- Natalia Aristizabal from Make The Road, NY explores how MRNY organizes youth to end the school-to-prison and deportation pipeline by addressing school discipline codes eliminating school pushout to jails and detention/deportation systems as well as exposing the corporate backers of privately owned immigrant detention facilities.
- Angie Junck from the Immigrant Legal Resource Center explores the ways justice involved youth are impacted by recent immigration changes.
- Rich Leimseider from the Safe Passage Project, which provides free lawyers to 700 immigrant children in the NYC-area who face deportation despite their strong legal claims to stay in the U.S.
- Silky Shah from the Detention Watch Network, a national coalition of organizations and individuals working to expose and challenge the injustices of the U.S. immigration detention and deportation system.
Over the past few years, I have tried to make #HayOtraFroma trend on social media. This hashtag is so relevant to me because it literally means that there is another way. In my professional and personal circles, we wholeheartedly believe that there is another way to do our work, care about this planet and live and fight for just communities and sustainable societies. We believe in loving our communities and healing from historical traumas. We believe in the power of speaking our truth. We know that #HayOtraForma.
I entered the new year with hopes of resolutions and change—both for myself and for the world. I hoped that this year would bring a bit of respite from the onslaught and offense that our current political climate constantly hurls. Yet, we are faced with the reality of our current discourse which does not aim to move us to another way, but to move us back to a time of fantasized greatness and forward into a day that democratic principles and institutions are but a distant memory. We are no longer in a time of innuendo or hidden slight, but faced with an ever-growing insult to our psyches and a silence so deafening that—though it should stop us in our tracks—it does not surprise many of us. To this we welcome 2018 and, yes, I say more than ever there must be another way: #HayOtraForma.
As I sat with my 92-year-old grandmother this weekend, I realized it is she who teaches me that there is another way forward. Born a few decades after the United States colonized Puerto Rico, her life and stories of struggle and triumph make me hopeful. Her stories are of a feminism that is simply lived and not necessarily broadcasted. Her vocal reaction to the cruelty against our communities reminds me that we must create another way and invoke poet Nikki Giovanni’s words when we say to this moment: “…your desires will not be honored this season.”
We at the Andrus Family Fund understand that change is gradual and movements take time to cultivate. What does it look like when we really practice Dr. King’s philosophy to “develop and maintain the capacity to forgive?” Can we embed those beliefs and actions in public policy instead of hateful and punitive laws that continue to target certain groups and give no sense of hope?
Over the past few months, I have had the honor and privilege of speaking to individuals—through our latest podcast series—who know that “something else is possible.” Recent guests on our Out Of The Margins podcast have included Executive Directors of two incredible organizations: Jody Kent Lavy of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth and Danielle Sered of Common Justice. We concluded the series with an emotional conversation with Xavier McElreth Bey. A fierce advocate for ending juvenile life without parole and harsh sentences for young people, Xavier exemplifies what is possible when we deeply believe, see, and practice #HayOtraForma.
The United States is the only country in the world that sentences children to life without the possibility of parole. Today’s guest is Xavier McElrath-Bey who, at just 13 years old, was sentenced to a 25-year prison sentence. McElrath-Bey is now Senior Advisor and National Advocate for The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, working to dismantle extreme sentences for children. He shares with us his upbringing, the circumstances that contributed to his arrest, his story of redemption and the healing power of facing those he harmed.
In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for children are unconstitutional. However, more than a dozen states still sentence kids to live the rest of their lives in prison.
In this episode of Out Of The Margins, AFF Executive Director Leticia Peguero is joined by Jody Kent Lavy, Executive Director of The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth to discuss why holding kids accountable for the crimes they commit doesn’t mean life in prison.
Lisa Thurau, Executive Director of Strategies for Youth, discusses youth organizing, overcoming oppression, and compromising in an unjust society at Education Anew: Shifting Justice 2016.
In today’s podcast, we hear from Liz Ryan of Youth First about her advocacy work to close youth prisons and realize justice for America’s incarcerated children. Click the play button below to listen.
Kim McGill of Youth Justice Coalition speaks about what being an organizer really is at Education Anew: Shifting Justice 2016.
