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Voices

2016 Summer Institute: Session 1 – Girls in the Juvenile Justice System

Friday, 01 July 2016 Posted in 2016, Voices

By Anne-Lise Vray, Juvenile Justice Fellow

Every year since 2008, the Campaign for Youth Justice has organized the Summer Institute, a series of brown bag luncheons where we invite summer fellows and interns working in juvenile justice to listen to leaders and experts from the field for a time of lecture and discussion. To kick off the 2016 edition of CFYJ Summer Institute, we welcomed Maheen Kaleem, Staff Attorney and Equal Justice Works Fellow at Right4Girls, a human rights organization focused on gender-based violence against vulnerable young women and girls in the U.S.

Maheen gave us a powerful presentation on the specific needs of girls in the juvenile justice system, and shared with the packed room several of her personal experiences and encounters with young girls who got involved in the justice system after being abused their whole life. She emphasized that despite the displayed narratives of girls being increasingly violent (which is supposedly why the number of girls in prison is increasing), the 3 biggest reasons for girls to become involved with the justice system are truancy (skipping school), prostitution (which, as Maheen stressed it out, is not a thing according to federal law, and is actually child trafficking) and running away. Girls are NOT becoming increasingly violent, she repeated. The overall problem is that girls are victimized, and instead of receiving helped, they receive punishment as a response.

Maheen also mentioned dramatic data, such a 2009 study conducted in South Carolina showing that 81% of girls involved in the juvenile justice system reported experiencing sexual abuse at least once in their lives. Additionally, girls are twice as likely as boys to report 5 or more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES, i.e emotional, physical or sexual abuse, emotional neglect, household substance abuse etc), and four times more likely to be victims of childhood sexual abuse than boys.

Maheen ended her presentation by highlighting a need of implementing the JJDPA and for a “trauma-informed juvenile justice system,” that is, a system that does not send to prison girls who are running away from abusive homes or communities.

We are excited to announce that our second session is already scheduled to take place next week, and we will be talking about sexual violence in the justice system.

LGBT youths especially vulnerable in adult jails

Tuesday, 28 June 2016 Posted in 2016, Voices

By Rick Mula

The visitation room at the Alabama county jail was tiny. The beige cinderblock walls pressed in on the public defender and me as we waited for the guards to escort our 17-year-old client into the room.

J.W. had already spent four months confined to an adult jail cell. He hadn’t even been tried for a crime yet. But in Alabama, as well as other states, children as young as 16 can be automatically tried as an adult for certain crimes. They can also be held in adult jails as they await trial.

And that’s why J.W. was now sitting in this tiny room.

He’d been swept up in the adult criminal justice system, like so many other kids. An estimated 250,000 youth are tried, sentenced, or incarcerated as adults every year across the U.S. What’s more, LGBT youths are vastly overrepresented. Despite making up no more than 7 percent of the overall youth population, they make up about 20 percent of the youths in the juvenile justice system. Most of these young people, like J.W., are children of color.

J.W. tells me that he used to identify as bisexual. He says that after he disclosed his sexual orientation, a corrections officer assumed he was promiscuous and called him a “ho.” The message was loud and clear: Bisexual individuals would be singled out. J.W. says he now identifies as straight. As someone who works to educate LGBT youths about their legal rights, I can’t help but wonder if he is avoiding identifying as bisexual to protect himself from more mistreatment.

What is certain, and worth remembering during Pride month, is that there are many LGBT youths in adult jails across this country. High rates of family rejection, hostile teachers and classmates at school as well as inappropriate foster care placements take their toll on LGBT youths. They may run away from home, skip school or abuse substances to cope – all activities that increase their chances of a brush with the law. LGBT youths are also more likely to be prosecuted for age-appropriate consensual sexual activity than their peers.

Once in adult jails, there’s little opportunity for rehabilitation or education that can get a young person’s life back on track, whether they are LGBT or not. I learned, for example, that J.W. attended a GED class sporadically for a couple months, but the class ended without warning or explanation.

Of course, one of the greatest concerns about placing a child in an adult jail is the threat of physical and sexual abuse. The problem is particularly acute for LGBT youths. Bureau of Justice Statistics data show that 6.3 percent of LGBT youths reported sexual victimization compared to 1.7 percent of heterosexual youths.

