Youth Justice

This Youth Justice Action Month, We Celebrate State Advocacy to Protect and Support Our Young People

October 26, 2020 | National

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the public health crisis of incarceration to the forefront of national dialogue. Even before the pandemic, however, criminalization and incarceration threatened young people’s short- and long-term health, development, and economic opportunities and fueled devastating racial disparities. 

In honor of Youth Justice Action Month, we’re proud to uplift the exciting work of our CDF colleagues in New York and California to protect and support justice-involved young people amid the pandemic and beyond. Approaches they champion seek to reduce young people’s contact with carceral systems, promote youth development, and support community safety.  Their recent work also provides recommendations for state and local policymakers to promote racial justice and expand opportunities for youth.

What’s New in California

Recently, California signed into law legislation that will protect the rights of incarcerated children by closing the state’s three remaining youth prisons and instead prioritize rehabilitative services closer to home. California also recently passed legislation to protect the constitutional rights of children in police custody, end the practice of referring children to probation programs because of problems at school, and roll-back laws that had required children to pay costly juvenile administrative fees. These practices have historically placed significant economic burden on Black and Latinx children and fueled the cradle-to-prison pipeline. 

Read more about CDF-CA’s youth justice work here

What’s New in New York

A new report combining observations of young people in courts and a review of state data provides insight on New York’s 2017 Raise the Age legislation, whereby New York joined the majority of states that have ended the practice of automatically charging all 16- and 17-year-olds as adults for any offense. CDF-NY and partners found promising trends, including the lowest arrest rates of young people in decades. The report also highlighted decreases in juvenile detention, a critical purpose of the reform. Nonetheless, while the youth justice system in New York has continued to shrink, severe racial disparities continue to operate at all points in the system. Moreover, observations from the City’s courtrooms demonstrate the daily dehumanizing impact of the system on young people and families.

Read more about CDF New York’s youth justice work here

Opportunities for Expanding Youth Justice for State and Local Policymakers

CDF-NY and Youth Represent’s new report, Expanding Youth Justice in New York, explores promising reforms from states and jurisdictions around the country. Some of these age-appropriate responses to justice-involved youth include:

  • Ending the arrest and prosecution of elementary school-aged children as delinquents
  • Providing pre-arrest community-based diversion for youth
  • Ending the prosecution of juveniles in adult criminal court
  • Expanding family court jurisdiction to keep emerging adults in the juvenile system
  • Offering alternative sentencing and record sealing for emerging adults in adult court
  • Developing age-appropriate probation and community-based programming in adult court
  • Reducing the number of young people in prisons and creating age-appropriate settings in adult facilities for young people who are incarcerated
  • Offering early sentencing review or parole for young people

“Reducing the overall involvement of adolescents and young adults in the criminal justice system—from arrest to incarceration—and reinvesting in communities would bolster the health of young people and families by providing educational, vocational, counseling, healthcare, and other supports. The safest communities are those with the most resources, not the most police and incarceration.”

It’s time states replace inconsistent and counter-productive approaches to youth justice with sustainable investments in what has been proven to work. Read more about reforms from around the country and ways state and local policymakers can expand youth justice in the full Expanding Youth Justice in New York report.