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Across the Country

Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere

Marcy Mistrett Sunday, 17 January 2016 Posted in Across the Country

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By Marcy Mistrett, CFYJ CEO

The anniversary of Rev Martin Luther King Junior’s birthday presents us with a call of action to get involved in local, state and federal campaigns to end the prosecution, sentencing and incarceration of youth in the adult criminal justice system.

The injustices presented by youth being treated as adults in the criminal justice system are plentiful and continually positions the United States as an outlier in preserving the human rights of children. Several of the most egregious injustices include:
 
  • Treating children as though they are mini adults:  Research has proven that childrens’ brains handle decision-making, impulsivity, and causal relationships differently from adults.  Furthermore, they show great capacity to change. Not taking these differences into account is a gross injustice to our children.
  • Failing to provide children with appropriate protections at their arrest and during trial.  Children who are charged as adults are not afforded the protections of having their parents or guardians present during police interrogation.  Research has demonstrated that youth are much more likely to sign confessions, admit guilt, and feed law enforcement the answers that “they want” in order to go home. Despite having the greatest influence and support for their children, parents are often times left out of the equation which rehabilitation is considered.    
  • Treating children differently based on their race and ethnicity.  Children of color are much more likely to be prosecuted, sentenced and incarcerated as adults than their white counterparts.   These disparities are gross and unacceptable (African American youth are 9 times more likely to be sentenced to adult prison than white children for the same crimes; latino youth are 4 times more likely; and Tribal youth are nearly twice as likely).
  • Incarcerating children in adult facilities.  Children charged and sentenced as adults are housed in adult facilities.  They have very little access to developmentally appropriate education, mental health, substance abuse, or vocational services.  Rather, children are often held in solitary confinement to “protect” them from the adult population, isolating them 20-22 hours/day.
  • Punishing children the rest of their lives for poor decisions made in their childhood.  We know that a critical aspect of adolescence is learning to make good decisions; and having the opportunity to right the wrongs we make.  Children who are sentenced as adults carry their conviction the rest of their lives. 

For the past decade, the Campaign for Youth Justice has partnered with states, advocates, and impacted youth and families to challenge these practices.  We have seen the impact that unified voices can have in challenging injustices.  In fact, in the past ten years, 30 states have changed nearly 50 laws making it more difficult to prosecute, sentence and incarcerate children in the adult criminal justice system.

As we enter the 2016 legislative session, we encourage you to get involved in the local, state or federal campaigns that challenge this practice.  Legislation has already been introduced in Florida, Michigan, Missouri, New York, and South Carolina.  We expect several other states to introduce legislation in upcoming weeks to decrease the number of youth entering the adult criminal justice system.  We can only change these laws if communities are willing to stand for justice, and we need your help.

There are many ways to take a stand against injustice:

  • Sign on to your local campaign’s listserve to stay abreast of progress;
  • Call or tweet policymakers to show your support for reform;
  • Leverage your networks to learn more about this issue—host a discussion in your home, or community center, or house of faith to share with others the injustices being harbored against our youth;
  • Raise your voice in support—offer to write op eds or letters to the editor to call on policymakers to do what is right for children.

Justice is a fight well worth fighting for.  In the great words of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”  We hope to gain your support during this legislative session. For more information contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

New York Governor Includes “Raise the Age” Proposal in his “State of the State” Budget Announcement

Friday, 15 January 2016 Posted in Across the Country, Campaigns

By Anne-Lise Vray, Juvenile Justice Intern

On January 13th, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo addressed the crucial question of raising the age in his “State of the State” speech, in which he outlined the New York State executive budget for 2016-17. New York is one of the last two states, along with North Carolina, where 16 year-olds are automatically charged as adults, which can have devastating, sometimes deadly, consequences. Trying, sentencing and incarcerating teenagers as adults has indeed been shown to substantially increase recidivism, as well as exposing the children to grave threats such as sexual assault and suicide.

A large coalition of advocates, law enforcement experts, unions and clergy has been working very hard to get New York to side with the vast majority of states and raise the age of criminal responsibility. The group has already won many victories and gained a lot of support, including from the state’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, which was reiterated in his Wednesday’s budget announcement.

