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Articles tagged with: Campaign for Youth Justice


Friday, 13 November 2015 Posted in 2015

LINK- http://goo.gl/forms/wUFplr1A7C

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The Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ) is happy to partner with the Elite Group of Rebels for the District 13 Scavenger Hunt!

Thank you for visiting us. 

A little about us... research—and common sense—tell us that kids are different than adults. They aren't permitted to vote, drive a car, get drafted, buy alcohol and more because society has deemed them too young to handle these incredible responsibilities. Despite these facts, the U.S. continues to be a global outlier by treating our kids like adults in the criminal justice system. In 23 states, kids as young as age 7 are allowed to be prosecuted as adults.

That’s why CFYJ believes that kids should be treated like kids who are worth more than their worst decision, and that holding them accountable means we do so in developmentally appropriate ways. 

We advocate for kids to be treated like kids, and not be locked up in dangerous facilities made to punish adults.
Thank you for checking us out. Feel free to follow us on Twitter @justiceforyouth, also shout us out with the hashtag, #YouthJustice
Happy Hunting!

NEW REPORT on the Impact of the 2012 Colorado Reforms and Recommendations

Sheryl Dublin, American University Law Student, CFYJ Intern Thursday, 12 November 2015 Posted in 2015, Research & Policy

Witten by Sheryl Dublin, American University Law Student, CFYJ Intern

Colorado Juvenile Defender Center (CJDC) recently released Justice Redirected: The Impact of Reducing the Prosecution of Children as Adults in Colorado and the Continuing Need for Sentencing Reform. This report provides a look into the reality of Colorado’s criminal justice and juvenile justice systems since the State’s progressive juvenile and criminal reforms.  Data from April 2012 to April 2015 were collected and analyzed to determine the impacts. This special report is beyond just an update, but an elaborate capture of the progress the State has made. It also lists recommendations for the Legislature to consider in its continued commitment to youth.

Colorado’s criminal and juvenile laws, as they pertain to children, have gone through several changes throughout the last four decades.  Laws in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, expanded the number of children that could be prosecuted as adults. The age of children eligible to be tried as adults was also lowered. Most notably, in 1993, Colorado enacted a “direct-file” statute that made it substantially easier to try a child in adult court. The direct-file provision gave Colorado prosecutors the original and final authority in deciding under which jurisdiction to prosecute a child—the criminal justice system or the juvenile justice system. This prosecutorial discretion drastically increased the number of children incarcerated in adult prisons during 1994-2002 from three children to 265.

From 2008 to 2012, adamant advocacy by CJDC and other reformists prompted these statutory changes. Among the reforms, of which Colorado can proudly boast, include the removal of several crimes from direct-file eligibility; the ability of a child to request a case be returned to juvenile court; and the raise in age from 14 to 16 for direct-file eligibility. The new report details each of the relevant reforms that changed the State’s juvenile code in 2012.

CJDC was determined to study the impact of those reforms thus far. And, in addition to these statistical findings, the report also discusses some supplemental findings. The data collected from April 2012 to April 2015 in Colorado reveal twelve key findings:

1.      Fewer children are detained in adult jails while awaiting trial. Pre-trial detention has dropped 99%.

2.      Fewer children are tried as adults. The number of children prosecuted in adult court dropped from 27 in 2012 to just six in April, 2015.

3.      The gender disparity is substantial. Boys make up 98% of the children that prosecutors direct-file in adult court.

4.      The average age of children direct-file prosecuted is 17.54. The youngest child to be prosecuted since 2012 was 13 when the alleged offense was committed and 14 at the time that charges were filed.

5.      Racial disparities have not improved. From 2012 to 2013, 30% of the children direct-filed were Black and 27% were Hispanic. This is up from 2004-2008, when 16% were Black and 18% were Hispanic. The demographic has roughly been 4.4% Black and 21.2% Hispanic. (The percentage for the Hispanic ethnicity is difficult to calculate because Hispanic children are often identified as “white” without the input of the child or the child’s family.)

