blog posts from GYC's participants, alumni, & staff
Juvenile Justice Project and Safe Passages
By Nina Vershuta
Our meeting with the Juvenile Justice Project of the Correctional Association (CA) of NY was the first of many organizations concerning juvenile justice that our delegation has met with. Judy Yu, Associate Director of the Juvenile Justice Project, and Tanesha Ingram, Safe Passages Coordination, started our meeting with getting to know our delegation’s participants. One of the snippets of information she asked from each participant was their Preferred Gender Pronoun, which for the first of many times we have been asked this during our program. This was a perfect start to a discussion of discrimination and identity.
The staff then briefed us on the history of the Correctional Association and their mission of ensure humane and effective treatment within the criminal justice system. In 1846, CA became the only private organization in NY to be granted unrestricted access by the New York State Legislature to inspect prisons and report their observations and findings. CA used their access to expose the below-standard and sometimes heinous conditions in prisons to educate the public, policymakers, and other stakeholders to advocate for progressive change.
Judy and Tanesha opened discussion about the juvenile justice system in NY and the mission of the Juvenile Justice Project. The Juvenile Justice Project is one of CA’s primary projects, aimed at changing the juvenile justice system to become more effective and move away from its punitive policies that place an astonishing number of children, especially minority children, in prison.
Youth of color as well as LGBT youth are disproportionately expelled from school, stopped by police, arrested, and incarcerated. New York spends approximately $266,000 per year per youth in state facility, while the average cost per student in a NYC Public High School is $16,510. In a city and state that does not have high rates of juvenile crimes, especially major felonies, the rates of juvenile detention and their outcomes are problematic to say the least.
Instead of using juvenile detention and incarceration as a rehabilitative process, it places children in restrictive and dangerous environments prone to physical harm and injury, substance abuse and mental health problems while limiting their access to their families, friends, communities and education. The increased risks of placing children behind bars is especially heightened in New York State, as it is one of two states with the age of responsibility of 16, thus mandating youth aged 16 and over to be tried and sentenced as adults. The Juvenile Justice Project is fighting for the Raise the Age Campaign to ensure that children do not get locked up with adults, who are more likely to be confined for a more serious offense than the youth.
The Juvenile Justice Project also monitors and documents discrimination faced by LGBTQ youth and juveniles. Such youth face harsher sanctions than heterosexual youth and are routinely mistreated in correctional facilities. This vulnerable population of youth is particularly visible in the homeless community due to a large number of LGBT youth either running away from abusive household or being thrown out by unaccepting parents. The overlap between homelessness and LGBT youth leads this cohort visible to police due to survival crimes of stealing food, committing robbery for money, prostitution, etc.
Tanesha also introduced us to a member of the Safe Passages Leadership Training, which prepares youth to be agents of social change within their communities with a particular focus on improving the conditions of LGBTQ youth in the correctional systems.
Our delegation engaged in open conversation about our own experiences in home countries in regards to juvenile and criminal justice systems. Some of our international participants were shocked to hear about US’s record of mass incarceration and human rights abuses behind bars.