Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Families Unlocking Futures-Compelling Report released

Photo Credit: Richard Ross of youth detained at Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey
Release of Groundbreaking National Report
FAMILIES UNLOCKING FUTURES
Solutions to the Crisis in Juvenile Justice


Today, Tuesday, September 25, 2012, the Youth Justice Coalition, as a part of the national network Justice for Families, assembled on the steps of the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration to release a report exposing the crisis in the juvenile injustice system.

Based on over 1,000 surveys with parents and family members of incarcerated youth and 24 focus groups nationwide, Families Unlocking Futures aims to correct misperceptions about system-involved youth and their families, and demonstrates the need for families’ active participation in redesigning the youth justice system in order to secure safer and more prosperous communities.

“We know that engaging, involving and supporting families are essential strategies if we truly want court-involved youth to succeed.  But the current system neither reflects nor embraces that truth,” said Bart Lubow, Director of the Juvenile Justice Strategy Group at the Annie E. Casey Foundation.  “As a matter of public safety, justice, and simple common sense, we should re-engineer juvenile justice so that families are at the center of the work.” 

Rickia Collins, a youth leader with the Youth Justice Coalition was in and out of the system from the age of 12.  "The system was supposed to protect us, to teach us, to raise us. Instead, I came to fear juvenile halls and jails as places that beat me down, stole my hope and squashed my dreams.  We are here today to push for real opportunities so all youth can succeed."

Maria Luisa Borrego is a parent leader with the Youth Justice Coalition.  Her only son Steven Menendez was 14 when he was arrested and transferred into adult court through direct file by the District Attorney without a judicial hearing.  He was sentenced to 50 to Life even though he was not accused of being the shooter, and it was his first arrest.  

Borrego’s story highlights the inhumane and extreme sentencing of young people who are transferred into adult court. "The idea that Steven will spend 50 years or more in prison seems to me exactly like a
death sentence.  Some days, I have thought that death might actually be less painful.  The law says my son is not repairable, but I have already witnessed the good man he is becoming.  This is happening despite the cold, violence and abuse he sees every day in juvenile hall and now state prison.  Imagine what he could accomplish – and what all the other youth serving Life sentences in the United Sates could accomplish – if they were given that opportunity.  This report is our plea that America will see our children as human beings not monsters."

Justice for Families is unique as a system-change effort led by families rather than public officials, lawyers and advocates. The perspectives of people that have been directly impacted are particularly honest and the solutions especially urgent.
                                                              
Grace Bauer is Co-Director of Justice for Families.  Her son Corey was abused and neglected throughout his incarceration. She emphasized, “The juvenile justice system is rife with misconceptions and stereotypes about youth and their families. Whether we are trying to do what’s best for our own child or fight for systemic reform, we as the families of these young people have been blamed, ignored, and cut out of the process. The time is now to fix this broken system.”

Today’s action was an effort to do just that.  Youth and their families are demanding that the system include them in the debates and decisions impacting youth.  From the initial contact youth have with police in the streets or schools, to court, and within detention and incarceration, young people and their families have a right to critique and shape the system toward one that sees the humanity of all youth and ensures a future beyond cages and coffins.

 

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