6.      Only 16 of the 68 Colorado counties have prosecuted children. Though the 16 counties have roughly similar populations, Adams County, Douglas County, Denver County, and El Paso County accounted for 75% of these cases.

7.      Most of the cases tried in adult court were for serious offenses: homicide, robbery, assault or kidnapping. Many reformists urge that direct-file be reserved for the most egregious cases. Prior to reforms, only 12% of the cases were for homicide. In 2012, this serious offense made up 37% of all cases.

8.      Prosecutorial discretion leads to the criminal prosecution of children at a far greater rate than that of judicial discretion. Eighty-three percent of juvenile cases tried in adult court were direct-filed, whereas, only 17% were transferred by court order, or by “judicial-transfer”.

9.      Only 23 of the 79 children tried as adults actually went to a hearing before a judicial officer. This seems to counter the idea that direct-filing will lead to lengthy hearings.

10.  Most children enter plea deals. Children are faced with the possible imposition of sentences that had been originally contemplated for adults. Sixty-five perfect of cases resulted in plea deals from 2012 to 2015. Often children plea out to avoid the possibility of long and harsh criminal sanctions.

11.  Most children convicted as adults have been incarcerated in adult facilities. Some of these facilities include the Youthful Offender Service (YOS) which provides for Department of Corrections’ inmates that are ages 14 to 25. Only eight percent of direct-filed children were sentenced to serve time in adult facilities that do not include YOS.

12.  Those children sentenced to YOS were convicted on serious offenses. Out of the 41 cases in which juveniles were sentenced to YOS, 31 were convicted of a Class 2 or Class 3 felony, 18 convicted on homicide charges, and 10 were found guilty for robbery.

In sum, Colorado has seen some impressive changes over the past three years. The State’s policies are not perfect and are still in need of reform, but the results are very promising. As the 2012 report, “Re-Directing Justice: The Consequences of Prosecuting Children as Adults and the Need for Judicial Oversight,” was very successful in influencing change, CFYJ is confident that Colorado will consider the policy recommendations offered in the new report.

Some of these recommendations include raising the age of eligibility for judicial transfer from 12 to 14; creating a uniform sentencing statute for children convicted as adults; collecting complete data for future analysis; limiting the use of the information provided during transfer hearings in future proceedings; and evaluating the facts that are to be considered at these hearings. For more information on Colorado reforms, please visit our Colorado page here.

Governor Malloy of Connecticut prepared remarks today on criminal justice reform

Friday, 06 November 2015 Posted in 2015, Across the Country

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Today, the Governor of Connecticut issued a press release on criminal justice reform in which he urged the legislature to consider raising the age of being tried as adult to 21. Raisng the age of juvenile justice jursdiction through to the age of 20 instead of 17 is a poineering effort, however, it does have credible roots in research based evicence on youth development. 

Marcy Mistrett, CEO of The Campaign for Youth Justice touches upon the importance of age appropriate sentencing.

"Making decisions informed by brain research, evidence- based practice, local data and what is in the best interest of kids and the community is smart public policy. We applaud the Governor for treating kids like kids, " said Mistrett. "Governor Malloy’s statement today on criminal justice reform continues to build momentum on the great progress already underway in Connecticut. 

The following is direct from the press release:

Governor Dannel P. Malloy presented some first-in-the-nation ideas regarding criminal justice today at a Connecticut Law Review symposium held at the UConn School of Law in Hartford.  While Connecticut has become a national leader in its criminal justice efforts, the Governor introduced several ideas to deliver further progress, including raising the age of the juvenile justice system's jurisdiction through age 20 instead of age 17, as well as allowing low-risk young adults aged 21 through 25 to have their cases heard confidentially, their records sealed, and the opportunity to have those records expunged.  He also discussed exploring bail bond reform.

Find the complete press release transcipt here

LOCKED OUT: Improving Educational and Vocational Outcomes for Incarcerated Youth

Thursday, 05 November 2015 Posted in 2015, Research & Policy

The Council of State Governments Justice Center released a report analyzing data collected from a nationwide survey of state juvenile correctional agencies. The following is the introduction to their report.