Authorities may point out that federal law requires facilities to maintain “sight and sound separation” between young people and adults, but solitary confinement is often the only way to accomplish this goal. Confining a child or teen to a small four-walled cell for hours on end raises a host of other dangers – depression, anxiety and psychosis, for example – particularly for kids because of their developmental vulnerability.

It’s clear that jail is no place for young people, such as J.W.

The statistics and stories may be grim, but the situation is not hopeless. There are a number of steps that can be taken to reduce the number of juveniles in the criminal justice system and help youths in adult facilities. Consider the following possibilities:

  • Promote family acceptance interventions, which can help a youth avoid rejection that can put him or her on a path into the criminal justice system.
  • Urge your senators and representatives to support reauthorizing the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.
  • Promote the development of LGBT-inclusive policies and procedures throughout your community to prevent LGBT youths from feeling isolated.
  • Learn more about campaigns to raise the age a juvenile can be tried as an adult – an important step toward preventing children from ending up in adult facilities.


As I think back to my visit with J.W., I remember how he beamed. He was so happy to have a visitor. Despite his situation, he eagerly chatted about Ariana Grande’s greatest hits and talked about his favorite movies and TV shows. J.W. may be behind bars, but he’s not that different from other kids his age. He’s just doing his best to survive an environment that was never meant for any child.

We need to do our best to keep kids like J.W. out of adult jails.


Rick Mula is an attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center where he is an Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by the Mansfield Family Foundation.

Want to maximize your impact? Partner with the Campaign for Youth Justice.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016 Posted in 2016, Voices

By Kara Aanenson

For the past five years the Just Kids Campaign partnered with Campaign for Youth Justice to end the automatic prosecution of youth as adult in the state of Maryland.  During those 5 years we:

  • Stopped the construction of a youth jail in Baltimore,
  • Passed five pieces of legislation,
  • Built our statewide membership to over 5,000 members, and
  • Created a statewide coalition.

None of this would have been possible without technical assistance from the Campaign. They were with us every step of the way from organizing to legislative sessions. We adopted their theory of change, including working with youth who were charged as adults and their families. Working together with youth and their families multiplied our output and provided credibility to our work.

The Campaign helped us organize by hosting strategy sessions where we hashed out our action plans. They provided insight on what worked in other states and helped us brainstorm how to implement those strategies in Maryland. They created Youth Justice Awareness Month, uniting all states working on adultification of youth, and increased our fundraising efforts. The Campaign provided spokesperson training to enhance our messaging.

During Maryland’s 90 day legislative sessions we checked in weekly and they provided a sounding board for legislative strategy.  If amendments were added to a bill they would help us review them to determine our next steps. If we needed help finding a national expert to be a member of our taskforce or testify at a bill hearing, they would reach out to all their contacts to help make sure we got someone there.

The Campaign can maximize state impacts because they practice what they preach. They have run their own campaigns in D.C. and have assisted so many other states. They understand when you are frustrated because your coalition is fracturing, they know what it’s like to have a bill fail in committee, and they know what it feels like to get a victory. This work is rewarding, but it is also exhausting. Some days you feel like you are on top of the world and others days it feels like you are pushing a huge boulder up a hill in the rain, and on those days the Campaign is there standing beside you and helping you push. That is what makes them the best partner.    

Kara Aanenson is the Director of Family Engagement at the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services since April 2016. Before that, she was the Director of the Just Kid Campaign for 5 years. 

This post is part of the CFYJ #IMPACT Blog Series, a project celebrating CFYJ's 10 years of commitment to juvenile justice reform.

The Story of Kalief Browder

Friday, 10 June 2016 Posted in 2016, Voices

In memory of Kalief Browder, whose life was uprooted at Rikers Island, and whose death we remember this month.

By Francesca Sands, Juvenile Justice Fellow

Based on excerpts from interviews of Kalief Browder conducted by Jennifer Gonnerman.

In 2010, sixteen year-old Kalief Browder of the Bronx was arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack. He was charged with robbery and assault, but he said he didn’t commit the crime. Still, he was imprisoned at Rikers Island to await his trial…for three years. Kalief sat and waited while his life went by. Most of this time was spent in solitary confinement. He used a vent in the cell to communicate with other inmates through the walls, which offered some solace, expect for the frequent times he heard head banging, wall kicking, or distressed screaming from his neighbors at any hour of the day or night.

