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#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:

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

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 Juan Peterson - Juvenile Justice Advocate

Friday, 09 October 2015 Posted in 2015, Voices

The Power of Sharing Stories


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 justice advocate, Juan Peterson who is also a Poet Ambassador for Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop.

Juan grew up in Washington, D.C., in a section of town that is plagued by violence. His father was in and out of jail, so he grew up primarily with his mom and younger brother. He was never a “problem” child, and didn’t get into trouble until his mid-teens. At 16, police went into his home at night to arrest him for an armed robbery carjacking. He awoke to the barrel of a rifle pointed at him. As he was being taken into custody, he remembers that he was afraid of the “unknown”. He was left in the dark with no lawyer, not knowing what was going on, and no communication with his family. When he went to court, he admitted to knowing about a possible carjacking that one of his friends or acquaintances committed, but he was never there. This was enough to try him as an adult with a conspiracy conviction, which sentenced him to eight years in adult prison. He was transferred far from his family in D.C. first to Montana, then to Washington State, Utah, California and finally Virginia.

“Getting out was the easy part, staying out is hard,” he recalls. There is no exit procedure from prison, no psychological evaluation, no assessment of education or career skills, or assessment of whether he had a home to return. Juan received a promise that he needed to find a job or he would be put back in prison.   However, getting a job was difficult due to his record. He could not get a job as a warehouse worker, which he was more than qualified for. He had fifty seven job interviews before he was given an opportunity somewhere. Now he works at a hospital and volunteers with a group called Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop. Free Minds is an organization that offers resources to youth incarcerated as adults. The resources they provide range from job readiness training, outlets for creative expression, violence prevention outreach and more. The unique aspect of Free Minds, is that some volunteers, like Juan, have formerly been incarcerated and can youth who are incarcerated a positive example to follow. They show that there is potential in everyone and that there is still room to have a positive impact on the community.

#YJAM: Different Race, Different Treatment

Nils Franco, CFYJ Policy Intern, and Carmen Daugherty, CFYJ Policy Director Friday, 09 October 2015 Posted in 2015, Research & Policy

By Nils Franco, CFYJ Policy Intern and Carmen Daugherty CFYJ Policy Director

Mental Health Needs and Treatment While in the System

We start with a new report finding that the transfer of youths to the adult system is responsible for some of these inequalities. The report was published in a September bulletin by the Department of Justice, and uses data from 1,715 youth from Cook County, Illinois, who were processed in both the adult and juvenile systems. Once committed to adult facilities, minority youth are less likely to receive treatment for mental health issues, harming youths’ ability to rehabilitate.


As with other stages of the justice system, the trial of youth as adults discriminately affected youth of color in the sample: 94% of youth in the adult system were youth of color, and more than two-thirds (68%) of the youth were African-American, according to the data. For comparison, African-Americans comprise just 26% of the general population of Cook County, Illinois. These unequal outcomes persist even when the authors controlled for the type of crime. 

The overall sample of delinquent youth, which included 1,440 in the juvenile system, was less disparate than the transferred youth:  83% were youth of color and 54% were African-American. This suggests the stage of transferring youth to the adult system contributes significantly to the already significant racial inequality in rates of youth incarcerated as adults. In other words, race seems to influence which youth are transferred to the adult system.


Past research found that minority youth are less likely to receive needed mental health treatment in juvenile facilities, but the DOJ report is the first to consider such treatment for youth in the adult system. The new research finds that factors like race that dispose youth to adult transfer are the same factors that dispose youth to missing out on much-needed mental health problems while incarcerated. The authors express concern that this failure to treat incarcerated youth, who have a “substantial need” for mental health services, may ignore underlying causes of disruptive and anti-social behavior. 

Moving forward, the authors propose several recommendations.

The report’s findings prompt three concerns that may be productive focal areas for future reforms and research. First, psychiatric and behavioral treatment is unavailable to many youth who need it, and best practices must be developed for youths in the adult system. Though treatment guidelines have been developed for both youth and adults in age-appropriate facilities, little is known about what works best for youth in adult facilities. Second, the report found staggeringly high rates of mental health issues in all system involved youth, and higher rates among youth than among adult offenders. Imprisonment as an adult brings life-long consequences, and this burden should not be borne by youth who are already struggling with treatable disorders; rather, the authors suggest that mental health be considered during sentencing, and clinicians be allowed to suggest alternative interventions to the court. 

Finally, racial discrimination in the criminal justice system, especially for youth transferred to the adult system, causes the punishment to reflect the race of the youth instead of the nature of their crime. More research on racial inequality in juvenile justice, including youth transferred to the adult system, will be available in December with the publication of “Race and Ethnicity in the Juvenile Justice System,” a book from the Carolina Academic Press.

Scrutiny of racially disparate outcomes in every stage of the criminal justice system has grown in the past year, as pressure from protesters and the press mounted in response to publicized police violence. This week, YJAM focuses on racial and ethnic disparities that exist in every aspect of the criminal justice system. From the courtroom to the cell block, we will learn how racial biases and disparate treatment play out in the system.

