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Articles tagged with: National Youth Justice Awareness Month

#YJAM: Racial and Ethnic Disparities, Reflections from Defenders

Wednesday, 14 October 2015 Posted in 2015, Voices

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Police reports, witnesses, special needs, poverty, illegal searches, inadmissible evidence—these are just some of the case components defenders must juggle when defending youth. A defender is trained to understand and maneuver around such obstacles yet, what becomes more difficult to understand and articulate to a client is a barrier so high in our juvenile justice and criminal justice systems, that despite recognizing it, there is no way over, under, or through it. Racial injustice. In 2010, African American youth made up 17% of the juvenile population but 33% of the delinquency caseload. How does a defender explain that while the “perception of innocence is a central protection afforded to children” such a consideration “may not be given to the children of dehumanized groups, such as Black Americans”? Today we hear from a few defenders across the country and their perspectives on race.

California Bay Area Juvenile Defender: "Hope for the best, prepare for the worst." This the mantra that I make my clients repeat back to me at the end of every meeting, especially the ones in juvenile hall. Because what those clients hope for, more than anything, is to just go home. I promise to stop smoking pot, they tell me. I promise to go to school. I'm not a bad kid. I just made a mistake.... Why, they ask me, why won't the judge let me out?

This question when posed by my African American clients - the why - is particularly heartbreaking. If I tell them the truth - that black youth are overrepresented in the system, that implicit and explicit historical and present racial biases have led to them getting kicked out of school, overcharged, detained, incarcerated longer - that the color of their skin has largely defined this whole juvenile justice experience - how could they possibly have hope?

Instead, I tell them not to worry. Concentrate on yourself, keep doing well. It's my job to fight for you. 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.

Robert Mason, Jacksonville, Florida Juvenile Defender: I’ve worked as an Assistant Public Defender in Jacksonville, Florida for more than twenty-five years.  I’ve worked in Juvenile, County (Misdemeanors), Circuit (Felonies), Repeat Offender Court, and the Special Defense Unit. Doesn’t really matter which division I’ve practiced in...I always see a higher proportion of people of color than the composition of the local community. And it all begins in Juvenile. 

Children of color get swept into the system, often stemming from school arrests.  Frequently the thought process is that these arrests are to help a child and provide services.  Well, arrests certainly don’t help these children in the future, and as for services, we’re in a state that keeps the purse strings pretty tight.  Sorry kid.

The school arrests occur disproportionately in certain zip codes.  Somehow the elite schools manage to avoid these arrests.  Go figure.

The irony is never lost on me when I’m heading to court and I jaywalk or walk against the light in the presence of law enforcement.  I have an important hearing on probable cause or I’m challenging a case because of an illegal stop.  Anyway, I’m exempt from being stopped; I’m an old white guy in a suit.

Eric Zogry, North Carolina State Juvenile Defender: ¨As an in court defender, my enlightenment regarding “the system” arrived when I simply looked around me.  Not at my clients, or the other black and Latino juveniles that made up the vast majority of our caseloads – that was obvious.  What I recognized was that, even though we had a black prosecutor, black juvenile justice workers, and even a black judge, my client was still getting buried under the system.  While individual discrimination and implicit bias remains, it was then I knew that the juvenile justice system, itself, was a root cause of racial bias.

As a state-wide director, it was no surprise that most juvenile defenders could recognize the problems of overrepresentation, racial disparity and institutionalized racism.  But the true hard work as defenders is recognizing and accepting that we are part of the problem.  What decisions do we make when we first see our clients of color?  Do we afford them the same benefits we do our white clients?  Or do we cut corners, relax efforts, and fail to attack the system itself for fear of inevitable defeat? Our practice, our profession needs to reach inward first to honestly address our contribution to this state of discrimination.

