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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
 
 

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

Spreading the Word About the Alliance for Youth Justice

Wednesday, 17 July 2013 Posted in 2013, Take Action Now

By Shanta' Gray

This year I made a personal goal to raise the number of members in the Alliance for Youth Justice.

 The Alliance for Youth Justice is a group of families and allies from all across the country that have come together to advocate, share information and guide policy reform efforts to reform the systems of injustice that have abused, neglected and blamed families for society’s failures.  We know that together, families can empower each other and reform systems that seek to destroy our children, families and our communities.

The Alliance for Youth Justice hosts monthly calls among parents, families and allies to share information about youth in the adult system and the reform efforts.  Our monthly call is by phone, the first Thursday of each month.   Families will also have access to the latest news and developments pertaining to best practices within youth justice and updates on other grassroots efforts for reform.

My goal is to have 50 new members join the Alliance for Youth Justice by December 2013. So far, I have 20 new members this year.  Please help me by spreading the word about the Alliance to help me make my goal for this year.

If you know a family member that should be a part of this growing movement, please have them email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

What Can Be Done For Girls in the Juvenile Justice System?

Thursday, 06 June 2013 Posted in 2013, Take Action Now

By Mackenzie Tudor

 

On May 17th, the Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ) and The National Crittenton Foundation participated in a workshop entitled, “What Can Be Done For Girls in the Juvenile Justice System?” at the Association for Junior Leagues International Annual Conference in Washington, D.C., where they discussed system-involved girls and girls at risk of becoming involved in the justice system and what can be done to help. The Junior League has a rich history in juvenile justice advocacy and was actively involved in the 1970s and 80s in the development and subsequent reauthorizations of the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.

Moderated by Jill Ward, panelists CFYJ CEO Liz Ryan, Crittenton Foundation President Jeannette Pai-Espinosa, and Just Kids Partnership Advocate Jabreria Handy, spoke about the issues surrounding the rise in the number of girls in the juvenile justice system and the ways that Junior League Members could get involved.

 

The highlight of the event was Jabreria Handy. At the age of 16, Jabreria was charged as an adult in the criminal justice system for a crime that she did not commit. She spent 11 months in the Baltimore City Detention Center before her case was sent back to the juvenile justice system. She now shares her story to help ensure that no youth will ever have to go through what she experienced. Jabreria’s account of her experience as a youth in the adult criminal system had a powerful impact on the workshop attendees. Jabreria emphasized that programming both in and out of the juvenile justice system is crucial and, unfortunately, is not as available to youth incriminated in the adult system. Providing support to these girls is critical to helping them transition back into the community.

Jabreria’s perspective on what girls need was echoed by Jeannette Pai-Espinosa. The National Crittenton Foundation has conducted research on Adverse Childhood Experiences that included girls in the juvenile justice system. Girls in the juvenile justice system are often victims of abuse, neglect, household dysfunction or substance abuse in the home.  As a result, these girls are more likely to be incarcerated for status offenses, offenses that would not be illegal if the individual was an adult, such as running away from home. Once in the system, girls often fail to receive the services they need, and instead are re-traumatized and derailed from educational achievement.

This discussion clearly resonated with many of the women in attendance. Sparked by Jabreria’s story, there was a clear desire from those in attendance to learn more about how they could help the at-risk girls both in and out of the juvenile justice system.

Liz Ryan identified the following key steps to take to start advocating for girls in your communities:

1. Urge your Governor to implement the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) to ensure that girls are not placed in adult jails and prisons.


2. Contact your Representative and Senators and urge them to provide more federal resources to address the needs of girls in the justice system.


3.  Reach out to the Juvenile Justice Specialist in your state to get information on how your state is addressing gender-specific programming in its JJDPA state plan. http://www.ojjdp.gov/statecontacts/ResourceList.asp

4. Engage your community and plan an event around October 23rd, National Girls Justice Day. Contact Leah Robertson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information.

5. Contact the National Girls institute and request technical assistance to create programming in your community.  http://www.nationalgirlsinstitute.org

For more take action steps go here.

Want to learn more about girls in the juvenile justice system? Take a look at CFYJ’s resource list here.

 

North Carolina Kids Still in Danger: HB 217 Moves to Appropriations

Angella Bellota Thursday, 25 April 2013 Posted in 2013, Across the Country, Take Action Now

On April 17, committee members of Judiciary Subcommittee B convened and passed an amended version of HB 217 which is now scheduled to go to the Appropriations Committee. The language for the updated bill can be found, here.

