A Compelling Argument for Restorative Justice and Raise the Age

We are aware of the collateral consequences of the school-to-prison pipeline yet few institutional changes have been made to address this issue. While the number of school suspensions have dropped since 2008, black and latino students are still over-represented in this data. Read this article from the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange on the story of Youngmichael as an argument for restorative justice, in light of the absence of legislation that raises the age of criminal responsibility.

A Community Youth Court for Brownsville?

Despite the number of very public incidents of violence involving youth, for the past six years advocates still face opposition to building a community court in Brownsville, Brooklyn. The Redhook Community Court model has seen blazing success — “It reduced recidivism among young people by 20 percent while curbing incarceration, a saving of real money and future misery.” Jonathan Lippman, who retired last month as the state’s chief judge and fought for the Brownsville court year after year. “There are some public policy matters where there is a reasonable debate. This is not one of them. There is no conceivable argument that I think can be made to not put this revolutionary concept, proven without a doubt, into place.” According to this New York Times article, “One person stands in the way: Councilwoman Darlene Mealy, who effectively has a veto over the site of the proposed courthouse.”

Source: http://redhookjusticenews.blogspot.com/2014/12/red-hook-youth-court-fall-recognition.html

Lawyers’ Committee Launches National Initiative to Eliminate Barriers Faced by Students with Criminal Histories


On January 28th, 2016 “the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee) launched a national initiative to eliminate barriers to educational opportunity for applicants who have been stopped, detained or arrested by police.  The first phase of the initiative seeks information from 17 colleges and universities that include inquiries on their applications regarding contact with the criminal justice system, including arrests that did not lead to conviction, sealed or expunged youthful offender records, or pardoned records. The Lawyers’ Committee’s preliminary review of the application process utilized by colleges and universities revealed that the information sought by the schools had no legitimate educational justification and no bearing on whether a student would succeed in the classroom. Rejecting or evaluating college applicants based solely on information regarding stops, detentions or other contact with the criminal justice system has a disproportionate impact on African-American boys and men, who are more likely than their white counterparts to be stopped, detained and arrested by police. A recent Bureau of Justice Statistics study found that black males were imprisoned at a rate six and a half times higher than white males.” To read more and see the list of 17 schools guilty of this discrimination, click here.

Once Again, the Supreme Court States Juveniles are Different

On January 25th, 2016 the Supreme Court ruled that people who were sentenced to mandatory life in prison without the possibility of parole as juveniles have the right to seek parole. Over the last decade, Supreme Court rulings have confirmed that it is morally and constitutionally wrong to “equate offenses committed by emotionally undeveloped adolescents with crimes carried out by adults.” Read more from this New York Times Op-Ed, here.

Cuomo’s Criminal Justice Reforms

In Cuomo’s State of the State, the Governor announced his youth justice reform plans. Many advocates are skeptical of his plans and there is a clear need for more visibility. According to the Executive Budget for FY 2017 “Last year, the Governor issued an Executive Order to establish a facility to house 16- and 17-year old youth who are in the State’s correctional system. This action will relocate certain juvenile offenders from adult prison facilities into an age-appropriate alternative. The Governor also offered pardons to persons convicted of non-violent crimes committed when they were 16 or 17 years old, and who have since lived crime-free for 10 or more years, giving an opportunity for over 10,000 people to escape the limitations of a criminal record and become productive citizens.” Cuomo allocated $110 million over a 5 year period, including a reimbursement plan. The Children’s Defense Fund is currently working on a side by side analysis of the proposed legislation included in the budget, which I will feature in this blog when it becomes available.

His reforms also include a plan to reform the state’s bail system that severly impacts a youth’s ability to stay free. While it has not been fully fleshed out yet, Cuomo’s proposal dictates that judges would use a scientific assessment tool to determine an individual’s “risk to public safety” while setting bail. “The plan was criticized by public defenders and criminal justice reform groups as a step in the wrong direction. Groups like Legal Aid Society are concerned adding ‘dangerousness’ to a judge’s evaluation of an individual could lead to preemptive detention and institutionalized racism.” Read more, here. 

