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CFYJ Updates

Major Updates on State-Level Legislation

Brian Evans Thursday, 25 January 2018 Posted in 2018, CFYJ Updates

By Brian Evans, State Campaigns Director

At the start of what promises to be a very political year, and in the midst of difficult debates about budgets and taxes, state legislators are moving forward (or in some cases backward) with legislation affecting youth in contact with the adult criminal justice system. The following is a legislative update of what is happening across the country:

Ending 2017 on the Right Note: Happy Holidays From The Campaign Youth Justice

Aprill O. Turner Wednesday, 20 December 2017 Posted in 2017, CFYJ Updates

By Aprill O. Turner, Communications Director 

What a year it has been! We are so thankful to all of the families, state partners, researchers, journalists, fellows, policy champions, and funders who have contributed to ending the adultification of youth this year. Now, more than ever, we know the power of and need for our movement.

Meet Our 2017 Summer Interns

Monday, 26 June 2017 Posted in 2017, CFYJ Updates

The summer has officially begun, and the Campaign for Youth Justice couldn’t be more excited to introduce its interns! 

New York Passes Raise the Age!

Monday, 10 April 2017 Posted in 2017, CFYJ Updates

By Brian Evans, State Campaign Director

Over the weekend, the New York State Assembly and Senate passed legislation to Raise the Age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18.  This is a huge change that will affect thousands of young people who will enjoy the developmental and educational benefits of the juvenile justice system and avoid exposure to the permanent harms of the adult system and the scarlet letter of an adult criminal record.  This effort was a heavy lift that took the tireless work of hundreds of advocates, legislators, and executive staff. 

CFYJ 2016 Year in Review

Marcy Mistrett Monday, 19 December 2016 Posted in 2016, CFYJ Updates

2016

By Marcy Mistrett, CEO of the Campaign for Youth Justice

2016 was quite the year to celebrate the IMPACT of ending the adultification of youth by the justice system. States continue to lead reform efforts, thanks to the stellar work of advocates and impacted youth and their families in championing these reforms as: a bipartisan issue, that makes sense for young people, public safety, and states’ bottom line.  We can absolutely say this year's reforms happened nationally: From Vermont to South Carolina and Louisiana to Indiana, Arizona to California and Washington, DC -- legislators are passing, with wide margins, reforms that take into account that children are different from adults. At the federal level, we got farther on the reauthorization of the JJDPA than we have in 15 years--with strongly supported bipartisan bills that passed in the House, and almost through the Senate-- that would call for removing youth certified as adults from adult jails while they pend trial. And the POTUS took notice, and paid a lot of attention to young men of color in our justice system, using his executive powers to leverage change.

Reflecting on the past and looking forward to the future

Wednesday, 30 November 2016 Posted in 2016, CFYJ Updates, Voices

By Jessica Sandoval and Roger Ghatt

As the Campaign for Youth Justice commemorates 10 years of advocating on behalf of youth, we are also reflective of our tenure at the Campaign.  Ten years ago we started from scratch, with not even an office to call home, but one thing has remained the same: we continue to be guided by urgency.  There are still too many youth transferred to and prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system.  We aspire to continue changing that.  We have made significant progress and are very proud of our contributions to the work; this year we have celebrated our 10 years of impact. It has been wonderful to be able to celebrate of all the reforms we have been a part of over the past 10 years. Now is a good time to acknowledge all of our accomplishments and to consider new strategies for continuing to build a movement that advances nationwide reforms in removing youth from the adult criminal justice system.

Fighting for justice

Friday, 12 August 2016 Posted in 2016, CFYJ Updates

By Ashley K. Speed, William & Mary Alumni Association

This story was originally published on the William & Mary Alumni Association's blog

From the courthouse to the jailhouse to the General Assembly, Jeree Harris Thomas ’08 is an advocate for children’s rights. It’s a passion so imbedded in her DNA that she self-designed her undergraduate major while at William & Mary to ensure her future advocacy work.

Thomas, an attorney, was recently named the recipient of the inaugural Youth Justice Emerging Leader Award given by the National Juvenile Justice Network. The award was given to Thomas for her advocacy work on issues related to the school to prison pipeline and reforming Virginia’s juvenile justice system. 

The characteristics of the award recipient are described as “an advocate for youth justice who embodies passion, boldness and perseverance, and who is committed to raising up the voices, experiences and expertise of system-involved youth and people of color to ensure that those most directly impacted by injustice are at the forefront of the youth justice movement.” 

“It was a huge surprise, but a really big honor,” Thomas said. “To be held in such high regard was really an honor.” 

