The Youth First Initiative works to end youth incarceration, close youth prisons, and invest in community-based programs, services and opportunities for youth.
Our country’s system of youth incarceration is unjust. We see urgency in this crisis and demand that ending youth incarceration becomes a national priority.
The overwhelming evidence shows that there are alternatives to youth prisons that are more fair, more safe, and more economically sound.
The American public strongly supports policies that favor rehabilitation and treatment over putting our youth behind bars. Many states and localities are seeing success closing their youth prisons and implementing policies that hold youth accountable for their actions while giving them opportunities for meaningful restoration in their lives.
To meet this crisis head on, the Youth First Initiative is:
- Elevating awareness about the negative impacts of incarcerating youth.
- Creating a national dialogue about the need to invest in alternatives, not incarceration for youth.
- Working with youth, families and allies on the local and national level to build a critical mass of Americans calling for change.
Together we can change this broken system. Join us.
Liz Ryan, President & CEO
Liz Ryan, a campaign strategist and youth justice expert, directs Youth First. In her capacity, she manages the overall initiative. She is the founder and former CEO of the nationally recognized Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ), which leads the national effort to end the practice of trying, sentencing and incarcerating youth in the adult criminal justice system. Since CFYJ was launched in 2004, nearly half the states have reduced the prosecution of youth in adult court. Liz has worked on many campaigns, including spearheading the launch of the Act 4 Juvenile Justice campaign (Act4JJ) to overhaul the main federal law on youth justice, the Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), and the No More Oak Hills campaign to successfully close the notorious Oak Hill Youth Detention Center for DC’s youth. An author of numerous opinion editorials, articles and reports, Liz frequently serves as an expert resource to reporters and national media outlets.
Mishi Faruqee, National Field Director
Mishi Faruqee is the National Field Director of the Youth First Initiative. In her capacity at Youth First, Mishi supports the state-based campaigns by providing technical assistance, training and strategy support. Previously she worked as the juvenile justice policy strategist for the national ACLU and and as a campaign director at the Washington State ACLU. She worked as an advocate for juvenile justice and criminal justice reform in New York, with the Correctional Association of New York, first as director of the Women in Prison Project and later as director of the Juvenile Justice Project, as the director of youth justice programs at the Children’s Defense Fund-NY, and as special assistant to the Commissioner at the New York City Department of Probation. Mishi holds graduate degrees from Oxford University and the New School for Social Research and received her B.A. from Swarthmore College.
Carmen Daugherty, Policy Director
Carmen Daugherty is the Policy Director for Youth First Initiative. In this capacity, Carmen supports the state-based campaigns by developing policy options, reviewing legislation, proposed budgets, and creating state and national reports on youth incarceration. Before coming to Youth First, Carmen served as Policy Director for Campaign for Youth Justice focused on ending the prosecution and incarceration of youth in the adult criminal justice system. Carmen also served as Deputy Director and staff attorney for Advocates for Justice and Education, a DC based non-profit, formed to educate parents, youth, and the community about the laws governing public education, specifically for children with special needs. In 2008, Carmen was appointed to the D.C. Mayor’s Juvenile Justice Advisory Group where she works with city stakeholders to provide recommendations on compliance with the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. She also co-chairs the American Bar Association,Section on Civil Rights and Social Justice’s Criminal Justice Committee. Carmen received her undergraduate degree from Vassar College and her Juris Doctor from Tulane University School of Law.
Jill Ward, Senior Advocacy Consultant – Jill is a senior consultant to the Initiative. She also works for a variety of state and national clients on juvenile justice reform and related children’s policy issues. Jill has more than 20 years experience in the public sector, including legislative positions with two U.S. Senators and senior policy positions at the Girl Scouts of the USA, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, and the Children’s Defense Fund where she co-chaired the National Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition. She was a member of Maine’s 2010 Juvenile Justice Task Force, coordinates the Maine Juvenile Justice Reform Work Group and serves as the President of the Maine League of Women Voters. Jill is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and the Georgetown University Law Center.
Hernan Carvente Martinez, National Youth Partnership Strategist
Hernan Carvente Martinez is the National Youth Partnership Strategist for the Youth First Initiative. He 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 Martinez 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 Justice as well as an advisor to the National Academies of Science and the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Utilizing his experiences, Mr. Carvente Martinez 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.
