Six Lessons Learned From Successful Campaigns to Close Youth Prisons

Posted March 28, 2017
Blog sixlessonslearnedfrom 2017

Richard Ross for Juvenile in Justice

States across the coun­try have suc­cess­ful­ly cam­paigned to close youth pris­ons and design bet­ter ways to help young peo­ple in need access guid­ance, edu­ca­tion and sup­port to help get their lives back on track.

A report by the Youth First Ini­tia­tive, which receives sup­port from the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, zeroes in on six such cam­paigns in Cal­i­for­nia, the Dis­trict of Colum­bia, Louisiana, Mis­sis­sip­pi, New York and Texas. It draws from pub­lic doc­u­ments and inter­views with juve­nile jus­tice stake­hold­ers and advo­cates as well as incar­cer­at­ed youth and their fam­i­lies to share crit­i­cal lessons learned.

The six lessons out­lined in the report, Break­ing Down the Walls, are:

  1. Take the long view. Suc­cess­ful cam­paigns to close youth pris­ons are gen­er­al­ly mul­ti­year efforts that expe­ri­ence inevitable set­backs. Rec­og­niz­ing incre­men­tal progress is an impor­tant step on the road to trans­for­ma­tive change;
  2. Let youth and fam­i­lies lead. The sto­ries and expe­ri­ences of incar­cer­at­ed young peo­ple and their fam­i­lies can strength­en the reform efforts of advo­cates, attor­neys and oth­ers. In sev­er­al states, this lived exper­tise played a cen­tral role in shap­ing cam­paign strategy;
  3. Be explic­it about racial injus­tice. Research shows that youth of col­or are incar­cer­at­ed at much high­er rates than white youth who engage in sim­i­lar con­duct. Explic­it­ly address­ing racial and eth­nic dis­par­i­ties was essen­tial to the suc­cess of some campaigns;
  4. Embrace diver­si­ty and plan for con­flict. Effec­tive coali­tions include a wide range of juve­nile jus­tice stake­hold­ers who inevitably dis­agree. Open, hon­est and some­times hard con­ver­sa­tions can help resolve these conflicts;
  5. Statewide reform needs local stake­hold­ers. Town hall meet­ings, lis­ten­ing ses­sions and oth­er forms of local engage­ment can build a strong foun­da­tion for statewide efforts to close youth pris­ons. Make sure coun­ty and com­mu­ni­ty stake­hold­ers are aware of state actions affect­ing their young peo­ple; and
  6. Har­ness the pow­er of pub­lic opin­ion and the media. The per­sis­tent rep­e­ti­tion of sim­ple, con­sis­tent mes­sages can com­mu­ni­cate goals and pro­vide a statewide iden­ti­ty. For exam­ple: Close Tal­lu­lah Now!” was an effec­tive ral­ly­ing cry for clos­ing an abu­sive facil­i­ty in Louisiana.

Anoth­er hall­mark of suc­cess­ful cam­paigns to close youth pris­ons is the abil­i­ty to lever­age data and evi­dence, accord­ing to Gladys Car­rión, the for­mer com­mis­sion­er of New York City’s Admin­is­tra­tion for Children’s Ser­vices. Under Car­rión’s watch, the city’s child wel­fare sys­tem enact­ed reforms that were dri­ven by research and sci­ence and sup­port­ed by evi­dence of what works,” she recalls.

This post is related to:

Popular Posts

View all blog posts   |   Browse Topics

Youth with curly hair in pink shirt

blog   |   June 3, 2021

Defining LGBTQ Terms and Concepts

A mother and her child are standing outdoors, each with one arm wrapped around the other. They are looking at each other and smiling. The child has a basketball in hand.

blog   |   August 1, 2022

Child Well-Being in Single-Parent Families