|Thankful for Your Hard Work
There’s a lot to be thankful for this week. The Youth First team is thankful for the hard work and dedication we’ve seen this year from youth justice advocates in Wisconsin, Virginia, New Jersey, Connecticut, Kansas, Maine, California, and all across the country. Your hard work is creating a more just and compassionate system that provides the care and support young people need.
This Thanksgiving, we are also thinking of all the young people who are unable to be with their families and loved ones because they are locked away in harmful and outdated youth prisons. We continue to work everyday to bring our kids home.
Taking a Stand in Wisconsin
Jeffrey Roman of Youth Justice Milwaukee speaks at the press conference with community leaders to call for the closure of Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake.
Last week, advocates with Youth Justice Milwaukee held a press conference with local lawmakers, faith leaders and formerly incarcerated young people. They called for the closure of their broken youth prisons, Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake, and demanded that local judges and leaders stop sending young people from Milwaukee County to a facility under federal investigation for abuse and four hours from their homes and community.
We are proud of the hard work that all of the advocates put in and want to thank the speakers, Jeffrey Roman, co-founder of Youth Justice Milwaukee, Klaranda, a young woman who was incarcerated in Copper Lake and bravely called for its closure, Sean Wilson, Youth Justice Milwaukee coalition member, State Senator Lena Taylor, Pastor Walter Lanier, and Dr. Ramel Smith, a child psychologist. The press conference was a success and you can see more on the conference in these stories:
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Youth advocates push to close Wisconsin youth prisons, call for judges to stop sending teens to Lincoln Hills
WUWM: Milwaukee Leaders Want State to Shutter Lincoln Hills And Copper Lake
Showing The Community’s Strength in Virginia
Last night, RISE for Youth, Youth First’s campaign partner in Virginia, demonstrated the community’s power in Chesapeake, Virginia. For months, RISE for Youth has been working to stop the state from building a new youth prison in Chesapeake. The facility proposed would be too large and too far away from the communities where many vulnerable young people are from. RISE for Youth has been leading the opposition to the youth prison proposal, with town halls, visioning sessions, and community engagement. One homeowner even penned this opinion piece detailing how RISE for Youth’s work helped change his mind about the proposed prison.
RISE’s organizing work paid off: last night, the City Council cancelled its planned vote on the proposal. RISE for Youth hosted a press conference ahead of the meeting, and explained why the Council should reject the proposal. Thanks to RISE’s organizing, the City Manager withdrew the application for the youth prison. RISE for Youth’s activism and leadership truly made a difference in this conversation.
Looking Ahead to December
We’ve seen amazing work to change youth justice, and we are excited for what December holds. Thank you all for never faltering in the fight for justice!
The Youth First Team
On behalf of the Youth First Initiative, I’m thrilled to announce that Hernan Carvente has joined the team as the National Youth Partnership Strategist.
In this role, Hernan will manage the Youth First Youth Leaders Network (YFYL), a group of youth and young adult activists, ages 15 to 28, who are interested in helping to lead campaigns in their states to close youth prisons and invest in community alternatives. Hernan will also provide technical assistance to the youth networks in the Youth First campaign partner states, including leadership skill building, organizing and advocacy training, and campaign planning.
Hernan brings tremendous expertise to the initiative, having recently served as a Program Analyst for the Center on Youth Justice at the Vera Institute of Justice and from having served on different boards with organizations like the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the National Academies of Science.
We look forward to working with Hernan in his new capacity!