While Our Government Debates Legislation, Abuses in New York State Prisons Continue

“The Justice Department hauled New York City into court last year when it failed to curb the wanton brutality that has long been a hallmark among guards at the Rikers Island jail complex. The same culture of violence infests the sprawling state prison system, where guards batter inmates for sport knowing that their union will protect their jobs and that district attorneys in small towns dominated by prisons will not prosecute them.” Read more from this New York Times Op-Ed.

In Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York “Inmates describe being ambushed by guards and beaten, taunted with racial slurs, and kept out of sight, in solitary confinement, until the injuries inflicted on them have healed enough to avoid arousing suspicion. Leonard Strickland was a prisoner with schizophrenia who got into an argument with guards, and ended up dead. In a security video obtained by The New York Times, Mr. Strickland is seen in handcuffs, barely conscious and being dragged along the floor by officers, while a prison nurse standing close by does nothing.” The 2010 case fits a troubling pattern of savage beatings by corrections officers at prisons across New York State and a department that rarely holds anyone accountable, issues that have been highlighted in a series of articles over the past year by The Times and The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization. Read more.  This Times Union article, reports more abuses.

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Happy New Year!

2015 Marks the Beginning of the End of the Era of Mass Incarceration

Recent Policy.Mic article highlights the ways in which we have seen the beginning to the end of mass incarceration in 2015. The writer argues that in this past year year “the Black Lives Matter movement matured into a powerful social movement capable of unilaterally reshaping the policy platforms of presidential candidates. It was this year President Barack Obama became the first sitting president to visit a federal prison. It was this year lawmakers in Congress unveiled bipartisan legislation  to begin unraveling the harsh sentencing practices developed over the course of the late 20th century that played an essential role in making the United States the most aggressive incarcerator in the world. It was this year that conservative megabillionaires joined forces with hardcore leftists in calling for a fundamental change to the status quo on incarceration”.  To read how these significant changes are leading to “a sea of change in incarceration policy”, click here.

The End to Solitary Confinement?

As a result of a New York Civil Liberties Union lawsuit over the treatment of inmates in solitary confinement in the prisons, New York has agreed to a $62 million settlement to overhaul the system. “The changes are expected to reduce the number of inmates in solitary confinement by at least a quarter and usher in a range of reforms, including limiting the time served to three months in most cases and providing the prisoners with certain privileges, like monthly phone calls and group recreation”. To read more about the specifics of the agreement, see this New York Times article.


(Source: Solitary Watch)

But as Alphonso B. David, Governor Cuomo’s chief counsel stated in the previous article, this settlement agreement, (which still needs to be approved by Judge Scheindlin) is symbolic – there is potential that it will have a significant impact  on the prison system but not a guarantee. Advocates to end the use of solitary confinement through significant and direct reform measures include the Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC).  A recent Solitary Watch article explains that “the largely celebratory tone of the announcements and press coverage may lead all of the people in long-term solitary to mistakenly expect that their ordeals will soon be over, and the public to believe that the struggle to end prolonged prison isolation in New York has now been won…there is acknowledgement that the changes the settlement brings are incremental changes. While the agreement begins to address the underlying paradigm of punishment and control through isolation that has been liberally practiced in New York for decades, it does not destroy or replace it. And even when all its provisions are implemented, thousands of people are likely to remain in solitary, some for years or decades”.

If you would like to get involved and learn more about upcoming CAIC activities, click here.


Raise the Age Updates

With a week left in 2015, Governor Cuomo issued an executive order that “directed the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to remove minors from adult prisons and put them in their own special facilities, an action he promised to take after his Raise the Age proposal did not pass during the legislative session”. As a result,”medium security Hudson Correctional Facility in Columbia County will be transformed to house minors, with the first group of young inmates moving in by August of next year. They will include all medium and minimum security males and all female inmates…Maximum security classified male youth inmates will be housed in a separate juvenile unit at the Coxsackie Correctional Facility”. To view the actual executive order and read more details, see here.

