With the end of the year fast approaching, we are excited to end 2017 on a high note. In the last few months, the Youth First team worked with local activists and community members in multiple states, making important progress and launching new efforts. We were inspired by all of you who shared your time and your voices with this movement. You truly made a difference.
As many of us celebrate winter holidays and prepare for the new year, we also remember the young people missing important occasions because of incarceration, and their loved ones who must celebrate without them. This can be a difficult time of year for families separated by these circumstances. It’s an important reminder of why we continue to do this work.
Countdown Calendar in Connecticut
When 2017 began, the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance (CTJJA) was starting from a place of strength. The state had already begun plans to close The Connecticut Juvenile Training School, a boys’ secure facility, for good by July 2018, the result of years of effort by advocates. In July 2017, a year out from that promised closure, CTJJA began an online ‘Countdown Calendar’ until closure to keep the public informed and officials accountable. They also continued to engage affected communities to make sure young people have better options when the facility is closed.
Wins in Wisconsin
It was a tough year for many young people locked up in Wisconsin, where conditions in the youth prisons became even more chaotic. But thanks to the work of Youth Justice Milwaukee, the courage of formerly incarcerated young people and their families, and the leadership of community leaders, there is more agreement than ever that it is time to close these youth prisons.
A year of constant organizing culminated in a major press conference this fall, where activists demanded that judges stop sending young people to Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake.
It made an impact: prominent figures expressed support, and new legislation was introduced that while not perfect, is on the right track.
Photo: Jeffrey Roman of Youth Justice Milwaukee calls for the closure of Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake at a press conference.
Closure in Kansas
Kansans United for Youth Justice celebrated a major victory this year: the closure of a youth prison! Larned Juvenile Correctional Facility, previously one of two youth prisons in the state, shut down for good in March, and more than $12 million of its funding was redirected to community-based interventions. For more on this historic achievement, you can check out a blog post all about it, as well as other recent successes in the state.
Victory in Virginia
RISE for Youth stopped Virginia from building a new youth prison in Chesapeake! Thanks to their organizing work, the City Manager withdrew the application for a new youth prison, and the City Council canceled their scheduled vote – effectively halting the progress of this disastrous plan, for now.
This was the result of months of dedicated work from RISE for Youth to prevent the construction of a large secure facility that would have locked up many young people far from their homes. Key to their success was engaging the whole community, from neighbors to impacted families to the general public.
We will need to be vigilant. The possibility of a new youth prison in the area could crop up again. But this is a great footing on which to begin the new year in the Commonwealth. Thanks again to everyone who worked with RISE for Youth to protect our young people this year.
Photo: RISE for Youth holds a press conference after the Chesapeake City Council canceled their vote on a new youth prison.
New in New Jersey
Our partners in New Jersey, led by the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, launched a new campaign to close the Hayes and Jamesburg youth prisons. The response from the community was incredible; so many of you turned out to demand #NoKidsInPrison. The campaign is new but growing, and we look forward to making real progress in the coming year.
Preparing for 2018
There is lots of work ahead for 2018, in these states and beyond. Thank you all for your dedication and unfailing hope that we can give our young people the better future they deserve. Looking forward to continuing to work alongside all of you in the new year!
The Youth First Team