ABA's Individual Rights & Responsibilities Justice Committee and Policy Director for the Campaign for Youth Justice, kicked off the panel discussion by showing a five- minute trailer of a new film created by T.J. Parsell about his experience as a teenager in adult prison.  The film clip was a powerful image of the risks youth face when incarcerated in adult jails and prisons.  To view the film clip and to read more about T.J.’s story, visit here.
Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Mary Lou Leary mentioned the Youthful Inmate Standard as one of the key standards in PREA and that sufficient funding from the Administration was needed to ensure it could be properly enacted.  She also indicated that it was crucial that more people apply to serve as auditors to enforce PREA's implementation in the states.
Brenda Smith recounted the major accomplishments of PREA to date, highlighting the fact that it establishes that sexual violence behind bars happens, it is very serious, and it must be addressed. "The PREA law has created a national discourse on the issue," according to Smith. She also underscored some of the challenges ahead such ensuring an appropriate balance between incentives for compliance and accountability. Smith urged advocates to read the standards, educate themselves on the impact of the standards, and to get involved in the work.
Judge Walton, who chaired the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC), closed out the panel saying that "Prison rape is not something that has to be inevitable" and that "Leadership has to come from the top."
For additional information on PREA, visit:

As Prisons Prepare for PREA, Impact on Youthful Inmates May Be Major

Wednesday, 21 August 2013 Posted in 2013, Federal Update

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange published the following article this week on the Prison Rape Elimination Act:

In 2003, the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) — a federal legislative proposal that sought to curb incidents of sexual assault in both adult prisons and juvenile detention facilities — was signed into law by President George W. Bush.

The newly formed National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC) was then tasked with establishing PREA standards; ultimately, nine years would pass before the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) approved the final standards set forth by the NPREC.

Read more here.


North Carolina Continues to Wait for Justice Reform

Angella Bellota Tuesday, 13 August 2013 Posted in 2013, Across the Country, Take Action Now

Rep. Avila, primary sponsor of HB 725

On July 26, the North Carolina General Assembly ended a much debated legislative session.  Many of you watched as social justice advocates fought back legislation that would harm voter rights, women’s rights, as well as reduce resources to NC’s education system which will impact thousands of youth and families across the state. For those of us in the youth justice field, we watched as youth justice advocates worked tirelessly for several months to push forward HB 725, the Young Offenders Rehabilitation Act (Raise the Age), as well as oppose HB 217, a bill that would remove judicial discretion from juvenile transfer cases and undermine the forward thinking policy recommendations of the Raise the Age campaign.

North Carolina experienced a difficult session but the commitment from youth justice supporters cannot go unnoticed. Many of you joined the Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ) in taking a stand for North Carolina youth.  Coordinating efforts with our allies on the ground, the CFYJ network, as well as other national partners – we made phone calls, wrote letters, conducted legislator visits, and signed on to petitions that reminded NC leaders that our NC allies were not in this fight alone.

We applaud you and thank you for your energy and persistence during this legislative session.  It is this collective effort that makes state campaigns stronger during session and for future campaigns. A recap of each legislative bill is below. Please make sure to visit Action for Children NC to stay connected to the Raise the Age campaign. If you have questions or would like to continue to receive state campaign updates, contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Update on HB 725
HB 725 the Young Offender Rehabilitation Act (Raise the Age) received a successful second reading vote on the House floor – a 61 to 37 vote – a real sign of bipartisan support! Since session ended on the same day, the bill will now wait for the short session to begin in May 2014 and will resurface on the House calendar for a third reading before heading to the Senate. Outreach efforts will continue during the interim to prepare for the 2014 legislative session. Your continued support will give HB 725 a fighting chance during the short session in May. To learn more about HB 725, click HERE.

Update on HB 217
HB 217, the bill that would remove judicial discretion in juvenile transfer cases and place the fate of NC youth in the hands of prosecutors did not move out of the Senate because of your persistent and strong pushback.  Although we were able to stall the bill in the Senate Judiciary II committee, this bill has the opportunity to be re-introduced during the short session in May 2014. It is important to remember that elements of the 217 proposal were much worse than what it was eventually ratified to be, and that is in no small part to your actions. We will continue to monitor this piece of legislation and will keep you updated on local efforts to defeat this bill. For now, you can find more information about HB 217, HERE

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange published the following article this week on the Prison Rape Elimination Act

Tuesday, 13 August 2013 Posted in 2013, Research & Policy

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange published the following article this week on the Prison Rape Elimination Act:

By James Swift

In 2003, the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) — a federal legislative proposal that sought to curb incidents of sexual assault in both adult prisons and juvenile detention facilities — was signed into law by President George W. Bush.