 
HB 217 now includes two sections on juvenile transfer. Although there have been changes to the language about juvenile transfer, it is not enough.  North Carolina youth are still in danger of being sent to the adult criminal justice system. Specifically, the updated bill now states:
  
  •  B1 and B2 felonies committed by 15 year olds would be subject to prosecutorial discretion; and
  • All other felonies (C – E classifications) committed by 15 year olds will be sent to a study committee of Judiciary B Subcommittee to determine how often a prosecutor’s request for transfer is denied by the judiciary. 
 
“We are trying to solve a problem that does not exist…”
 
During the discussions before a vote on HB 217, many of the committee members questioned the need for the juvenile transfer section of the bill since judges currently have the discretion to decide whether or not a case can be transferred. Sponsors of the bill believed that prosecutors’ requests for transfers were being denied by judges at a high rate, but did not provide any evidence for this belief. 
 
In a state that is currently trying to evaluate how to most effectively use its limited resources, the North Carolina juvenile transfer section of HB 217 clearly reads as a misinformed and counterproductive policy recommendation.  
 
This is why a variety of expert practitioners - judges, university professors, attorneys, and legislators – have taken a stand to oppose the juvenile transfer section of HB 217. Although adjustments have been made to the language of the bill, the changes are not enough. Advocates from across the state are standing their ground and refuse to see the removal of judicial discretion and refuse to let ineffective policies like HB 217 throw more kids into the adult criminal justice system. One message still rings clear:


We must remove the juvenile transfer sections of HB 217!
 
The Campaign for Youth Justice and other organizations have vowed to continue providing support to North Carolina advocates and youth leaders who are doing all they can to protect NC kids. Here is how you can join them in their efforts:
 
#1 GET THE FACTS: North Carolina advocates have developed a new fact sheet that can inform all youth justice allies about HB 217 and the consequences it would have on youth and families if it were to pass. You can find the fact sheet, here.
 
#2 CONNECT: A new committee means connecting with NC legislators that now have the power to stop this bill. Use the script below to send a message to the Appropriations leadership. 
 
I urge you to oppose the juvenile transfer sections of HB 217. Deciding which court a youth should be processed through is a life-altering decision. Removing judicial oversight would lead to the unchecked prosecution of children in adult court. Prosecutors should NOT be given complete discretion over our children’s future. Oppose the juvenile transfer sections of HB 217 in order to maintain the appropriate checks and balances in NC’s court system. 
 
HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE
Legislator
Phone
Email
County/District
Rep. Nelson Dollar (Senior Chairman)
                919-715-0795
 
 
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 
Wake
Rep. Justin Burr (Chairman)
                919-733-5908
 
                This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 
Montgomery, Stanly
Rep. Bryan Holloway (Chairman)
 
919-733-5609
 
 
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 
Rockingham, Stokes
Rep.  Linda Johnson (Chairman)
                919-733-5861
 
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 
Cabarrus
 
#3 ACTIVATE: There are no easy wins when it comes to fighting for youth justice, so it is critical that you activate your networks on this detrimental bill. Please share this update and stay tuned for more action steps. To get connected with the youth leaders and organizations spearheading this effort in North Carolina, contact Angella Bellota, CFYJ Field Organizer: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 
 

Marginalized Girls: Creating Pathways to Opportunity

Tuesday, 16 April 2013 Posted in 2013, Take Action Now

 

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Last Thursday, I joined a panel of youth justice advocates at Georgetown University’s Journal on Poverty & Law for a symposium, “Marginalized Girls: Creating Pathways to Opportunity,  to discuss the effectiveness of gender-responsive reforms in juvenile justice.  Moderated by Dana Shoenberg of the Center for Children’s Law and Policy, the panel featured Dr. Lawanda Raviora and Vanessa Patino Lydia of the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center and Liz Watson of the National Women’s Law Center who shared the main findings and recommendations in the articles they authored for the journal.   Malika Saada Saar of Human Rights Project for Girls and I shared our reactions to the articles and offered recommendations for next steps.
 
Here are my recommendations for ways you can take action:
 
(1)    Advocate for more federal resources to address the needs of girls in the justice system.
 
