New Short Film Traces History of Youth Prisons and Highlights Extreme Racial Disparities
WASHINGTON – The Youth First Initiative, a national campaign advocating to close youth prisons & invest in community-based programs and opportunities for youth across the country, today released a new short film entitled “Jim Crow Juvenile Justice,” which reveals the slavery-era origins of youth prisons and examines today’s juvenile justice system from a racial-justice lens. The film traces the history of how and why youth prisons were created, noting how the Thirteenth Amendment allowed continued enslavement of black people convicted of crimes.
Reports show that racial disparities have been on the rise across the country, even as the overall number of incarcerated youth is declining. Nationwide, the average rate of incarceration for African American youth is five times higher than for their white peers, even when charged with similar offenses. In certain states, the disparities are significantly higher: Connecticut’s rate of incarceration for African American youth is 10 times higher than for white youth, and the rate is 15 times higher in Wisconsin and 30 times higher in New Jersey.
“We have what is essentially a separate system of justice for youth of color,” said Carmen Daugherty, Policy Director for Youth First. “By warehousing young people in abusive youth prisons, we’re continuing to deny them a chance at future success. Youth justice is racial justice – and that’s why this system of oppression needs to change.”
Advocacy efforts in states across the country have led to several youth prisons closures and reinvestment of funding to community-based programs for youth, but there is still much work to be done. Later this year, a youth prison in Connecticut is scheduled to close, and in the past several months, leaders in New Jersey and Wisconsin have announced their intent to close youth prisons. This follows recent youth prison closures in Virginia and Kansas.