Fighting Youth Incarceration in Minnesota & Creating Alternatives

Twin Cities, MN – New issues revolving around out-of-home placements for youth have recently been brought up through protests and direct actions in the Twin Cities metro area. The effects of youth ‘prisons’, the school-to-prison pipeline, and the disparities of youth of color being targeted for placement, continue to gain traction in the public realm. Community members, organizations, and groups have pushed against these issues, building a movement for youth prison abolition. This movement has thrown block parties, helped to get a new proposed facility cancelled, lit fireworks at the windows of locked-up juveniles, and more.

Unicorn Riot recently spoke with representatives from Ramsey County who plan and create youth facilities, youth and community members impacted by the ‘system,’ and community members dedicated to a better future for youth. Watch the video below for conversations on prison abolition during a Youth Prison Blockade Hip-Hop Against Incarceration Block Party.

Out-of-home placement settings for youth under the age of 18 years old can mean foster homes, group homes, treatment centers, mental health facilities, detention centers, correctional facilities, and even living with a relative. These placements can go from as short as a day to as long as years. In Minnesota, the reality of racial disparities in youth placements is striking. Some of the statistics can be found below.

Juvenile court was first established in Minnesota in 1905. From the reform school at Red Wing built in 1889, which has turned into a juvenile prison (MCF-RW), to boarding schools where Indigenous youth were tortured, forced to cut their hair and assimilate to European culture and language, the juvenile justice system has never had the best image, or much less shown itself to provide effective rehabilitation.

However recent data shows the amount of juveniles getting placed into facilities in Minnesota is steadily decreasing and new ideas for alternatives are continually arising. County commissioners have been reforming their guidelines and programs and are working towards alternatives to juvenile out-of-home placements. Community groups are seeking the abolition of prisons, as well as alternatives, and putting money towards community needs and support.

YOUTH FACILITIES IN MINNESOTA

In Minnesota, there are a multitude of classifications of out-of-home placements that a youth may incur after issues at home, at school, or in court. Some of the most common youth residential facilities licensed by the Minnesota Department of Corrections are: detention setting, chemical dependency treatment services, correctional program services, and group residential settings.

Appendix B – 2010 Youth Corrections Report (note: Hayward Group Home is no longer open)

Above is a map of all youth correctional facilities in the State of Minnesota in 2010. Noticeable in the metro area close-up in the right side of the picture are Hennepin County Home School and Boys Totem Town. Below, you will find further information on the plan to close these two facilities by creating a joint-county youth facility.

PROPOSAL FOR NEW FACILITY

Hennepin and Ramsey counties are home, respectively, to Minneapolis and St. Paul, the two largest cities in Minnesota. For the past couple of years, the counties had been considering building a new joint-county residential treatment facility wherein two existing programs would have been combined: the Ramsey County Boys Totem Town, and the Hennepin County Home School. [Click here to read the 2014 preliminary work plan. Click here to see the 2016 PowerPoint overview presentation for the proposed facility.]

Boys Totem Town (BTT), a non-secure facility in the Battle Creek neighborhood of St. Paul, holds “up to 36 adolescent boys age 14-19 who have been committed by the court to treatment for committing offenses“. Totem Town has recently been subjected to heavy criticism when judges in the Second Judicial District pledged in a letter sent to the Ramsey County Community Corrections Director to not send youth to the BTT facility due to safety concerns.

Boys Totem Town is outdated and in unsuitable condition for providing a modern residential treatment program,” said Allison Winters, the Public Information Manager for Ramsey County. There are multiple buildings that are, or have been, part of Boys Totem Town. These buildings, used to house youth, are multiple decades old and many believe are in dire need of updating.

Army cottage style sleeping arrangements in Boys Totem Town (Picture: Patrick Larkin/Review)

Hennepin County Home School (HCHS) in Minnetonka has “a capacity of 168 beds, which is spread out over seven cottages. However, it has been more than a decade since the facility has authorized use of all licensed beds“, says Ramsey County Public Information Manager Allison Winter. Although around 50 juveniles are held there presently, HCHS is known to hold the second-greatest amount of juvenile beds in Minnesota. (The 189-bed youth facility in Red Wing is the largest youth facility in the state, and is also the only such facility managed by the state’s Department of Corrections.)

