Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Actions Matter: How We Can Show our Girls We Care

Maheen Kaleem

I met Lee-Lee six years ago, while she was in juvenile hall. She was 14. Her first child was six months old.  Her charge? Prostitution. Two days before Lee-Lee’sarrest, she was sexually assaulted by the man who bought her from her pimp. The next night, she was back on the streets. When I asked her if she reported her sexual assault to the police, she said, “of course not—they were arresting me.”

Federal law defines any commercial sex act involving someone under the age of 18 as a “severe form of trafficking.” And yet every year in the United States, hundreds of girls and gender-nonconforming children are arrested for prostitution, solicitation, and other-related crimes.

Child victims of commercial sexual exploitation, like Lee-Lee, enter the juvenile justice system with extreme unaddressed trauma. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) requires states that receive federal funds for their juvenile justice systems to develop policies for gender-responsive services and treatment plans to address the unique physical and mental health needs of girls and gender-nonconforming children.

The JJDPA has not been reauthorized since 2002. When the JJDPA was first introduced, there was no specific mention of gender-bias in the juvenile justice system—it was through the reauthorizations in 1992 and 2002 that increased attention and support was given to programs focused specifically on girls and gender-nonconforming youth. Over the last decade, funding for the JJDPA has drastically dwindled, although more recently Congress has appropriated some additional resources for system-involved girls, which is a step in the right direction.

The JJDPA is imperative because it:

  1. Requires each state to do an analysis of gender-specific prevention and treatment services and develop a plan to implement these services
  2. Incentivizes states to implement policies that prohibit gender bias in placement and treatment and develop programs that focus on young girls at risk of delinquency
  3. Allocates resources for local programs that are specifically targeted at girls
Through reauthorization, the JJDPA can be strengthened to better serve girls and gender-nonconforming youth by:
  • Making implementation of gender-responsive and trauma-responsive programming a core requirement for states to receive federal funding; and
  • Eliminating the Valid Court Order (VCO) exception to ensure that children charged with status offenses (who are disproportionately girls) not be detained.
Reauthorizing and strengthening the JJDPA is necessary because more and more girls and gender-nonconforming youth are entering the system. Many of these children are victims of abuse, are involved in the foster care system, and are victims of child sex trafficking. Many of these girls are mothers themselves. Young mothers like Lee-Leeneed therapeutic support so that they can heal themselves, and prevent their children from becoming trapped in the same cycles of poverty and abuse.

Like many victims of trafficking who are arrested, Lee-Lee’s poem tells us how worthless, misunderstood and cast away she feels. Traffickers capitalize on these feelings of worthlessness by convincing children that no one cares for them, and that they should put all of their trust into the trafficker.

If JJDPA is reauthorized and strengthened, Lee-Lee’s probation officer will be someone who understands the unique struggles that young girls face.  Her treatment and supervision plan will include therapy, parenting classes, mentoring, and support from probation officers and professionals who see her as a child and a victim of abuse, rather than a criminal. 

Every year that the JJDPA is not reauthorized, we send a message to our girls and gender-nonconforming children that the traffickers are right—that we do not value them, we do not care about their histories of abuse and trauma, and that instead of receiving support, they will be punished and judged.

If we are truly interested in protecting children from being bought and sold on our streets, we must demonstrate so through our actions. Reauthorizing JJDPA responds to Lee-Lee’s questions; it says to her:  “You are a child and you matter.”

Maheen Kaleem is the Equal Justice Works Fellow at Human Rights Project for Girls, sponsored by Toyota Motor Corporation and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. She has been working with system-involved youth for over ten years.

This post is part of the JJDPA Matters blog, a project of the Act4JJ Campaign with help from SparkAction. 

The JJDPA, the nation's landmark juvenile justice law, turned 40 in September 2014. To mark this anniversary, Act4JJ member organizations and allies will post blogs on issues related to the JJDPA throughout the fall and winter. To learn more and take action in support of JJDPA, visit the Act4JJ JJDPA Matters Action Center, powered by SparkAction.

Monday, October 20, 2014

YJAM 2014: Advocates Making Waves in Youth Justice Reforms

As we reflect on this year and in commemoration of Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM), we have seen the pursuit of many youth justice reforms across the country. Efforts to improve the lives of our youth come in many forms - whether it's pursuits to improve laws, efforts to change the hearts and minds of the public, or working to empower youth and their families - the Campaign for Youth Justice applauds the daily efforts of advocates who take a stand for youth. Today, we highlight what many say can't be done: change for the better. Our youth, our communities, and our nation have all felt the positive impact of your efforts. Thank you for all that you do.

