Youth First Initiative Makes Itself Known

Youth Services Insider received a recent press release noting that March 3 was the launch of a new campaign called Youth First, an organization led by Liz Ryan that will focus on the closure of big and/or old youth prisons.

It gave us a chuckle, because Ryan and Youth First have been active for more than year now; you can read her interview with YSI from last February, when she had just returned from the World Congress on Juvenile Justice in Geneva.

But March 3 did not disappoint, as Ryan announced two really great resources for reform-minded juvenile justice advocates.

The first is a poll, conducted by GBA Strategies last month, that establishes solid support for community-based services and smaller, rehabilitation-oriented facilities. Click here to read the entire poll memo, but here are a few findings from the 1,000-person survey:

  • 92 percent agreed that when it comes to juveniles, the most important priority of the juvenile justice system is “making sure that he or she gets back on track and is less likely to commit another offense.”
  • 83 percent agreed that youth should not be placed in juvenile correction facilities as punishment for “offenses that would not be crimes if they were adults, such as skipping school or running away from home.”
  • 83 percent said they were in favor of financial incentives that influenced greater investments in “alternatives to youth incarceration,” including job training and restorative justice strategies.

The second resource is The 54,000, a graphic interface that allows users to pull up state-by-state information on two things: racial disparities and large (or old) youth prisons. The racial disparities mapping allows users to determine the white-to-Latino and white-to-black ratio for incarceration in each state. Those ratios can be differentiated by gender as well.

The prison inventory includes any facility that has more than 100 beds or was built more than 100 years ago. Users can see the gender breakdown of the facility, an aerial photo of the complex, the design capacity for each prison, and the operational capacity. That latter figure reflects either the average daily population or budgeted capacity depending on what was available, said Jill Ward, who helped do the research for the website.

Both of these are hot topics in juvenile justice, and the data and information on both is often scattershot. YSI has no doubt the traffic will be high for this resource.

Ryan has been one of the most plugged-in national advocates for juvenile offenders for a long time now, but only in the past year has her focus turned to the juvenile justice system. Before this, she led the Campaign for Youth Justice, which at the time was honed in on fighting the transfer of juveniles to the adult system.

A year ago, Ryan told us Youth First’s goal would be halving youth incarceration in “about one-third of states” over a five-year period. That will, without a doubt, require her to cajole a few leaders and work alongside some others.

The resources are going to be valuable assets for her, and others, in pushing toward the goal.

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John Kelly
About John Kelly 1131 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.