Report Highlights Family Leaders’ Fight for Change in Juvenile Justice

Posted May 6, 2016
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog ipsfamilymovement 2016

Fam­i­lies are emerg­ing as savvy and deter­mined lead­ers in a move­ment to trans­form juve­nile jus­tice, accord­ing to a new report by the Insti­tute for Pol­i­cy Stud­ies. Par­ents and fam­i­ly mem­bers of jus­tice-involved youth who began by fight­ing for their own kids are form­ing orga­ni­za­tions and sup­port­ing and ral­ly­ing oth­er par­ents and fam­i­ly mem­bers. They are pass­ing on lessons in every­thing from how to rein in the school-to-prison pipeline to how to ini­ti­ate a fed­er­al civ­il rights investigation.

In research­ing this report, the authors spoke with 14 fam­i­ly lead­ers in nine states, most of whom are par­ents of incar­cer­at­ed youth or young adults who were incar­cer­at­ed as youth. Moth­ers at the Gate: How a Pow­er­ful Fam­i­ly Move­ment is Trans­form­ing the Juve­nile Jus­tice Sys­tem offers an uncom­pro­mis­ing view of the destruc­tion incar­cer­a­tion inflicts not only on those behind bars, but on all of those who love them. The fam­i­ly bur­den of incar­cer­a­tion falls dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly on women — espe­cial­ly black and Lati­no women — and on fam­i­lies that are low income.

For far too long, engag­ing and part­ner­ing with fam­i­lies of young peo­ple in the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem has been seen as option­al, at best,” said Nate Balis, direc­tor of Casey’s Juve­nile Jus­tice Strat­e­gy Group. All young peo­ple need fam­i­ly and com­mu­ni­ty con­nec­tions to thrive. This report under­scores the point that the voic­es and wis­dom of fam­i­lies must be val­ued if sys­tem reforms — par­tic­u­lar­ly those aimed at reduc­ing incar­cer­a­tion and invest­ing in com­mu­ni­ty-based alter­na­tives — are to reach their full potential.”

The report, which was fund­ed by the Foun­da­tion, is an ini­tial effort to doc­u­ment the grow­ing fam­i­ly move­ment and to dis­till the shared wis­dom of its lead­ers. It describes the lead­ers’ approach to increas­ing fam­i­ly engage­ment in all stages of a youth’s involve­ment with the sys­tem and to teach­ing fam­i­lies to advo­cate for them­selves and the needs of young peo­ple in the jus­tice system.

As a par­ent, one of the most frus­trat­ing things for me was that the court, the judges and the pros­e­cu­tors didn’t know my son — they hadn’t raised him like I had,” said Tra­cy McClard, who found­ed Fam­i­lies and Friends Orga­niz­ing for Reform of Juve­nile Jus­tice. They weren’t will­ing to give [my son] the sec­ond chance they might have giv­en to their own kids if they were in the same situation.”

One of the most dan­ger­ous myths about fam­i­lies,” Sue Badeau says in the report, is the notion that what­ev­er the prob­lem is, the par­ents are the cause of it, so there­fore it’s not ben­e­fi­cial, or not help­ful, to work with fam­i­lies.” Tracey Wells-Hug­gins, whose expe­ri­ence with her son led her to found Renewed Minds, echoed this sen­ti­ment and said, We [fam­i­lies of incar­cer­at­ed youth] need to be seen as partners.”

The fam­i­ly lead­ers fea­tured in Moth­ers at the Gate argue for the cen­tral­i­ty of fam­i­ly and com­mu­ni­ty to young people’s devel­op­ment. They iden­ti­fy the assis­tance their orga­ni­za­tions need to sus­tain and advance their work.

Read Moth­ers at the Gate and learn more about the fam­i­ly move­ment to trans­form juve­nile justice

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