Hudson Correctional Facility (HCL), Winter 2011(Hudson Correctional Facility, Source: Prisonpublicmemory.us)

Cuomo also announced that he would “pardon anyone who was found guilty of a nonviolent felony or misdemeanor that was committed while they were 16 or 17, provided they have spent at least a decade without any additional convictions”. The pardons however would not expunge a person’s criminal record but will provide “legal relief” for any negative collateral consequences of a conviction. Read more.

Despite Cuomo’s proactive approach to juvenile justice, real reform to raise the age of criminal responsibility requires action on the part our Legislature.  The Governor should not be exempt from taking responsibility for his part in the continuation of practices that criminalize our youth, however. According to Politico, in a press release, “the Correctional Association said it was “disappointed” and “dismayed” at Cuomo’s decision to remove minors from the state’s prison system but to keep them under the supervision of the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision”.

The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision is the subject of an investigation into the internal corruption in their investigation unit. According to this Times-Union article, “the internal affairs unit that investigates misconduct and abuse in state prisons was for years mired in cover-ups, nepotism and unbridled sexual harassment, and investigators who questioned or reported the problems faced threats of retaliation, including being returned to their prison-guard jobs and marked as “rats”.

“The allegations are outlined in court records and investigative reports gathered by the office of state Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott, and were buttressed by interviews the Times Union conducted over the past year with current and former employees at the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.”

Cuomo Proposes Higher-Education Initiative in NY Prisons

(Albert C. Wagner Correctional Facility, Source: Princetoninfo.com)

Governor Cuomo plans on announcing his new set of justice proposals at the upcoming State of the State address. These proposals include:

  • expand higher education programs in prison by a third
  • improve programs so that credits acquired in prison can be transferred to outside colleges
  • an agreement to stop making some juvenile criminal records available for purchase
  • allocate an additional $50 million to an existing jobs program for at-risk youth, as well as more money to alternative to incarceration programs

Read more about Cuomo’s higher education initiative in this New York Times article.


J-RIP Expanded Despite Lack of Success

The New York Police Department and City Council have continued to fund and expand the Juvenile Robbery Intervention Program, which aims to stop robberies before they happen by intervening in the lives of some youth offenders. This program has been found to have no effect on stopping robberies however, as shown in a report that “studied arrest patterns over several years among teenagers in the program and comparable teens outside of it”. The NYPD insist that the program’s value lies in its ability to improve police-community relations. Learn more, here.


Historic Settlement Overhauls Solitary Confinement in New York

December 16, 2015 —  – The New York Civil Liberties Union and New York State today announced a settlement agreement that will comprehensively overhaul solitary confinement in New York State — one of the largest prison systems in the country — and provide a framework for ending the state’s overreliance on extreme isolation. The agreement will result in the end of traditional solitary confinement for more than 1,100 people — one-quarter of the current solitary population — who will either be placed in alternative units or provided with less isolating, more rehabilitative conditions. The settlement is expected to reduce the solitary population even further by eliminating solitary confinement as punishment for all minor violations and limiting the duration of most solitary sentences, and it will abolish several of solitary’s most dehumanizing features altogether.

“New York State has recognized that solitary confinement is not only inhumane but detrimental to public safety and has committed to changing the culture of solitary within state prisons,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “No prison system of this size has ever taken on such sweeping and comprehensive reforms to solitary confinement at one time. Today marks the end of the era where incarcerated New Yorkers are simply thrown into the box to be forgotten under torturous conditions as a punishment of first resort, and we hope this historic agreement will provide a framework for ending the abuse of solitary confinement in New York State.”

