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Articles tagged with: CFYJ

Protecting the Most Vulnerable Prisoners in New York: PREA Matters

By Mishi Faruqee and Erin Beth Harrist Tuesday, 12 May 2015 Posted in 2015, Across the Country

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This Friday, May 15, governors across the country will once again certify that their states are following the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) and protecting people in prison from sexual abuse.

In New York, the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision has already taken some steps to follow the law, even producing orientation videos to educate people in prison on how to avoid sexual predators inside the walls.  However, despite these important efforts, New York must still take steps to protect the most vulnerable populations from sexual victimization –transgender people and young people housed in adult jails and prisons.

Transgender people are victimized at rates nearly ten times of other incarcerated people. The Bureau of Justice Statistics recently reported that nearly 40 percent of all transgender prisoners reported sexual assault or abuse. Transgender women housed in male prisons are often at greatest risk.  New York prisons often place trans prisoners in solitary confinement for their own protection, despite the fact that PREA specifically prohibits the use of segregated housing to protect people who are considered to be at high risk for sexual assault and abuse. Placement of trans prisoners in solitary confinement is not only traumatic and harmful to mental health, it also increases the risk of assault and abuse by prison staff. New York DOCCS must do more to ensure compliance with PREA by committing to house trans people consistent with their gender identity, establishing one or more voluntary housing units for transgender people, and prohibiting the use of involuntary solitary confinement for trans people.   

New York is also leaving hundreds of young people vulnerable to sexual victimization in adult facilities.  Because New York is one of only two states (along with North Carolina) that automatically prosecutes all youth as adults when they turn 16, New York has one of the highest number of youth incarcerated in adult jails and prisons in the country.  On any given day in New York State, there are approximately 800 16- and 17-year-olds in adult jails and prisons. 

Young people in adult jails and prisons are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse. The Bureau of Justice Statistic report found  that among young people victimized by other prisoners in 2011-12, more than three-quarters experienced force or threat of force, and a quarter were injured.  At a recent legislative hearing, one mother provided powerful testimony of her 17-year-old son’s harrowing experience in an adult prison in New York:

“[My son] entered the correctional system as a mentally ill, naïve and very vulnerable 17-year-old incapable of handling prison life. He was placed in the general population even though the forensic evaluation strongly advised against this.   Within a few months, he became a target of sexual victimization. An older inmate pretended to be his friend and then threatened him unless he provided sexual favors. In response to this victimization, he was given solitary confinement, until his family intervened on his behalf. He was then transferred to another facility and placed in a unit for mentally ill inmates. He developed symptoms of PTSD, suffering from nightmares, insomnia and short-term memory loss and yet he did not receive any treatment for this.”

Under PREA’s Youthful Inmate Standard, young people under age 18 may not be housed with adults and may not be kept in solitary confinement as a way to separate them from adults.  New York has sought to comply with this requirement by housing 16- and 17-year-olds in separate units where they do not have contact with older prisoners. However, as the federal inquiry into the adolescent jail at Rikers Island found, because young people are still housed in adult facilities and subject to their punitive and violent culture, they are suffering widespread abuse behind bars. 

The only way to keep incarcerated youth safe in New York is to pass legislation to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 and remove all youth people from adult jails and prisons. The State Legislature packs up and goes home for the year in June – our elected officials must not leave Albany without raising the age of criminal responsibility and standing up for New York’s most vulnerable youth.

Erin Beth Harrist is a staff attorney at the New York Civil Liberties Union, where she focuses on statewide civil rights and civil liberties impact litigation.

Mishi Faruqee is the Juvenile Justice Policy Strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union focusing on national and state juvenile justice policy reforms.

Please visit our blog this week for updates on PREA from around the country.

Additionally, here are some sample posts for social media, please share:


“There’s No Excuse” national week of action to end prison rape #ImplementPREA

Prison Rape Elimination Act was passed to end sexual abuse behind bars. Act now to #ImplementPREA

PROBLEM: Jails & prisons are not equipped to protect youth from dangers of ault facilities. SOLUTION: #ImplementPREA

PREA would help the more than 2 million people behind bars including the 100K youth in jails & prisons every day  #ImplementPREA

There's No Excuse! Protect Children from Rape in Adult Jails & Prisons. Take Action TODAY#ImplementPREA

Implementing PREA will save lives. Join our efforts to protect youth behind bars #ImplementPREA


On any given day, over 8,000 youth are confined in adult jails and prisons. Research shows that youth are not safe in adult facilities and are at the greatest risk of sexual victimization. Youth are 36X more likely to commit suicide in an adult jail than in a juvenile detention facility. Take Action during the “There’s No Excuse” #ImplementPREA.