The 2016-17 budget includes funds for the application of a bill which, if it passes, would (among other things) raise the age of criminal responsibility from age 16 to age 17 on January 1, 2018 and to age 18 on January 1, 2019; raise the lower age of juvenile jurisdiction from age 7 to age 12 on January 1, 2018 for all offenses except homicide; and expand Family Court jurisdiction to include youth ages 16 and 17 charged with non-violent felonies, misdemeanors, or harassment or disorderly conduct violations. New York is the state with the second highest number of kids housed in adult state prisons (after Florida), with 144 youth under 18 locked up with adults on any given day.

There are now high hopes that the state of New York will finally come around and stop this detrimental practice, and will instead give thousands of children a second chance and the opportunity to turn their lives around. “We cannot lose one more child to a system that contradicts what we know about adolescent brain development, increases recidivism, and makes our community less safe,” said Paige Pierce, CEO of Families Together in New York State. “Including ‘Raise the Age’ in the budget recognizes that enough is enough, it is time for New York State to live up to its progressive reputation and be smart on crime.”

For more information on NY’s raise the age efforts: http://raisetheageny.com/

Florida: Unprecedented Media Support for Bills Restricting the “Direct-File” system

Wednesday, 13 January 2016 Posted in Across the Country, Campaigns, Voices

By Anne-Lise Vray, Juvenile Justice Intern

In Florida, a wave of endorsements for reforming “direct-file” is rising. Local media in the sunshine state are increasingly vocalizing their support for SB 314 and HB 129, two bills that aim to reduce the scope and the impact of direct-filing on youth.

The current “direct-file” system allows prosecutors discretion to unilaterally decide that minors as young as 14 should be tried in adult court. As pointed out by the Miami Herald, this “nefarious practice in Florida continues to help ruin the lives of thousands of young offenders, and it must stop.” According to Human Rights Watch, Florida transfers more children into adult court than any other state. Yet, the Ocala Star Banner reminds us that only about 9 percent of the state’s juvenile offenders are described as “serious, violent, chronic offenders,” while the Pensacola News Journal highlights that “98% of the more than 10,000 children tried in Florida’s adult courts in the last 5 years were transferred there WITHOUT the benefit of a hearing before a judge.”

The bipartisan bill introduced in the Florida Senate (SB 314) would restrict the practice of direct-filing by requiring judicial sign-off on such juvenile-to-adult court transfers. The companion House bill (HB 129) has been amended to eliminate this central reform, but there are two months during the Florida legislative session (which begins this week) for it to be reconciled with the stronger Senate bill.

This legislation has received great support from Florida media, maybe following the lead of Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward, who proclaimed last October Youth Justice Awareness Month. The Times Union in Jacksonville and the Orlando Sentinel agree that direct-file “does not make sense,” for kids, taxpayers or public safety, while the Gainesville Sun notes that fixing the direct-file system is a crucial step in the effort to break the school-to-prison pipeline in Florida.

Here is a complete list of recent editorials and articles that were published in Florida-based media to support SB 314 and HB 129 and/or oppose the direct-file practice:

-          Palm Beach Post

-          Miami Herald

-          Ocala Star Banner

-          Times Union (Jacksonville)

-          Orlando Sentinel

-          Tampa Bay Times

-          Pensacola News Journal

-          The Gainesville Sun

-          Treasure Coast Palm

-          Tallahassee Democrat

-          Sun Sentinel

The bills have each already passed out of one committee and are awaiting further review. For more information on Florida’s efforts to end this practice, go to www.noplaceforachild.com.

ALEC Endorses Raise the Age

Tuesday, 12 January 2016 Posted in Across the Country, Campaigns, Voices

By Anne-Lise Vray, Juvenile Justice Intern

Another important voice has recently called for states to raise the age of criminal responsibility to align with brain science and youth rehabilitation. In early December, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) passed a resolution that endorses raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to include all 17 year old youth. The resolution now awaits final approval from the ALEC Board of Directors.  This is a great step towards ending the practice of youth automatically being tried, sentenced and incarcerated as adults.