The agreement comes as a result of the 2012 class-action lawsuit, Peoples v. Fischer, brought by the NYCLU with pro bono co-counsel Morrison & Foerster and co-counsel Professor Alexander Reinert of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, that challenged the system-wide policies and practices governing solitary confinement in New York State prisons. Solitary confinement is the most extreme form of punishment used in the United States outside of the death penalty and causes severe trauma, while also being linked to higher rates of recidivism and a reduction in public safety. The NYCLU’s 2012 report “Boxed In” showed that state prisons doled out thousands of extreme isolation sentences every year, with some prisoners serving terms of years or even decades in isolation. In 2014, the NYCLU and the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision reached an “interim” settlement agreement under Peoples that provided immediate protections to those most vulnerable to solitary’s most devastating effects, including youth, pregnant women and developmentally disabled prisoners, and committed the NYCLU and the state to working toward a global settlement agreement. The agreement announced today is the result of nearly two years of additional negotiations since the interim agreement, and will result in sweeping, systemic changes benefitting all incarcerated individuals, corrections staff and all New Yorkers.

“Solitary confinement is mental torture that I wouldn’t want anyone to experience,” said lead plaintiff Leroy Peoples, who served 780 consecutive days in isolation for nonviolent behavior after prison officials determined he filed false legal documents. “A major milestone has been accomplished today.”

“It isn’t just the people in the box who have been at risk,” said Sandy Peoples, Leroy Peoples’s wife. “These reforms are important for the families of incarcerated people.”

Under the agreement, the state commits itself to (1) reducing solitary, (2) limiting the length of solitary sentences and (3) increasing rehabilitative features in solitary and abolishing its most dehumanizing aspects. The agreement, which is expected to cost $62 million and is subject to court approval, contains the following major provisions, which must be implemented within the next three years and will be followed by a two-year monitoring period:

  • Removes more than 1,100 people from traditional solitary conditions and either moves them into rehabilitative units with common spaces and group programming or moves them to into other less isolating disciplinary units. These changes are designed to impact people trapped in solitary with the longest sentences, people with developmental disabilities, people in need of drug therapy or more comprehensive behavioral therapy, juveniles, and people who would otherwise be released directly from solitary to the street.
  • Restricts the circumstances that solitary can be imposed as punishment. Nearly half (42) of the 87 rule violations punishable by solitary – including drug use and drug possession — no longer allow solitary sentences for one-time violations. Petty violations — 23 out of the 87 violations – are no longer eligible for solitary confinement sanctions at all.
  • Requires de-escalation training of over 20,000 of Department of Corrections and Community Supervision personnel on how to diffuse situations before solitary becomes a consideration.
  • Imposes a maximum sentence for solitary confinement of three months for all but a handful of first-time violations such as assault and escape, and a maximum sentence of 30 days for almost all first-time non-violent violations.
  • Grants all people in solitary automatic early release for good behavior and participation in rehabilitative programming.
  • Provides for basic human needs for people in solitary, including access to telephone calls, reading materials and a shower curtain in shared cells, and abolishes the use of serving inedible food (the “loaf”) as a form of starvation punishment.
  • Commits the state to spend approximately $62 million on implementing terms of the settlement, including the conversion of traditional solitary blocks into more rehabilitative spaces with group dayrooms and outdoor space.
  • Establishes a robust monitoring regime to ensure compliance with the terms of the settlement, including quarterly reporting to the public.

“Today is a watershed moment, as New York moves beyond just shielding the most vulnerable and sympathetic from solitary and starts to address more difficult and fundamental issues that have allowed such a devastating and unsafe practice to become so common for so long,” said Taylor Pendergrass, lead counsel and NYCLU Senior Staff Attorney. “By addressing the use of solitary at nearly every level, this agreement puts New York on the path toward a system that embraces the reality that respecting human dignity and improving public safety are not in conflict, but are mutually reinforcing goals.”

A federal study released in December 2014 found that states that reformed solitary confinement found no decrease in safety inside the prisons, and that in some state prison systems, like Colorado, safety improved as fewer prisoners were subjected to solitary.