2014 has seen a growing focus on collaboration. Advocates in Missouri, New York, and Nevada have worked diligently to serve, staff, and navigate commissions and task forces established specifically to study laws that funnel youth into the adult criminal justice system. In collaboration with legislators, professors, families, system stakeholders and law enforcement - these opportunities allow for distinct voices to come together and determine real solutions that can reduce the number of youth prosecuted in the adult court. Through coalition efforts, advocates in New Hampshire were successful in raising the age of court jurisdiction this year, ending the practice of sending 17-year-olds through the adult criminal justice system. Learn more HERE about HB1624, one of the most important pieces of juvenile justice legislation in New Hampshire over the past 30 years.

2014 has also seen community and youth involvement and leadership in reform efforts. Along with advocates working in coalition, many are also striving to ensure the voices of community members and youth are a part of their strategy development and actions. With the goal of building a statewide campaign, Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency (MCCD) and allies have been hosting regional meetings to not only raise awareness about youth justice issues, but to also hear from the community and to provide opportunities for building advocacy skills.

Judge Our Youth Campaign allies
 In the District of Columbia, the Judge Our Youth Campaign has also spent 2014 engaging the community on the issue of housing kids in DC's adult facility. In trying to build community buy-in, the JOY Campaign has hosted briefings, presented information to DC community members, and engaged people through social media and online actions to enlist support. They are now prepping to pack the room of an upcoming public hearing that will bring critical legislation in front of DC leadership. The most valuable contribution to this campaign has been the willingness of DC youth to share their stories. Through the power of putting a human face to the issue, their experiences have been the reason the campaign has built support from council members, as well as a community that wasn't aware youth were being exposed to the dangers of jails.

NY RTA campaign youth leaders
In New York, advocates with the Juvenile Justice Project are invested in empowering system-involved and LGBTQ youth through the Safe Passages program and Youth Speakers Institute. Recognizing that youth voices play a key role in educating legislators and the public by countering stereotypes and misconceptions, both initiatives train and connect young people with opportunities to participate in advocacy and public education on youth justice reform. In creating safe spaces for youth, together they learn how to organize, and build leadership and life skills. Once they graduate, they become spokespeople and organizers for the Raise the Age campaign - an effort to end the automatic prosecution of 16-and-17-year-olds in the adult criminal justice system.

NY youth in action
We believe all of these efforts are victories because they are both a catalyst and a product of positive movement in the criminal justice arena. Reform is not possible without the people who do the work on the ground every day. Congratulations to all of the advocates who are making tremendous things happen! We know there is much work to do, but for this moment, let us all sit back, reflect, and enjoy what you and many committed advocates have done to better the lives of youth and their families and the greater communities you serve.

In DC capturing youth impact stories
Join us today in celebrating those who fight for youth justice every day. 

Who inspires you to continue the fight? Share a #YJAM shout out online. Stay connected with other allies during Youth Justice Awareness Month this October, by following us on Facebook and Twitter

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Take Action: Join DC's Judge Our Youth Campaign on Oct.22nd

In just one week, the JOY Campaign team and allies will attend the YOARA public hearing. This public hearing is a critical step in ensuring the Youth Offender Accountability and Rehabilitation Act (YOARA) passes this year. Thanks to the actions and support of allies, we have built a campaign that has a real chance to pass legislation that will improve the lives of DC youth. If you're in the DC area, make sure to join us next week! 
Join us in ensuring that we have a successful public hearing and move DC one step closer to a fair, humane, and effective justice system. 


1. PACK THE ROOM: The YOARA bill hearing begins at 11am on October 22nd. Join us in room 412 and don't forget to wear BLUE in solidarity! Let us know you can make it out for the hearing by signing up HERE. Are you on Facebook? Check in and share the event page with your friends: bit.ly/DCHearing  

2. MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD: Community voices are valuable and central to this campaign. The DC Council needs to hear from families, youth, and organizations that support DC children. Consider the questions below, and let us know if you would like to testify. 
  • Have you or someone close to you, ever been incarcerated in the DC Jail or Correctional Treatment Facility (CTF)? 
  • Do you know of a youth who has faced adult criminal charges and/or been incarcerated in the DC Jail or CTF while awaiting trial? 
  • Do you work with youth in adult or juvenile justice facilities?  
3. GET OTHERS INVOLVED: This is the perfect time to get others involved. Speak to your class, forward this alert to your network, or tweet out the public hearing flyer - there are many ways you can join the JOY Campaign! Do you have some time to volunteer with us next week? Contact Angella, at: abellota@cfyj.org or 202-558-3580 ext. 1602

Can't attend the hearing? Support JOY Campaign's statement of principles and follow the conversation online at: #JOYDC