President & CEO
Youth First Initiative
Meet Hernan Carvente, National Youth Partnership Strategist
Hernan Carvente manages the Youth First Youth Leaders Network, which provides young emerging leaders with the training and tools to lead the fight against youth incarceration. Previously, he served as a Program Analyst for the Center on Youth Justice at the Vera Institute of Justice, where he worked on policy analysis, program development, and elevated the voices and needs of youth and families in statewide policy reform. Mr. Carvente has served on state-appointed boards including the New York State Juvenile Justice Advisory Group and the Citizens Policy and Complaint Review Council. Through these appointments, he participated in the development and implementation of New York’s federal juvenile justice plan and helped ensure that local correctional facilities were treating individuals fairly and humanely. He has also served as National Youth Chair for the National Youth Committee of the Coalition for Juvenile Justiceas well as an advisor to the National Academies of Science and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Utilizing his experiences, Mr. Carvente trains policymakers, researchers, students, and professionals in probation, child welfare, juvenile justice and corrections on ending youth incarceration and moving toward more holistic, community-based, trauma-informed programs for young people. He was awarded the “Spirit of Youth Award” by Coalition for Juvenile Justice and the “Next Generation Champion for Change” award by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. He is a first-generation Mexican-American and the first male in his family to graduate from college, earning a degree in Criminal Justice from John Jay College.
Youth Justice Milwaukee co-founders Jeffrey Roman and Sharlen Moore released the following statement on the report that Governor Scott Walker’s administration shutdown an internal affairs unit investigating the terrible state of Wisconsin’s youth prisons:
“When the Walker Administration learned about the abuses at Lincoln Hill and Copper Lake, their priority was not to close the prison and protect children, but rather to cover them up and protect themselves and the Department of Corrections. The stories coming out of Lincoln Hills only reaffirm what we already know: youth prisons don’t work. Leadership changes and repeated reform attempts haven’t worked. And just hiding the appalling abuses doesn’t make them go away. The only acceptable path forward is to close these outdated and punitive facilities immediately and reinvest funding to create closer to home and safer alternatives that have been proven to produce better results.”
Youth Justice Milwaukee is working to close Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake and is asking community members to sign a petition calling for Governor Walker to close the prisons. Sign it here.
Youth Justice Milwaukee is a broad-based campaign advocating for community-based, family-centered, restorative programs as an alternative to locking up children in Wisconsin’s youth prisons. Youth Justice Milwaukee represents a coalition of persons who were incarcerated as youth, families of youth who are or were incarcerated, service providers, and local and national youth justice advocates.
Black youth in New Jersey are over 30 times more likely to be detained or committed than white youth, according to a new fact sheet released by The Sentencing Project. This gives New Jersey the highest Black/white youth incarceration disparity rate in the nation, a rate twice that of the next state, Wisconsin. According to an earlier report by The Sentencing Project, New Jersey also has the worst Black/white disparity rate in adult incarceration in state prisons in the country: a Black adult in New Jersey is 12 times more likely to be incarcerated in a state prison than a white adult.
“New Jersey has the worst Black/white youth incarceration disparity rate in the country. Even though Black and white kids commit most offenses at similar rates, a Black child is, incredibly, 30 times more likely to be incarcerated than a white child. As a result, just 13 white children are incarcerated in New Jersey as of January of this year,” said Ryan P. Haygood, President and CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice (the “Institute”). “We know that all kids can be saved. These striking racial disparities reflect racially discriminatory policy decisions that determine which kids get prison and which kids do not in New Jersey. We cannot support this shameful system of youth incarceration. It is, at its core, racialized, ineffective, and destructive to youth and their families. It is a moral stain on our state.”
To combat this reality, the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice is leading the 150 Years is Enough campaign to fundamentally transform New Jersey’s youth incarceration system into a community-based system of care by closing The New Jersey Training School for Boys (“Jamesburg”) and the Female Secure Care and Intake Facility (“Hayes”), the state’s largest youth prison for boys and the state’s girls’ youth prison, respectively.
Out of the 222 youth who are incarcerated in the state’s three youth prisons as of January 1, 2017, just 13 are white, according to a document received via an OPRA request by the Institute. The Institute found in its report, Bring Our Children Home: Ain’t I A Child, released in December 2016, that Black youth comprise nearly 75% of those committed to state juvenile facilities (both secure and non-secure facilities).