This week, join the conversation on racial and ethnic disparities by using the hashtag #YJAM.  Below is sample language you can share on social media:

TWEETS
During arrests, hearings, sentencing, and even treatment while incarcerated, youth of color are treated worse than whites. #YJAM

Racial disparities in the justice system are tied to many issues including income inequality, racism, and lack of opportunity. #YJAM

Many youth of color who are charged with felonies can't vote, can't find employment, and can't find housing. #YJAM

African-American youth are 9 times more likely that white youth to receive an adult prison sentence #YJAM

Latino children are also 40% more likely than white youth to be admitted into adult prison #YJAM

FACEBOOK
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

Youth of color prosecuted and incarcerated as adults are disproportionately over-represented in the justice system. The issue of youth incarcerated as adults has demanded the attention of the nation, especially since President Barack Obama has signed a proclamation declaring October 'National Youth Justice Awareness Month' http://sparkaction.org/content/president-proclamation-yjam #YJAM

#YJAM: The Story of Marcus Bullock- Juvenile Justice Advocate

Tuesday, 06 October 2015 Posted in 2015, Voices

The Power of Sharing Stories

marcus2

This theme for this year's Youth Justice Awareness Month is, "The Power of Sharing Stories". All month long CFYJ will share stories of youth and family members that have been impacted by the adult criminal justice system. This week we share the story of juvenile entrepreneur and justice advocate Marcus Bullock. 

Marcus grew up in the DC metropolitan area. At the age of 15, he participated in a car jacking and got away with it, initially. Not surprisingly, given his age and what we know about teenaged brains—that their evolving development leads teens to be impulsive, seemingly invincible, and strongly influenced by their peers—it makes sense that Marcus failed to understand the ramifications of his actions. The next day, Marcus got arrested while committing another crime. He was charged as an adult and sentenced to eight years in prison--until he was 23 years old. According to Marcus, “I wasn’t ready for that experience; no child is. To be thrown into a facility with adults, when you are still a child who is still developing is detrimental. The “psychological warfare” was present every day in an adult prison.  Trying to grow up healthy in that space that is meant to contain you will handicap any young person’s development."

His positive attitude, he says, is what helped Marcus be successful after prison. Marcus, a natural entrepreneur, had to work his way from the bottom to the top. He started out painting kitchens for people, to opening a paint store, to then expanding it into a full-fledged remodeling company. Not forgetting the isolated feeling of prison, he took his business experience to launch a web and phone app called Flikshop, which is used to connect families to loved ones who are incarcerated. His advice to the other young people who are incarcerated is to, “keep your outside world connections strong; it will put you in a better position to be successful when you re-enter society.”  Marcus continues to run both businesses, while also teaching entrepreneurship skills to youth in detention in D.C.

#YJAM: What Science and Common Sense Tell Us About Kids and the Law

Abigail Baird - Juvenile Justice Advocate Monday, 05 October 2015 Posted in 2015, Research & Policy

YJAM FB brain 01 28129A few years ago, my best friend’s husband was laid off. We were upset. In fact, we were very upset and we were not sure how to best cope with the news. One of us had the amazing idea of relying on an old high school technique of payback known as “egging someone’s house”. We talked about the pros and cons of driving to the boss’s house and just pelting it with a couple dozen eggs. “It would feel so good” one of us said, “…and serve him right” we said; but someone brought up the possibility of being caught and possibly arrested. I remember thinking that it would be hard, and beyond embarrassing, to explain to my friends and colleagues that at 42 years old I had been arrested for vandalism because I egged someone’s house. We then successfully used our mature and experienced brains to talk ourselves out of taking any action and moved on to more reasonable ways to cope with the situation.

This story frequently comes to mind when thinking about the numerous reasons why trying children as adults in a court of law makes absolutely no sense. My story demonstrates a compelling, and quite striking, contradiction in the law: No matter how “juvenile” our crime might have been, the idea of transferring the case to juvenile court would be unheard of because we, at 42 years of age, are simply too old to be considered juveniles. This makes sense. We have more life experience and more developed brains, and it is simply not just to try 42 year olds in juvenile court no matter how ridiculous their behavior. Yet, it is common practice to try children as adults in a court of law. In most states, children who are charged with violent crimes are transferred to adult court. If we follow the very simple logic above, this is simply not just. There are no twelve year olds who have fully mature brains, or have the experiences that adults have.  It simply does not make sense.

I appreciate that as a neuroscientist I should probably try to bolster my argument by detailing the many well-established facts about the development of the human brain that have consistently shown clear and reliable differences between the structure and function of adolescent brains relative to adult brains. These facts have been heard, and endorsed by, the Supreme Court of this country in two separate recent rulings that prohibit the execution of juvenile offenders (Roper v. Simmons) and prevent juveniles from receiving mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole (Miller v. Alabama).