Behind the report “The sexual abuse to Prison Pipeline: The Girls’ Story”

Friday, 09 October 2015 Posted in 2015, Research & Policy

Anne-Lise Vray, CFYJ Intern

Thesexualabusetoprisonpipeline 1

Forced into child sex trafficking at the age 13, Kyeisha got pulled into the juvenile justice system while trying to escape her abusive home. Kyeisha, now an 18 year-old juvenile justice advocate, was one of the members of today’s discussion panel on the just-released report “The Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline: The Girls’ Story”. This powerful document was published by the Georgetown Law Center for Poverty and Equality, in collaboration with the Human Rights Project for Girls and the Ms. Foundation for Women, and highlights how sexual abuse on girls is often a trigger leading them directly to jail. Indeed, the report reveals for example that 93% of Oregon and 81% of California girls in the juvenile justice system have been sexually or physically abused. Overall across the country, 39% of girls who get pulled into the juvenile justice system have been raped or sexually assaulted.

To raise awareness on these unbelievably true statistics, Congresswoman Karen Bass organized a panel discussion  on the report. Along with the document’s authors, the panel included several sexual abuse victims and juvenile justice survivors who courageously shared their stories. Among them, Charity Chandler-Cole, who is now working as an advocate for the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, told the audience how, when she got arrested for the first time for stealing underwear because her mom could not afford to buy some for her and her siblings, the system actually deepened and worsened her trauma. Indeed after her arrest, Charity was sent to jail where she was sexually abused. In tears, she  explained to the audience that she somehow found the inner strength to keep fighting to show the world she was worth it, but that many girls in her situation cannot hang on to anything, and that we need to be here for these traumatized children, who are victims more than offenders.

The panel also emphasized the harder struggle young women of color are facing, especially African-American girls, who even though they only represent 14% of the total U.S youth population, make up 33% of the kids in the juvenile justice system.

“Girls are ultimately being criminalized because they are abused”, said Rebecca Epstein, member of the panel and report’s co-author. Indeed, many young girls are sent to jail every year for prostitution, while they were actually being sexually exploited. In fact, although it is illegal to have sex with a minor, by some kind of legal mechanism it is possible to charge a child, who is in reality a victim of sexual trafficking, with prostitution.

Unanimously, the report and the panel recommended and urged reauthorization of the JJDPA (Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act) , strengthening of the PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act), and overall a more comprehensive and specific approach for young girls in the juvenile justice system. This involves implementing around them a solid structure of support which understands that these kids’ backgrounds and traumas are directly related to their actions and behaviors. It also implies that we stop sending them automatically to jail, especially those who commit status offenses (i.e. age-related offenses like underage drinking or skipping school), but instead understand the causes of these offenses and provide a safe environment for them, since their home is often not one.

Michigan Lawmakers Introduce Bipartisan Juvenile Justice Reform Legislation

Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency Tuesday, 06 October 2015 Posted in 2015, Across the Country

Today, 14 state lawmakers introduced a 21-bill package with bipartisan, bicameral support to reform Michigan’s juvenile justice system.  Currently, Michigan is one of only nine states remaining in the nation that automatically prosecutes 17-year-olds as adults.  The main focus of the legislative package would be to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 17 to 18, allowing for Michigan’s youths to have greater access to age-appropriate rehabilitative services.

“It is time for Michigan to abandon this draconian practice,” lead bill sponsor Representative Harvey Santana (D-Detroit) said.  “There have been numerous studies which indicate that incarcerating youth actually increases the rate of violent crimes.  We need to ensure we are rehabilitating our youthful offenders and not simply putting them in prison, potentially throwing away their future.”

According to the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency, research has found that youth exiting the adult system are 34% more likely to reoffend, reoffend sooner, and escalate to more violent offenses than their counterparts in the juvenile justice system.    “This is a subject that touches many lives and knows no partisan bounds,” Representative Santana said.  “That is how I was able to bring together 14 different legislators from diverse backgrounds to sponsor and support this package of bills.”

Along with raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 17 to 18 years of age, other bills in the bill package include not allowing youth under the age of 18 to be housed in any adult correctional facility, ensuring age-appropriate rehabilitation services are accessible for all youth in the juvenile justice system, eliminating certain offenses that do not require adult sentencing from the list of specified juvenile offenses, requiring public monitoring and oversight of any youth who has entered the jurisdiction of the Michigan Department of Corrections prior to turning 18 years old, requiring equal consideration of all mitigating factors prior to waiving jurisdiction in traditional juvenile waiver cases, establishing a family advisory board within the Michigan Department of Corrections to ensure effective partnerships with families and victims, and requiring that the Department establish policies in line with Michigan’s Mental Health Code for youth out-of-cell time, including youth who are in punitive or administrative segregation.