Prison rape is no laughing matter: More than 2million people behind bars including the 100K youth in jails & prisons are at risk of sexual abuse every day. The Prison Rape Elimination Act was passed to end sexual abuse behind bars. Its time for Governors to ensure that PREA is implemented in every state. Learn more and take action #ImplementPREA

Family Engagement is Crucial

Kay Xiao Friday, 01 May 2015 Posted in 2015, Take Action Now

By Kay Xiao, CFYJ Intern

At the Campaign for Youth Justice, we recognize that  affected communities are at the heart and center of any successful reform effort. This includes the families of young people  tried as adults. Families are oftentimes the most vocal and powerful advocates of youth justice and are instrumental in transforming the justice system. Their personal experiences not only help to bring an urgency and expertise to reform efforts, but also provide rich and detailed information as to ways systems can be strengthened to support families.

The input of families is crucial to creating legislative change.  Families who engage in legislative reform are incredibly courageous—they share share their personal stories with the policy makers and the public,  opening themselves up to potential public scrutiny for the advancement of  the greater good.  More importantly, families remind us that children prosecuted as adults are more than the worst thing they have ever done—they are sons, daughters, siblings, students, athletes, community leaders, authors, and so much more. This is why CFYJ believes in engaging with families and youth to take action at state and national levels through public awareness campaigns that result in legislative action.

CFYJ works with families and youth to:

Convene families and youth in leadership, community organizing, and media trainings 

  • Develop and train those who are interested in becoming CFYJ spokespeople 
  • Provide materials to families who are interested in sharing their stories with the media and other sources.Identify opportunities for youth and families to participate in national meetings and conferences. 
  • Identify opportunities for youth and families to participate and testify in Capitol Hill briefings and hearings in their own state. 
  • Coordinate meetings of families and youth with policy makers and federal government agency leaders to discuss family engagement, educate policy leaders on the issue, and create solutions to end the practice of processing youth in the adult criminal justice system. 
  • Provide a comprehensive Family Resource Guide to assist families who have a child who is at-risk or is currently being processed in the criminal justice system. 
  • Support Youth Justice Awareness Month events in states.

In order to better understand the issue at hand and offer recommendations for change, we need to hear about the experiences of those most affected by the current system. Share your story or provide a testimonial and learn more about the family engagement and partnership practices in the justice system.

“Sixth Amendment Right to… Detention?”

Najja Quail, CFYJ Policy Intern Tuesday, 14 April 2015 Posted in 2015, Federal Update

By Najja Quail, CFYJ Intern

“Without counsel, an accused’s chances of regaining liberty are substantially prejudiced.” The Constitution Project recently hosted a luncheon to discuss its recent report on pretrial justice and the right to counsel at first judicial bail hearings. In its report, The Constitution Project highlighted the lack of constitutionally mandated counsel for indigent clients at pretrial hearings where bail is set, often at an amount that no indigent citizen could pay. The lack of representation at these hearings often results in indigent clients spending unnecessary time in jail, not because of an adjudication of guilt, but simply because they cannot afford bail. For youth, the negative impacts of this practice are even more detrimental.

More often than not, the result of the lack of counsel at preliminary hearings is detention. For youth charged as adults, this often means being detained in an adult jail. The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) requires that youth in adult facilities be separated by sight and sound from the adult population. Too often this results in youth being placed in solitary confinement, a torturous practice, before any adjudication of guilt. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) does not require sight and sound separation for youth charged as adults, a loophole with equally devastating consequences.

In Rothgery v. Gillespie, Justice Souter asserted that “counsel’s advocacy at the initial appearance is essential to the fair administration of our system of justice.” The lack of counsel often results in youth being unnecessarily detained which places them at a grave disadvantage. As a country, we consistently recognize the vulnerability of youth and generally view them as a group requiring special protections. However, when it comes to our treatment of youth involved in the justice system, we seem to lose sight of the fragility of youth and often treat them harsher than adults. The loss of liberty is one of the most highly protected constitutional rights, a right that does not disappear simply because someone is accused of committing a crime.

To learn more about pretrial justice and judicial bail hearings, please contact The Constitution ProjectConstitution Project.

The Conditions Necessary for Reform: Take Action Now

Marcy Mistrett Wednesday, 25 March 2015 Posted in 2015, Take Action Now

Only a few more weeks remain for the New York State legislature to decide whether to support Governor Cuomo’s Raise the Age Bill. A bill that would raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction from 16 to 18 years of age; aligning New York with the majority of the country. On March 16, the Children’s Defense Fund in NY held a symposium to educate the public on how the Commission on Youth, Public Safety and Justice determined its recommendations and the impact the law would have, if passed, on youth and public safety.