The only education offered to teens like Kalief in solitary is Cell Study, which is when an officer slips a worksheet under the cell door for completion, and then picks it up a few days later. Despite playing around in the hallways with friends, flirting with girls by their lockers, and doing what other young teens do, Kalief had always taken school seriously. But whatever scholastic promise he held before Rikers was disregarded within the prison’s confines, and Kalief missed out on his junior and senior years of high school.

Kalief endured violence from guards and other inmates, but he felt that the psychological and emotional trauma caused by his circumstances was worse. He was hungry all the time. The guards would sometimes skip over his cell when delivering meals, let alone ever give him the few pieces of leftover bread they always had. He was constantly stressed out. If he ever needed to communicate with the guards, the only way to get their attention was to quickly stick his arm through the slot in the door when it opened briefly for passing in meal trays. If he didn’t “hold his slot,” as they call it, he was subjected to various forms of mistreatment and disrespect such as no showers or no food. He was entirely helpless.

Still just a boy, Kalief was naturally accustomed to and dependent on asking his mother for help when he found himself in tough situations. But all his mother could do in this situation was cry on the phone. He attempted suicide after about two years at Rikers. Every so often, Kalief would get called to stand before a judge to hear whether he would get his trial. During one such meeting, Kalief was offered release only if he pleaded guilty. Despite wanting more than anything to go home, he turned down the deal, guided by his moral grit that prevented him from admitting to a crime he didn’t commit. And he was well aware that if he ever got the trial he was hoping for, he could face up to 15 years in state prison if he lost.

In the spring of 2013, the judge dropped all the charges against Kalief and he finally went home. He enrolled in a GED class, and passed his GED exam about a year later. He then enrolled at Bronx Community College, where he did well, but his mental health problems resulting from his time at Rikers formed insurmountable obstacles. After more suicide attempts and visits to hospital psychiatric wards, Kalief ended his life in June of 2015 at the age of 22.

As we remember the life and struggle of Kalief Browder this month, the reality of incarceration-induced mental illness continues to affect youth everywhere. In a report by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, a longitudinal study reveals that nearly 50 percent of male juveniles and nearly 30 percent of female juveniles had at least one psychiatric disorder five years after their initial, baseline interviews for the study, which were conducted while they were awaiting adjudication of their cases. Substance abuse and disruptive behavior disorders were found to be the most common, and with additional long-term gender and race-related effects that put some groups at significant mental and social disadvantages, the need for more age-appropriate criminal justice is apparent.

At no point during or after Kalief Browder’s trial did anyone in power apologize to him or even acknowledge that he lost three years of his life, the rest of his youth, and ultimately his will to live, in solitary confinement at Rikers Island.

JUVENILE JUSTICE REFORM: WHAT'S NEXT? - A Power Lunch with Marcy Mistrett

Monday, 16 May 2016 Posted in 2016, Voices

YOU'RE INVITED: A POWER LUNCH WITH MARCY MISTRETT, CEO OF THE CAMPAIGN FOR YOUTH JUSTICE
JUVENILE JUSTICE REFORM: WHAT'S NEXT?


Join us for a conversation with Marcy Mistrett, CEO of the Campaign for Youth Justice. She will share the progress her organization has seen over the past 10 years in removing youth from the adult criminal justice system in 30 states and the next steps for advancing juvenile justice reform, including the critical need to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Act.

Marcy Mistrett has been the CEO at the Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ) since 2014. CFYJ was launched just ten years ago to end the practice of prosecuting, sentencing and incarcerating young people in the adult criminal justice system.

Since CFYJ's inception, 30 states have changed 48 laws to make it more difficult to treat children like adults. Yet challenges persist, including the extreme racial and ethnic disparities of those youth sentenced to adult time in adult facilities.  CFYJ is committed to keeping impacted youth and families at the heart of each campaign and of shifting the public dialogue from one of extreme punishment to one focused on child wellness.

Thursday, May 19th 2016
12:00 p.m. - 1:00 p.m.