ALEC, which bills itself as the US’s “largest nonpartisan, voluntary membership organization of state legislators”, and claims to comprise almost “one quarter of the country’s state legislators and stakeholders from across the policy spectrum”, is well known both for its staunchly conservative principles and for its power in state legislatures. Recognizing that “research has found that 17 year-olds are less likely to recidivate when placed in the juvenile system,” the ALEC resolution pushes for all states to pass legislation to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction, regardless of the nature of the offense. It suggests that the juvenile court step should never be skipped, even if it is eventually decided that a youth should be tried as an adult. It is also worth noticing that the resolution does not separate violent and non-violent young offenders, but applies to all 17 year-olds. This is significant, as some state legislation has sought to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction for non-violent offenders or misdemeanants only, leaving behind a large group of young people just as open and capable of rehabilitation.

Considering ALEC’s impact among state lawmakers, this resolution could have great repercussions for tens of thousands of youth, for whom the practice of being tried, sentenced and incarcerated as adults has devastating consequences. Youth housed in adult jails are more likely to commit suicide, to be sexually and physically assaulted and to be placed in solitary confinement, which is considered torture in most places across the world.  Youth who are sentenced as adults have also been found to be more likely to recidivate, as the adult system is focused on punishment, and not rehabilitation. In addition to that, youth sentenced as adults will carry their criminal record their whole life, thus diminishing their chances to find jobs, access decent housing, obtain student loans and go to college, join the military, or vote.

There are only 9 states left in the United States who set the age of criminal responsibility below the age of 18, resisting to the wave of change that has been taking place for the past several years to end this practice that does much more harm than good.  In North Carolina and New York, all 16-year-old youth are automatically tried as adults. In Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Louisiana, South Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin, 17 year-old youth are all tried as adults. Hopefully the initiative taken by an organization as powerful as ALEC, with strong credibility among conservatives, will convince these states to side with the other 41 states that have already chosen to follow scientific evidence and data to change their legislation, and hence create a better future for youth as well as a safer society. 

Youth Rights are Human Rights

Brian Evans Wednesday, 09 December 2015 Posted in Across the Country

Human Rights Day

By Brian Evans, CFYJ State Campaign Coordinator

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is the most widely adopted human rights treaty in the world. With the accessions earlier this year of Somalia and war-torn South Sudan, every single nation on earth has ratified it except for one – the United States.  

The U.S. notoriously lags behind much of the industrialized world when it comes to engaging with the United Nations and signing on to human rights instruments (the Convention to End Discrimination Against Women – CEDAW – is another example, as is the U.S. Senate’s recent rejection of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities). But when it comes to the CRC, the U.S. literally stands alone. Why is that?

To be ratified in the United States, an international treaty requires a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate, and a strong opposition, citing concerns about usurpation of U.S. sovereignty and undermining of parental rights, has thus far prevented the CRC from passing. Opponents of the CRC also claim to fear a spike in lawsuits asking for the government to financially support the social and economic rights established by the treaty.

These arguments do not hold up to serious scrutiny. Acceding to the CRC will not put our children, or the U.S. government, under the thumb of international forces beyond our control. But it could serve as a helpful guide for advocates and policy-makers seeking fair and more equitable treatment of our children. For example, on the question of youth in the adult criminal justice system the CRC says that “every child deprived of liberty shall be separated from adults.” There is no good reason for the U.S. not to strive to meet this standard.

Many U.S. social justice movements have begun to leverage international human rights mechanisms to enhance their efforts; and pushing the U.S. to finally ratify the CRC would be an important step forward.  However, the movement to get children out of the adult system hasn’t been waiting for that ratification; as advocates and state legislatures in 30 states have shown, removing children from the adult criminal justice system is smart policy—to provide youth with a second chance and the tools necessary to succeed, and in keeping communities safe. 

