Reclaiming Futures is proud to support Youth Justice Awareness Month. As such, we asked Mr. Brian Evans, the State’s Campaign Director at Campaign for Youth Justice to tell us about its history and purpose. Mr. Evans told us:
Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM) started back in 2008, when Tracy McClard, a mother from Missouri who lost her son to suicide in an adult jail, organized a 5K race in October to raise awareness about the harmful practice of treating children as adults in the criminal justice system. Each October since then, YJAM has seen more activities and more events highlighting what is wrong with trying kids as adults. Film screenings, panel discussion, art exhibitions, and more ambitious endeavors like Tracy’s bike ride across the state of Missouri last year, have all drawn attention to and helped build a growing consensus that we need to reform the way we approach youth justice.
As President Obama said this year in his second annual proclamation of Youth Justice Awareness Month: “When we invest in our children and redirect young people who have made misguided decisions, we can reduce our over-reliance on the juvenile and criminal justice systems and build stronger pathways to opportunity.”
Since the first YJAM in 2008, we have seen increased awareness lead to concrete action. Over the past decade around 30 states have passed legislation keeping young people out of the adult criminal justice system. So this year, we YJAM is being re-branded as Youth Justice Action Month. More and more it has become apparent that we know what the problems are. Now, it is time for advocates, legislators, and governments to take action.
Out of grief, a mother took action that has turned into awareness and presidential acknowledgement. The re-branding of the “A” in YJAM is very appropriate – as Ms. McClard has demonstrated. We ask, what are your local communities doing this month to demonstrate a commitment to youth justice?
Maya Angelou said: “How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!” Reclaiming Futures recognizes and celebrates Ms. McClard and the committed staff at Campaign for Youth Justice. We ask our Reclaiming Futures partners to consider bringing local awareness and action to YJAM by:
- Hosting a local town hall meeting on the issues of detention, out-of-home placements, recidivism, racial and ethnic disparities and costs that includes community stakeholders such as education, behavioral health, justice, healthcare, commerce, and political leaders
- Writing a blog or an opinion post on these issues
- Collaborating with the local juvenile justice administrators to develop one or a series of in-service trainings