“For more than 100 years, it has been shown that extreme isolation causes serious harm while accomplishing little if any of the goals of a rational corrections system,” said co-counsel Alex Reinert, a law professor at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. “This settlement puts New York on the right path, one joined by an increasing number of states and localities.”

“To their credit, New York officials recognized the vast overuse of solitary confinement in the corrections system and came to the table with an appetite for reform,” said Jennifer K. Brown, co-counsel and Senior pro bono counsel, Morrison & Foerster. “Our firm was honored to play a part in the negotiations that led to this historic pact and will be vigilant with our co-counsel in monitoring the implementation and impact of this agreement. We commend New York corrections leaders for tackling this issue head-on and committing to the hard and complicated work necessary to reduce solitary – work that will improve everyone’s safety, in and outside prison, in the long run.”

“I’m thankful that the problems of solitary confinement are finally being taken so seriously,” said plaintiff Dewayne Richardson, who was sentenced to 1,095 days in isolation for nonviolent behavior after prison officials determined he filed false legal documents. “And with these changes in place, I hope that people like me will now have a better chance at being productive citizens after we leave the system.”

“For the months that I was locked up and forgotten about in solitary, I have been working with the NYCLU to bring about today’s reforms,” said plaintiff Tonja Fenton, who was given three solitary sentences for non-violent conduct. “I hope that today New York can finally begin to find its way out of the box.”

In addition to Pendergrass, NYCLU staff who have worked on the case include Christopher Dunn and Philip Desgranges.

The Morrison & Foerster team, led by David Fioccola and Jennifer Brown, also includes Kayvan Sadeghi, Daniel Matza-Brown and Adam Hunt.

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Launching Phase 2 of ACS’ Close to Home Initiative

This past month the Administration for Children’s Services launched the second phase of the Close to Home Initiative, Limited-Secure placements in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens. According to ACS, “Young people who are placed into an LSP setting by a Family Court judge typically present higher risks compared to those who are placed in an NSP setting. LSP homes have more restrictive security features compared to NSP group homes to ensure the safety of residents, program staff, and local communities. ACS has contracted with non-profit providers to operate LSP residential sites [and] each LSP group home will serve between 6-20 youth.”

According to an analysis done by the John Jay College Research and Evaluation Center most experts and practitioners believe that Close to Home allowed youth who were still in residential placements to have more opportunities for family visits and maintain positive connections to their communities. Phase 2 will go even further and “perhaps create a truly rehabilitative approach to youth justice”. Two major improvements were seen in during this first phase of Close to Home: a stronger emphasis on contract oversight and a significant improvement in educational supports for justice-involved youth. To read more, click here.


 Solitary Confinement By Any Other Name

According to the November  article in the Nation, Rikers Is Reforming Solitary Confinement—With More Solitary Confinement?, Rikers Island has created a new punitive housing unit called Enhanced Supervision Housing (ESHU).  “Each of the freshly opened ESHU units has 21 cameras, 50 beds, and a higher staff-to-inmate ratio. But despite being in a newly built prison, David, a 26-year-old who stands at 6′ 2″, says he often sleeps on the floor because he can’t fit on the bed (which goes from wall to wall in the cell)… In ESHU you get seven hours out-of-cell time a day; in general population, you’re entitled to 14 hours minimum out-of-cell time, as mandated by the Board of Correction’s standards”.

“In a strange twist of New York City politics, Enhanced Supervised Housing has been promoted as part of the reform package designed to counter the use of solitary confinement at Rikers”. Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte claims that the new units are rehabilitative and not punitive. 16 and 17 year olds are also banned from these new units. To learn more about this convoluted reform solution, read here.