As breathtaking as I find neuroscience, it pales in comparison to common sense. On par with the ridiculousness of trying adults as juveniles would be the notion of having a jury made up of 12-16 year olds. I think we would be hard pressed to find someone who would endorse this as a reasonable idea. Why? Because we know that 12-16 year olds are not fully mature and as a result we legally prohibit them from serving on juries.

Changing Youth Lives Through Testimony and Awareness

Alton Pitre - Juvenile Justice Advocate Thursday, 01 October 2015 Posted in 2015, Take Action Now

YJAM FB square 01Several years ago I found myself facing adult time as a teen in Los Angeles. I was held in detention for two years, serving dead time fighting my “fitness,” a court process where they were “determining” if I would be tried as a juvenile or an adult for a crime for which I was later exonerated. Presuming that I would be charged as an adult, I was housed separately from other youth in the detention center, even though we were all the same age. Through the years I spent pending my trial and since my release, I’ve learned that the juvenile justice system is failing our youth all over the nation, and it is time for everyone to realize that in its current state it is destructive and ineffective. 

I am constantly amazed yet distraught at how America treats its youth who are in essence its’ most vulnerable and teachable citizens. It’s true when people say that our children are the future but how can they ever be if they are often thrown away to die in prison? Sadly, the United States is the only country that does so.

When kids are locked up as adults they are immediately subjected to punishment instead of rehabilitation. Hence, they are deprived of the care and treatment necessary to turn their lives around; instead they are exposed to threats and acts, of physical, sexual and mental trauma and abuse. For their “protection” from this abuse, they are welcomed into the beautiful world of solitary confinement, burying them alive and permanently interrupting healthy brain development.

I have countless childhood friends who have lost the rest of their fruitful lives to the prison system. Yes, children will make mistakes; some will make bad mistakes depending on the type of environment they were raised in and the supports they had (or lacked). However, children shouldn’t be judged solely on the type of crime they committed but also considering the contributing background factors leading up to why they did it.  They should have the chance to learn from their mistakes and choose differently.

Currently, I am a  24-year-old, full-time student at Morehouse College and ambassador for juvenile justice reform. Through sharing my story of overcoming both the mean streets of Los Angeles and incarceration, I have been able to travel the country writing and speaking about this injustice. I have written op-eds that have gained the likes of U.S. Senator Cory Booker, Michael Eric Dyson, Rosie O’Donnell, and Orange is the New Black’s author Piper Kerman, all, who have shared them on their Twitter accounts.

In California, I participate in lobbying efforts with the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), advocating for legislation that provides second chances to youthful offenders. This September, ARC helped passed SB261, which extends parole eligibility to 16,000 offenders under the age of 23. I also visited D.C. with ARC on a policy trip advocating for criminal justice reform at the White House.

This summer, I visited Washington D.C. again, interning with First Focus, a bipartisan children’s advocacy organization where I was able to extend my political advocacy on a national level. There I attended congressional briefings and met with members of Congress, advocating for reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. The JJDPA addresses youth in detention by providing funding to state programs that serve at-risk youth, addressing disproportionate minority contact (DMC) and removing status offenders from secure detention and youth from adult jails, or at least ensuring sight and sound separation. You can take action for the JJDPA here.

The practice of locking up and trying kids as adults is harmful to our youth and the world. Youth sentenced as adults are often condemned without a chance to redeem their freedom, even after they have been truly rehabilitated and served many years in prison. It is imperative that awareness of this devastating problem is brought to the attention of everyone in our nation, especially our law enforcement and policymakers. No child should be subjugated to this type of tyranny.

This month is Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM). 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.

Written by Alton Pitre, Juvenile Justice Advocate.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_RDmeXbqPBA
https://twitter.com/thejayalligator
http://jjie.org/author/altonpitre

YJAM: A Month to Celebrate … and Keep Fighting for Juvenile Justice

Marcy Mistrett Wednesday, 30 September 2015 Posted in 2015, Take Action Now

left hand outstretched11The chorus of voices calling for criminal and youth justice reform, from all points of the political spectrum, has never been louder. This is a good thing, yet some groups, like youth charged as adults, continue to fall through the cracks. That’s why Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM) is more important than ever.

