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.