Pre-Trial Detention of Blacks and Latinos Drive Mass Incarceration

“Nationally, approximately 62 percent of all people placed in jail are pretrial detainees charged with nonviolent offenses. Most pretrial defendants are not in jail because there is some reason to believe that, if released, they will re-offend or fail to return for future court dates. Rather, they are simply too poor to pay the money bond imposed by the court as a condition of their release…  Until recently, the dysfunctional bail process has not been at the forefront of the national discussion, even though the most common form of bail — cash bonds or financial release — produces jail overcrowding and fuels mass incarceration. In addition, money-based bail systems cause significant racial and ethnic disparities in pretrial detention and beyond”. To read more from this Huffington Post article, click here.


Old Prisons with a New Purpose that Benefits the Community

Bayview Correctional Facility

The NoVo Foundation, a private foundation established by Jennifer and Peter Buffett (youngest son of investor Warren Buffett), in collaboration with the women’s real-estate development company the Goren Group, has been awarded a 50-year lease to transform the former prison into the Women’s Building—a space where women and girls can access services and resources. “This very building stands for the possibilities when women’s potential is nurtured and not locked away,” said Pamela Shifman, the foundation’s executive director”.

Although plans are still being developed, Shifman envisions a place that will offer women’s organizations a combination of office space, shared events and conference spaces, along with a wellness center and on-site childcare. NoVo is partnering with the Coalition for Women Prisoners and the Women and Justice Project to ensure that formerly incarcerated women, including those who have spent time in Bayview, are involved in envisioning and planning the transformation. In addition to helping plan what the building will offer, women who have been locked inside the former prison will also recommend what aspects should be preserved during the renovation”. To learn more about this innovative approach and similar projects like the former Fulton Correctional Facility in the South Bronx, which is now a re-entry facility operated by the Osbourne Association, read here.


How Exactly Does Parental Incarceration Affect Children?

“Research has long found that children who have (or have had) a parent behind bars tend to suffer from problems including poor health, behavior challenges, and grade retention, but it’s been difficult to suss out the degree to which those issues are attributable more generally to other realities common in communities with high incarceration rates. “It can be challenging to disentangle the effects of parental incarceration from … other risk factors, such as extreme poverty,” Murphey and Cooper write. “Complicating matters further, parental incarceration can also exacerbate these associated risk factors, through loss of income, for example.”.

The Nation describes how this new Child Trends report strives to identify any outcomes in children that are uniquely associated with parental incarceration, specifically the affect on the child’s education. Children of all ages were significantly more likely to have problems in school, while those ages 6 through 11 had lower “school engagement”. The researchers reason that the social stigmas associated with having a parent who is, or has been, in prison might help explain these educational challenges . To read more on this report, see here.


A States-Based Approach to Reforming Juvenile Justice

A new report by the Justice Center at the Council of State Governments argues that states should “tailor supervision and services to young adults; examine barriers to a comprehensive safety net of education, employment and health services; improve data collection and reporting on young adults; and support implementing and evaluating new programs”. They call for innovative approaches that are individualized and comprehensive. Learn more, here.

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Dear YNY Community,

I’m looking forward to seeing you all at our upcoming exhibition next Tuesday to celebrate the achievements of our extraordinary young women in our very first all-women’s diversion program. These young women, most of whom are 16 and 17 years old, have been prosecuted as adults in New York State, and all will have their cases dismissed and sealed now that they have successfully completed the YNY program. Find our invitation and press release below.

Please do not underestimate what a wonderful gift your attendance is to our young participants. Each of the young New Yorkers has an extraordinary depth of human experiences and profound insights on social issues which often goes unacknowledged. Your attention to their creative voices offers them the experience of being heard and celebrated. Finally, YNY relies on your generosity to run its court-mandated programs. Please consider becoming an Everyday Hero by donating a dollar a day to partner with our young people.

Finally, a warm thank you to the Pinkerton Foundation for supporting our program; to Robert A.M. Stern Architects for sponsoring our exhibition; and Loci Architecture PC for providing us with large format printing.
Rachel Barnard

Founding Director of Young New Yorkers



Questions? Call us at 347.720.0776 or reply to this e-mail. 