The Raben Group Offices
1341 G St NW, 5th Floor
Washington D.C. 20005

RSVP HERE

How Systems Have Failed My Son this Mother’s Day

Jennifer Hoff Thursday, 05 May 2016 Posted in 2016, Voices

IMG 0065 3By Jennifer Hoff

The most difficult part of having our young, mentally-ill, adult son locked up in solitary confident in California State Prison for months at a time is not  the emotional and mental pain his father, little brothers and I experience as a result of him losing, “in person” contact privileges again or other punishments he might be subjected to that are analogous with such a placement. It is not the overwhelming sadness that arises when you realize you can’t remember your child’s smell because you have not been allowed to hug him for almost a year,  nor the missing of his sweet voice during a phone call.  It is not the daily emotional turmoil of having horrific mental images flash by the minds eye as an incessant reminder of his dire situation.  It is not even that he was allowed to suffer mentally for over three years, denied the very psychiatric medications that he was prescribed from age 12 to quell his frenetic thinking and allow him to process his interactions with the world in a safe and more humane manner. 

As a mother, what is most difficult is that his situation is the predictable outcome of our abysmal system of criminalizing those who “act out” despite lacking the cognitive capacity to do otherwise. We saw this coming for over 15 years and there was absolutely nothing we could do to prevent our son from being punished for his disability and being sucked into the revolving door of the criminal justice system once he turned 18. 

We sought out help for Matthew very early (age 5) as his mental health symptoms began interferring with him attending public schools.  We had access to private doctors and therapists, had the resources to pay for treatment and the wherewithal to request special education services from our school district.  We had the stamina to navigate, for years, a broken mental health system. A system in which no one who is “in charge” seems to be held accountable to help these sick children; nor informs you (the parents) that every provider at the case-planning meetings are hiding their ball under the table to effectively and covertly play the game of “pass the buck” shuffle. Ultimately, those “in charge” denied services for my son as long as possible to avoid costs and save the bottom line.…. For years, Matthew’s father and I paid out of pocket to send him to a clinical day program run by a team of doctors at a highly respected university.  The clinical-day program was eventually exchanged for a dozen failed special educational public school placements, which again failed our son.  Ultimately, we were faced with  all roads leading to the need for a intensive (and expensive) locked facility; an incredibly difficult decision had to be made.

As Matthew’s needs increased, the willingness of our county agencies to provide for them diminished.  Eventually, only legal action proved effective in forcing our school district and county behavioral health departments to meet their legal obligations of providing appropriate educational and psychiatric services for our disabled boy.

The worst part of this journey has been the nausea that comes with knowing my son’s experience is the norm; that this outcome is one of many predictable tragic end points for individuals like Matthew who “don’t respond” to the current protocol of medications and talk therapy.   He has found his peer group in prison.  The overwhelming majority of his neighbors are young men who also suffer from debilitating psychosis, paranoia and delusions, and who have lived in their awful set of circumstances from before they were even able to legally drive a car. 

Most of the prisoners Matthew has met have previously been in the foster and/or juvenile “justice” cog from the young age of 10. They have been labeled as “troubled” and “delinquent”, yet denied medications or treatment or even basic therapeutic services before the preventable tragedy occurs that drove them into the criminal justice system.  These young  venerable  young people do not stand a chance once they are “in trouble with the law” because necessary mental health interventions will be withheld and they will inevitably be funneled into youth or adult prisons… many before they even hit puberty. 

If you had asked me when Matthew was younger and still at home, cycling his way through ineffective treatments,  how I was doing, I would have most likely burst into tears; for navigating the pediatric side of this nightmare was an incomprehensible, demoralizing experience that  each year left its marks on my psyche and spirit.  The pain of watching your child be discarded like trash by the very agencies tasked with his care is not easily explained to even the closest friends.  Today when folks ask me the same question my response is less emotional but rarely is it a complete answer….. for even folks who actually might know our story, or who work in the “field of mental health” find it hard to grasp the reality that our system isn’t filled with “cracks” for these young people to fall into.  Rather, to everyone’s surprise and dismay, instead of cracks, there is a looming  cliff that we systematically push young people off of when they age into adulthood. 

Nowadays my response to the “how are you doing” question, yields a filtered mantra of “pretty good considering…” or “well I am still here…” .  I make it a point to share our story with anyone and everyone who will listen; not to be a source of pain for people, but rather to leverage the pain I feel into becoming the motivation they need to jump into action and become part of the solutions. 