Since its first year back in 2008, YJAM has continued to grow, with more groups holding more events in more places.  Also since that time, 30 of states have passed 48 laws reforming the system and reducing the number of kids subjected to the adult criminal justice system.

But while we should celebrate these steps forward, we have to acknowledge that there is MUCH left to do.  The way we treat kids in our justice system is directly contradicted by science, and continues to be riddled with racial biases and disparities. Nine states still need to “Raise the Age” because they consider all youth to be criminally responsible at age 17 (or in the case of New York and North Carolina, age 16), no matter how minimal the charge. Fifteen states still empower prosecutors to “Directly File” kids into the adult criminal justice system without any judicial review. 23 states (including Washington, DC) have not set a minimum age of when a child can be prosecuted as an adult.  Kids are too often still housed in adult jails and prisons, either with adult prisoners, or isolated in solitary confinement.

Raising awareness is an essential first step to ending these practices, and raising awareness is what YJAM is all about.  Throughout this month, CFYJ and other groups and individuals will be highlighting the stories of those directly impacted by, and those with expert knowledge of, this system that unjustly (and counter-productively) treats kids as adults.

Please help us share and amplify these stories; they are the key to opening the hearts and minds of those with the authority to legislate change. Below find the top five ways you can join the movement:

TWEETS

Pres Obama declares October Youth Justice Awareness Month! http://bit.ly/1KOKfD1 #YJAM #youthjustice #JJDPAmatters

YJAM is here!  Learn more about Youth Justice Awareness Month and get involved http://bit.ly/1KOKfD1 #YJAM #youthjustice #JJDPAmatters

It's official!  October is Youth Justice Awareness Month.  Check it out at http://bit.ly/1KOKfD1 #YJAM #youthjustice #JJDPAmatters

Time to get your #YJAM on!  http://bit.ly/1KOKfD1   #YJAM #youthjustice #JJDPAmatters


FACEBOOK

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://bit.ly/1KOKfD1 #YJAM #youthjustice #JJDPAmatters

Today kicks off Youth Justice Awareness Month and the White House has made it official!  Check out the President's proclamation and learn more about how you can get involved!http://bit.ly/1KOKfD1 #YJAM #youthjustice #JJDPAmatters

YJAM 2014: Advocates Making Waves in Youth Justice Reforms

Sunday, 19 October 2014 Posted in 2014, Across the Country, Campaigns, Voices

As we reflect on this year and in commemoration of Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM), we have seen the pursuit of many youth justice reforms across the country. Efforts to improve the lives of our youth come in many forms - whether it's pursuits to improve laws, efforts to change the hearts and minds of the public, or working to empower youth and their families - the Campaign for Youth Justice applauds the daily efforts of advocates who take a stand for youth. Today, we highlight what many say can't be done: change for the better. Our youth, our communities, and our nation have all felt the positive impact of your efforts. Thank you for all that you do.

Youth Justice Awareness Month Kicks Off in 1 Week!

Wednesday, 24 September 2014 Posted in 2014, Across the Country, Take Action Now, Voices

The time is almost here - Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM) kicks off in just one week! We are very excited about the growing list of organizations joining us this year - Over 20 organizations in nearly 20 states are helping to make YJAM a reality. Events planned range from poetry slams, film screenings, community forums, and more. We estimate that over 3,000 people will attend YJAM events all over the country this year.

Youth Justice Awareness Month Support Tools - Plan Your Event Today!

Thursday, 28 August 2014 Posted in 2014, Across the Country, Take Action Now, Voices

As Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM) quickly approaches, the Campaign for Youth Justice wants to assist you in putting on your event - starting now! Along with the toolkits and templates available on our YJAM page, the CFYJ team has developed a set of tutorials on what it takes to host a successful YJAM event. Tips ranging from hosting any size event, FUNdraising, and even how to plan a 5K Race!

Youth Justice Awareness Month 2014 is just around the corner!

Friday, 01 August 2014 Posted in 2014, Across the Country, Take Action Now, Voices

We are so excited for this year’s Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM)!

Every October, youth, families, and advocates from all over the nation come together to host YJAM events to expose the consequences of children being prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system and incarcerated in adult jails and prisons. Together, we build collective action to launch and support local campaigns that work towards fair, humane, and effective reform.

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
 
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