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Dear FFJ Community,

More than a year after uprisings began in Ferguson, MO, communities across the US continue to turn up the heat and keep the pressure on public officials and police for meaningful change:

On Saturday, protesters in Chicago, including members of BYP100, The BlackOut Collective, Assata’s Daughters, and #Not1More, disrupted the meeting of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Read a statement released yesterday by BYP100. While everyone has been released, there will be ongoing legal expenses, as well as costs for this action – support BYP100’s grassroots organizing efforts, and read about the three-day counter-conference – a series of workshops and trainings –  that culminated in this direct action.

At the same time, communities mobilized in New York City, for RiseUpOctober, protesting ongoing brutality by the NYPD, and horrible conditions at prison facilities on Rikers Island. Thousands of people turned out to actions and marches across the city, and the police arrested several protestors. The mobilization was co-initiated by Dr. Cornel West, and endorsed by many families of those killed by the police, cultural and faith leaders, community-based organizations, and celebrities like director Quentin Tarantino. Although protestors were expected to be released today, they will also need ongoing legal support.

Earlier this month, protestors took over City Hall in Baltimore, demanding that public officials and government agencies protect people over profit, even as the police shut off power in the building and blocked the protestors from food and bathrooms for hours. Read more about the occupation, during which twelve people were arrested, and contribute to the Baltimore United Fund 4 #CityHallShutDown Youth. Baltimore funders, including the Annie E. Casey Foundation, have been working directly with Baltimore organizations involved in the occupation, to support capacity-building, community power-building, and community-driven change.

Additionally, in Ohio, the mother of Tamir Rice, killed by a Cleveland police officer for holding a toy gun, has called for an independent prosecutor in the criminal investigation into Rice’s death, after initial investigators were found to be biased in their examinations. SeeColorOfChange.org for more information and to take action.

Also making headlines: Black Lives Matter has called for an additional democratic presidential debate that would focus on the issues of BLM – Democrats offered a town hall instead, and BLM continues to push for a full debate; as a result of ongoing pressure from ColorOfChange and others, Hillary Clinton agreed to stop taking donations from the private prison industry.

For ongoing updates on grassroots organizing for police accountability and racial justice, funding needs and opportunities in the field, and connections to your peers in philanthropy, visit us at www.fundersforjustice.org, and write to us at fundersforjustice@nfg.org.

In Struggle,

Lorraine Ramirez

Program Manager

Neighborhood Funders Group


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October is National Youth Justice Awareness Month

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National Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM) aims to provide people across the country an opportunity to develop action-oriented events in their communities during the month of October. We know that the power for change lies in our communities, so every year during the month of October, people all over the country come together to shed light on an issue that impacts nearly 250,000 youth every year.

This year, we’re asking our partners and friends to get official declarations that October is Youth Justice Awareness Month. As you organize to convince your local government or state Governor to endorse YJAM, you will be educating your community, elevating the importance of the issue, and developing important relationships with lawmakers and others. If you haven’t done this kind of thing before, we’ve created a guide to help you.”


Brooklyn Leading the Way

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Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson, along with other legislators, judges  and advocates are asking why summonses for minor offenses have ended up entangling so many people, saddling them with arrest warrants — NYC has 1.2 million open warrants for small offenses; in Brooklyn, there are 260,000 open warrants, accumulating at a rate of about 16,000 a year. DA Thompson is piloting a program in Brooklyn to address this issue, in which New Yorkers with open warrants can visit a church safe-space to address their open warrants and clear their names. “Some people had more than one summons; others had none. A few had parking tickets or other low-level matters, and a small number of people had misdemeanor warrants, which lawyers for the Legal Aid Society handled by giving them return dates.” With each event costing about $30,000, Mr. Thompson is planning more, possibly in partnership with foundations and nonprofit groups that are seeking reform. To learn more, read here. 