The tone of the morning was set by Bryan Stevenson, founder of Equal Justice Initiative, author of the best selling book, Just Mercy, and a powerful voice in the reform efforts of the criminal justice system. Mr. Stevenson, sharing his belief that “all children should be treated as children” broke down four conditions necessary for reform:

  1. Reformers must be proximate to those impacted by the law—keep people who are impacted close to the reforms. See and feel their humanity and the trauma they have experienced, for it is the same humanity and trauma that is within us.
  2. Reformers must change the narrative. The US presumes too many black children as dangerous and guilty. This narrative must be replaced with one of truth and reconciliation.
  3. Reformers must protect our hopefulness. “Change will be minimized if we don’t believe that something better is possible.”
  4. Reformers must do uncomfortable things. “Justice requires this. We are all more than the worst thing we have ever done.”

These themes resonated throughout the morning. Building from the powerful statements from a formerly court-involved young person, Jim S., who talked about the transformative nature of the youth/family court for him personally; every member of the panel clearly was proximate to this issue. There was no lack of stories of injustice, racialization, and deprivation that youth experience when incarcerated—particularly when incarcerated side by side with adults.

Commissioners talked about the importance of bearing witness to the conditions that youth endured in adult jails and prisons—including cell-study, outdoor recreation in a 2 x 5 foot caged area, months of solitary confinement, isolation from their families, and lack of access to age appropriate services. The observation, documentation and sharing of these experiences has been critical to developing the political climate necessary for reform.

In terms of changing the narrative—Commissioners and community-based organizations articulated and accepted that youth of color are disproportionately harmed and traumatized by incarceration; but also commented that this harm extends to all youth who lack access to age appropriate services and to the communities in which they reside. Panelists highlighted the vicious cycle that treating kids as adults creates in our families and communities—and the need to invest resources up front to keep young people and families stable and out of the criminal justice system. Panelists, many who have been fighting to raise the age for half a decade, discussed ways they have seen “toughness” toward these young people evolve into “trauma informed” services and care. Many cited excellent community based programs and continuums of care that exist, but need to be scaled, to keep kids close to home and connected to their communities.

Hopefulness was referred to repeatedly. Advocates referred to the system changes that have happened to get NY ready to raise the age. From the Youth-Part Court, to the dramatic reduction in state-based youth care, to a reorganizing of financial streams that allow youth to get accessible services, all prior reform has gotten NY in a position where raising the age can be implemented effectively. There was also consensus that this bill is something that would benefit youth, regardless of where they lived in the state.

Finally, the uncomfortableness that has accompanied “Raising the Age” in NY was also expressed throughout the morning. Not a panelist spoke, who didn’t reference some discomfort—either with what they see happen to youth and families day to day; or from their frustration with lacking authority to make the change from where they sit; or from holding systems and families accountable; or even where the final recommendations from the Commission ended. One might say that it was the pervasiveness of the discomfort that ultimately led to action.

By all accounts, NY has in place the pieces necessary for reform; the question remains, is the legislature ready too? If you haven’t yet reached out to your legislator in NY, please TAKE ACTION now, by clicking here.

State of the States: Here's What's Moving in 2015

Najja Quail, CFYJ Legal Intern Tuesday, 24 March 2015 Posted in 2015, Across the Country

By Najja Quail, CFYJ Legal Intern

As the rates of juvenile arrests continue to decline, state policymakers are taking advantage of the opportunity to rethink the way we deal with youth involved with the adult criminal justice system. This legislative session, several bills have been introduced in various states to: 1) raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction; 2) examine the ways in which youth are transferred to the adult system; and 3) remove youth from pretrial detention.

Missouri, New York, and Texas, all have bills currently being reviewed by the legislature to raise the statutory age for which youth in these states can be automatically prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system. Connecticut is trying to raise the minimum age of transfer from 14 to 15 years of age while Vermont proposes that all cases involving youth under 18 originate in the juvenile court, giving Family Court judges the ability to waive those cases to the criminal court. There is also push to make changes with regard to who decides whether a youth will be transferred to the criminal court, and where that youth is housed pending transfer decisions.  Utah’s SB 167 does several things to reduce the number of youth entering the adult system. Utah’s proposed bill limits the number of offenses in which a child can be “direct filed” in the adult system among other significant shifts in burden and changes in certification language.

Florida, a state notorious for its high number of youth involved in the adult system due to unfettered prosecutorial discretion, has several bills (HB 195, HB 783, SB 444, SB 498, and SB 1082) currently in the Legislature that would limit the number of youth automatically transferred to the adult system. The State of Maryland has bills in both the House and Senate (HB 618 and SB 172) that would require youth to be held in juvenile rather than adult facilities while they await a transfer determination.

In addition to the abovementioned bills, there are many states looking at other aspects of juvenile justice reform, thus making it more likely that youth in the adult system will have a place to go and receive appropriate rehabilitative services if these bills are successful. State legislative sessions end anywhere from late April to early June so there is plenty of time to get involved. To receive information on what’s happening in your state, please join our email list to receive timely updates. You can sign up here.   

March is Juvenile Justice Month of Faith and Healing

Kay Xiao Monday, 09 March 2015 Posted in 2015, Across the Country

March marks the annual Juvenile Justice Month of Faith and Healing. This month brings together congregations of all faiths, schools and universities in prayer, service and action. The goal is to offer young offenders hope and alternatives to a lifetime as a hardened criminal by raising awareness and creating engagement with issues pertaining to juvenile justice.

How to Get Involved:

  • Place a bulletin in your faith organization’s newsletter.
  • Throughout the month of March discuss juvenile justice in your weekly faith service.
  • Post a flyer in your place of worship.
  • Host a candle light vigil in your faith community in remembrance of youth in the justice system.
  • Host a discussion after a faith service in your community about juvenile justice issues. Such topics could be sentencing laws, sending children into the adult court system, willful defiance or the classification process in the prison system that sends youthful offenders to higher level prisons than adults for the same crime.
  • Support neighborhood groups that work to create cooperative relationships between neighbors, faith communities, and law enforcement to create a safe and secure community.
  • Support or volunteer with programs that promote victim ministry in your place of worship.
  • Support or volunteer with the ministry at your local detention center.
  • Provide spiritual, material, or emotional assistance to those reentering society, both youth and adult. Schools and places of worship are encouraged to invite formerly incarcerated youth to share their experiences and insights about the juvenile justice system.

For more information or to schedule a speaker please contact Javier Stauring at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

CFYJ testifies on conditions of confinement for DC Youth in Jail

Najja Quail, CFYJ Intern Monday, 23 February 2015 Posted in 2015, Federal Update

by Najja Quail, CFYJ Intern

On February 19th, DC Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie (D – DC), Chairperson of the Committee on the Judiciary held a Performance Oversight Hearing for the Department of Corrections (DOC), the Office of Returning Citizens Affairs (ORCA), the Corrections Information Council (CIC), and the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS). At the hearing, the Campaign for Youth Justice testified on the conditions of confinement for youth held in the Juvenile Unit of the Correctional Treatment Facility (CTF), the severe lack of programming for these youth, as well as the need for staff training on adolescent development. One of the top issues mentioned by Carmen Daugherty, Policy Director of the Campaign for Youth Justice, was the issue of solitary confinement and its harmful impact on youth. Daniel Okonkwo, Executive Director of DC Lawyers for Youth testified at the hearing on the inadequacy of adult facilities to provide the services that youth need for positive development. He highlighted a need for education, exercise, and pro-social interactions with positive role models. Okonkwo stated that passage of the Youth Offender Accountability and Rehabilitation Act (YOARA) would alleviate some of the concerns raised by advocates, families, and youth.

During questioning, Councilmember McDuffie raised some questions to Thomas Faust, the Director of the Department of Corrections, regarding some of the poignant issues and concerns regarding youth housed at CTF. Currently, according to Faust, 11 youth are confined in CTF. When questioned about solitary confinement, Faust responded that he “rejected” the term “solitary confinement” because what was actually occurring was an “administrative segregation.” Based on his response, “administrative segregation” means being in a cell for 23 hours a day for a maximum of 5 days, at which time a committee must review whether or not the youth held in this solitary confinement will remain “administratively segregated, ”or be released back to the general population. As the Campaign testified, studies have shown that this type of treatment, whether you call it “administrative segregation” or “solitary confinement,” is harmful to the mental, physical, and emotional health of developing youth.

Furthermore, Faust testified that he questions whether or not the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services’ facility is equipped to house the youth in the Juvenile Unit of the Correctional Treatment Facility due to the fact that some of the youth are “violent offenders.” He then testified that the youth housed in the Correctional Treatment Facility were less likely to act out and were given more privileges due to good behavior which would lead one to believe that maybe there’s more to be said about the “violent offenders” he deemed unsafe for housing in a youth facility. Studies have shown that youth can be rehabilitated, which is the basis for having a separate facility and judicial system for youth and Faust’s testimony on the good behavior of the youth housed in the Correctional Treatment Facility is evidence of this fact. It also further solidifies the need to educate DC Council on the ways youth are treated when they have contact with the law and how YOARA can strengthen public safety by providing much needed rehabilitative services to all youth.