LordRamel “Logic” Redding is a poet, advocate, and youth leader in Newark, New Jersey. Currently, he is a After School Program/Summer Camp Counselor at the Salvation Army of Newark’s West Ward where he mentors children while assisting them with school work. Logic is also a part of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice’s (NJISJ) 150 Years is Enough campaign, a statewide effort seeking to transform New Jersey’s youth incarceration system into a community-based system of care by closing two of its youth prisons. Through his involvement with the NJISJ he has worked to ensure that young people are the center of the conversation by participating in youth leadership trainings, youth council meetings, and Community Reform Projects which included putting together a summer block party for the community of Newark and the Newark Police Department. Logic is also a member of the Youth First Initiative’s Youth Leaders Network, a national hub that supports campaigns looking to close youth prisons and reinvest in community alternatives. His message to people “If you were to see me out in public without a suit, do not judge me on my appearance; have a conversation with me and you will see my passion.”
Krystal Seruya is a phenomenal young activist dedicated to advocating for the needs of youth and families in New Jersey who are impacted by the Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare systems. She is currently a Preservation Specialist at the Youth Advocate Program, working to prevent out of home placement and preserving the family dynamic. She is also a trainer for Rutgers, training Child Welfare workers on how to best serve adolescents in NJ. Furthermore, she has partnered with the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice throughout their 150 Years is Enough Campaign in order to transform the youth justice system into a community-based system of care. She is the lead trainer for the Youth Leadership Training Program, equipping youth with the skills needed to advocate for the best solutions within the Juvenile Justice system. Through personal involvement as a youth, Krystal knows that rehabilitation and education are the answer for our state’s most at-risk young people, not incarceration.
Aminah Ferguson is a youth leader in East Orange, New Jersey and is a Criminal Justice major at Berkley College. Currently, she is an intern at Youth Advocate Programs (YAP) where she helps with the coordination and planning of events and also conducts research on best practices for alternatives to youth incarceration. Aminah is also an Intern at the New Jersey institute for Social Justice and is an active member of the Youth First initiative’s Youth Leaders Network, a national hub focused on pushing for the closure of youth prisons and a reinvestment in community justice solutions for youth. Her current goals is to become a psychologist and obtain a doctoral degree in psychology and criminal Justice within the next 7 years.
Chelsea Ward is a staunch community organizer and advocate for youth in the Commonwealth of Virginia. She is first year student at J. Sergeant Reynolds Community College where she is a major in pre-social work with a minor in Business. Currently, she is a member of RISE for Youth, a statewide campaign pushing for the closure of youth prisons and a reinvestment in community alternatives for youth. She is also an intern with Youth for RISE, the youth membership arm of RISE, where she works as an advocate and mentor for other young leaders around the commonwealth. As a mother and someone who experienced the juvenile and adult justice systems first-hand, Chelsea aims to create various opportunities for youth to thrive and succeed while also seeking supports for the families whose children are impacted by the justice system. Chelsea believes that incarceration is not the answer to youth misbehavior and that we should never give up on any youth.
Alisha M Burke is a Youth Leader at Teen With a Purpose (TWP) in Nortfolk, Virginia. In her current role, she facilitates skill building workshops with other youth, supports the administrative functions of TWP, and also plans events for her peers and comunity. In her spare time she volunteers at community centers and at other events in the Nortfolk area. For her work, Alisha received the Move Maker Award and Keep Nortfolk Beautiful Innovation Award by TWP. She is currently a student at Maury High School. Her current aspiration is to make a greater change in the community and to achieve freedom for everyone.
Iliana Pujols is a young powerful Latina youth activist in New Haven, Connecticut. Currently, she serves as a Justice Advisor for the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance (CTJJA), a campaign looking to stop the criminalization of children and youth. As a Justice Advisor, Iliana has spoken before community members, correctional officials, and policymakers and works to ensure that the voices of youth and families are included in advocacy efforts across the state. Most recently she was accepted to be a part of the Institute for Police and Youth Engagement, hosted by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), where she was able engage with law enforcement officials from around the country to discuss how police officers could better engage with youth and their communities. Iliana is also a member of the Youth First Initiative’s Youth Leaders Network, a national hub that supports campaigns that are looking to close youth prisons and invest in community alternatives. Iliana believes that kids and communities deserve better and that those with similar experiences to hers are the best suited to come up with solutions to the problems in our communities.