Policymakers across the political spectrum agree: all young people should have access to a high-quality public education. Within the past two decades, particular emphasis has been placed on ensuring that students receive instruction that prepares them for college and careers, and that schools are held accountable for realizing these goals.

There is perhaps no subset of young people whose need for a quality education is more acute—and whose situation makes them especially challenging to serve—than incarcerated youth. Of the more than 60,000 youth who are incarcerated on any given day in the United States, nearly 36,000 are committed to state custody,* two-thirds of whom are youth of color. The majority of these youth are over-age and under-credited,† several grade levels behind their peers, more likely to have a disability than their peers,2 and have been suspended multiple times and/or expelled from their local schools.3

In 1997, the majority of incarcerated youth were housed in state-run facilities; as of 2013, almost two-thirds of incarcerated youth were held in privately or locally run facilities. [See Figure 1] In most states, an array of state and local agencies and nonprofit and private organizations are responsible for overseeing and delivering educational and vocational services to incarcerated youth. As the proportion of youth incarcerated in privately or locally run facilities has grown, this has evolved into an increasingly complicated patchwork of government and nongovernment agencies. This shift means that any combination of state, local, nonprofit, and private entities now manage educational and vocational services for incarcerated youth. 


Read the full report here!

YJAM Recap 2015: SHARING STORIES, Why we start with stories, and move them to Action

Thursday, 29 October 2015 Posted in 2015, CFYJ Updates

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The balloon launch at the end of a strenuous 200+ mile “Journey for Justice” bike ride across Missouri was symbolic as much as it was ceremonial.  Tracy Wade McClard launched Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM) in memory of her son, Jonathan, who took his life when he was incarcerated as an adult at age 17. Seven years later—YJAM has grown exponentially and Tracy’s fight to end the prosecution of youth as adults continues.  As the balloons released, so did the stories of the hundreds and thousands of youth who have been tried, sentenced and incarcerated in the adult criminal justice system.


Throughout October, youth, communities, advocates and policymakers from 23 states in 70 events have shared stories of youth in the adult criminal justice system, because the first step to change often begins with the power of a story. Stories this month culminated across four major themes—the adolescent brain, racial and ethnic disparities, solitary confinement, and family engagement.  Stories relayed through poetry, video, research, and art highlighted the need for change.


·         Dr. Abigail Baird from Vassar College shared the research on brain science, “We prohibit young people from engaging in a whole host of things because we feel that they lack the maturity to fully grasp the potential consequences of their actions. In spite of this, we support the idea that an adolescent who commits a violent act has somehow overcome the well-known cognitive and behavioral limitations of their age and should now, in the eyes of the court, been seen as an adult.”


·         A young man who has been incarcerated as an adult since he was 16 wrote : “In many ways, I was raised in the prison system. I first learned to shave in the county jail at 16, A 65-year old crack dealer showed me how. I learned to tie a tie at age 27, and my boss, a cool sergeant, showed me how it was done. I grew up in here, and I am fortunate that I was taken in by older guys who were positive people. It could have been worse for me, and for many children now entering our prisons, it is worse. “


·         Public defenders across the country shared stories of racial and ethnic disparities in the system, “My job is to fight for [them]. Little do they suspect that when I say fight, I don’t just mean the battle that is their case, but the larger war against racial injustice.”


·         Reverend Laura Downton called upon the stories of the 80-100,000 youth and adults housed in solitary confinement each day, “To address the moral crisis of solitary, we must affirm that there are no throw away people, and no throw away children. Where cycles of trauma persist, we need interventions that lead to restoration and life. Children should never be placed in solitary confinement. And our young people should not be subjected to confinement in jails and prisons designed for adults. We owe their future, the future God dreams for each of them, an opportunity to flourish.”


·        Family member, Keela Hailes, shared her story as a parent, “In my eyes, my son went from a sixteen-year-old-child to a thirty-year-old-man overnight, absent the completed brain development.  In his own eyes, he had no other choice but to go from a child to a man overnight to cope with his new surroundings.  He served out his sentence, came home and tried to be a productive member of society; however, two years later, he reoffended and was sent back to jail. I believe kids should be held accountable and am advocating for common sense measures that hold youth accountable and give them an opportunity to rehabilitate. Studies have shown us that this can, and should happen in the juvenile justice system.”