Thomas, is a former fellow of NJJN’s Youth Justice Leadership Institute. She was one of 10 juvenile justice fellows selected nationwide. Thomas was previously an attorney with the JustChildren program of the Legal Aid Justice Center in Richmond, Va. Thomas began her work at JustChildren in 2011, with a two-year award from the Skadden Fellowship Foundation. 

“I worked with kids who experienced educational or mental health issues to make sure they had the services they needed while incarcerated and services they needed when they reentered their community,” said Thomas, whose work also entailed drafting legal briefs to show a child’s progress in hopes of swaying judges to lighten an imposed sentence. 

Thomas is currently the policy director at the Campaign for Youth Justice in Washington, D.C. Her role is to advocate for youth who are tried as adults. She works with state advocates to change laws that push youth into the adult criminal justice system. 

“In some states, it’s about giving youth an opportunity to have a hearing in front of a judge to determine what is appropriate instead of youth ages 16 or 17 being automatically treated as adults, and in other states it’s about keeping youth, some as young as 13 and 14 from being incarcerated in adult facilities,” Thomas said.  

While at William & Mary, Thomas earned an interdisciplinary degree in social justice and community advocacy. 

“My degree at William & Mary focused on the intersection of race, education, gender and poverty and how those things impact people,” Thomas said. “I was very happy to be able to create a degree around my interests. That helped me leverage that knowledge when I went to law school.”

Thomas also said her involvement with the university’s Sharpe Community Scholars Program shaped her career path and influenced her focus on child advocacy work.  

“I decided to do a self-designed major in social justice and community advocacy as a result of the Sharpe Program,” Thomas said. "As a result of my major and a real commitment to service-learning, the College created a “Community Studies” minor program."

Thomas doesn’t know what the future holds for her professionally, but is committed to being a lifelong learner.

“I honestly thought my last job was my ultimate career goal, and it was incredibly fulfilling work,” Thomas said. “But I realize now that I have to leave myself open to learn about new opportunities and to continue to push myself to grow professionally and do as much good as I can.”

Visiting the Youth Services Center: A reminder of why youth should never be incarcerated in an adult facility

Monday, 01 August 2016 Posted in 2016, CFYJ Updates

By Anne-Lise Vray and Francesca Sands

Last week, the CFYJ interns, new CFYJ Policy Director Jeree Thomas, and other summer interns from the juvenile justice field went to visit the Youth Services Center, an 88-bed secure residential facility for detained male and female youth. Our group was welcomed by a well-trained staff that shared with us their experiences working at the facility, and reminded us once again why it is so important for incarcerated youth to serve their time in juvenile facilities rather than adult prisons. The staff told us about the facility’s broad range of programs, activities, and treatments available for the kids, but most importantly, they told us about the kids themselves. They gave us a glimpse of the personal relationship they work every day to build with each child, and explained to us how they learn to respond to each specific, individual need. Some kids are so young that they are still afraid of the dark, and need to sleep with the light on. Some have never left their parents or community/neighborhood before, and are completely lost and scared when they first come in. “They are like our own children,” one of the staff members told us. When our group explained to another staff member that our work mainly consists in advocating  against trying, prosecuting and incarcerating youth under 18 in the adult justice system, she thanked us and encouraged us to continue, because “it is so important for the kids,” she said.

The facility focuses its efforts on rehabilitation, and not only do staff provide schooling for children in their absence at their regular schools, but they also teach the kids how to positively contribute to society and fulfill their duties as community members. This is achieved by designing age-appropriate programming that includes activities as serious as short-term goal setting and journaling to as fun as having spa days with the teenage girls. Children respond positively to such attention and care, and will internalize the lessons implicit in such practices. A child, whose experience in society is so limited, will certainly not receive such individualized attention and age-appropriate treatment in an adult facility. Adult facilities don’t allocate any time, money, or thought to child- or adolescent-specific needs. In such facilities, the fragile stage unique to young people is disregarded, leaving kids floundering in a world for which they are neither developmentally prepared nor mentally equipped to handle. As a humanitarian, civil rights, and public safety concern, it is crucial to treat all prisoners as human beings. But it is equally as dire to treat incarcerated kids appropriately as kids.

Why Campaign for Youth Justice is Awesome

Wednesday, 18 May 2016 Posted in 2016, CFYJ Updates

 By Abby Anderson

Connecticut and I got involved with the Campaign for Youth Justice in late 2005.  They were a new organization, I was a new advocate and Raise the Age CT was a new challenge for the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance (CTJJA).  We were all a great fit for each other.  It’s been ten years; neither of us is new anymore and Raise the Age CT is in its second iteration, now referring to efforts to bring young adults up to the age of 20 into the juvenile justice system.   Connecticut’s progress is partially due to the ongoing support, networking opportunities and relationships the Campaign provided to CTJJA.

