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Voices

Invisible No More: Let’s Make JJDPA Work for Girls

Tuesday, 25 March 2014 Posted in 2014, Voices

By Jeannette Y. Pai-Espinosa

This post is part of the JJDPA Mattersblog, a project of the Act4JJ Campaign with help from SparkAction. The JJDPA, the nation's landmark juvenile justice law, turns 40 this September. Each month leading up to this anniversary, Act4JJ member organizations and allies will post blogs on issues related to the JJDPA.  To learn more and take action in support of JJDPA, visit the Act4JJ JJDPA MattersAction Center, powered by SparkAction.

At the National Crittenton Foundation, we believe in the potential of all girls and young women, particularly those whose childhoods have been marked by persistent violence, abuse, neglect and family dysfunction. The obstacles they face can seem overwhelming, and yet we know that with the right combination of support, services and treatment, they can heal from complex trauma and break destructive generational cycles of poverty to build positive, safe and healthy lives.
 
Sadly, the responses of the systems with which these girls and young women are typically involved, particularly the juvenile justice system, can either “make” or “break” their chances of turning their lives around.
 
Approaches that assess and treat girls early in their involvement with juvenile justice, identify the root causes of the problems they are facing, and create interventions that are gender and culturally responsive and trauma-informed, go a long way toward supporting girls in their success.  These girls have a chance to learn how to address their complex childhood trauma so they can become productive members of society.
 
The truth is that involvement with the juvenile justice system – for girls and for boys – is a wake up call for help.  But the reality is that different factors drive girls and boys into the system.
 
In contrast, systems that treat girls as criminals and blame them for their behavior can do much more harm than good, as these behaviors are typically symptoms of the abuse, violence and neglect they experienced as children. This treatment re-traumatizes girls and places them in a downward spiral from which it is very difficult to recover. Girls whose trauma goes unaddressed become invisible to society, and marginalized from the American dream.
 
For girls, running away is quite often an attempt to escape sexual abuse by a parent, relative, family friend or foster parent,  and yet it often leads to the girls being arrested. Similarly, truancy is often a symptom of a chaotic home environment in which survival must be their priority, which often leads to poor school attendance that can lead to arrest. It is true that some young women end up in the juvenile justice system for aggressive behavior – but this is the exception not the rule.  For girls, early assessment and holistic services and supports that address the factors that drive girls into the system, build their resilience, and support them in healing from trauma would keep the vast majority of girls out of the juvenile justice system.
What We Can Do Now
 
This year, Congress may reauthorize the Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Act (JJDPA), the nation's landmark juvenile justice law. This presents a critical opportunity to take what we know about helping system-involved girls and make it a reality.  While the importance of gender responsiveness has always been a hallmark of the JJDPA, there is very little evidence of this at work in too many states and communities. Much more can be done to ensure that girls get the right help at the right time and in the right place in all communities across the country.
 
Fortunately, there is strong consensus in the field about how the JJDPA can be strengthened to insure that all youth, including girls, get the help they need to heal and thrive.  Together with the Georgetown Center on Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy and the Human Rights Project for Girls, we have organized a series of meetings on marginalized girls, one of which was focused on state efforts to meet the needs of girls in the juvenile justice system. This meeting resulted in a comprehensive report – Improving the Juvenile Justice System for Girls: Lessons from the States – on the issues facing girls and recommendations to strengthen the juvenile justice response.
 



Campaign for Youth Justice Seeks Applicants for its 2014 Summer Fellowship Program- Deadline March 31!

Wednesday, 19 February 2014 Posted in 2014, Voices

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The Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ), a national advocacy organization dedicated to ending the practice of trying, sentencing, and incarcerating youth under the age of 18 in the adult criminal justice system, is accepting applications for its 2014 Summer Fellowship Program.
 
The Summer 2014 Fellowship Application deadline is March 31, 2014.  The following fellowship opportunities are currently available for Summer 2014:
 
 
For additional information about CFYJ, please visit, here.

A Word of Thanks to YOU!

Monday, 04 November 2013 Posted in 2013, Across the Country, Voices

SPLC: Art, Poetry & Justice Slam in Mississippi

The Campaign for Youth Justice team would like to take a moment to thank all of you whose inspirational actions engaged, educated and activated communities during Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM).

Through Youth Justice Awareness Month, you lifted up the experience, voice and leadership of young people and their families who have been directly affected by the justice system. You took a stance against trying youth as adults, placing youth in adult jails and prisons, the over-incarceration of youth of color in the justice system, and the dangers of solitary confinement and the risk of violence and sexual assault in adult jails and prisons. 

