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YJAM 2020: Celebrating 15 Years of the Campaign for Youth Justice

Posted in 2020 Wednesday, 30 September 2020

YJAM 2020: Celebrating 15 Years of the Campaign for Youth Justice

Today YJAM (Youth Justice Action Month) begins again. Since 2008, youth justice advocates around the country have come together to organize events and online activities to raise awareness and inspire action on behalf of young people impacted by our criminal justice system.

When the Campaign for Youth Justice was born 15 years ago (2005), as many as 250,000 children a year were being prosecuted as adults across the country every year.  The incarceration of children in adult jails had increased more than 200% since the mid 1990s; and 3:4 of children sent to adult prison were youth of color.  CFYJ’s first report, The Consequences Aren’t Minor, highlighted federal opportunities such as the Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) and key states such as California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, North Carolina, Virginia and Wisconsin as key jurisdictions that represented the many opportunities for policy change.  Research on adolescent brain development was just emerging, and the U.S. Supreme Court had only just issued its decision in Roper v. Simmons to end the death penalty for children under age 18. 

Fifteen years later, through the unwavering commitment of children who had been sentenced as adults, their families, advocates, legislators on both sides of the aisle, the philanthropic community, and researchers—many of the goals of the Campaign have been met, including:

  • 80% of the states and DC have changed more than 100 laws making it harder to prosecute, sentence, and incarcerate children as if they were adults. This includes laws passed in many of the states highlighted in our fierst report: California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, North Carolina and Virginia (Wisconsin is the last hold out!). 
  • The number of youth in adult jails has dropped 50%, while the overall jail population has dropped only by 10%. The federal Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Act (reauthorized in 2018) calls on states to get this number to zero by 2021. 
  • The number of youth in adult prisons has dropped an astounding 70%. The Prison Rape Elimination Act’s Youthful Inmate Standard ties federal dollars to ensuring youth under age 18 are separated from adults in prison, and requires extra protection for their safety. 
  • Racial disparities remain egregious, but there are many fewer Black youth going to the adult system.   In 2008, it was estimated (based on 2002 data) that Black children were nine times more likely to be committed to adult prison than white youth; by 2012, Black youth were four times as likely to be incarcerated in an adult jail or prison. Despite this reduction in disparity, youth of color still made up 88% of the children incarcerated as adults that year.
  • Research continues to find that children placed in effective juvenile justice systems have better life outcomes, more age appropriate interventions, and lower recidivism than those that are pushed into the adult system.
  • Practices exist across the country that show that the vast majority of children who are charged as adults are able to be treated effectively in the community.
  • Public opinion consistently finds that the American public wants children to receive services and second chances when they engage in delinquent behavior, this includes the opinions of victims.  

Join us over the next few weeks, during the month of YJAM as we roll out these wins through whiteboards, new reports, and videos. As a matter of fact, check our video on the impact of 15 years of work. 

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We also invite you to amplify this video and YJAM all month long, please find our social media toolkit here

These  wins couldn’t have happened without each and every one of you joining this movement. While the work is not finished—there are still far too many children entering the adult criminal justice system—the tools now exist to fight these battles locally. We welcome you to continue fighting for our young people and ensuring they receive equal protections regardless of where they live. 

We also invite you to save the date for our Virtual Farewell Party on Friday, Oct. 30th at 2 pm ET. We will come together to celebrate our victories as we say our goodbyes to CFYJ. RSVP here.

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