“Kids have no place in prison,” said Andrea McChristian, primary author of the Institute’s report. “We must fight to give our Black kids justice by focusing our resources into the community—through prevention, intervention, diversion, and alternatives to incarceration programs—rather than failing youth prisons. This new data, and the reality that New Jersey also has the worst racial disparities in the adult prison system in the nation, show that our current system is not working.”
“These numbers make clear that our current system is failing Black children and their families,” said Retha Onitiri, manager of the 150 Years is Enough Campaign. “We are asking all New Jersey residents who care about our kids to help us fight this racial injustice by joining our campaign.”
More than fifty organizations, including the NAACP State Conference, the ACLU of New Jersey, the New Jersey Black Issues Convention, the Drug Policy Alliance, Faith in New Jersey, New Jersey Policy Perspective, Advocates for Children of New Jersey, and several local chapters of My Brother’s Keeper have also joined the call for closure and reinvestment. These organizations have signed onto a letter supporting this campaign. (The full list of signatories can be found here.)
“New Jersey has a very high disparity between its Black and white youth, and that disparity is growing – it essentially doubled since 2001. This is one reason we must fight to transform New Jersey’s broken youth justice system,” said Josh Rovner, the author of the fact sheet and Juvenile Justice Advocacy Associate at The Sentencing Project in Washington, D.C.
A summer of success
From closing the Beaumont Juvenile Correction Center in Virginia to the official launch of Youth Justice New Jersey, this was a summer of success. As young people return to school this fall, we cannot forget those who remain locked up in old, outdated, and ineffective youth prisons. Together, we must continue to build a youth justice system that promotes education and rehabilitation, not incarceration.
In Connecticut, girls talk about how to change youth justice at A Voice and A Choice for Girls
The Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance kicked off a productive fall with the release of “The Girls’ Report: How young women want to change the juvenile justice system.” The report gives insight into what girls would recommend that advocates and community leaders should do to end youth incarceration. You can read the full report here.
Issues surrounding youth justice continue to make headlines across the country, and this includes news both good and bad. This is a reminder of the progress we have made, and also of the work that remains ahead. From Wisconsin to South Dakota, here is a rundown of the latest news in youth justice:
Teen inmate at Wisconsin’s Lincoln Hills blasted with pepper spray 12 times in 6 months (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
A teen inmate was hit with pepper spray 12 times in six months, according to a state Department of Corrections report that shows chemical agents were used on juveniles more than 100 times in the first half of the year.
Head of Wisconsin’s Troubled Youth Prison Steps Down, Remains With Facility (Milwaukee Public Radio)
Wendy Peterson has served as superintendent of Lincoln Hills & Copper Lake Schools since April of last year. Next week, she’ll begin working as the facility’s education director.
Youth Justice Milwaukee says it hopes Peterson’s departure is “just the beginning of the end for Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake.” The organization says changes at the facility are “not enough to truly end the harm caused by locking up young people.”
South Dakota’s Juvenile Justice reforms led to fewer children sentenced (Argus Leader)
Significantly fewer children are being turned over to the state Department of Corrections, thanks to juvenile justice reforms implemented in 2015.
Data from the South Dakota’s Governor’s Office on the impact of the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Initiative show a decrease of more than 50 percent in the number of children committed to the Department of Corrections after being found guilty of a criminal offense.
A Voice For Connecticut’s Delinquent Girls (WNPR)
Juvenile justice reform often focuses on changing a system in which the majority of delinquents are boys. But how do courts and community providers address the needs of girls?
Our Criminal Courts Are Failing Juvenile Defendants (The Nation)
According to a new analysis of youth in court systems, criminal-defense lawyers for young people in many communities are substandard, prohibitively costly, or just completely unavailable. Every day, kids who haven’t even grasped algebra are left to navigate on their own a system that confounds even the most skilled attorneys.