Previously in this blog series, we learned how grantee partners BreakOUT! and YEP are creating a more equitable New Orleans through their individual work and collectively as partners. Now, we shift our focus to another partner that has also been actively engaged in local collaborative work—Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights (LCCR). LCCR works to defend the rights of Louisiana’s most vulnerable children through direct service and legal advocacy strategies.
Louisiana is known as the “world’s prison capital” because it imprisons more people per capita than any other state or country in the world, with one out of every 86 adults behind bars. New Orleans also has one of the highest murder rates per capita in the country. Both of these issues disproportionately and adversely affect young people of color. The harm that is inflicted on these communities is not irreparable, but it takes leaders who are willing to disrupt these broken systems. Disrupting this kind of inequity requires the cultivation of a new generation of leaders who have a catalytic mindset and a commitment to grassroots innovation that is deeply rooted in the voices of those most impacted. As we know, those most impacted are closest to the answers. LCCR approaches their work with these two fundamental principles in mind. They ensure that the voices of the young people are core to informing their practices and policies. LCCR has also developed an interdisciplinary team of leaders that are focused on using their skills and expertise to defend children, build opportunities and transform the juvenile justice system as they break the cycle of inequity for New Orleans’ youth.
“We build opportunities so that young people don’t fall into the juvenile justice system. If they do, then we defend them. We’re standing up for their right to fairness, dignity and opportunity.”
Josh Perry, LCCR Executive Director
As the juvenile public defender in New Orleans, LCCR works with almost all youth who are arrested in the city. In order to best serve the needs of these young people, LCCR developed an integrated approach called The Children’s Defense Team. A dedicated case manager, social worker, attorney and investigator serve every child. Together they empower youth in court, at home and at school. The team is trained to recognize and address their young clients’ trauma and respond appropriately with evidence-based services and support. They work with young people from the beginning of their justice system involvement and connect them with community-based services that contribute to positive long-term outcomes.
When young people are incarcerated, LCCR fights for their release through the Second Chances Project. Under state law, youth are allowed to come home on supervised release if they have demonstrated positive development and a commitment to change. However, the only way to attain early release is through an attorney who can demonstrate these qualities to a judge. Unfortunately, LCCR has discovered that many incarcerated youth across Louisiana have no real legal representation. LCCR believes this lack of access is not only unjust but also unconstitutional. That is why they are aggressively expanding the program so that every incarcerated New Orleans child has a dedicated legal advocate by their side until their release.
LCCR believes that not only is legal representation a fundamental right, it is also a cost effective alternative to incarceration. According to the Office of Juvenile Justice, Louisiana spends more than $150,000 to incarcerate one young person per year. Avoiding unnecessary prison time would save Louisiana millions of dollars as well as provide better outcomes for young people and their communities. Releasing formerly incarcerated youth into their communities with age- and culturally-appropriate reentry supports has been proven to reduce recidivism rates by as much as 20 percent.
LCCR understands that responding to youth crime with automatic incarceration is not good for people or public policy. Research has shown us that incarceration does not make communities safer and fails to rehabilitate youth. The data supports LCCR’s evidence-based direct service model and validates the organization’s fight for systems-level change to create a more fair justice system.
While Louisiana’s youth incarceration rate has dropped substantially in the past 20 years, there is still an over-reliance on imprisonment. More than half of the young people incarcerated in the state today were committed for nonviolent offenses. LCCR backs common-sense policy reforms that would offer community-based services as an alternative to incarceration for these young people, saving the state public dollars it can reinvest elsewhere. LCCR is leading a campaign to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 17 to 18, minimize the use of shackles on young people in court and remove all children from adult prisons—such as the notorious Orleans Parish Prison.
In addition to legal advocacy and direct service, youth opportunity building rounds out LCCR’s core offering. LCCR understands that building opportunity for vulnerable youth cannot be done alone. It takes a comprehensive approach to make a sustainable impact.
“In Post-Katrina New Orleans, people realize that in order to be effective in the communities we serve requires collaboration. It’s survival. We need to work together in order to achieve our missions.”
