Change Agents for Youth Justice Reform
When pursuing change in your state, youth/adult partnerships are critical for campaign reform efforts. Youth are more than just their story and have a source of knowledge and leadership that should not be ignored. When young people are supported and treated as partners – their leadership shines through and their ability to meet the challenges of advocacy work, and their ability to message the issue in unique ways, have led to some impressive moments. Check out some of the young leaders we’ve had the pleasure of working with in recent years. All are national spokespeople with Campaign for Youth Justice.
|image courtesy of Just Kids Partnership
We first met Jabriera when she was working on stopping a youth prison from being built in Maryland. She recently received the Spirit of Youth Award from the Coalition for Juvenile Justice and she is currently a youth organizer for the Just Kids Partnership in her home state of Maryland. In this excerpt, Jabriera testified before the U.S. Attorney General’s Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence, sharing her experience as a way to educate and influence the task force on the critical need for reform. The task force ultimately recommended what she had testified on: keep kids out the of the adult criminal justice system.
Good afternoon. My name is Jabreira Handy and I was exposed to violence as a youth incarcerated as an adult. At the age of 16, I was charged as an adult in the adult criminal justice system. It is because of my exposure to the adult system that I’m here to urge this task force not to expose any more young people to violence in the justice system, particularly in adult jails or prisons. It’s also fitting because this hearing comes as here, in the city of Baltimore, we are debating whether to build another adult jail for youth charged as adults, which disturbs me.
Words can't explain what I went through in the adult system. Tears hardly express the pain and discomfort of being judged as a criminal. At the age of sixteen, I got into an argument with my grandma. As she was disciplining me, I attempted to get her off me. I left the house and later on that day she died of a heart attack because of the argument. I was charged with her death. I was charged as an adult and spent eleven months in Baltimore City Detention Center. I was forced to shower with a woman twice my age and shamelessly exposed to a squat and cough in front of everyone while menstruating. I was neglected and did not receive the psychological and healthcare help I needed throughout my stay. I was treated as if I had been judged guilty of committing the crime or as they would say “as an adult.”
To read Jabriera’s complete testimony, click HERE
We met Michael after his release from prison and sadly 66 days after his release he was sent back. We kept in touch through mail and after his release in 2010; he interned with us and ultimately became a spokesperson. Michael is a regular here at our office, he has been on several radio shows, was featured in The Washington Post and speaks regularly in classrooms, conferences and other events. He is a poet ambassador with Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop in Washington, DC. In the clip below he talks about his visit with the U.S. Attorney General on reform efforts. He advocated for the appointment of an OJJDP Administrator and the critical need for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to issue final PREA regulations especially to protect youth in the justice system. Regulations were issued six weeks after the meeting with the Attorney General.
Click HERE to watch a clip of Michael during the “BarackTalk” event sponsored by the National League of Young Voters
|image courtesy of NY Times
We met Nicole when we worked together with her and other allies on the Direct File Campaign in Colorado. She is very passionate and committed to sharing the atrocities of her brother’s suicide in the Denver County Jail. She has testified in hearings and on Capitol Hill. She recently spoke with The New York Times and shared her family’s story and the tragedy that happened to her teenage brother Jimmy Stewart. Nicole has been a strong advocate in her state and through the involvement of her and other youth justice allies - legislative reform in her state was achieved.
Click HERE to read Nicole’s interview with The New York Times
We met Dwayne soon after his release from prison. Over the years he has been an advocate for removing youth from the adult court. He is a talented author and poet and is currently attending law school at Yale. Dwayne was appointed by President Obama to serve on the Federal Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice, the first young person who was directly impacted by the justice system to serve on this council. In August, he was asked to speak to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) and here is a recap of his remarks:
Click HERE to watch Dwayne speak to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL)
In seeing how much Jabriera, Michael, Nicole, and Dwayne have been able to accomplish as young leaders, we think the message is clear: Youth are critical change agents in any social justice movement. Many of us know from experience the difficult task of being an advocate, so it never ceases to inspire us when young people stand up and speak out for youth justice reform and other issues impacting their peers and communities. We believe that youth and their families are integral to making real change happen and hope that you will join all of us in continuing to expose the dangers of youth in the adult system.