This is our modern day human rights crisis…throwing away children into a churning system for the past 15-20 years  has not only been a costly, failed, social experiment of being “tough on crime,” but more egregiously, it has stolen the futures of thousands of young folks, by answering their cries of help with a lock and key. Most “troubled youth” are not born that way…they are generally created out of years of neglect, abuse, misdiagnosis, and failed treatment;  and then severely penalized when they act out with the very behaviors that textbooks outline-- the step by step progression from victim to offender.  We know these facts, yet somehow the past few decades have been marked with an all out war against the treatment of childhood offenders and a refusal to allow for the degree of cognitive functioning the individual possessed to be used as a method of defense aimed at rehabilitation over incarceration. 

We have criminalized behaviors psychiatrists say are “normal” for an immature, traumatized or sick brains…we know that some brains are different and lack capacity to fully function, yet our leaders have allowed generations of children to be swallowed into the pit of the criminal justice system to be forgotten.

I have hope though, and I know we are not alone. I know some families experience this same journey but with an even more tragic outcome.  I am grateful for the work advocates and non-profits are doing both in the mental health reform and juvenile justice fields.  These broken systems will not self-correct and it is up to impacted individuals and families to demand they change for the better.

I have perspective, our story’s tragic ending didn’t create catastrophic collateral damage to our child or to our community. For this, we know were are the lucky ones.

Last Mother’s Day when I went to see my son, he was able to visit me in person for a change.  We really enjoyed each other, holding hands and hugging…being face to face, looking in the same beautiful auburn eyes that peered up at me when he was a baby swaddled in my arms. Now, despite the new homemade tattoos he had someone ink on his beautiful face, (because it seemed like a good idea “at the time”…he says, “sorry mom”) he is still my boy deserving of help. 

Jennifer Hoff is a concrned mom and juvenile justice advocate.


White House Advisor Valerie Jarrett Addresses the Power of Choice with DYRS Youth

Tuesday, 03 May 2016 Posted in 2016, Voices

Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason and US Attorney’s Office Join National Reentry Week Efforts

Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama, US Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason, and members of the US Attorney’s Office (USAO) spoke to young women at the District of Columbia’s Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS) about the power of choice and relationships yesterday as part of the Justice Department’s National Reentry Week efforts.

This visit started with a sexual assault awareness presentation to educate girls at DYRS’s Youth Services Center (YSC) on prevention methods and their rights in the District of Columbia.

The girls then participated in a group session with Jarrett and Mason, who addressed their 37-year friendship and the importance of building healthy relationships. “We weren’t much older than you guys when we met,” said Mason. “The relationships you have when you’re young are really important…the choices you make determine the future leaders that you are going to be.”

The young women enthusiastically engaged in a dynamic conversation where they learned about the roles Jarrett and Mason play in US Government and asked how they might be able to follow similar, important paths.

“Well, a lot of the challenges in this country happened over the course of years, and we’re trying to fix them in a relatively short period of time,” said Jarrett. “If we can help you all just a little bit, and give you the confidence to live up to your dreams, we’ll have done something.”

Both Jarrett and Mason agreed that “we need to do better by our young people because young people make mistakes,” a sentiment agreed upon by DYRS Director Clinton Lacey, who had welcomed the youth saying, “You are greater than your worst mistake and that’s why we brought you here today. It’s a time for women of color rising up to leadership, and we want you to have every opportunity possible to be a part of this.”

The visit coincided with the agency’s new strategy and heightened focus on girls programming and services, which recognizes that girls enter the juvenile justice system with personal stories of trauma, poverty, and physical, sexual and emotional violence. DYRS is developing and launching a trauma-informed, gender responsive program that is focused on healthy development, healing, restorative justice, and keeping girls closer to their home communities and families.

The event stemmed from biweekly girls groups that the USAO holds at YSC on topics such as sexual assault, self-awareness and domestic violence. These groups started three years ago to address the specific challenges of young women in the juvenile justice system.

National Reentry Week is an effort by the Department of Justice to encourage and highlight the importance of “supporting successful reentry…because by helping individuals return to productive, law-abiding lives, we can reduce crime across the country and make our neighborhoods better places to live.” (www.doj.gov)

This blog is courtesy of the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services

 

#Implement PREA Week of Action: A Conclusion

Friday, 22 April 2016 Posted in 2016, Campaigns, Voices

By Maheen Kaleem, Equal Justice Works Fellow/Staff Attorney, Rights4Girls

In 2001, the United States officially recognized April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This recognition was the result of decades of activism on the part of advocates who worked tirelessly to end the silence that shrouds sexual violence. They have made incredible strides by educating the public about the inherently shaming nature of sexual violence, the importance of consent, and the knowledge that sexual violence plagues every community in our country. Throughout the U.S., 1 in 5 women will be raped at some point in their lives, and 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted while in college.