Stories prompt us to take action.


President Barack Obama signed a proclamation this month declaring October 'National Youth Justice Awareness Month' and called on Americans to "observe this month by getting involved in community efforts to support our youth, and by participating in appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs."


Policy makers on every level joined his call—state governors also issued proclamations in support of YJAM—including Governor Gary Herbert of Utah and Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan.  So did Mayor Ashton Hayward of Pensacola, Florida .


Members in the US House of Representatives held a hearing on juvenile justice, and the US Senate saw the introduction of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, a bill that would limit solitary confinement for youth in federal custody, allow for expungement of certain federal crimes committed as youth, and allow for sentencing review for youth sentenced in the federal system to life without parole.


States filed legislation this month to reduce the number of youth prosecuted as adults in Wisconsin (Assembly and Senate), Florida (House and Senate) and Michigan.


As we close out October, I leave you with the call to action from youth advocate, Morehouse Student, and formerly incarcerated youth, Alton Pitre, “As fellow caring human beings and advocates for justice, now is the time to challenge ourselves to get involved in this movement. We must use our personal stories and experiences to change the minds and hearts of those in power. Our children deserve to be treated like the children they are.”

#Girls Justice Day: Focus on Girls & Juvenile Justice

Thursday, 29 October 2015 Posted in 2015, Across the Country

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Written by Jeannette Pai-Espinosa, courtesy of JJDPA Matters Blog 

Today, October 29, we join together to recognize Girls Justice Day because sadly, despite decades of attention, the proportion of girls in the juvenile justice system has increased. At the same time,their challenges have remained remarkably consistent, resulting in deeply rooted, systemic gender injustice.

Every day in this country, girls who are survivors of violence, sexual abuse, neglect, and family dysfunction are driven into the justice system. Too often, it’s because we criminalize the actions they take to protect themselves and to deal with their trauma. Girls are rarely detained for offenses that cause a risk to public safety—they are significantly more likely to face arrest for “status offenses,” which are actions that would not be considered a crime if they were adults, such as running away.

New data recently released by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention shows that despite declines in overall youth incarceration, the number of system-involved girls is increasing and those girls are disproportionately girls of color. In fact, data that show 61 percent of incarcerated girls are girls of color, and that black girls are twice as likely as white girls to be incarcerated.

For juvenile justice reform to be truly effective, it must consider the context of girls’ lives, address their needs, and attack the disproportionate detention of girls of color. The good news is that momentum for change is building, even at the highest levels of our government.

On October 28, The White House Council on Women and Girls and the Domestic Policy Council’s Urban Affairs, Justice and Opportunity team hosted an all-day forum called “Girls of Color and Intervening Public Systems: How Can Communities Interrupt the Sexual Abuse-to-Prison Pipeline?”

This convening focused attention on the social impact of trauma and the connection between adverse childhood experiences—such as sexual abuse, young motherhood, commercial sex trafficking—and juvenile justice system engagement. As President Obama noted in his September 19th speech to the Congressional Black Caucus, we must change the ways our nation supports women and girls who are most at-risk, including many women and girls of color.

During the meeting, Vanita Gupta, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, stated, “Protecting young women and girls from sexual assault and abuse is a fundamental right.  Federal law requires that our schools protect our students from sexual abuse. Schools are too often responding with suspension expulsion and arrest.”

She also told the young women who attended: “You are not alone.”

Fran Sherman, speaker and author of the recent report, Gender Injustice, noted that, “Everyday girls with trauma enter the juvenile justice system for behavior related to their trauma and that school failure disproportionately drives girls of color into the justice system.”

During a panel of Federal officials OJJDP Administrator Robert Listenbee announced the release of the OJJDP Policy Guidance on Girls in Juvenile Justice. The policy statement includes recommendations that include a ban on status offenders being placed in the juvenile justice system and a phase out of the use of valid court orders. OJJDP believes that the needs of girls must be addressed in a developmentally appropriate manner.