The Obama Administration just proposed a budget including $2 million for grants in this area that could provide powerful incentives to implement some of the best practices featured in the articles.
 
To contact your House member, visit here.
 
To contact your Senators, visit here.
 
(2)    Engage others in your community and ask the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Girls Institute (NGI) to provide technical assistance to your jurisdiction.
 
For information on the NGI, visit their website here
 
(3)    Contact your members of Congress to urge that they update the Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) to eliminate the loopholes in the law that allow status offenders to be detained in juvenile detention facilities as girls are disproportionately detained for status offenses.
 
To contact your Senators, visit here.
 
(4)    Urge your governor to implement the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) to ensure that girls are not placed in adult jails and prisons.
 
To contact your Governor, visit here.
 
(5)    Mark your calendars: October 23, 2013!
 
October is National Youth Justice Awareness Month and October 23, 2013 will be Girls Justice Day. Use this opportunity to build awareness in your community about girls in the justice system and to create support for change.
 
Organized by Rohini Singh, Editor of the Journal, the symposium was a great success and hopefully there will not only be more attention but more action to address the needs of girls who are at risk of or in the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems.

It’s NOT safe.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013 Posted in 2013, Take Action Now

 

 

 
 

This is the true story of Ameen. Ameen has been incarcerated since age 13 and is serving a life sentence.  He writes:

 

“My four sisters and I were raised by our mother.  My father was in and out of the system….  He never taught me much … [except to tell me] that I was the man of the house, and [had] to take care of my mother and sisters.  I was only ten years old at the time, but I understood perfectly what I was instructed to do….  My mother was struggling to provide for my sisters and I, so I took it upon myself to try and help out.  I hit the streets of Atlanta and began hustling….  I stole, sold drugs, robbed, and did whatever else it took to make money, all of which I brought home to my family.  My mother didn’t approve of me hustling, but she understood my motive, turned a blind eye, and begged me to be careful.

 

I was raised by the older gangsters and dope dealers [and] taught to never talk to the police about what I saw….  [One day], I witnessed one of the older drug dealers murder a kid in cold blood.  I [saw] the entire thing … but wasn’t involved.  I was simply a bystander – a 13-year-old kid in the wrong place at the wrong time….  Someone told the cops that I was at the scene of the crime so I was arrested for the murder.  [The authorities] gave me several opportunities to tell them exactly what I saw, [but] … that was forbidden in my hood … so I kept my mouth closed [and] was sentenced to life.

 

I arrived [in prison] at the age of 16 and [went to a] dorm designed to house juvenile prisoners until they were eligible to go into general population [at age 17].  Yet, while in [the dorm], I and several other juvenile prisoners interacted with the older prisoners.  We went to school, church, medical, and lunch with these older prisoners… [they] even cut our hair.  There were terrible interactions too.  While one prisoner was busy cutting hair, [another would] force my juvenile comrades to perform oral sex….  I saw a 14-year-old kid get brutally raped by three adult prisoners in the bathroom….  They choked him until he lost consciousness and then they took turns raping him….  I was afraid they were going to rape me also.  They kept a knife pointed to my neck…and threatened to rape me if I told the officer what I saw.  So again, I kept my mouth closed.

 

I [have] realized that the reason why I’m in prison is because I wouldn’t speak up about what I saw….  If  I’m ever given a chance to finally speak out…I am going to finally tell the police what really happened [the day of the murder] and why housing juvenile offenders with adults is dangerous.”  

 
Contact your governor to let him or her know personally that to do otherwise would be to tacitly consent to the continual rape of children every day in your state.
 
Share this story with five friends on Facebook and/or Twitter
 
Tweet this message or infographic using the hashtag #implementprea

Visit the CFYJ PREA page to learn more about PREA and to read more stories from youth.

 

 

"There's No Excuse" Campaign Calls on Governors to Protect Youth from the Dangers of Adult Jails and Prisons

Tuesday, 02 April 2013 Posted in 2013, Take Action Now

During the month of April, thousands of individuals and organizations will be calling on  their governors to cease the practice of placing youth in adult jails and prisons in order to comply with the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).  Passed unanimously by Congress in 2003, PREA restricts the placement of youth in adult jails and prisons. The U.S. Department of Justice regulations state: “as a matter of policy, the Department supports strong limitations on the confinement of adults with juveniles.”  The regulations ban the housing of youth in the general adult population, prohibit contact between youth and adults in common areas, and limit the use of isolation.
Children in adult jails and prisons are:

--At the greatest risk of sexual victimization according to the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission;

--Often placed in solitary confinement 'for their own protection' which is detrimental to their mental health and can result in suicide; and

--Denied educational services, counseling and other supports.
It is crucial that governors fully protect children from the dangers of adult jails and prisons.  Rather than try to segregate children from adults in adult jails and prisons which often leads to solitary confinement, governors should implement best practices by removing youth from adult jails and prisons.

