Core to YCLJ is our statement publicly calling for the end of punitive youth prison models and further progress towards systems of youth justice centered on youth and families. Below is our statement and ever increasing list of signatories (in alphabetical order). Download the official version here.
In recent decades, the number of youth in America who are locked up has dropped by half nationally, with double-digit declines in all but a handful of states. These trends reflect a combination of factors, including historically low crime rates, policymakers and administrators pushing for reforms, and sophisticated advocacy efforts. Yet, despite this progress, the United States still has the highest youth incarceration rate in the world, with approximately 50,000 youth in custody. The burden of this mass incarceration falls disproportionately on youth of color, who comprise the vast majority of youth in facilities. Inside many of these archaic, distant prisons, youth face trying conditions, where punishment and control are the norm and abuse is common. Unsurprisingly, the experiences of young people in these places can impede their success upon release, with many struggling in school, facing challenges in securing employment, and finding themselves in a revolving door of justice system involvement. Meanwhile, these negative outcomes come at an extraordinarily high cost, with states spending billions of dollars to maintain and operate youth prisons.
As current and former leaders of youth justice agencies around the country, we believe that the time has come to close down youth prisons, once and for all. Our collective experience “on the inside” has shown us that separating youth from their families and communities and emphasizing punishment and retribution harms young people and their communities. We oppose juvenile justice systems which employ these punitive practices and create harmful cultures for youth, families, and staff. For youth of color, this approach perpetuates the country’s enduring history of racial inequality and oppression, often magnifying the cumulative disadvantages experienced by youth in communities of color, where poverty, crime, and violence affect far too many people. In many instances, youth justice systems – and especially correctional facilities – have become the default for addressing youth whose needs would be more effectively served in other systems, including education, child welfare, and behavioral health.
Fortunately, there is a better way. Research shows that helping youth grow and develop within the context of their own families and communities is vital to their long-term success. Leaders in states and localities nationwide have taken this research to heart, shuttering youth prisons in favor of new, community-based approaches. The results have been transformative, leading to both fewer youth in prisons and better long-term outcomes for those who do require care.
Building on these ideas, we envision a new future focused on creating “pipelines of possibility,” alongside youth, families, communities, advocates, and leaders in other systems. This vision centers around safely providing all youth with access to the support and guidance they need to become thriving, productive adults, within their own homes and communities.
Our call for closing youth prisons does not mean that we believe no youth should ever be placed out of their homes. In those cases where public safety absolutely requires that youth are in out-of-home care, we believe that this should only be for the minimum time necessary to address this risk – in a warm, nurturing environment close to home, with well-trained staff, that treats all children the way we would want our own children to be treated.
To that end, the following core values should form the basis of working with young people in the justice system:
Opportunity: All young people matter – including those who have run afoul of the law – and should be treated with love, dignity, and respect. To achieve real and lasting change, we must help them achieve their full potential and become successful, productive citizens, with the power to contribute to society in meaningful ways.
Understanding: We must recognize and acknowledge that many youth and staff within our systems have experienced trauma, which can have long-lasting impact on their actions. Simultaneously, systems must guide and support both staff and youth through a healing process and help them internalize new skills and approaches for engaging with one another.
Equity: All youth should have access to the opportunities, networks, resources, and support they need to survive and thrive, based on where they are currently situated and where they see themselves in the future. To do this effectively, we must provide all youth with impartial and just treatment, with a concerted focus on eliminating the many biases that exist in systems, which have been shaped by racism, sexism, and the country’s history of oppression.
Youth-, Family-, and Community-Driven: Youth, families, and communities are experts on what solutions they need to heal and thrive, and must meaningfully participate in decisions and debates that directly impact their well-being. Youth behavior should be viewed in the context of a young person’s development, needs, and unique situation.
Safety: All youth should have the ability to be their authentic selves without risk of increased physical or emotional harm, and communities should have the resources to be safe places for their residents.
Accountability: Fair and just systems can and should recognize a young person’s humanity, providing a calibrated response to ensure public safety that simultaneously helps young people repair harm and not repeat harmful behaviors. To that end, youth should acknowledge personal responsibility for their actions and appreciate the impact those actions have had on others. Meanwhile, youth justice systems must recognize and validate victims, and be restorative. These systems should also recognize that most court-involved young people are themselves survivors of crime. Given the tremendous power that youth justice systems have to deprive young people of their liberty, it is crucial that we remain vigilant in tracking and sharing how their outcomes adhere to these values.