In Spring 2014, the U.N. Human Rights Committee reviewed U.S. compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a core human rights treaty the U.S. ratified in 1992. In its review, the U.S. was called on to: “…ensure that juveniles are separated from adults during pretrial detention and after sentencing, and that juveniles are not transferred to adult courts.”

The UN Human Rights Committee also added, in a direct reference to the (at the time) 10 U.S. states that had still not “raised the age” of adult court jurisdiction to 18, that the U.S.: “…should encourage states that automatically exclude 16 and 17 year olds from juvenile court jurisdictions to change their laws.”

In short, sending kids to the adult criminal justice system is already recognized as a violation of their human rights.Today, December 10 – International Human Rights Day – is a good day to remember that to meet human rights standards it has pledged to uphold, the United States (and the state governments therein) must end the jailing of children with adults, and the transfer of children to adult court

Governor Malloy of Connecticut prepared remarks today on criminal justice reform

Friday, 06 November 2015 Posted in Across the Country

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Today, the Governor of Connecticut issued a press release on criminal justice reform in which he urged the legislature to consider raising the age of being tried as adult to 21. Raisng the age of juvenile justice jursdiction through to the age of 20 instead of 17 is a poineering effort, however, it does have credible roots in research based evicence on youth development. 

Marcy Mistrett, CEO of The Campaign for Youth Justice touches upon the importance of age appropriate sentencing.

"Making decisions informed by brain research, evidence- based practice, local data and what is in the best interest of kids and the community is smart public policy. We applaud the Governor for treating kids like kids, " said Mistrett. "Governor Malloy’s statement today on criminal justice reform continues to build momentum on the great progress already underway in Connecticut. 

The following is direct from the press release:

Governor Dannel P. Malloy presented some first-in-the-nation ideas regarding criminal justice today at a Connecticut Law Review symposium held at the UConn School of Law in Hartford.  While Connecticut has become a national leader in its criminal justice efforts, the Governor introduced several ideas to deliver further progress, including raising the age of the juvenile justice system's jurisdiction through age 20 instead of age 17, as well as allowing low-risk young adults aged 21 through 25 to have their cases heard confidentially, their records sealed, and the opportunity to have those records expunged.  He also discussed exploring bail bond reform.

Find the complete press release transcipt here

#Girls Justice Day: Focus on Girls & Juvenile Justice

Thursday, 29 October 2015 Posted in Across the Country

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Written by Jeannette Pai-Espinosa, courtesy of JJDPA Matters Blog 

Today, October 29, we join together to recognize Girls Justice Day because sadly, despite decades of attention, the proportion of girls in the juvenile justice system has increased. At the same time,their challenges have remained remarkably consistent, resulting in deeply rooted, systemic gender injustice.

Every day in this country, girls who are survivors of violence, sexual abuse, neglect, and family dysfunction are driven into the justice system. Too often, it’s because we criminalize the actions they take to protect themselves and to deal with their trauma. Girls are rarely detained for offenses that cause a risk to public safety—they are significantly more likely to face arrest for “status offenses,” which are actions that would not be considered a crime if they were adults, such as running away.

New data recently released by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention shows that despite declines in overall youth incarceration, the number of system-involved girls is increasing and those girls are disproportionately girls of color. In fact, data that show 61 percent of incarcerated girls are girls of color, and that black girls are twice as likely as white girls to be incarcerated.

For juvenile justice reform to be truly effective, it must consider the context of girls’ lives, address their needs, and attack the disproportionate detention of girls of color. The good news is that momentum for change is building, even at the highest levels of our government.

On October 28, The White House Council on Women and Girls and the Domestic Policy Council’s Urban Affairs, Justice and Opportunity team hosted an all-day forum called “Girls of Color and Intervening Public Systems: How Can Communities Interrupt the Sexual Abuse-to-Prison Pipeline?”

This convening focused attention on the social impact of trauma and the connection between adverse childhood experiences—such as sexual abuse, young motherhood, commercial sex trafficking—and juvenile justice system engagement. As President Obama noted in his September 19th speech to the Congressional Black Caucus, we must change the ways our nation supports women and girls who are most at-risk, including many women and girls of color.

During the meeting, Vanita Gupta, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, stated, “Protecting young women and girls from sexual assault and abuse is a fundamental right.  Federal law requires that our schools protect our students from sexual abuse. Schools are too often responding with suspension expulsion and arrest.”

She also told the young women who attended: “You are not alone.”

Fran Sherman, speaker and author of the recent report, Gender Injustice, noted that, “Everyday girls with trauma enter the juvenile justice system for behavior related to their trauma and that school failure disproportionately drives girls of color into the justice system.”

During a panel of Federal officials OJJDP Administrator Robert Listenbee announced the release of the OJJDP Policy Guidance on Girls in Juvenile Justice. The policy statement includes recommendations that include a ban on status offenders being placed in the juvenile justice system and a phase out of the use of valid court orders. OJJDP believes that the needs of girls must be addressed in a developmentally appropriate manner.

We couldn’t agree more.

Which is why we are excited that yesterday also brought the announcement of the first recipients of the National Girls Initiative’s Innovation Awards, a program designed to spotlight and support creative efforts to advance systems-level juvenile justice reforms for girls. Support for the seven recipients comes from a mix of government and philanthropic funds and will drive new resources to state, local and tribal efforts to address girls’ needs, and to share information on evidence-based practices that are trauma-informed and gender and culturally responsive. The National Girls Initiative is a collaborative effort of both American Institutes for Research (AIR) and The National Crittenton Foundation (TNCF); it works to elevate the voices of girls and their families as partners in reforming the juvenile justice system.

For me the highlight of the day at the White House was the panel of youth advocates from Girls for Gender Equity in New York City. Nowhere is the call to action for reform more clear, passionate and commanding than through the voices of young women survivors. Possessed with the courage born of commitment, and compassion for the girls yet to come, they share the reality of their lives as evidence of the need for change. As leaders, they teach us that we must invest of ourselves to achieve true change.

So today, on Girls Justice Day, while it appears that movement and transformation is near, we must stand with these young women leaders to continue to press forward for reform that addresses the needs and potential of girls in or at risk of entering the juvenile justice system. This includes the long overdue passage of reauthorization of the JJDPA.

Jeannette Pai-Espinosa is the President of The National Crittenton Foundation and the Co-Director of the National Girls Initiative of OJJDP. Additionally, she is chair of the National Foster Care Coalition and a member of the Women’s Services Advisory Committee for SAMSHA.

Utah’s Governor Gary Herbert declares October "Juvenile Justice Awareness Month"

Anne-Lise Vray, CFYJ Intern Tuesday, 27 October 2015 Posted in Across the Country

On Friday, Gary R. Herbert, Utah’s Governor since 2009, officially proclaimed October “Juvenile Justice Awareness Month”, acknowledging that “the juvenile justice system is best equipped to work with teenagers in making meaningful changes that maximize opportunities for youth offenders to realize their full potential.”

This proclamation is part of a movement of positive changes for youth justice in Utah. Indeed earlier this year, in its 2015 general session, the state’s legislature passed a bill that reduced the number of felonies for which 16 year-old kids would face Utah district (adult) court jurisdiction.

One of Governor Herbert’s stated priorities being education, he regularly calls for youth to be agents “for positive change”. Accordingly, by keeping children out of the adult criminal justice system and giving them the tools to rehabilitate and turn their lives around, they are more likely to become agents for positive change.

The Utah Governor’s proclamation is one of many resolutions and declarations that have been passed all over the country, showing an increasing and widespread support for juvenile justice reform; support that we hope one day will fully prevent youths from being tried, sentenced and incarcerated as adults.

Despite this important step forward, Utah still has a long way to go, as it is for example one of the few states still ignoring or refusing to comply with federal guidelines intended to prevent sexual assault in prisons. The Prison Rape Elimination Act is a key piece of legislation for guaranteeing children’s basic safety in prison, since one of its 4 main requirements is to keep youth under 18 strictly separated from adults. However, for “budgetary” reasons, Utah has so far refused to apply this federal law.

