Angella Bellota is the Director of Field Operations at the Campaign for Youth Justice. She leads the organizations overall state campaign strategy and provides technical assistance to state-based organizations engaged in reform efforts and campaigns. Angella uses her advocacy expertise to build, implement and promote campaign efforts aiming to end the prosecution of children as adults, and to provide capacity building opportunities to the juvenile justice field.
Over the last two years, Angella has provided technical assistance to partner organizations aiming to end the prosecution of children as adults in their state, with a focus on campaign strategy, grassroots mobilization, coalition building and public education.
Prior to joining the Campaign, Angella worked at Action for Children North Carolina, a statewide children’s policy and research organization. In her capacity at Action for Children, Angella led the research team in enhancing the organizations advocacy agenda through the use of research and data, as well as engaging and educating policy makers around child well-being issues. She also led community outreach initiatives and assisted in developing and implementing state and local strategies to build public will for campaigns around juvenile justice, education, and health in under-served communities. Angella received her bachelor’s degree in Sociology from California State University, San Bernardino. She holds a master’s degree in Sociology from North Carolina State University, with a concentration in social inequality.
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.
In the last ten years, we have seen growing momentum in youth justice reform. Foundations, policymakers, child advocacy organizations, the legal community, and researchers have worked to educate the public and improve the juvenile justice system, but also the adult criminal justice system, where too many of our youth end up because of draconian state laws.
As critical as all of these allies are to the movement, the heart of the fight lives in our communities. There are too many examples of families who lose their children to the adult system who go it alone, to demand fairness and accountability from local and state leadership. And too many formerly incarcerated young people who return to their communities with adult records and find an antagonistic environment that is set up for them to fail instead of being directed to opportunities for a new start. Yet in the face of opposition, it is those most affected who take on the fight for justice, refuse to treat children as throwaways, and are courageous enough to put a face to the issue and to be messengers for reform.
Submit your #Playground2Prison Snapshot and Win YJAM Swag! Winners Selected Every Friday in October!
Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM) is in full swing! Throughout October, local partners will be hosting YJAM events raising awareness and taking action to end the incarceration of kids in the adult criminal justice system.
To continue awareness efforts, CFYJ wants to give you a chance to walk away with some YJAM swag! Whether you’re attending a YJAM event in your state or if you’re following the YJAM actions online, we want everyone to have a chance to take action during Youth Justice Awareness Month!
Check out the details on how to participate:
- Using the hashtag, #Playground2Prison with your snapshot – share your thoughts on why its time to end #Playground2Prison:
- Tell us why you believe its time for youth justice reform
- Tell us how you or your community have taken action to improve the lives of youth
- Highlight a statistic/reason youth should not be placed in the adult system
- Tell us why you decided to take action during YJAM this year
2. Submit your snapshot:
- On Facebook
- On Twitter
Need messages for your #Playground2Prison snapshot? Let us know and we can send you templates!
Remember to get creative! Each week Campaign for Youth Justice will select a winning photo and send that person their very own YJAM goody bag! Show your support for youth justice reform and join us in ending the #Playground2Prison.
|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.
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
During the month of October, allies throughout the country come together to engage their communities on youth justice issues, particularly the harmful impact of prosecuting children in the adult criminal justice system.
Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM) is an opportunity for families, youth, and allies to host community-led actions and events that expose the real-life consequences of children being processed in adult court and placed in adult jails and prisons. With events happening throughout the country, YJAM is not only a time to raise awareness but also a time to build collective action, to strengthen relationships with other advocates, and to join local advocacy campaigns working to create policy changes.
Every year in the U.S. an estimated 250,000 youth are tried, sentenced, or incarcerated as adults. These young people are our friends, siblings, sons and daughters. Each year, we build momentum to end the criminalization of our youth and the devastating long-term consequences they must face every day.
Will you join us in taking a stand for youth justice? In past years, YJAM events have included:
- 5K Run/Walk
- Film Screenings
- Art Exhibits
- Poetry Slams
- Community Service Days
- Social Media campaigns
- Teach-In Days
- July 30th - Hosting a 5K Run/Walk
- August 5th - FUNdraising for YJAM
- August 19th - Media Planning for YJAM
Please visit our YJAM page to learn about the history of YJAM and for a roundup of upcoming events!
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.
- 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…”
HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE
Rep. Nelson Dollar (Senior Chairman)
Rep. Justin Burr (Chairman)
Rep. Bryan Holloway (Chairman)
Rep. Linda Johnson (Chairman)