Josh Perry, LCCR Executive Director
Perhaps the reason why our New Orleans-based grantee partners are so comfortable working together is because they all come from the same root. Each organization branched off the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (JJPL), which pushed for significant juvenile justice reform in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
While they approach youth justice work in different ways, our partners are able to leverage each other’s strengths to empower opportunity youth. Evidence of BreakOUT!, Youth Empowerment Project (YEP) and LCCR’s collective impact can be seen within various organizational programs.
BreakOUT! offers LCCR staff training that is respectful of LGBTQ youth needs. They also recently worked together to advocate against the building of a new juvenile justice prison in the area. LCCR often refers its young clients to educational and reentry supports provided by YEP—LCCR is a frequent referrer of youth to YEP’s Youth Futures Initiative program. BreakOUT!’s Posh Academy is made possible by YEP’s high school credential preparation program.
There is a unique camaraderie among these organizations that is clearly focused on disrupting the inequity that exists for young people in New Orleans and creating community that is meant to heal not harm.
Andrus Family Fund is proud to support all of our regional grantee partners as they work to create a more equitable New Orleans for its youth.
In our next blog series, we’ll meet grantee partners that are creating career pathways for opportunity youth across the country.
Children and youth do not grow up in programs and services; they are nurtured in healthy, vibrant communities. However, in order for them to thrive, it is critical for programs that serve our most vulnerable youth to understand and recognize that young people have experienced all types of trauma—directly or indirectly—from the physical of effects child abuse and neglect to the psychological damage of abject poverty to the long lasting impact of mass incarceration in their neighborhoods. For older youth, the mental scars that these types of trauma leave behind require a model that has healing, hope and care as the focal point of the approach.
From a clinical perspective, this approach is widely known as Trauma Informed Care and is usually applied to child serving systems such as child welfare and juvenile justice. However, Dr. Shawn Ginwright, Associate Professor of Education and Africana Studies at San Francisco State University gives us an alternative way of thinking about the power that this model can have on young people. He describes healing as the process of restoring health and well being to individuals and communities. He emphasizes that this kind of healing for young people can foster a collective optimism and a transformation of spirit that, over time, contributes to healthy, vibrant community life. 
The Andrus Family Fund recognizes the role that healing, hope and care play in developing young people as well as fostering strong, vibrant communities. AFF recently supported like-minded organizations that:
- Meet young people where they are and ensure that the environment that they are in is safe, collaborative and utilizes culturally appropriate practices.
- Utilize a positive youth development approach and build on the strengths and resiliency of young people and their communities.
- Implement programmatic practices that do not re-traumatize young people.
- Train and hire staff that understands, recognizes and can respond to trauma.
- Have trauma informed principles and practices as a core to the development and implementation of their programs and services.
Common Justice is a grantee partner that shows us how this approach can be used to transform the lives of vulnerable youth.
“Ending cycles of violence requires attending to all victims’ pain.”
– Danielle Sered, Director of Common Justice
Common Justice has an unique approach to working with our most vulnerable youth. By working directly with both the young people who commit violent felonies and their victims, they are able to address the issues that caused the crime to happen in the first place as well as create a safe space where all parties can heal and move past this trauma together.
Common Justice provides an alternative to incarceration while still holding young people accountable for their actions. Through compliance with an intensive 15-month violence intervention program as well as “payback” in the forms of community service, financial restitution and/or school/work commitments, they avoid serving time behind bars.
Additionally, Common Justice provides young men of color—who are 10.5 times more likely to be robbed or assaulted—the support services they need. Traditional victims’ services do not often recognize this reality; Common Justice does. They do this by acknowledging their trauma, humanizing their suffering and responding with cultural- and age-appropriate options not offered by the traditional criminal justice system. By engaging with young people in this way, Common Justice gives those harmed by crime a greater sense of closure and healing.
We applaud Common Justice for their work with young men of color, generating alternatives to incarceration that actually foster safer communities and continuing to be an innovator of transformative impact.
Katrina is an experienced and respected leader with more than 15 years of experience working on a national and regional level. She has worked in the non-profit and philanthropic sector, including serving as AFF’s Program Officer. Currently, Katrina is testing how partnerships between philanthropy and government can work on behalf of our most vulnerable youth and their families as the Director of Strategic Partnerships at the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services. Connect with Katrina on Linkedin.