While much of our advocacy has focused on adult women, we know that girls are especially vulnerable to sexual violence: one in four American girls will experience sexual violence by the age of 18, and nearly half of all female rape survivors report being first victimized before the age of 18. And yet our discussions, even among advocates, often leave out our most vulnerable and marginalized girls- girls who are subjected to the Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline.

In 2015, Rights4Girls, the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality, and the Ms. Foundation published a report entitled, The Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline: The Girls’ Story.  This report outlines how experiencing childhood sexual violence as a girl can actually create pathways into the juvenile justice system. Girls in the juvenile justice system report experiencing childhood sexual abuse at alarmingly high rates—rates as high as 80%. 

Childhood sexual abuse is one of the primary predictors of delinquency in girls. Put simply, girls in the juvenile justice system often find themselves there as a result of being sexually victimized as children. Among the most common offenses for which girls are arrested are running away, substance abuse, and prostitution. But oftentimes, girls are running away from abusive home environments or foster care placements. When they abuse substances, it is a coping strategy. And in many states, when girls fall victim to human traffickers who profit off of their sexual abuse, the girls themselves are arrested for prostitution.    

Research demonstrates that girls are sometimes arrested “for their own protection.” But detaining girls leaves them vulnerable to more sexual victimization. Once inside juvenile facilities, girls are disproportionately vulnerable to experiencing sexual violence: girls are ten to fifteen percent of the population in state and local facilities, and twenty-six percent of the victims of sexual victimization in juvenile facilities.

Both the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) and the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) include important protections to ensure that children do not become unnecessarily involved in the delinquency system, and that once involved, they are protected from additional sexual violence. In order to protect girls, we must ensure that that the JJDPA is reauthorized, and that PREA is effectively implemented.

But legislation can only be one piece of our efforts. If we are to realize a world where all girls are safe from sexual violence, then we must always remember our most vulnerable, our marginalized girls who all too often fall through the cracks.

The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act: Protecting Kids, Protecting Communities – Youth Voices Call on Congress to Act

Thursday, 21 April 2016 Posted in 2016, Voices

By Anne-Lise Vray, Juvenile Justice Fellow

On April 20th, the Act 4 Juvenile Justice Coalition (ACT4JJ) hosted a briefing on Capitol Hill about the importance of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), which has been due for reauthorization since 2007. The panel, “JJDPA: Protecting Kids, Protecting Communities” primarily focused on a proposed change to strengthen one of the JJDPA’s core protections for children in custody—the phasing out the valid court order (VCO) exception to the deinstitutionalization of status offenders requirement.   A status offender is a child who is not charged with a crime, but rather someone who is arrested for childhood misbehavior such as running away from home, skipping school, or speaking back to an adult. 

Years of research on evidence based practice and new developments in brain science and adolescent development have shown that incarcerating a child for a status offense creates trauma and can increase the likelihood of future risky or even criminal behavior.  Despite this knowledge, 7,000 children are still incarcerated each year for committing status offenses. 

The panel featured Judge George Timberlake from Southern Illinois and Jerry Walsh from Arkansas who has run youth emergency shelters, group homes, and programs for serious youth offenders.  Both unequivocally called for juvenile justice systems to keep children who have committed status offenses out of youth prisons and instead keep them close to home, with supports, to more effectively address the reasons for the risky behavior.  Two young women, Ashley Jackson from Tallahassee, FL and Jhanae Burnett from Minneapolis, MN, joined the panel to discuss community based alternatives that helped them get back on the right track. Ashley Jackson is a graduate of BoysTown USA in Tallahassee.  Ashley had been in 15 foster homes before she was incarcerated for running away from several of those placements.  She says, “No one listened. Not once.  I went to detention for six months which made me aggressive, hostile and less trustworthy.  But BoysTown fought for me.  They were the first place that made me feel like they wanted me there.  They listened to me.” 