“In Michigan you need to wait until 18 to serve our country or buy tobacco, and wait until 21 to legally buy alcohol, yet at 17 we stand ready to throw you in jail as if you were an adult,” said Representative Peter J. Lucido (R-Shelby Township). “Science has shown us the brain does not fully develop its cognitive and reasoning skills until the mid-twenties. Therefore, it makes no sense not to join the forty-one other states which treat 17-year-olds as juveniles and 18-year-olds as adults in our correctional system. Instead of just tossing a 17-year-old in jail and give up on them, we should put in the effort to help set them on a better path towards a brighter future.”

Other notable points were made when Representative Kosowski (D-Westland) said “The corrections system cost Michigan taxpayers more than 2 billion dollars per year. In fact, Michigan annually spends more on its corrections system than it does on higher education.  As legislators it is our duty to cut costs while ensuring public safety." Kosowski continued, "My bill in this package creates a monitoring system within the Department of Corrections that will allow us to ensure that best practices and greatest cost efficiency are implemented while reducing recidivism rates of youthful offenders.”

Representative Kesto (R-Commerce Township) also noted “As a former prosecutor and current representative, I work every day to improve public safety and making Michigan more efficient with our tax dollars. This bill package accomplishes two important goals - improved public safety while costing the taxpayers less money.”

“This package of bills has not been arrived at lightly,” said Representative Howrylak (R-Troy). “Rather, our Judges, Prosecutors, Counties, the Department and groups including the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency and the Mental Health Association have contributed extensively. These combined perspectives have resulted in legislation which rightly acknowledges our purposes for incarceration, the humanity of our youth, and their potential to contribute successfully in society if treated appropriately and compassionately.”

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

Tuesday, 06 October 2015 Posted in 2015, Voices

The Power of Sharing Stories


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.

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:


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


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

New Report: Gender Injustice: System-Level Juvenile Justice Reforms for Girls

Anne-Lise Vray Wednesday, 30 September 2015 Posted in 2015, Research & Policy

A young girl at Maryvale, an all-girls level-12 institution in Rosemead, California. Photo by Richard Ross.

 Anne-Lise Vray, Juvenile Justice Intern

The National Crittenton Foundation, in partnership with the National Women’s Law Center, just released a report entitled “Gender Injustice: System-Level Juvenile Justice Reforms for Girls”, which reveals how and why the girls’ experience of the American juvenile justice system is very different from the boys’. The issue has come under the spotlight as girls are increasingly entering this system but continue to lack appropriate care and support. Indeed, despite an overall decline in the arrests of youth, girls’ share of arrests has increased by 45% over the last two decades. Meanwhile, girls’ share of detentions increased by 40%. These alarming numbers are products of the incomprehensive and inadequate policies girls who get pulled into the juvenile justice system have been subjected to. Indeed, a large majority of these kids have a background of deprivation, abuse and violence, traumatic experiences that are directly related to their behaviors, which in most cases don’t pose any threat to public safety. Thus, among the girls arrested nationwide, there is a disproportionate number of them whose offenses are connected to poverty, abusive homes or poor relationships, such as “prostitution” (which is increasingly recognized as being sexual exploitation of minors), liquor law violation or curfew violation. Furthermore, the report highlights that these very young women are still consistently sent behind bars for status offenses, misdemeanors or other minor offenses that don’t represent any danger for the public.

Among these vulnerable girls, some groups are even more exposed. Young ladies of color and girls from the LBQ/GNCT (Lesbian, Bisexual, Questioning/Gender Non-Conforming or Transgender) community are indeed at a greater risk than their white/straight or gender-conforming peers to enter the juvenile justice system and to be discriminated against throughout the whole judicial process. 

The report reminds us of “Jane Doe”’s case, an “example of the way juvenile justice systems too often prioritizes control over treatment, disregarding the clear need for a developmental approach.” In 2014, a 16 year-old transgender girl of color who had been sexually abused/trafficked her whole life was sent to an adult women prison at the request of the Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families, before eventually ending up in isolation in a secure facility for boys. This story illustrates the way the needs of youth, especially of girls, are too often ignored by the juvenile justice system, from the police to the facilities’ staff. Yet, the report underlines the benefits a more comprehensive, developmental approach would have, and gives the 9 following recommendations for a reform of the system:

-        -  Stop criminalizing behavior caused by damaging environments that are out of girls’ control

-        -  Engage girls’ families throughout the juvenile justice process

-        -  Use pre-petition diversion to provide “off-ramps” from the formal justice system for girls living in traumatic social contexts

-        -  Don’t securely detain girls for offenses and technical violation that pose no public safety threat and are environmentally-driven

-         - Attorneys, judges and probation officers should use trauma-informed approaches to improve court culture for girls

-         - Adopt a strengths-based, objective approach to girls probation services

-         - Use health dollars to fund evidence-based practices and programs for girls, and address health needs related to their trauma

-         - Limit secure confinement of girls, which is costly, leads to poor outcomes, and re-traumatizes vulnerable girls

-         - Support emerging adulthood for young women with justice system histories

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