The Judge Our Youth (JOY) Campaign seeks to create a justice system that is more fair, humane, and effective than the one we have today. The JOY Campaign is advocating for reforms of DC's criminal justice policies that would limit the use of adult punishment against youth. We are currently promoting policy changes like the Youth Offender Accountability and Rehabilitation Act of 2014, which would prohibit youth being held pre-trial in adult jail and allow judges to transfer cases back to juvenile court when appropriate. We welcome the involvement of organizations and community members that would like to assist in this work. To learn more, visit: www.dcly.org/judge_our_youth 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

YJAM2014: Unequal Progress: Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the Systems

The latest data from the U.S. Department of Justice showed that the rate of youth in confinement dropped 41% between 2001 and 2011. Cause to celebrate during YJAM? Yes and no. Despite the remarkable decrease in the use of confinement for youth, The National Council on Crime & Delinquency (NCCD) reports that the proportion of youth of color receiving court dispositions grew substantially between 2002 and 2012. NCCD completed a statistical analysis of county-level data from five counties across the country that have worked on system reform. Through its analysis, NCCD found that youth of color represented 66.8% of sentenced youth in 2002 yet this percentage rose to an alarming 80.4% in 2012.

Youth in the Adult System: Gross Disparities

We know youth of color are over-represented at all stages in the juvenile justice system. African-American youth overwhelmingly receive harsher treatment than white youth in the juvenile justice system at most stages of case processing. African-American youth make up an astounding 30% of those arrested while they only represent 17% of the overall youth population. At the other extreme end of the system, African-American youth are 62% of the youth prosecuted in the adult criminal system and are nine times more likely than white youth to receive an adult prison sentence. States such as Florida, Illinois, Michigan, and Washington, DC have recently reported on these disparate practices.

The number of delinquency cases judicially waived to the adult criminal justice system peaked in 1994 at 13,300 cases, more than double the number of cases waived in 1985.    In 2011, juvenile courts waived an estimated 5,300 delinquency cases, nearly 60% fewer cases than in 1994, yet the rate at which petitioned cases were waived to criminal court was 40% greater for black youth than for white youth.

Compared to white youth, Latino youth are 4% more likely to be petitioned, 16% more likely to be adjudicated delinquent, 28% more likely to be detained, and 41% more likely to receive an out-of-home placement.  The most severe disparities occur for Latino youth tried in the adult system.  Latino children are 43% more likely than white youth to be waived to the adult system and 40% more likely to be admitted to adult prison.

Native youth are more likely to receive the two most severe punishments in juvenile justice systems:  out-of-home placement (i.e., incarceration in a state correctional facility) and waiver to the adult system.  Compared to white youth, Native youth are 1.5 times more likely to receive out-of-home placement and are 1.5 times more likely to be waived to the adult criminal system.   Nationwide, the average rate of new commitments to adult state prison for Native youth is 1.84 times that of white youth.

The data exists. Now what can we do about it? 

The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) was established in 1974 to provide federal standards for the custody and care of youth in the juvenile justice system.  Twenty years later, the JJDPA included a “Disproportionate Minority Contact” (DMC) provision requiring states to address the disproportionate confinement of youth of color at key points in the juvenile justice system. In the most recent JJDPA reauthorization over ten years ago, the term confinement was changed to contact to emphasize the racial and ethnic disparities faced by youth of color at all points in the juvenile justice system.

The JJDPA’s DMC provision has ensured funding to every state to reduce these stark racial and ethnic disparities.  There are promising efforts in a number of states.  Take a look at the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) efforts, W. Haywood Burns Institute, and the Models for Change (MfC) initiative.

The Campaign for Youth Justice, along with many other national and state partner organizations recognize the urgency in addressing the blatant disparities for youth in both the juvenile justice system and adult criminal justice system. We have been staunch advocates for reform efforts at both the federal and state level and hope that you will continue to join us in supporting and advocating for changes that will improve the lives of youth of color.

Trying youth as adults has negative consequences for all youth, but communities of color are particularly harmed by these policies and everyone including policymakers should be concerned that our system of justice is applied inequitably.

To continue to learn more about Youth Justice Awareness Month and the theme issues we will be raising throughout October, follow us on Facebook and Twitter.



Monday, October 6, 2014

YJAM 2014: CFYJ Introduces "Sharing Your Personal Story"

October is Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM), and is an opportunity for communities, families, youth, and allies to host community-led actions and events to raise awareness about the consequences of children in the adult criminal justice system.

One of the primary ways CFYJ raises awareness about the injustices that young people face while involved in the adult criminal justice system during YJAM, and throughout the year, are through stories. CFYJ believes that personal stories put a relatable face on the people and families that are in the criminal justice system, shattering stereotypes and misconceptions about what our justice system is or is not. A story can affect change.

