To help bring awareness to the fact that thousands of children are charged and held in the adult criminal justice system, the SPLC partnered with community groups in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida to host community action events for Youth Justice Action Month (YJAM) events throughout October.
Children don’t belong in the adult criminal justice system, where they receive little or no education or rehabilitative services and are much more likely to be physically or sexually assaulted.
These children are often held in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day. The isolation is intended to protect them, but can result in devastating psychological trauma, as was the case with Kalief Browder, a New York teen who took his life after spending three years at Rikers Island without ever being convicted of a crime.
Even though it is widely agreed that children don’t belong in the adult criminal justice system, every year in this country 95,000 children are held in adult prisons or jails, and nearly 200,000 children come into contact with the adult system.
This month as part of YJAM, the SPLC partnered with faith and school groups in the Books Not Bars campaign in Alabama to collect books for teens detained in the state’s jails so that they can continue their education while incarcerated. The SPLC also partnered with That’s My Child, a Montgomery-based organization, to host a “YJAMboree” to inform pre-teens and their families about the problem and engage them in the reform effort.
SPLC staffers in Louisiana and Mississippi hosted justice-themed open microphone performances featuring talented local youths.
In Florida, the SPLC partnered with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and other community groups for a resource fair in Jacksonville to connect families with programs and services that can help create a brighter future for local children.
Near the end of the month, the SPLC’s Florida office is hosting a film screening and panel discussion in Pensacola entitled “Criminalizing Kids: The Effects of Mass Incarceration on Our Youth.”
YJAM was started by the Campaign for Youth Justice in 2009 and grows each year. This year the emphasis is on turning awareness into action. President Obama recognized October as National Youth Justice Awareness Month. “Even for those youth who were never convicted or otherwise found guilty, simply having had contact with our justice system can lead to lifelong barriers and an increased likelihood of ending up in a cycle of incarceration,” he said.
No child should be forced into the adult criminal justice system. Research shows that prosecuting children as adults decreases public safety and increases recidivism. The SPLC supports cost-effective and evidence based alternatives to better rehabilitate our children and ensure that our communities are safer.