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Devin D. Thorpe

Devin Thorpe

Advocates Transforming State Juvenile Justice Systems Across U.S.

New Youth First report, endorsed by artist & activist John Legend, highlights successful efforts and provides guidance to advocates working to end reliance on youth incarceration

Press Release – WASHINGTON – Youth First, a national advocacy organization working to end the unconscionable practice of youth incarceration, today released a report highlighting the achievements of youth, families, and advocates working to change the focus of youth justice from incarceration to alternatives that more effectively rehabilitate young people, keep communities safe, and save taxpayer money. The report, “Breaking Down the Walls: Lessons Learned From Successful State Campaigns,” is available here.

The report analyzes the successful tactics deployed by leading advocates and has the endorsement of prominent national movements such as John Legend’s #FREEAMERICA. By providing an overview of the multi-year strategies employed in states such as California, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, Texas, and the District of Columbia, the report serves as a playbook for activists working to end the juvenile justice system’s reliance on incarceration.

“Abusive, costly and ineffective youth prisons have been the signature feature of our juvenile justice system for far too long,” said Sheila Bedi, attorney and author of the report. “Over the years, undeniable evidence has shown that locking up our young people does more harm than good. Thanks to the work of dedicated youth, families and advocates around the country, both red states and blue states in every region of the country have rejected youth imprisonment in favor of youth justice systems that create safer streets while building upon the strengths of young people, their families and their communities.”

“We started our work to end mass incarceration after years of working to improve the quality of K-12 education for the most disadvantaged,” added artist and activist John Legend. “We saw again and again that, far too often, kids who look like me and who come from poor and working class neighborhoods like my own, find that instead of getting a good education and a chance to go to college, they get prison. Instead of giving youth a real chance to turn their lives around after making a mistake, we escalate the problem by relying on the blunt tool of incarceration. Even more egregious is the fact that the United States is the only country on earth that sentences children to life in prison without parole. Our campaign, #FREEAMERICA, has always stressed the importance of local and state initiatives to implement change, and this report clarifies the steps we need to take to shut down the outdated and obsolete youth prisons which harm our young people and the long-term health of our communities.”

The fight to close youth prisons and the broader issue of juvenile justice reform is supported by a vast majority of Americans of all backgrounds and political stripes. In fact, a recent poll shows that 78 percent of Americans support keeping young people out of prison and instead investing in community-based alternatives that are proven to lead to better outcomes. As a result, a broad coalition of advocates are working to change the system at the local, state and national levels by addressing the root causes of delinquency and helping ensure those who are involved in the system have the resources they need to break the cycle.

“A lot of families walk away from this work with the knowledge that when something is wrong, we can band together and fight it,” said Grace Bauer-Lubow, Executive Director of Justice for Families. “We may not always win, but we just don’t have to sit idly by. We can change things for our children.”

The report is available here.

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