We couldn’t agree more.

Which is why we are excited that yesterday also brought the announcement of the first recipients of the National Girls Initiative’s Innovation Awards, a program designed to spotlight and support creative efforts to advance systems-level juvenile justice reforms for girls. Support for the seven recipients comes from a mix of government and philanthropic funds and will drive new resources to state, local and tribal efforts to address girls’ needs, and to share information on evidence-based practices that are trauma-informed and gender and culturally responsive. The National Girls Initiative is a collaborative effort of both American Institutes for Research (AIR) and The National Crittenton Foundation (TNCF); it works to elevate the voices of girls and their families as partners in reforming the juvenile justice system.

For me the highlight of the day at the White House was the panel of youth advocates from Girls for Gender Equity in New York City. Nowhere is the call to action for reform more clear, passionate and commanding than through the voices of young women survivors. Possessed with the courage born of commitment, and compassion for the girls yet to come, they share the reality of their lives as evidence of the need for change. As leaders, they teach us that we must invest of ourselves to achieve true change.

So today, on Girls Justice Day, while it appears that movement and transformation is near, we must stand with these young women leaders to continue to press forward for reform that addresses the needs and potential of girls in or at risk of entering the juvenile justice system. This includes the long overdue passage of reauthorization of the JJDPA.

Jeannette Pai-Espinosa is the President of The National Crittenton Foundation and the Co-Director of the National Girls Initiative of OJJDP. Additionally, she is chair of the National Foster Care Coalition and a member of the Women’s Services Advisory Committee for SAMSHA.

Implicit Bias Spurs Racial Sentencing Gap

Nils Franco, CFYJ Policy Intern Thursday, 29 October 2015 Posted in 2015, Research & Policy

A Bureau of Justice Statistics­­–sponsored working paper published on October 23rd provides new analysis of racial disparities in federal sentencing outcomes for adults between 2005 and 2012. The paper suggests that judicial discretion causes growing differences in sentences between black and white men.

The report finds that black men received sentences 5 to 10% longer than white men for the same crimes, even when accounting for factors like criminal history. The authors did not find a significant difference between the sentences of white and black women.

This eight-year period saw a trend of more lenient sentencing for the study’s population. However, more lenient sentencing only increased racial differences in sentencing, according to the report. Females and white men experienced a greater decline in sentence length than black men.

Insufficient data existed to determine if prosecutorial discretion was a significant cause of racial disparity to begin with, but racial differences at the prosecutorial stage held constant through the eight year period. Therefore, the authors determine judicial behavior to be responsible for the growing sentencing gap between white and black men.

Examining the influence of federal judges on that gap, the researchers find that individual judges’ behavior determine much of the sentencing disparity. Generally, judges who sentenced blacks to longer-than-average sentences also sentenced whites to longer-than-average sentences. Some judges sentenced blacks and whites almost equally, but the most punished black men significantly more harshly than white men. On the other end, some judges’ sentencing practices produced “especially large” racial differences.

This variation from one judge to the next cannot be accounted for by “unobserved, systematic differences between whites and blacks,” the authors find. In other words, the disparity is not solely caused by correlatives of race (e.g., education and demeanor).

Racial bias influences judicial sentencing decisions, and this influence appears to have grown between 2005 and 2012. To address this issue, the National Center for State Courts has published resources and strategies for judges to minimize and better understand race’s implicit role in sentencing outcomes.

The best way to handle counterproductive criminal justice mechanisms is to replace them altogether with evidence-based practices. But at times, this comprehensive reform is not possible, and incremental progress is necessary. In the case of adult prosecution of youth, incremental reform often promotes judicial discretion to send cases back to the juvenile court. Ensuring judges consider the potential role that race may play in their decisions is crucial to equitable reform outcomes for all youth.

An executive summary of the working paper from the Bureau of Justice Statistics can be accessed here.