Many of your states were highlighted in a new report, State Trends: Legislative Victories from 2011-2013 Removing Youth from the Adult Criminal Justice System” and you shared the good news with your communities.

FFLIC 5k Walk/Run in Louisiana


And although there was a government shutdown for the first half of October, that didn’t stop you from hosting events – such as film screenings, panel discussions, poetry slams, art exhibits, and 5k runs. By engaging your community, you move these issues forward and play a role in building youth justice wins throughout the country.

You showed how the Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) matters to your communities because it sets federal standards for how youth in the justice system should be treated.  And your actions pressured Congress to keep investing in federal funds and to consider the reauthorization of the JJDPA.

SPLC event at the University of Alabama -Birmingham


During YJAM, you took actions to ensure that the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) is being fully implemented in your states, and because of your efforts, the U.S. Department of Justice issued new guidance recommending that PREA’s Youthful Inmate Standard be implemented by removing youth from adult jails and prisons!

Tracy McClard, Chair of Youth Justice Awareness Month, recently shared in an interview with JJIE, “No matter what side of the issue you are on, if you do the research, you're going to find that kids don't belong in adult systems in any way, shape or form.” It is people like Tracy and you, that give our youth a fighting chance. Your actions inspire us all to continue this momentum all year long!

 

Thank you to all organizations and their partners for hosting YJAM events in 2013:

ACLU of Mississippi
Act 4 Juvenile Justice Campaign
Alliance for Youth Justice
American University Students
Appalachian State University -Student Chapter of the American Correctional Association
Black on Both Sides
Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings (CEEAS)
CFYJ Fellowship Alumni
Chicago Grassroots Curriculum Taskforce
Child and Family Focus, Inc.
Children’s Defense Fund-Southern Regional Office
Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition
Correctional Association of New York - Juvenile Justice Project
DC Lawyers for Youth
Decarcerate PA
Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center
DeSoto County Parents and Students for Justice (DC-PSJ)
Education from the Inside Out Coalition
Elephant Rebellion
Families and Friends of Louisiana's Incarcerated Children (FFLIC)
Families and Friends Organized to Reform Juvenile Justice (FORJ)
Families of Youth Incarcerated (FYI)
First Defense Legal Aid
Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop
Illinois Juvenile Justice Initiative
Immigrant Youth Justice League
Just Kids Partnership
Kings Leadership Institute
Kuumba Lynx
Michigan Association for Children's Mental Health
Michigan Citizens for Prison Reform
Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency
Mikva Challenge
NAACP of Mississippi
Nochtli
One Voice of Mississippi
Project NIA
Renewed Minds, Inc.
Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)
Students Against Mass Incarceration (SAMI)
Tampa Interfaith Coalition for Juvenile Justice
The Children's Campaign - Florida
The National Crittenton Foundation
The Young People’s Project of Jackson
Tougaloo College Owens Health and Wellness Center
United Way of the Capital Area
University of Alabama at Birmingham - Criminal Justice Student Organization
University of Alabama at Birmingham - NAACP Student Chapter
University of Alabama at Birmingham - The Young Americans for Liberty
University of Maryland College Park- KSH Tzedek Student Fellowship
Voices for Florida Girls
Youth Art & Self-Empowerment Project

To learn more about Youth Justice Awareness Month and event hosts, click HERE
 
Join us on Facebook and Twitter for more pictures, media coverage, and action opportunities. 
 
 

Change Agents for Youth Justice Reform

Angella Bellota Thursday, 31 October 2013 Posted in 2013, Across the Country, Voices

 

When pursuing change in your state, youth/adult partnerships are critical for campaign reform efforts. Youth are more than just their story and have a source of knowledge and leadership that should not be ignored. When young people are supported and treated as partners – their leadership shines through and their ability to meet the challenges of advocacy work, and  their ability to message the issue in unique ways, have led to some impressive moments. Check out some of the young leaders we’ve had the pleasure of working with in recent years. All are national spokespeople with Campaign for Youth Justice.

Jabriera Handy

image courtesy of Just Kids Partnership

We first met Jabriera when she was working on stopping a youth prison from being built in Maryland. She recently received the Spirit of Youth Award from the Coalition for Juvenile Justice and she is currently a youth organizer for the Just Kids Partnership in her home state of Maryland.  In this excerpt, Jabriera testified before the U.S. Attorney General’s Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence, sharing her experience as a way to educate and influence the task force on the critical need for reform.  The task force ultimately recommended what she had testified on: keep kids out the of the adult criminal justice system.

Good afternoon. My name is Jabreira Handy and I was exposed to violence as a youth incarcerated as an adult. At the age of 16, I was charged as an adult in the adult criminal justice system. It is because of my exposure to the adult system that I’m here to urge this task force not to expose any more young people to violence in the justice system, particularly in adult jails or prisons. It’s also fitting because this hearing comes as here, in the city of Baltimore, we are debating whether to build another adult jail for youth charged as adults, which disturbs me.

Words can't explain what I went through in the adult system. Tears hardly express the pain and discomfort of being judged as a criminal. At the age of sixteen, I got into an argument with my grandma. As she was disciplining me, I attempted to get her off me. I left the house and later on that day she died of a heart attack because of the argument. I was charged with her death. I was charged as an adult and spent eleven months in Baltimore City Detention Center. I was forced to shower with a woman twice my age and shamelessly exposed to a squat and cough in front of everyone while menstruating. I was neglected and did not receive the psychological and healthcare help I needed throughout my stay. I was treated as if I had been judged guilty of committing the crime or as they would say “as an adult.”

To read Jabriera’s complete testimony, click HERE

Michael Kemp

We met Michael after his release from prison and sadly 66 days after his release he was sent back.  We kept in touch through mail and after his release in 2010; he interned with us and ultimately became a spokesperson. Michael is a regular here at our office, he has been on several radio shows, was featured in The Washington Post and speaks regularly in classrooms, conferences and other events. He is a poet ambassador with Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop in Washington, DC. In the clip below he talks about his visit with the U.S. Attorney General on reform efforts. He advocated for the appointment of an OJJDP Administrator and the critical need for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to issue final PREA regulations especially to protect youth in the justice system. Regulations were issued six weeks after the meeting with the Attorney General.

Click HERE to watch a clip of Michael during the “BarackTalk” event sponsored by the National League of Young Voters

Nicole Miera

image courtesy of NY Times

We met Nicole when we worked together with her and other allies on the Direct File Campaign in Colorado.  She is very passionate and committed to sharing the atrocities of her brother’s suicide in the Denver County Jail.  She has testified in hearings and on Capitol Hill.  She recently spoke with The New York Times and shared her family’s story and the tragedy that happened to her teenage brother Jimmy Stewart. Nicole has been a strong advocate in her state and through the involvement of her and other youth justice allies - legislative reform in her state was achieved.

Click HERE to read Nicole’s interview with The New York Times 

Dwayne Betts


We met Dwayne soon after his release from prison.  Over the years he has been an advocate for removing youth from the adult court. He is a talented author and poet and is currently attending law school at Yale.   Dwayne was appointed by President Obama to serve on the Federal Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice, the first young person who was directly impacted by the justice system to serve on this council. In August, he was asked to speak to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) and here is a recap of his remarks:


Click HERE to watch Dwayne speak to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL)


In seeing how much Jabriera, Michael, Nicole, and Dwayne have been able to accomplish as young leaders, we think the message is clear: Youth are critical change agents in any social justice movement. Many of us know from experience the difficult task of being an advocate, so it never ceases to inspire us when young people stand up and speak out for youth justice reform and other issues impacting their peers and communities. We believe that youth and their families are integral to making real change happen and hope that you will join all of us in continuing to expose the dangers of youth in the adult system.

Continue to follow the youth voices conversation this week, using:
#YouthVoices  #YJAM  #youthjustice
 
Remember to share your message on why #youthvoices matter!
 
 
To learn more about the Campaign for Youth Justice Spokesperson Bureau, contact:
 Aprill Turner, Communications & Media Director: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

The Voices of Youth Justice Reform

Angella Bellota Sunday, 27 October 2013 Posted in 2013, Across the Country, Voices

In the last ten years, we have seen growing momentum in youth justice reform. Foundations, policymakers, child advocacy organizations, the legal community, and researchers have worked to educate the public and improve the juvenile justice system, but also the adult criminal justice system, where too many of our youth end up because of draconian state laws.

As critical as all of these allies are to the movement, the heart of the fight lives in our communities. There are too many examples of families who lose their children to the adult system who go it alone, to demand fairness and accountability from local and state leadership. And too many formerly incarcerated young people who return to their communities with adult records and find an antagonistic environment that is set up for them to fail instead of being directed to opportunities for a new start. Yet in the face of opposition, it is those most affected who take on the fight for justice, refuse to treat children as throwaways, and are courageous enough to put a face to the issue and to be messengers for reform.

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.

