The National Juvenile Justice Network’s COVID-19 Youth Justice Response Fund recently awarded $350,000 to five state-based organizations working to educate policymakers and media about the safety of young people in the justice system, a cause made more urgent by the spread of COVID-19 within facilities. The groups will run advocacy campaigns that make the case for reducing admissions of young people to juvenile justice facilities or accelerating their safe and supported release.
“COVID-19 has added yet another danger to the long list of harms that young people face in residential institutions, and reinforces the need for states to reform juvenile justice policies and shield young people, families, communities and juvenile justice professionals from those harms right now,” said Rob Geen, director of policy reform and advocacy for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which supports the COVID-19 Youth Justice Response Fund. “States should use the dramatic reduction in confinement — accelerated by the pandemic — to shift resources from residential institutions to community-based services and sources of support that hold young people accountable and keep them together with their families.”
The organizations — the Association for the Public Defender of Maryland, Emancipate NC in North Carolina, Legal Rights Center in Minnesota, the Gathering for Justice in New York and Youth Art and Self-Empowerment Project in Pennsylvania — were chosen through a competitive process.
The selection committee based its decision on the organizations’ policy agendas to reduce youth confinement and the extent to which they pursued strategies for racial and ethnic equity and involved young people in their work. The committee included young people with experience in systems, along with NJJN leadership and a Foundation representative.
In Maryland and Pennsylvania, the grantee organizations represent a coalition of groups that will collaborate on the campaigns.
“Advocates across the country are working tirelessly with policymakers to get children home,” said NJJN Executive Director K. Ricky Watson, Jr. “This response fund provides critical resources to amplify the call for decarceration.”
NJJN will provide technical assistance to the award winners, drawing on their experience with campaigns across the country.
Organizations supported by the COVID-19 Youth Justice Response Fund
The following organizations and coalitions will pursue campaigns through the fund:
Association for the Public Defender of Maryland will launch Maryland Youth Rising, a youth-led movement of individuals who were formerly incarcerated to challenge incarceration policies. Funds will support youth stipends for training and policy development.
Emancipate NC, whose mission is to dismantle structural racism and mass incarceration, will mobilize and train youth, among others directly affected by the justice system, in a fellowship program called The Justice League.
Legal Rights Center of Minnesota will coordinate with a coalition of racial justice organizations to review all out-of-home placements and create an online map of community-based resources that serve young people.
The Gathering for Justice, a movement to end both youth incarceration and racial inequities, will offer stipends to young people with experienced in the justice system to participate in its Youth Justice Council, advocating for more release orders, resources for reentry and preventive programs.
Youth Art and Self-Empowerment Project, which builds a youth-led movement to end the practice of trying and incarcerating young people as adults, will launch a campaign to reduce youth in out-of-home placements. Funds will support youth conducting research designed to bring about change, monitoring court proceedings and launching an interactive public awareness campaign.