James Bell Draws Hundreds to Town Hall

James Bell speaks to Watsonville community.

Last Monday night, more than 200 parents, students, law enforcement officers, educators, community workers, and city officials packed the Mello Center in Watsonville, CA to hear James discuss the non-judicial drivers into the youth justice system and the implications for schools and communities.

James highlighted a few main ideas in his discussion:

Schools must not punish children for their age appropriate behavior. Children should be treated with empathy. When you close the door on a young person of color, you are shutting them out of any future opportunity to experience systemic empathy.

The juvenile justice system is not designed to meet the needs of children. It is not at all empathetic – its job is to protect public safety. The system is antithetical to normal adolescent development and will only produce a cycle of punishment, NOT education.

Children of color and low-income children deserve the right to an education. When we give up on a child’s education in a knowledge-based society such as ours, we are making determinations about who will be the servers and who will be the served; who will be the keepers and who will be the kept.

The event was sponsored by the Watsonville Youth Violence Prevention Task Force, along with the Pajaro Valley Unified School District, United Way, Santa Cruz Probation, Watsonville Police Department, Peace & Unity Coalition and the Community Action Board. Volunteers from the Cadets and Youth City Council also participated in this great collaborative effort.

Click here for press coverage of the town hall in the Santa Cruz Sentinel!

Call to Action.

James with Watsonville student leaders

A Shocking Cost Some Pay More for than Others

The average annual cost to confine one youth: $149,000
The annual cost to send a kid to Harvard: $ 59,000

This simple comparison reveals the staggering cost of locking up youth. This cost is increasingly unpalatable as more evidence shows that confinement does not discourage future crime and may even encourage it. But, this accounts only for the cost of facilities for the time a youth is locked up.

What are the long-term costs of taking kids away from their families, schools and communities, and placing them in detention centers? And who is shouldering those costs?

A new report from the Justice Policy Institute, “Sticker Shock: Calculating the Full Price Tag for Youth Incarceration,” estimates these indirect and long-term costs and recognizes that the greatest burden falls most heavily on communities of color. The majority of youth involved in the justice system do not finish high school, thus severely limiting their employment opportunities and earning ability. Not only does this result in a loss of potential tax revenue, but governments also incur the cost of supporting many of these youth as adults through social services. Additionally, the report looks at the cost to the system of youth who are sexually assaulted while confined, as well as the cost of future crimes committed by youth who were not rehabilitated by the system and may even have left worse off than when they entered.

Accounting for all these measurements, the report estimates that the conservative cost for inappropriately and excessively confining youth is an estimated $8 billion dollars annually. On the high range of the spectrum, the United States loses an estimated $21 billion dollars annually. This loss of earning potential and threat of future violence largely impacts families and communities color whose youth are disproportionately arrested and placed out of home. Despite large reductions in confinement over the past decade, youth of color continue to be confined at rates much higher than their White counterparts, and these disparities are growing.

The W. Haywood Burns Institute’s “Unbalanced Juvenile Justice” data map provides an interactive format for understanding these disparities by state.

As we continue to better understand the long-term costs of confinement, it is imperative that we recognize how the disparities of our system impact youth, their families and communities long after they have been released.

No More Deferred Dreams: We Need Smarter Policies for Youth Justice

“What happens to a dream deferred?”

In 1951, Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes wrote these prolific words in his exploration of race and social justice in the U.S. The youth justice system for far too long has been deferring, if not extinguishing dreams of children, family and communities.

The youth justice system’s tentacles’ reach into the lives of children and entire communities of color and traps them into a cycle of negative life outcomes. Rather than focusing on developmentally appropriate responses to the lives of many young people experiencing trauma, educational disruptions, and social and emotional instability; society treats these children as throwaways.

Today we have much more data on the impact of the youth justice system than we did even 10 years ago. Most of the young people trapped in the youth justice system fall far below grade level in academic achievement and a substantial percentage also deal with learning disabilities or mental health disorders. Impacts include the labor market as well. A formerly incarcerated Black man earns hourly wages that are 10% lower after prison than before. In fact, any formerly incarcerated worker – regardless of race or ethnicity – experiences a 33% loss in their number of weeks worked per year after they are released.

This is indeed a dream deferred.

How can we ensure that all young people, regardless of their race and ethnicity, can achieve their “American Dream?”

On December 11, 2014, our nation came one step closer to answering this question when Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) introduced the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2014.

This bill is designed to reauthorize and strengthen the Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Act of 1974 (JJDPA), which – at the time – revolutionized juvenile justice practices in the U.S. by establishing core protections for young people who come into conflict with the law. In essence, the JJDPA is the only federal statute that sets out national standards for the custody and care of youth in the juvenile justice system.

The re-authorization of this legislation has been a long overdue and we commend this recent effort.

This bill is now more than seven years overdue and its current language is much too vague to adequately address the reforms needed throughout juvenile justice systems. The result is that State and local officials have been operating without clear guidance for how to effectively reduce racial and ethnic disparities in their communities for far too long. As advocates, we are heartened to see that new language in the proposed bill will provide a clearer direction to States and localities about how they can most effectively plan and implement data-driven approaches to ensure fairness and accountability.

The JJDPA aims to accomplish three important objectives to reform the policies and practices of juvenile justice systems in localities:

First, it will provide direction and support to States for improvements in their juvenile justice systems through technical assistance and training.

Second, it will also support programs and practices that have significantly contributed to the reduction of delinquency; to include community based interventions driven by evidence-based practices.

Third, it will address the disproportionate contact that youth of color have with the juvenile justice system.

The W. Haywood Burns Institute believes that the reauthorization of JJDPA is sound policy that can aid in efforts to interrupt the negative cycle that juvenile justice systems have on the ability of young people, particularly youth of color, to live their lives to the fullest and achieve their dreams.

However, our action is still needed.

We must sound an alarm about the unjust state of the juvenile justice system and demand that our government leaders act now to halt the destructive, unfair and inequitable treatment of our children, too many of which are young kids of color.

What actions can you take?

There are several action steps that you can take now to ensure the passage of this bill through the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Congress, and ultimately, the President’s desk:

* Issue a statement in support of the bill.

* Encourage other organizations to endorse the bill.

* Send a Thank You Action Alert to your networks. You can find an alert on JJDPA Matters Action Center here.

* Get the word out through social media.

Together we must challenge individuals, communities, cities, counties, regions, States, and the entire nation to be accountable for the outcomes of justice systems at every level of government. No longer can we allow the dreams of countless numbers of young people be deferred, devastated, and derailed by ineffective and expensive “tough on crime” policies that do nothing to rehabilitate our youth and address real concerns about public safety.

The re-authorization of the Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Act is an important first step.


For more information on national and state statistics on the extent of racial and ethnic disparities: data.burnsinstitute.org

The W. Haywood Burns Institute is an Oakland-based national nonprofit organization. Our mission is to protect and improve the lives of youth of color and poor children and the well being of their communities by ensuring fairness and equity throughout all public and private youth serving systems.

CJNY: Stopping the Rail to Jail

The Community Justice Network for Youth (CJNY) is a program of the W. Haywood Burns Institute (BI). This publication outlines the foundation and beliefs that ground CJNY’s work. As a support network, the CJNY enhances the capacity of community organizations who collectively share one vision: To promote the availability of effective and culturally-appropriate programming for youth of color and poor communities. The CJNY helps to develop real solutions to replace the “cradle to prison pipeline” created by zero-tolerance policies in schools, a lack of opportunities in poor communities and the failure of public systems.

Download PDF – CJNY: Stopping the Rail to Jail