Take Action Now!

Here are 2 things you can do today:
(1) Tell your governor there's no excuse for keeping kids in adult jails and prisons!
Click here to contact your governor!

(2) Spread the word!
Throughout the month of April, Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we hope you will spread the word! We will be sharing information and ways to get involved. To get updates, view our blog, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter @JusticeforYouth. Our hashtag is: #Implement PREA.

For additional information our PREA page, here.

The Alliance for Youth Justice Visits Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools of Public Policy

Friday, 22 March 2013 Posted in 2013, Take Action Now

CFYJ with students from Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools of Public Policy

By Pauline Cao

This morning, the Alliance for Youth Justice, in partnership with the Campaign for Youth Justice, participated in a stimulating presentation for a class at Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools of Public Policy.  Mary Kate, Kate, and Daniela are three graduate students at Smith College School for Social Work and have been working with the Campaign over the past few months, researching and creating useful fact sheets. Part of their project is to engage the community about juvenile justice issues, and what better way is there to engage the community than engaging the youth themselves?

The students at the Chavez School learn about public policy and social justice issues to empower them to use critical thinking as civic leaders that are committed to bettering the world. These high school students at the Capitol Hill campus are very intelligent and absorbed in the issues. They were engaged and had enlightening comments to contribute throughout the entire presentation.

The presentation consisted of discussions about juvenile justice issues and a panel that was facilitated by CFYJ’s Shanta’ Gray. The panel comprised of two CFYJ Spokespersons, Michael Kemp and Keila Hailes. Michael is a formerly incarcerated youth, and Keila’s son is a youth that was affected by the system.

After hearing Michael and Keila’s stories, the students were able to ask questions and have captivating discussions with the spokespeople. For example, during a discussion about education for youth after serving time, they often are sent to alternative schools instead of their typical class setting they were at before they were incarcerated. One student bravely opened up about how he went to an alternative school before attending a Chavez School and he is grateful for the school he is at now. He powerfully said, “I got out and I’m never going back”.  In fact, this student is graduating this year.

The students at Cesar Chavez had to do a take away ticket at the end of the presentation,  the take away was to share the information they learned in the presentation with their peers and the community. The students suggested sharing the material with teachers, friends, and specifically friends who have been affected by criminal justice system in Washington, DC.

National Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Coalition (NJJDPC) Releases "Promoting Safe Communities" Report and Recommendations to Congress

Wednesday, 13 March 2013 Posted in 2013, Federal Update, Take Action Now

Today, the National Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition (NJJDPC), a Coalition comprising more than 300 national, state, and local organizations working together to ensure healthy families, build strong communities, and improve community safety and well-being, released "Promoting Safe Communities: Recommendations to the Congress".

The report calls on Congress to support effective systems of justice for our youth by focusing on the following five priority areas:

  1. Restore Federal Leadership in Juvenile Justice Policy
  2. Support and Prioritize Prevention, Early Intervention, and Diversion Strategies
  3. Ensure Safety and Fairness for Court-Involved Youth
  4. Remove Youth from the Adult Criminal Justice System
  5. Support Youth Reentry

"The juvenile justice system across the U.S. is in urgent need of reform, and federal leadership is necessary to advance the pace of change. Congress has the unique opportunity to reverse this trend and promote and support evidence-based practices and policies that prevent delinquency, "said Liz Ryan, CEO and Founder of the Campaign for Youth Justice. "It is our hope that the 113th Congress accepts these proposed recommendations to create better outcomes for our youth, as well as our communities."

NJJDPC comprises more than 300 national, state and local organizations working together to ensure healthy families, build strong communities, and improve community safety and well-being.

To take action in your state:

  1. Email this full report to your members of Congress with a note asking them to support these recommendations.
  2. Share this document and the NJJDPC website, promotesafecommunities, on your Facebook page or Twitter feed.
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