YOUTH JUSTICE ACTION MONTH 2018 – A LOT OF ACTION
Brian Evans, CFYJ State Campaign Director
With the theme #VoteYouthJustice – anticipating the election that is now less than a week away – this year’s Youth Justice Action Month (YJAM) featured events and activities all across the country.
Every October is Youth Justice Action Month, and this year, on the very first day, New York’s “Raise the Age” law went into effect for 16-year-olds, who are now no longer automatically tried as adults. All children under 18 were also removed from Rikers Island
Meanwhile, the outgoing Governor of Michigan – Rick Snyder – issued a proclamation declaring October to be Youth Justice Awareness Month (the old form of YJAM), as advocates continue to push for the state legislature to pass “Raise the Age” legislation before the end of the year.
Understanding how important it is to #VoteYouthJustice to ensure that the best decision-makers are in office, Michigan organizers led my Michigan’s Children also held a serious of youth and family-led candidate forums across the state this month.
A YJAM resolution has also been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, while a local resolution was passed unanimously in Leon County (Tallahassee), Florida, calling for an end to prosecutorial direct file of children into the adult court without judicial review.
A similar local proclamation was issued in Jackson, Mississippi, on October 25, declaring that day in particular to be a day to be Girls’ Justice Day. On that day our colleagues at Rights 4 Girls honored girls with a reception here at CFYJ, and a launch of the book “I Am the Voice”. On Oct. 27, in South Carolina, the group Every Black Girl organized a conference to discuss many issues of importance to girls and young women of color, including the implementation of “Raise the Age” legislation passed in 2016.
For our part, the Campaign for Youth Justice spent October 18 honoring the Mothers of the Movement, with a ceremony on Capitol Hill for Tracy McClard and Veronica Williams, and then a party at Hawthorne on U Street to celebrate YJAM’s 10th anniversary.
There were also contests. Elle Reber of Wisconsin won the inaugural poster contest with this design, while the Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings (CEEAS) organized “Unsung” – a song-writing contest for young people in secure confinement schools around the country. Judges for that included CFYJ’s CEO Marcy Mistrett and Aloe Blacc. You can listen to the winning songs here.
There was even an international dimension to YJAM this year. On October 4, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) presented its report on children in the U.S. adult criminal justice system at the University of Colorado in Boulder. And on October 10 in New York, advocates briefed Manfred Nowak, the Independent Expert tasked by the U.N. General Assembly with conduction a study on children deprived of liberty worldwide.
The importance, and urgency, of getting involved and taking action is clearly strongly felt, as many years of slow but steady progress in improving youth justice faces unprecedented challenges – both rhetorical and in disturbing policy shifts.
This year’s YJAM demonstrated that youth justice advocates are up to the challenge, whatever the outcomes after November 6.