CFYJ Summer Institute Series Continues with “Write Night” Hosted by Free Minds Book Club

Friday, 26 July 2013 Posted in 2013, Voices


By: Haylea Workman

In the continuance of the Summer Institute Brown Bag Luncheon, the Campaign for Youth Justice Fellows attended Write Night on July 23rd, hosted by Free Minds Book Club. Write Night is a monthly meeting where members from the community gather to give feedback on poetry submitted by incarcerated youth. The feedback allows incarcerated youth to feel inspired and cared about by the community.

Fellows read poetry submissions and wrote feedback to each author and then previously incarcerated youth spoke up to explain to those in attendance the importance of connecting with youth through their writing. Many of the incarcerated youth are isolated for 23 hours a day, so they look forward to hearing from the community and working on their poetry. Write night is important because it allows youth to feel connected to the world outside of prison.

Write Night is hosted monthly at the Church of Pilgrim from 6-8pm. The Church of Pilgrim is located at 2201 P street NW. To learn more about upcoming Write Nights send a message to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or contact Tara Libert at (202) 758-0829.

 

CFYJ's Jessica Sandoval Confirmed for DC's Children and Youth Investment Trust Board Leadership

Wednesday, 17 July 2013 Posted in 2013, Voices

By Haylea Workman

 
Jessica Sandoval,CFYJ Vice President and Deputy Director





On Monday, July 8th, Jessica Sandoval, Vice President and Deputy Director of the Campaign for Youth Justice testified before the DC Council as one of three candidates nominated for an appointment on the DC Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation’s (CYITC) Board. The CYITC works to expand and improve services and opportunities for children and youth in the District of Columbia by leveraging both public and private dollars. Their vision is for each child and every youth in DC to have the opportunity to make positive choices that let them develop and grow into healthy productive adults.  

On July 10th, all three candidates were confirmed through a DC Council member vote. As a newly appointed board member of the Trust, Jessica will bring her national and state level expertise on youth justice issues. Both her expertise and experience in positions with the Denver District Attorney’s Juvenile Diversion Program, the Gang Rescue and Support Project, and the State Advisory Group on Juvenile Justice under Governor Roy Romer, will provide the board with a fresh perspective on the improvement of services to youth and children in the District. Jessica’s involvement with the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, National Crime Prevention Council, and the National League of Cities, will be beneficial to the Trust as it continues to improve its relationships with both local and federal entities.

At CFYJ Jessica leads the organization’s state campaign strategy and provides technical assistance to states engaged in youth justice reform efforts.

CFYJ wishes Jessica well on her new appointment.

CFYJ Kicks off 2013 Summer Institute Series

Monday, 15 July 2013 Posted in 2013, Voices


By Eric Welch

Annually the Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ) spearheads its Summer Institute Brown Bag Lunch Series, in which juvenile justice interns in Washington can gather to learn about different aspects of the juvenile justice field.

Last week was the first Summer Institute Brown Bag Luncheon at the new CFYJ office, which was a huge success.   The Campaign had two very knowledgeable experts, Alexandra Staropoli.  Associate Director for Government & Field Relations at Coalition for Juvenile Justice, and Kaitlin Banner, Staff Attorney of the Advancement Project to end the School-to-Prison Pipeline.

Over 25 motivated local interns were in attendance and sat around the table with open ears processing the information that was being shared about these organizations and what they do. The presentation was about the National Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Coalition, Gangs, and School Safety Working Group. The Gangs Working Group’s main topic was about the Youth Promise Act;, a bill that ensures that there are funds for gang intervention and youth violence issues. School Safety’s primary focus was on the School-to-prison pipeline; a national trend that forces youth out of school and into the criminal justice system.

The Next Summer Institute event will be with Free Minds Book Club on Write Night on Tuesday July 23rd from 6:oo-8:00pm. Please RSVP here if interested in attending, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Happy Birthday to the Campaign for Youth Justice!

Monday, 01 July 2013 Posted in 2013, Voices

 
CFYJ's new office space.

Today, the Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ) turns 8! We would like to thank all of the individuals and organizations who have contributed their time, energy and dedication to supporting the campaign's mission to the end the practice of trying, sentencing and incarcerating youth in the adult criminal justice system. Thanks especially to the Campaign's staff, board, advisory council, spokespersons, donors, funders, fellows, volunteers, supporters and allies throughout the country who have championed juvenile justice reforms to improve the outcomes for youth and their families!

As we celebrate the Campaign's birthday, CFYJ has just relocated to a new office space! We are so thrilled to be in our new home. Come visit us at: 1220 L Street, Suite 605, Washington, DC, 20005.

On this 8th birthday, we are celebrating our collective work to advance the rights and status of young people prosecuted in adult criminal court.  Together with our allies, we will continue to campaign for youth justice, because the consequences aren't minor.



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