As part of YJAM 2014, CFYJ is pleased to release our newest publication, Sharing Your Personal Story: A Guide for Youth and Families on How to Share their Experience With the Juvenile and Criminal Justice Systems. This publication is a resource for people who have had experience as minors in the adult criminal justice system, and want to share from their own personal experience. This publication is also intended for educators, trainers, and facilitators to use as a study guide for groups of people who desire to educate and influence through sharing personal experiences.

Once lawmakers, media, general public and community hear about the experiences of youth and families within our justice system, their perspective changes. They are inspired and motivated to change policies and laws that address the way we treat our children and youth. They can also just develop a different frame of reference of those impacted by our criminal justice system. Sharing your story can have a positive and direct impact on the treatment and outcomes of other youth and families in the criminal justice system.

We ask that you please share this publication with someone who has a story to share about his or her personal experience as a kid in the adult criminal justice system, or as a family member of an incarcerated youth. If interested in additional information on sharing personal stories, spokesperson training, or how to become active in CFYJ’s Spokesperson Bureau, please contact, CFYJ’s Communication Director, Aprill Turner, at aturner@cfyj.org.

Additionally, here's are other ways you can get in on the action this October for YJAM:

SHARE: Latest Blog Post about this year’s #YJAM themes, they can be found on this page.

CREATE A BUZZ: Help us share the excitement around #YJAM by sharing this message to your networks and list serves.

FOLLOW SOCIAL MEDIA: Join us on Twitter and Facebook to receive all the latest infographics, event info, and issue themes during October. And don’t forget to use #YJAM and #YouthJustice to join the conversation all month long!

Thank you for helping to make YJAM 2014 a success!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Party’s Over. It’s Time to Act!

Marcy Mistrett

Last month marked the 40th anniversary of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 (JJDPA)—the nation’s main law governing state juvenile justice programs.

All September long, youth, families, leaders, and advocates from across the country celebrated four decades of fewer youth in adult jails, fewer children who have committed no crime being locked up, and increased attention being paid to racial and ethnic disparities in our state systems.

Here’s just a sampling of what we saw:
Forty years of change have made a difference, but there is still a lot more work that needs to get done. Now is TIME TO TAKE ACTION.

Since 1974, the JJDPA has provided critical federal funding to states that comply with a set of best practices designed to protect children from the dangers of adult jails and lockups; keep status offenders out of locked custody; and address the disproportionate treatment of youth of color in the justice system.

However, the law is now seven years overdue for reauthorization!

Funding for the Act has been gutted to a mere fraction of what it was at the turn of the century. Children are still being incarcerated at alarming rates and in horrible conditions because we are angry with them; NOT because they compromise our communities’ safety.

Congress has the opportunity to propose a new, revised bill that reflects what has been learned over the past decade about what does and does not work to keep our communities safe and help young people get back on track to better futures. That’s what the ACT4JJ and JJDPA Matters campaigns are all about.

Will you help us?

Marcy started her career in juvenile justice in Chicago in the 1990’s, where she worked on youth transfer issues at the University of Chicago Law School’s Mandel Clinic, at the Citizen’s Committee on Juvenile Court, and at the Evanston Community Defender Office as a social worker.  She has been an organizer, technical assistance and direct service provider at the national and local levels for the past 20 years. Marcy joined the Campaign for Youth Justice in Summer, 2014 as the new CEO.

This post is part of the JJDPA Matters blog, a project of the Act4JJ Campaign with help from SparkAction.

The JJDPA, the nation's landmark juvenile justice law, turns 40 this September. Each month leading up to this anniversary, Act4JJ member organizations and allies will post blogs on issues related to the JJDPA. To learn more and take action in support of JJDPA, visit the Act4JJ JJDPA Matters Action Center, powered by SparkAction.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Today is the Start of Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM)!

It is finally here! Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM) kicks off today! We are very excited about a number of organizations joining us this year - Over 30 organizations in nearly 20 states are helping to make YJAM a reality!

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. Events planned range from poetry slams, film screenings, community forums, and more. We estimate that over 3,000 people will attend YJAM events all over the country this year.

This year's theme is "The Consequences Aren't Minor." During the month of October, be on the look out for issues under this umbrella theme, including racial and ethnic disparities, collateral consequences, and the voices of youth and community advocates, themselves. Moreover, we will be highlighting the wonderful organizations that work, whether directly or in solidarity, to end the practice of trying youth as adults.

How can you get involved in spreading the word about YJAM? That is a great question!

For a list of events and ways to get involved, click HERE.

Latest Blog Post about this year’s YJAM themes, they can be found HERE

Help us share the excitement around YJAM by sharing this message to your networks and list serves.

Join us on Twitter and Facebook to receive all the latest infographics (like the one above), event info, and issue themes during October. And don’t forget to use #YJAM and #YouthJustice to join the conversation all month long! 

For more information, contact Angella Bellota: abellota@cfyj.org.

Thank you for your support in kicking of YJAM 2014!