Shamere G. Holmes, Bridgeport born and bred, is known for her passion and dedication to the youth of Park City. She is often commended for her articulation of community issues and the ability to evoke not only emotion, but action. Shamare is the Program Director of Her Time, the sister organization to Hang Time, which was founded by Charles Grady in 2014. Hang Time focuses on the effects of mass incarceration and assists men during the process of re-entry. In addition to Her Time, Shamare is the Director of Girls Reality Empowerment Circle (GREC), a gender specific group that educates girls on issues that are vital to their growth and success in society. GREC was birthed from Community Hands in Action Mentoring Program (CHAMP), which was founded by Reuel Parks. Shamare’s most fulfilling undertaking to date is serving as a Justice Advisor through the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance where she helps amplify the voice of youth and their families so juvenile justice is served. In May 2018, The JA’s received the Regional Youth Adult Social Action Partnership’s Above and Beyond Award after only seven months post establishment. She spends her free time with family and binge–watching her favorite shows. She earned a BA in Mass Communication with a concentration in Public Relations from the University of Bridgeport and an AS in Business Administration with a focus in Marketing and Customer Service from Housatonic Community College.
Enrique Murguia, first generation Mexican American focused on creating a just and equitable society. Using art as a catalyst for social change while focusing on immigrant rights, environmentalism, juvenile justice reform and economic reform.
Edward Wingard, The proud Father of Ava Nettles-Wingard is a poet above all things after fatherhood. Not just limiting his creative perspective to poetry and visual artistry, he is also invested himself in Social Justice issues. Working with organizations such as Urban Underground, Still Waters Collective, Public Allies, Youth Justice Milwaukee and a number of other organizations. The Milwaukee raised creative is tackling issues while highlighting the beauty in the communities he serve. To that end, Ed is an amazing human powered by the love from his princess, with an urge to create, cultivate, and lead change in multiple aspects.
Nailah Johnson graduated from Marquette University with her bachelor’s degree in Exercise Physiology. She joined Public Allies, which is an Americorps program in September of 2017 and currently serves as the Community Outreach Coordinator for Urban Underground, which is a youth leadership and civic engagement organization that works with high school age youth. Much of her work is centered on supporting Youth Justice Milwaukee, which is a coalition designed to close down Wisconsin’s youth prisons and implement regional alternatives. Nailah is also a member of the Youth First Initiative Network, a national advocacy campaign working to end the incarceration of youth and to redirect resources and bring alternatives to communities that lack opportunities for young people. She participates in social activism and performing music in the greater Milwaukee community in her free time.
Dakota Hall is a long time community organizer & youth advocate, and founding director of LIT. Dakota studied finance at UW-Milwaukee where he got involved in student organizing and student government politics. There he ushered in the student voice to various statewide and national movements like Fight For $15, Student Debt Reform, and Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline. After leaving UW-Milwaukee, Dakota did a year of service with the Americorps program Public Allies Milwaukee. After Public Allies, he went to work for a local faith based community organizing group where he directed and built a youth organizing group now known as LIT. Dakota is half Indigenous and half Black, and roots his work in racial equity and the liberation of people of color.
Tyler William is a youth activist based out of Wichita, Kansas. Currently, he is a member of Progeny, a youth-led group that is looking to build youth leadership and community power through supporting the development of community-based justice solutions for youth who come into contact with the criminal justice system. Through Progeny, Tyler has been able to engage in conversations about how money in Kansas should be reinvested to support youth and families following the closure of the Larned Juvenile Correctional Facility. He is also a member of the Youth First Initiative’s Youth Leaders Network, a national hub that supports campaigns looking to close youth prisons and reinvest in community alternatives. Tyler hopes to continue building the power of Progeny with his peers and use his own personal experience with the system to empower other youth and influence the future of youth justice.