The newly formed National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC) was then tasked with establishing PREA standards; ultimately, nine years would pass before the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) approved the final standards set forth by the NPREC.

Read more here.


OP-ED: Everyday Assaults of Young Offenders in Adult Prisons

Thursday, 08 August 2013 Posted in 2013, Voices

From the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange
By David Chura

The panel, sponsored by Boston College, was titled “Youth in Prison: The Reality of the System.” I was there to share my experiences as a teacher who worked with teenagers, some as young as fifteen, serving time in an adult county jail. I was scheduled to speak after T.J.Parsell who, when he was seventeen, served several years in an adult prison and was raped by inmates a number of times. He survived that horrific time and now as an adult shares his experiences to advocate for changes in the way the criminal justice system treats minors.

As T.J. recounted the sexual assaults he lived through I kept wondering what I could add. His experiences were so shocking, so deplorable that I wondered what more could be said.

However, as I listened, I realized there was a lot I could add. According to the Campaign for Youth Justice, inmates under eighteen make up only one percent of the prison population yet are victims in 21 percent of prison rapes. Although those statistics are high, not all young offenders are subjected to the sexual abuse that T.J. went through and that many other kids continue to endure. Yet all teenagers in adult prison live with an endless series of violations on a daily basis, violations that I could only think to describe as “everyday rapes.” I saw that my contribution to the panel was to be a witness to those everyday degradations, assaults and violations that I learned about over the ten years that I taught in prison.

There was the everyday rape of random body searches—on the block, coming back from court, before seeing family on a visit. As Marcus, a seventeen-year-old who never shied away from speaking his mind, put it, “Being searched by police makes you feel dirty. They make you strip down, bend over, and…you know. They call it cavity search. I call it rape.”

My students lived with the everyday violation of never having any privacy when they showered, used the toilet, “went to New York” (one of their many jailhouse slang phrases for masturbating). All teenagers, whoever and wherever they are, work hard to hide their vulnerabilities especially when it comes to their bodies. In prison those vulnerabilities are even more pronounced and covered up by tough guy bravado because these boys know that their bodies—along with so much more—are no longer their own. As they put it, they were “state’s property.”

There was the everyday abuse of having their cells sacked by the emergency response team (ERT) on one of their random searches. I understood the need for such surprise searches. Even my students did, although they were loath to admit it. But none of us understood why a team of men in SWAT uniforms had to scream at you, throw you out of your bed, flip your mattress onto the floor, toss around the few clothes you had, then dump in a trash barrel family photos, letters — even school books that you never saw again — only to be threatened as the ERT left your cell, “We’ll get you next time.”

And “next time” might mean the everyday assault of being thrown into solitary confinement because you finally couldn't hold in your rage anymore at such arbitrary, senseless humiliation and started to mouth off the way only angry, hurt teenage boys can. There, in total isolation, was the endless everyday rape of losing contact with humanity until you lost contact with your own humanity and found yourself participating in your own everyday rape—not showering or brushing your teeth for weeks; sleeping twelve, fifteen hours a day; and when you were awake, screaming, shouting, howling just to let the world—and yourself—know that you’re still there (sort of), doing anything to fight off that final everyday rape of extinction, of disappearing.

Even if a kid can hold it all in, follow the rules, keep his head down, there was the everyday indignity of eating food that poisoned a growing body; of living in an overcrowded, noisy and smelly block, with the constant threat of violence, intimidation and extortion; of being forced to pay extortionist prices for food sold in the prison commissary; of not getting decent health care, or any health care at all, because the gold standard was to save the county money.

The “reality of the system” is a brutal one. The Federal government has finally acknowledged that young offenders must be protected from prison sexual violence. The “Youthful Inmate Standard” regulations established by the Prison Rape Elimination Act require all prisons, jails, lock ups, and detention facilities to provide “sight and sound separation between youth and adults while restricting the use of solitary confinement and isolation practices.”

But these regulations are only a first step in solving how young people are treated in the criminal justice system. If we really want to protect them from the full assault of prison culture—the everyday rapes that have devastating effects long into adulthood—then we must get these children out of the penal system altogether, a system that was never intended to handle young offenders, and place them in environments that are designed to rebuild and to create new lives.

This article was originally published by the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, a non-profit online news source for people who care about youth and the law.

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