Raise the Age CT was a success because of a broad coalition of stakeholders across the state.  It was my job to stage-manage and organize among the advocates here.  Like I said, I was new and relied mainly on instinct - and the Campaign.  They provided technical, practical and moral support throughout the Raise the Age CT efforts, staying involved long after many supporters would have moved on.

As we worked to produce a short video, develop a presentation for community meetings, and coordinate an educational hearing, the campaign was there at every turn, pointing us in the direction of the latest research, experts and best practices.   They helped us understand how to get our information to a wide variety of stakeholders in a short period of time - technical support.  When legislative champions said, “It would be great if you could get a whole mess of people to the Capitol for a rally,” we turned to the campaign and said, “we didn’t plan for a rally – we don’t have the budget for buses!”  And the Campaign said, “plan the rally, we’ll cover the buses.” - practical support.   Of course, the staff added, “Also, do you need one or two of us to come up that day to help with coordination and crowd control?”  - moral support.

I joked (though it was true) that for a 12-18 month period I talked with the people at the campaign as much as I spoke with anyone in Connecticut.  They helped me, and the whole Connecticut coalition, through the stressful, unpredictable, exhausting – but ultimately successful Raise the Age process.

When the legislation passed in 2007, I didn’t fully understand that our work was just beginning.  Getting a state to say it’s going to do something is (I learned) much easier than getting the state to actually implement what it said it would do.  Luckily, the people at the campaign knew that an advocate’s job doesn’t end when legislation passes.  They provided the same supports and guidance to us as we moved through the more technical, less visible process of moving Raise the Age CT from a legislative  idea to an on-the-ground policy and practice reality.  The five years from original passage in 2007 to full implementation in 2012 required the full attention, investment and skill set of Connecticut advocates.  Skill sets that the campaign helped us to develop, augment and master.

Perhaps the most important legacy of our relationship with the campaign is just that – the relationships.  The people we met at the campaign and through their network remain friends, allies and partners in the work to this day.  The campaign is focused not on building and retaining knowledge for its own storage and use, but on exporting best practices, expertise and ideas as broadly as possible.   We are so proud to be part of the Campaign family and congratulate them on their first ten years. 

Abby Anderson is the Executive Director of the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance whose mission is to to reduce the number of children and youth entering the juvenile and criminal justice system, and advocate a safe, effective, and fair system for those involved.

This post is part of the CFYJ #IMPACT Blog Series, a project celebrating CFYJ's 10 years of commitment to juvenile justice reform.

Ten Years of #IMPACT

Wednesday, 13 April 2016 Posted in 2016, CFYJ Updates

10 YEARS OF IMPACT 
By Jill Ward

Ten years of impact.  It certainly is something to celebrate and I am proud to have been working with the Campaign for Youth Justice in some capacity for each one of those 10 years.  

Over the next weeks and months the Campaign will look back on the last decade and lift up all those moments that define a successful organization and movement.  And rightly so.  They are significant achievements and deserve to be celebrated.  But what makes the Campaign the success that is has been and will continue to be are the little victories.  The largely unheralded and unseen ways that the Campaign sees the need or the opportunity and acts. 

Whether it is taking one mother’s vision of a more just system and society and helping to elevate that into national month of awareness or making the case about the importance of federal investment both in real dollars for the states and in making sure our national leaders are working for all our kids, the campaign is always looking for ways to advance the conversation, elevate the issue, and make an impact on the policies that touch our kids.

In his book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, Bryan Stevenson recounts a church meeting where he spoke about a death row client he was representing and encouraged the gathering to recall the Bible story about the accusers who sought to stone an adulterous woman and Jesus’ admonition to them, ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’

Stevenson goes on to say, “But today, our self-righteousness, our fear, and our anger have caused even the Christians to hurl stones at the people who fall down, even when we know we should forgive or show compassion. I told the congregation that we can't simply watch that happen. I told them we have to be stonecatchers.”

The Campaign is a stonecatcher.  In the halls of Congress, in state capitals, in meeting rooms and in newsrooms, the Campaign has been there armed with research, advocacy, strategic know-how and support to empower, educate, and advance policies that treat children as children.

Catalyst for change.  Decade of impact.  Catching stones.  By any name or measure, in ways both visible and invisible, and in partnership with constituencies across the country, the Campaign has helped to create a better world for all our children.  Can’t wait for what the next 10 years will bring.

Jill Ward is a juvenile justice advocate and public policy consultant. She served as Chair of the Board of Directors of the Campaign for Youth Justice from 2006-2009 and is currently working with CFYJ as a federal policy advisor.  

This post is part of the CFYJ #IMPACT Blog Series, a project celebrating CFYJ's 10 years of commitment to juvenile justice reform.

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