Jhanae shared, “I was never a bad child. I worked and was in school, but was having some transitions at home and got arrested”, explained Jhanae.  She said that at her first court hearing, the judge wanted to put her on probation and send her to a scared straight program at a women’s prison to teach her a lesson.  Fortunately, her family moved and the district she was moved to embraced a more community-based approach and placed her at a program at the YMCA.  This program connected Jhanae with other young women a girls-specific program.  She was matched with a mentor who helped her with education, work goals, and housing assistance.  Jhanae shared, “I got off probation and never saw my probation officer again. But Stacey [her mentor] is still there in the community with me.” Indeed, Stacey flew with Jhanae out to Washington to be part of a youth-fly in advocacy day to encourage federal support of juvenile justice programs that work.  Both Ashley and Jhanae are attending college now.  

These young women were joined by Daniel Mendoza from Oakland, CA’s CURYJ program (Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ).   Daniel met with several Members of Congress to share how working in his community helped him get on the right path.  CURYJ trains formerly incarcerated youth in community organizing and entrepreneurship.  Daniel proudly relayed how CURYJ opened a coffee shop that only employs formerly incarcerated youth—and how this community program helped him and others stay on the right track. 

What was abundantly clear from all the panelists and youth that joined the discussion that day, was that black and brown youth bear the brunt of incarceration for status offenses and that there are much more effective ways to deal with youth misbehavior than incarceration.  The speakers, urged the packed room to join the movement and reauthorize the JJDPA THIS YEAR. 

You too can Join the movement !  Ask Senator Tom Cotton to release the hold on the JJDPA reauthorization so it can pass the Senate and move onto the House of Representatives for a vote. Each voice counts! Here are a few tweet samples you can use:

- 70% of Americans support requiring states to reduce racial and ethnic disparities. @SenTomCotton, pass S1169 now! #JJDPAmatters

- 83% of Americans support investment in community-based alts to incarceration. @SenTomCotton should listen and help pass S1169 #JJDPAmatters

- 83% of Americans think youth SHOULD NOT be locked up for status offenses like skipping school or running away: @SenTomCotton #JJDPAmatters

- Hey @SenTomCotton: 92% of Americans think its important the JJ system help young people get back on track. S1169 would do that #JJDPAmatters

- @SenTomCotton 73% of Americans say teaching youth to take responsibility for their actions does not require incarceration #JJDPAmatters

- Two-thirds of Ark's incarcerated youth did not commit a violent offense. We can do better @SenTomCotton #JJDPAMatters

- Arkansas children are among the most likely to be sexually victimized while incarcerated. We can do better @SenTomCotton #JJDPAMatters

- The time is now to pass the JJDPA and stop incarcerating our children for skipping school @SenTomCotton #JJDPAMatters

- We need to get JJDPA through the Senate. Release the hold @SenTomCotton #JJDPAMatters

- We need a strengthened #juvenilejustice bill to protect our most vulnerable youth. Get JJDPA through the Senate @SenTomCotton #JJDPAMatters

- We need to get JJDPA through the Senate. Release the hold @SenTomCotton! #JJDPAMatters 

- Arkansas can do better @SenTomCotton and so can the US. Release the hold on JJDPA! #JJDPAMatters

- Two-thirds of Ark's incarcerated youth did not commit violent offenses. We can do better @SenTomCotton #JJDPAMatters

New National Poll Shows Americans Want A Different Youth Justice System

Thursday, 03 March 2016 Posted in 2016, Voices

By Anne-Lise Vray, Juvenile Justice Fellow

The Youth First Initiative   just released a national poll showing that across the polictical spectrum, Americans believe that the youth justice system is in need of  reform.  Ninety-two percent agree that what is most important is that the youth system does a better job of making sure youth get back on track so that they are less likely to commit another offense. The results also show that the majority of American people favor investing in community-based programs rather than in incarceration; and furthermore that they would like states to address the racial and ethnic disparities in the youth justice system.

Once again, this new poll demonstrates that our current youth  justice system does not reflect what most Americans believe is working and how they would like their own children to be treated if they were in the system.

The Youth First Initiative also released a juvenile prison inventory of the nation’s largest and oldest youth prisons, calling for the closure of 80 of the nation’s oldest and largest youth prisons.  This would reduce the youth incarceration rate in half by 2020. Among many findings, this inventory shows that 54,000 kids are incarcerated in the U.S. juvenile justice system on any given day, and that African-American youth are 5 times more likely to be incarcerated than their white counterparts.

Governors from three states, including Connecticut, Illinois, and Virginia are calling to shut down youth prisons in favor of more effective, community based programs that help set children on the path to a brighter future.

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