CFYJ continues to monitor conditions of confinement at the CTF and plan on providing testimony at the upcoming DOC budget hearings scheduled for the spring. If interested in providing testimony, please contact Carmen Daugherty at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

New York: It's Time to Raise the Age

Carmen Daugherty Thursday, 22 January 2015 Posted in 2015, Research & Policy

"Our juvenile justice laws are outdated. Under New York State law, 16-and 17-year-olds can be tried and charged as adults...It's not right; it's not fair. We must raise the age."

Governor Cuomo, State of the State Address, Jan. 8, 2014

In April 2014, Gov. Cuomo established the Commission on Youth, Public Safety, and Justice to develop a plan to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction. The question was never "if" New York would raise the age, but "how". It was clear New York did not want to be the last state that automatically prosecutes 16 and 17 year olds in the adult system.

Finally, last Monday, on MLK Day, Governor Cuomo and the Commission on Youth, Public Safety and Justice released their recommendations on how to accomplish this feat. The Commission agreed that this was the right time to "raise the age" for several reasons including extensive research on adolescent brain development and the significant impact on adolescents when incarcerated in jails and prisons. Additionally, data showing higher suicide rates and higher recidivism, and the disproportionality of young men of color charged as adults strongly influenced the Commission to make the following recommendations:

1. Raising the age of adult criminal responsibility to 18: Juvenile jurisdiction should be expanded to include 16-year-olds in 2017 and 17-year-olds in 2018. This phase approach will allow for an initial infusion of the smaller population of 16-year-olds followed by full implementation. Youth charged with violent felonies will still originate in the criminal court.

2. Keeping youth out of adult jails and prisons: Prohibit confinement of any minor in an adult jail or prison and allow youth to remain in youth settings until age 21.

3. Diverting more cases before they reach the courts: Mandate diversion attempts for low-risk (per risk assessment) misdemeanor cases.

4. Establish family engagement specialists to facilitate diversion options: Support for family engagement specialists would strengthen capacity to engage youth and their families in targeted services and maximize the benefits.

5. Develop a continuum of effective community-based services at the local level to be used by probation: Community-based supervision provided to 16- and 17-year-olds should use evidence-based interventions individually tailored to reduce the risks and address the needs presented by the youth.

6. Create the capacity to seal one conviction from crimes committed under age 21: Allow for sealing after two years without a conviction for a misdemeanor conviction and five years for a felony conviction (excluding violent felonies, Class A felonies, homicides, and sex offenses).

In total, the Commission recommended 38 improvements to how youth are treated by New York's criminal justice system. The full report can be found here. These thoughtful recommendations should be uplifted, celebrated, and passed by the New York Assembly, quickly, and without debate. As the Commission and Governor have stated, the time is now, New York.


Cookhorne v. Fischer Settlement Provides Beneficial Reforms for Youth in Solitary Confinement

Courtney Thomas, Northeastern University School of Law: CFYJ Intern Tuesday, 28 October 2014 Posted in 2014, Federal Update

Prisoner’s Legal Services of New York (PLS) reached a landmark settlement with the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) in the case of Cookhorne v. Fischer which will result in significant and positive changes regarding the use of solitary confinement as a disciplinary sanction for 16 and 17 year old inmates in DOCCS custody.

The settlement agreement contains several amendments to DOCCS policies and prohibits solitary confinement of youth for disciplinary purposes by limiting the maximum hours of confinement per day. The agreement mandates that a youth may be confined for no more than 18 hours a day, five days per week, and no more than 22 hours the other two days of the week. It further establishes a minimum number of hours for programming and recreation during this out-of-cell time. The settlement agreement also requires that regulations be amended to state that age is a mitigating factor in disciplinary proceedings where a youth has been accused of misconduct and requires a written statement of how the age affected the disposition.

JJDPA Matters: 40 for 40 Launched!

Thursday, 18 September 2014 Posted in 2014, Across the Country

September 2014 marks the 40th anniversary of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), the nation's main law governing state juvenile justice systems. Forty years ago, the JJDPA changed the face of youth justice—setting basic standards for state systems and establishing four core protections for young people in the system.

The JJDPA allows states to fund innovations and reforms that keep more kids out of jails and detention facilities and connected to safe, proven supports in their communities. Many states have used the JJDPA to modernize and improve their programs in ways that give kids the supports they need to get their lives back on track while at the same time helping make communities safer.

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