Written by Nils Franco, CFYJ Policy Intern

Utah’s Governor Gary Herbert declares October "Juvenile Justice Awareness Month"

Anne-Lise Vray, CFYJ Intern Tuesday, 27 October 2015 Posted in 2015, Across the Country

On Friday, Gary R. Herbert, Utah’s Governor since 2009, officially proclaimed October “Juvenile Justice Awareness Month”, acknowledging that “the juvenile justice system is best equipped to work with teenagers in making meaningful changes that maximize opportunities for youth offenders to realize their full potential.”

This proclamation is part of a movement of positive changes for youth justice in Utah. Indeed earlier this year, in its 2015 general session, the state’s legislature passed a bill that reduced the number of felonies for which 16 year-old kids would face Utah district (adult) court jurisdiction.

One of Governor Herbert’s stated priorities being education, he regularly calls for youth to be agents “for positive change”. Accordingly, by keeping children out of the adult criminal justice system and giving them the tools to rehabilitate and turn their lives around, they are more likely to become agents for positive change.

The Utah Governor’s proclamation is one of many resolutions and declarations that have been passed all over the country, showing an increasing and widespread support for juvenile justice reform; support that we hope one day will fully prevent youths from being tried, sentenced and incarcerated as adults.

Despite this important step forward, Utah still has a long way to go, as it is for example one of the few states still ignoring or refusing to comply with federal guidelines intended to prevent sexual assault in prisons. The Prison Rape Elimination Act is a key piece of legislation for guaranteeing children’s basic safety in prison, since one of its 4 main requirements is to keep youth under 18 strictly separated from adults. However, for “budgetary” reasons, Utah has so far refused to apply this federal law.

We can hope that Utah will go further on the path towards youth justice and adopt more important reforms soon. 

 Written by Anne-Lise Vray, CFYJ Intern


Staring at the Wall

Curtis, an inmate in solitary Friday, 23 October 2015 Posted in 2015, Voices

A Poem Written About Solitary Confinement

This is poem written by an inmate named Curtis. He was 16 when he was charged as an adult, and was 22 when he wrote this. He is serving a 40 year sentence. Curtis wrote the poem earlier this year about being in solitary. As of this week, he is still in solitary. 


I was warned there’d be times like these

But nothing could’ve prepared me for Dr. Swartz

Who comes around once a week

Peeking in my cell like he knows me better than I know myself

I’ll bet he gets a kick out of seeing a 22 year old

Who has been locked away in a cell since he was 16

Who has 30 more to go if a blessing doesn’t come through this damn wall

That he’s been staring at for the past 6 hours

I often come to this wall to somewhat free my mind

Or to drown out my annoying cellie

Who can’t stop talking about his boring relationship with his girlfriend he can’t seem to stop fighting

Even though she calls the cops on him every time

Or sometimes when the lights go out and the prison raucous is done for the day

I guess to seek mental refuge from this place

Other times just to reflect on what life was like before 23 and 1

When it was cookouts, huggies and hamburgers

Yeah, that always brings a smile to my face

Lately that’s been the routine

I start reflecting and end up with this smile

Staring at this damn wall!

Then here comes this Dr. wanting to know why I’m sitting here smiling at the wall

I give him the usual “nothing”

But to be honest

I smile to keep from crying




 Illustration by JP Trostle

#YJAM: Family Engagement During Youth Justice Awareness Month

Keela Hailes Thursday, 22 October 2015 Posted in 2015, Voices



My name is Keela Hailes and I am a mother and juvenile justice advocate and I am sharing my story during Youth Justice Awareness Month in hopes that it will help other families.

