CFYJ Year of Impact
2016 marks CFYJ’s 10th Anniversary! We are launching our “Impact Year” and as part of that we are planning a series of events, social media campaigns, blogs, and other activities to highlight voices from the field to REFLECT on how far we have come; REJOICE in the progress we’ve made; and RECOMMIT to ending the practice of trying youth as adults. We hope you join us on a year’s journey to reflect, rejoice and re-commit to treating youth humanely, and removing them from the adult criminal justice system.
In the 1990’s a spike in youth crime led the country to a “get tough” response, where the country replaced its focus on rehabilitation of youth with punishment. As a result, 47 states and the District of Columbia made it easier to try youth in the adult criminal justice system. The number of youth in the criminal justice system exploded, and 10,000 youth a night sat in America’s jails and prisons.
The Campaign for Youth Justice was created in 2006 to end the practice of trying, sentencing, and incarcerating youth under age 18 in the adult criminal justice system. By partnering with impacted youth and families, state advocates, , and national allies, the Campaign set out to change laws and public opinion about youth prosecuted as adults. In our first decade, there is much to celebrate: 30 states have changed 48 laws in recognition that youth don’t belong in the adult criminal justice system. A handful of states are calling to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 21 years. There are two federal laws that protect children in custody (JJDPA and PREA), and that incentivize states to return them to juvenile court jurisdiction. Research on neuroscience and adolescent development has shown that youth are different from adults; research that has been cited five times in the past decade by the US Supreme Court who repeatedly has found that the unique aspects of childhood must be part of consideration before treating children as adults. The number of youth in adult jails has dropped 53% and those in prison are down by an astonishing 73% since the turn of the century. These decreases are paired with a 30 year low in juvenile arrests.
Finally, impacted youth and families continue to be front and center in the calls for reform—Ten years later, Tracy in Missouri continues her efforts to raise the age and remove youth from adult jails and rides her bike across Missouri on the anniversary of the event she started—Youth Justice Awareness Month, YJAM, that has grown from one family to 70 events in 23 states and a proclamation from US President Barack Obama. But Tracy is not alone. Youth and parents across the country lead campaigns, testify, share their stories with media, educate policy makers, ensure reforms are implemented with integrity—all while often still fighting for the dignity and rights of their incarcerated sons and daughters.
Despite these tremendous accomplishments, there is still much work to be done. Several big and influential states still haven’t raised the age of criminal responsibility to 18, including NY and Texas. 15 states still allow prosecutors to directly file youth into the criminal court and 29 allow youth to be automatically charged as adults for certain crimes—both mechanisms push more youth into the criminal justice system than those cases reviewed by a judge. Furthermore, as reforms have been enacted, the racial and ethnic disparities in our system have become more, not less, pronounced. Outside of youth arrest, transfer is the most racially disparate point of the youth justice system. The deplorable and traumatic conditions that youth face while incarcerated, and the difficulties they have re-entering their home communities continues to be staggering.
We need you and communities across the country to stand with us and say “there is a better way,” as we look toward a more compassionate tomorrow. Join us this year as we:
- Kick off our impact year on the 50th anniversary of Kent vs. USA, which first extended due process rights to children who were being charged as adults. Our DC event will celebrate several founders of our Campaign.
- Rejoice in our wins through blog posts and an Impact Reports that highlight youth, families and advocates who are fighting for change.
- Commit to the cause and expand our reach—help us reach 10k Twitter followers and 5k Facebook followers.
- Engage others in the cause by activating your networks in key states fighting for reform that returns youth to juvenile court jurisdiction.
- Share your Stories—join our spokesperson bureau. Whether you are a youth, family member, victim, or community member impacted by our country’s continued over-reliance on punishment instead of age appropriate rehabilitation; we need your experiences to reform public policy that keeps youth and communities safe and healthy.
- Mobilize for Action in October during YJAM as we travel across the country highlighting this national movement.
- Donate to our cause…support campaigns across the country by helping us provide strategic campaign training, outreach to media, produce and highlight cutting edge research, connect experts to state efforts and train formerly incarcerated youth and families to be expert spokespersons on this issue.