We can hope that Utah will go further on the path towards youth justice and adopt more important reforms soon. 

 Written by Anne-Lise Vray, CFYJ Intern

 

#YJAM: Dear Mr. President, It's time to stop the torture of solitary.

Rev. Laura Markle Downton, Director of U.S. Prisons Policy & Program National Religious Campaign Against Torture Thursday, 15 October 2015 Posted in Across the Country

solitaryWritten by Rev. Laura Markle Downton, Director of U.S. Prisons Policy & Program National Religious Campaign Against Torture Breaking Down the Box from NRCAT 

The Pope, legislators on both sides of the aisle, President Obama, and even prison officials all agree: the use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons is a human rights crisis that must be addressed.

The United States is a global outlier in its use of mass incarceration and systemic use of solitary confinement, a practice long considered a form of torture. On any given day in the U.S., it is estimated that between 80,000 to 100,000 adults and youth –disproportionately people of color– are held in solitary. That number does not include people in local jails, juvenile facilities, or in military and immigration detention. That number does not tell you their names nor their stories, but it tells the story of a moral crisis.

In solitary, people spend 23 hours a day in a cell the size of an average parking space. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has stated that solitary in excess of 15 days should "be subject to an absolute prohibition” based on scientific evidence of its psychological damage. He has called for a ban on its use for children, persons with mental illness, and pregnant women.

Our faith traditions teach us the importance of community, belonging, and connection. So it’s no surprise that isolation fundamentally alters the brain . It creates and exacerbates mental illness. Half of all prison suicides occur in conditions of solitary confinement. Such conditions are profoundly damaging for anyone, but for children, who are still developing, the experience is particularly devastating. In isolation, young people are denied access to treatment, programming and tools necessary for growth and development. Children in adult facilities across the country are subjected to solitary confinement for weeks or even months at a time.

Pope Francis has spoken out powerfully against the use of isolation, calling “confinement in high security prisons” a form of torture, and has said that torture is “a grave sin, but even more, it is a sin against humanity.” In September, the Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA) released a statement acknowledging that “prolonged isolation of individuals in jails and prisons is a grave problem in the United States.” This summer, President Obama announced that the Department of Justice will conduct a nationwide review of the use of solitary, saying, “Do we really think it makes sense to lock so many people alone in tiny cells for 23 hours a day for months, sometimes for years at a time?”

To address the moral crisis of solitary, we need these words to lead to decisive action. So earlier this month, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture joined 126 organizations, including 39 religious organizations, in delivering an open letter to the White House calling on President Obama to ensure the nationwide review outlines a clear path toward ending the torture of solitary confinement. This call included the support of more than twenty national religious organizations – including the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Union for Reform Judaism, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada, and the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church.

To address the moral crisis of solitary, we must affirm that there are no throw away people, and no throw away children. Where cycles of trauma persist, we need interventions that lead to restoration and life. Children should never be placed in solitary confinement. And our young people should not be subjected to confinement in jails and prisons designed for adults. We owe their future, the future God dreams for each of them, an opportunity to flourish. To that end, a bipartisan coalition of United States Senators recently introduced the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, which includes provisions that would largely prohibit the solitary confinement of youth in federal prisons. 

Despite widespread national momentum to confront the use of solitary, for children and adults, much work still remains to turn words into action. In California, despite calls from may including the faith community to act, legislators there have failed to pass critical legislation to prevent young people, disproportionately youth of color, from placement in solitary in the California juvenile justice system.

The time is now to face the moral crisis of solitary confinement and bring it to an end. The time is now to turn words into action, and work for a future of possibility for our communities, especially for our children.

This week, join the conversation on solitary confinement of youth by using the hashtag #YJAM. Below is sample language you can share on social media!

TWEETS

  • Youth in adult facilities face a “lose-lose”situation, in order to segregate them from adults, they are often placed in isolation. #YJAM
  • Solitary confinement is torture. Ask NRCAT https://vimeo.com/129764024  #YJAM
  • Girls often get placed in solitary confinement for insubordination and not violent behavior #YJAM
  • Many youth in solitary will do things they’d never do otherwise such as talk to themselves of self-harm. #YJAM
  • Solitary confinement can lead to severe depression and has shows to correlate with suicide rates. #YJAM

FACEBOOK

  • 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

#YJAM: Solitary Confinement: Cost of Incarceration

Amy Fettig, Senior Staff Counsel & Director, Stop Solitary Campaign, ACLU National Prison Project. Thursday, 15 October 2015 Posted in Across the Country

 

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Amy Fettig, Senior Staff Counsel & Director, Stop Solitary Campaign, ACLU National Prison Project

“Being in a room over 21 hours a day is like a waking nightmare, like you want to scream but you can’t. You want to stretch your legs, walk for more than a few feet. You feel trapped. Life becomes distorted. You shower, eat, sleep, and defecate in the same tiny room. In the same small sink, you “shower,” quench your thirst, wash your hands after using the toilet, and warm your cold dinner in a bag. I developed techniques to survive. I keep a piece of humanity inside myself that can’t be taken away by the guards . . . There’s no second chance here.

These are the words of a young girl named Lino Silva – but this wasn’t written decades ago during a World War and it wasn’t written from a gulag in some far-off, brutal dictatorship.  A child wrote this in a youth facility in California

It is terrible to think that any child would be forced to live such an experience anywhere at any time.  But the truth is that these same words could be written by thousands of children any day in America if they are held in our criminal justice system – either in youth facilities or in adult jails and prisons. 

While in solitary, youth are locked in a cell for 20 hours or more a day with limited access to exercise, reading and writing materials, contact with family members or other human beings, educational programming, drug treatment, or mental health services. Although solitary confinement is well known to harm even previously-healthy adults, for children, who have special developmental needs, the damage is even greater. Young people’s brains are still developing, placing them at a higher risk of psychological harm when subjected to isolation and sensory deprivation. Indeed, the vast majority of youth suicides occur in isolation.

This is bad enough, but these negative effects on kids are usually exacerbated by that the fact that youth frequently enter such facilities with histories of substance abuse, mental illness and childhood trauma, which are only aggravated by the stark deprivations of solitary confinement.  Moreover, in solitary confinement access to programming and pro-social development that might facilitate a youth’s rehabilitation is virtually nonexistent. 

Why would we ever subject our kids to such treatment?  Fortunately, the public, our political leaders, doctors, lawyers, families, and enlightened corrections and juvenile justice officials across the country are increasingly asking this question and coming up with the same answer: 

We must never subject kids to solitary confinement.

Efforts are now underway to end this barbaric practice.  Legislators in some states, like New Jersey and Nevada, have passed laws to limit solitary confinement of youth in their juvenile justice systems.  At the federal level, several bipartisan bills, the REDEEM Act, the Mercy Act, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act have also been introduced to end the practice for youth held under federal jurisdiction.  And some states, for example New York and Massachusetts, have moved away from using solitary confinement in their juvenile systems.  Internationally, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has called for a global ban on the solitary confinement of children under 18.  But we need more!!  Thousands of kids are still subject to this practice in our backyards.  It’s now time for every state and community in the United States to act in the best interests of our children and STOP Solitary for all youth.

This week, join the conversation on solitary confinement of youth by using the hashtag #YJAM. Below is sample language you can share on social media!

 

TWEETS

  • Youth in adult facilities face a “lose-lose”situation, in order to segregate them from adults, they are often placed in isolation. #YJAM
  • Solitary confinement is torture. Ask NRCAT https://youtu.be/PwlPPCkr8q4 #YJAM
  • Girls often get placed in solitary confinement for insubordination and not violent behavior #YJAM
  • Many youth in solitary will do things they’d never do otherwise such as talk to themselves of self-harm. #YJAM
  • Solitary confinement can lead to severe depression and has shows to correlate with suicide rates. #YJAM

FACEBOOK

  • 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 are being held in solitary confinement inside adult prisons sometimes due to administrative response to not knowing how to house youth. 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 FB solitary 01 28129 1

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