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Brownsville Youth Court

The Brownsville Youth Court, a program trains teenagers to serve as jurors, judges and advocates, handling real-life cases involving their peers. The goal of the Brownsville Youth Court is to use positive peer pressure to ensure that young people who have committed minor offenses restore harm done to the community and receive the help they need to avoid further involvement in the justice system. The Brownsville Youth Court is part of the Brownsville Community Justice Center. For more information about the Brownsville Community Justice Center, click here. Read more from this article, here.

Overuse of Felonies –  A Driver of Mass Incarceration

California recently passed Proposition 47,  a ballot initiative that changed six low-level crimes from felonies to misdemeanors (simple drug possession and five petty theft offenses under $950) and will invest the savings into prevention and treatment. In the first five months, Prop. 47 allowed judges to resentence and release 3,703 people from state prison, and up to 10,000 incarcerated individuals in total may have this same chance at resentencing and release. Read more.

Introduction of a Needed Bipartisan Senate Bill to Address Overincarceration Screen shot 2015-10-12 at 12.59.56 PM

The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act would, if approved, re-examine federal sentencing laws and reduce mandatory minimum terms for nonviolent offenders “For decades, our broken criminal justice system has held our nation back from realizing its full potential,” added Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., who with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, has become a face of the reform effort. “Mass incarceration has cost taxpayers billions of dollars, drained our economy, compromised public safety, hurt our children and disproportionately affected communities of color while devaluing the very idea of justice in America.” Click here to read more.

New York City Bar Association Urges Reduction of Mass Incarceration

“Citing a “critical juncture” and a “historic opportunity” to achieve change, the New York City Bar Association has announced the formation of a Mass Incarceration Task Force… the “Mass Incarceration: Seizing the Moment for Reform,” report offers several recommendations for changing sentencing laws and other policies on the state and federal levels, including repealing or reducing mandatory minimum terms, reducing sentences for nonviolent offenses and providing sentencing alternatives to prison.” The report can be read here: http://bit.ly/1iEEbDq


The Gender Injustice System Screen shot 2015-10-12 at 1.07.25 PM

A new report calls for juvenile justice reformers to focus attention on girls in the system. The report, “Gender Injustice: System-Level Juvenile Justice Reform for Girls,” acknowledges promising reform initiatives, but emphasizes the need for these efforts to be inclusive of girls who have landed in the system due to a traumatic experience, such as domestic violence or sexual abuse. The report is authored by Francine T. Sherman and Annie Balck, and produced by The National Crittenton Foundation and The National Women’s Law Center.

According to the report, despite overall declining juvenile arrest rates, in the last two decades girls’ participation in the juvenile justice system increased at all stages of the juvenile justice process:

  • Arrests increased 45 percent (from 20 to 29 percent);
  • Court caseload increased 40 percent (from 20 to 28 percent);
  • Detentions increased 40 percent (from 15 to 21 percent);
  • Post-adjudication probation increased 44 percent (from 16 to 23 percent); and
  • Post-adjudication placement increased 42 percent (from 12 to 17 percent)

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“The report’s authors, Boston College law professor Francine Sherman and Annie Balck, a policy consultant at the National Juvenile Justice Network, attribute the gender gap to the juvenile justice system’s long-standing “protective and paternalistic” approach to dealing with delinquent girls. The system tends to detain girls, the authors write, because they’re seen as needing protection. It’s a strategy that is ill-suited to the personal histories of trauma, physical violence, and poverty that lead many girls into bad behavior. Even when the system acknowledges these factors, there are limited options available beyond traditional arrests and detention.” Learn more here. 

The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Annual Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative Conference

About 900 juvenile justice practitioners, researchers and advocates gathered in Phoenix for dozens of workshops and plenary sessions over three days. The week also will feature the release of a practice guide about LGBT youth in the juvenile justice system. This guide highlights a wide range of best practices – everything from big picture improvements to frontline fixes – that juvenile justice facilities can implement to advance the safety and well-being of a particularly vulnerable population: Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth. JDAI, which works to safely reduce the use of secure detention for juveniles, operates in nearly 300 sites in 39 states and the District of Columbia. See more.


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