Anne Marie Ambrose, Former Commissioner, Department of Human Services for the City of Philadelphia; Former Bureau Director of Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice Services for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
Phyllis Becker, Former Director, Missouri Division of Youth Services
Shay Bilchik, Former Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
Mandy Bisek, Former Deputy Director, La Crosse County Human Services, WI
TJ Bohl, Court Administrator, Pierce County, WA
Valerie Boykin, Former Director, Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice
Kristi Bunkers, Director of Juvenile Services, South Dakota Department of Corrections
Susan Burke, Former Director, Utah Division of Juvenile Justice Services
Joyce Burrell, Former Director, New York Division of Juvenile Justice and Opportunities for Youth
Hilary Cairns, Director, DC Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services
Gladys Carrión, Former Commissioner, New York City Administration for Children’s Services; Former Commissioner, New York State Office of Children and Family Services
Dan Chaney, Former director of Juvenile Justice, Wayne County, Michigan
Carey Cockerell, Former Commissioner, Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice; Former Commissioner Texas Department of Family and Protective Services; Former Director, Juvenile Services, Tarrant County, TX
Deena M. Corso, Juvenile Services Division Director, Multnomah County
Department of Community Justice
Avik Das, Former Director and Chief Probation Officer, Cook County Juvenile Probation and Court Services
Tim Decker, Former Director of the Missouri Division of Youth Services and the Missouri Children's Division
Paul DeMuro, Independent consultant in juvenile justice and child welfare, and advocate for court-involved youth; Former Commissioner, Pennsylvania Department of Children and Families
Edward Dolan, Commissioner of Probation, Massachusetts Department of Probation / Former Commissioner, MA Juvenile Justice
Earl Dunlap, Former CEO National Partnership for Juvenile Services and National Juvenile Detention Association; Former Transitional Administrator appointed by U S Federal Court for the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center
Peter Edelman, Former Director of the New York State Division for Youth
Melissa Fernandez, Director, Juvenile and Youth Services, Wayne County, Michigan
Felipe Franco, Former Deputy Commissioner at City of New York, Administration for Children's Services
Fernando Giraldo¸ Chief Probation Officer, Santa Cruz County Probation Department
Simon G. Gonsoulin, Former Director, Louisiana Office of Youth Development
Henry Gonzales, Executive Director, Harris County Juvenile Probation
Mike Griffiths, Former Executive Director, Texas Juvenile Justice Department
Deborah Hodges, Former Director of the Lucas County Juvenile Court, Toledo, Ohio
David Irizarry, Superintendent Juvenile Justice Services for Delaware County PA; Former Deputy Director for Philadelphia’s Office of Violence Prevention
Candice Jones, President & CEO, Public Welfare Foundation / Former Director, Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice
Clinton Lacey, Former Director, Washington, DC Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services
Joe Leavey, Acting Director of Probation and Court Services, Juvenile Probation Department, Cook County, IL
Miquel A. Lewis, Acting Director & Chief Probation Officer, Cook County, IL
Robert Listenbee, Former Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
John Lum, Former Chief Probation Officer, San Luis Obispo County, CA; Former Director, Department of Youth & Family Services, Skagit County, WA
John B Mattingly, Former Commissioner of the New York City Administration for Children Services; Former Executive Director, The Camp Hill Project
Scott MacDonald, Former Chief Probation Officer, Santa Cruz, CA
Mark Masterson, Former Director, Sedgwick County Department of Corrections
Patrick McCarthy, Former Division Director, Delaware Department of Services for Children, Youth and their Families
Terri McDonald, Former Chief Probation Officer, Los Angeles, CA
Christina McMahan, Director, Clackamas County Juvenile Department, OR
Mark Mertens, Administrator, Division of Youth and Family Services, Milwaukee County
Katherine Weinstein Miller, Chief Juvenile Probation Officer, San Francisco
Sheila Mitchell, Chief Deputy Probation Officer, Los Angeles, CA; Former Chief Probation Officer, Santa Clara County, CA
David Muhammad, Former Chief Probation Officer, Alameda County, CA
Ines Nieves, Retired NYS Juvenile Justice Commissioner
Colin O’Neill, Associate Commissioner of Juvenile Services, Maine Department of Corrections
Said Orra, Court Administrator, Lucas County Juvenile Court
Charles Parkins, Former Director, Colorado Division of Youth Corrections
Mark K. Patterson, Administrator, Kawailoa Youth and Family Wellness Center, HI
Brett M. Peterson, Director, Utah Division of Juvenile Justice Services
Kelly Pethke, Administrator, Children Youth and Family Services (CYFS), Milwaukee County, WI
John Rhoads, Former Chief Probation Officer, Santa Cruz and Sacramento, CA
Joseph E. Ribsam Jr., Former Director, New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth, and Families; Former Deputy Commissioner, New Jersey Department of Children and Families
Michael Rohan, Former Chief of the Cook County Juvenile Probation Department
Dr. Robert K. Ross, Former Director, Health & Human Services, San Diego County, CA
Ellen Schall, Former Commissioner of the NYC Department of Juvenile Justice
Ken Schatz, Former Commissioner, Vermont Department for Children and Families
Marc Schindler, Assistant Secretary and Chief of Staff, Maryland Department of Juvenile Services; Former Interim Director, Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, Washington, D.C.
Vincent Schiraldi, Secretary, Maryland Department of Juvenile Services; Former Director, Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, Washington, D.C.; Former Commissioner, New York City Department of Probation
Ira Schwartz, Former Administrator, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
William P. Siffermann, Retired Chief Probation Officer, San Francisco Juvenile Probation Department; Former Deputy Director of Cook County Juvenile Probation and Court Services Department
Mark Steward, Former Director, Missouri Division of Youth Services
Wendy Still, Chief Probation Officer, Alameda County, CA
Tom Swisstack, Former Deputy County Manager for Public Safety, Bernalillo County, NM
Scott Taylor, Former Director Multnomah County Department of Community Justice
Jane E. Tewksbury, Former Commissioner, Massachusetts Department of Youth Services
Cherie Townsend, Former Executive Director, Texas Juvenile Justice Department
Russell Van Vleet, Former founder and executive director of The Utah Criminal Justice Center; Former Director of the Utah Division of Youth Corrections
Wansley Walters, Former Secretary, Florida Department of Juvenile Justice; Former Director, Miami-Dade County Juvenile Services Department
Rose Washington, Former commissioner of the New York City Department of Juvenile Justice
Terri Williams, Former Deputy Secretary of Juvenile Service, Kansas Department of Corrections
Gina E. Wood, Former director of the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice