I wanted to make sure you saw the proclamation I’m forwarding below that was issued by President Joe Biden for National Youth Justice Action Month. In addition to covering details about what the Administration is doing to address issues within the juvenile justice system, this year’s proclamation includes language and ideas developed by NFYI members who are part of our Juvenile Justice Think Tank.
We appreciate that the Administration is doing important work to reduce the number of youth who are incarcerated in our country and are gratified that they are listening to the voices of young people who have experience in both the foster care and juvenile justice systems.
Children who have been in foster care have a disproportionate risk of being incarcerated due to a variety of factors caused by an inequitable and flawed criminal justice system. It’s estimated that a quarter of former foster youth will be involved with the criminal justice system within two years of transitioning out of child welfare.
At NFYI, we have prioritized disrupting this foster-care-to-prison pipeline and the overly harsh punishment of children currently in foster care through policy recommendations, grassroots organizing, and community engagement. One of the projects we undertook last year, a collection of photos called #LostDays accompanied by an open letter that many of you signed, caught the attention of the Biden Administration, leading to a meeting in which our members made some of the recommendations included in the proclamation below.
Their suggestions included:
- Acknowledgment of racial disparities and racism in the system.
- Directing funds to mentorship programs, public defenders, mental health services, and nonprofit organizations that provide direct and preventative services.
- Ensuring youth are provided with legal counsel who are trained to advocate for children because too many are advised to take plea deals without a full understanding of the long-term impact of those decisions.
- Services to support youth transitioning out of incarceration facilities and re-entering communities.
These recommendations are the result of courage, tenacity, a great deal of research, and many thoughtful conversations — I am so proud of our members and staff who were willing to share their personal experiences and ideas.
Thank you to them, to the hundreds of you who signed our open letter last year, and to the Biden Administration for believing that our children deserve fair shots, safe spaces, and a community that sees their potential.
Rebecca Louve Yao