A few years ago, while living in Washington, D.C., my son was incarcerated hundreds and hundreds of miles away from me and the rest of his loved ones. Every day in Washington, D.C., parents are being separated from their children because they are being sent to adult prisons in other states. All too often, these adult prisons are very far from home. Because Washington D.C. is not a state, and does not have a Federal facility, our children are sent to remote and often times inaccessible Federal adult prisons all across America. As a woman who has always prided herself for being a stickler for self-accountability, I'm not suggesting that my son should've gotten away with a slap on the wrists. However, research has shown that placing children in adult prison's, rather than juvenile facilities makes them highly susceptible to repeat criminal behavior, negative influence from adult prisoners, and physical and sexual abuse.
Typically, I don't go around discussing brain development, but it goes to the heart of an issue that's near and dear to me, as well as thousands of other parents, across the country. Brain science is crucial in understanding how teenagers make decisions and act upon them. The Myelin Sheath is essential to brain development; it covers nerve cells that allow impulses to travel fast and efficiently.  It’s not fully developed until the age of twenty-five with the frontal lobe being the last area of the brain to be myelinated.  The frontal lobe houses the area of the brain where we process higher brain functioning like reasoning, problem solving, planning and executing behavior, and impulse control. 
Because we know this about the brain, society is very careful about the things that we allow kids to do before the age of 18. For example, youth cannot buy cigarettes or alcohol. They cannot get a driver’s license or even vote for the President of the United States. These decisions take a higher level of reasoning and analytical skills that have not been properly developed in the teenage brain. If we know this is true, then why does it seem rational to treat kids with adult sanctions when they engage in unlawful behavior?
I think about these things because one day I received a call that my sixteen-year-old son was arrested for armed robbery.  I sat stunned on the other end of the phone and wondered if the caller had the right number or right mom for that matter.  After the initial shock, thousands of questions flooded my mind, “Why in the world would he do something this stupid?”  “What was he thinking?” or “Was he thinking at all?”  I was an involved parent who monitored my son’s friendships and education, what was going on?
After the details of the robbery were laid out on the table, I was no longer in denial about my son’s involvement. I wanted him to not only be held accountable but soundly rehabilitated.  I knew nothing about the juvenile justice system and had assumptions about what a juvenile judge would offer as next steps, which in my mind would include programs, counseling and therapy.
My world was rocked again when I learned that my son would be charged as an adult and sent to the DC jail. Again, those same questions permeated my mind, “Why in the world would the government do something so stupid as to send a child to spend even one second in a jail?” “What in the world are they thinking?”, or “Are they thinking at all?” 
Unfortunately, my questions were never answered because my son was swiftly sent to the DC jail, even before having a hearing.  He sat unproductively on the juvenile unit of the DC Jail waiting where he was physically assaulted by a Correctional Officer, received zero services, and was finally shipped 1,500 miles away to Devils Lake, North Dakota to serve out his 3 year sentence.
The negative effects of this experience are still felt today. In my eyes, my son went from a sixteen-year-old-child to a thirty-year-old-man overnight, absent the completed brain development.  In his own eyes, he had no other choice but to go from a child to a man overnight to cope with his new surroundings.  He served out his sentence, came home and tried to be a productive member of society; however, two years later, he reoffended and was sent back to jail.
I believe kids should be held accountable and am advocating for common sense measures that hold youth accountable and give them an opportunity to rehabilitate. Studies have shown us that this can, and should happen in the juvenile justice system.
Keela Hailes is a Program Manager for Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop and a spokesperson for the Campaign for Youth Justice, and is committed to ending the practice of trying, sentencing, and incarcerating youth under the age of 18, in the adult criminal justice system.
Below is some sample language that you can use to help spread awareness of National Youth Justice Awareness Month. 


  • To help their children, families need information about juvenile rights and responsibilities. #YJAM

  • Children charged as adults, are still children who need the support of their families. #YJAM

  • Families lack basic information about the process of the courts, and their legal rights, and the role of various players in the system. #YJAM

  • Without family engagement, effectively addressing any treatment needs of the child is difficult. #YJAM

  • Many inmates say that their success upon re-entry to society can be attributed to their strong family connections. #YJAM


  • President Barack Obama has signed a proclamation declaring October 'National Youth Justice Awareness Month' and calls on Americans to "observe this month by getting involved in community efforts to support our youth, and by participating in appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs." http://sparkaction.org/content/president-proclamation-yjam #YJAM #youthjustice #JJDPAmatters

  • Children don’t grow up in systems, they grow up in families. Help youth incarcerated as adults by finding resources and joining advocacy groups for youth. #YJAM
YJAM FB families 01 1
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