Less than two years ago, HCHS was the subject of nearly half a million dollars’ worth of renovations and improvements, many of them by Klein McCarthy Architects, who “provide safe, efficient buildings for law enforcement operations” and have made dozens of locked facilities in the state, including the Juvenile Detention Center and Red Wing’s Dayton Cottage.

Cottage at Hennepin County Home School undergoes renovation by Klein McCarthy

In 2008, a group of corrections officials and judges examined the efficacy of the HCHS. The group found that despite the expense and the long duration of the programs, the HCHS does not address family issues faced by youths after their release from the treatment facility. Instead of incarcerating youths in costly residential treatment facilities, the group suggested that youths may be better served if instead they were sentenced to daytime rehabilitation programs and remained living with their families.

It was reported that the study group “seriously considered” closing the HCHS. “The home school has become … a place of last resort for juveniles we don’t know what to do with“, said Tom Merkel, former county director of community corrections and rehabilitation. At the time of the study Merkel said the HCHS programs had not been evaluated for effectiveness because of a lack of staff. (Merkel retired in 2015 from the position and has since been succeeded by a former detention deputy.)

The proposal for the joint-county youth facility had four stages. The third stage was community sessions and the fourth was building the facility.

COMMUNITY TAKES ACTION

The Juvenile Detention Center (JDC), in downtown Minneapolis, has recently seen a wave of solidarity actions and noise demos outside of the windows where the youth are housed, including on the Presidential Inauguration day break-off march.

On a chilly September night, dozens of community members staged a noise demo at the JDC. This demo was in solidarity with the 45th anniversary of the famous Attica uprising of 1971 and nationwide prison strike of 2016 (which became the largest prison strike ever, even involving prison guards), that continues to send ripples through the prison systems across the USA.

The video below, narrated by a member of the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, contains mention of the proposed new joint youth facility as another motivation for protests locally.

Fireworks and Flares at Noise Demo in Solidarity with Nationwide Prison Strike (Minneapolis) from Unicorn Riot.

The juvenile justice system is one part of the child welfare system and this entire system is not meant for children especially children from marginalized communities … The juvenile justice system has shown time and time again that they are preparing these kids for prison.” – Lucina Kayee, Co-Founder of MY Generation

With juvenile facilities ranging in size from one building to full campuses with multiple structures, the dynamics of out-of-home placements and the roles that it plays in the affected families and communities can be far-reaching and everlasting. When a juvenile is taken away from their home and put into a facility of any sort, the impacts of those experiences, whether positive or negative, are forever.

The community had the negative impacts in the forefront when they disrupted the first of four scheduled “community engagement and discussion sessions” on Tuesday, December 6th in Richfield, a Minneapolis suburb. This discussion session was organized to discuss the plan to combine the populations HCHS and BTT and place all juveniles into one new joint facility.

According to the event handout provided by Hennepin and Ramsey counties, the session was intended to “provide community members with an overview of the project and include time to ask questions, voice concern and speak with county administration. Youth and families are encouraged to attend.” Event organizers opened the night by saying the counties want to improve the lives of troubled youth, and to help create a new and better future for this community.

After the opening, the organizers allotted time for the community to visit three tables. It was during this time that the disruption began. Youth and community members took the microphone over and started to speak about their experiences with the juvenile justice system.

Unicorn Riot was live documenting the meeting and the disruption on December 6, 2016. During the disruption, community members and youth were able to take the microphone, take the space of the room, and speak to the county commissioners, who by most accounts listened and took notes on large post-it papers on the wall (see videos below).


Directly after the disruption, Unicorn Riot spoke with Tonya, of Youth Prison Blockade, who was also ‘locked-up’ as a youth, about the action:

Unicorn Riot inquired with the county commissioners as to their response to the meeting disruption. Allison Winters, the Public Information Manager in Ramsey County’s County Manager’s Office, said that the counties were grateful for the feedback they received at the meeting:

Throughout the Hennepin County/Ramsey County juvenile treatment center project, both counties sought input from a variety of sources including community service providers, youth and families who have experienced the juvenile justice system and the general public. At the December 6 meeting it was evident that the community members in attendance had several priorities they wanted to communicate with project leadership, including increasing safety for youth, being less reliant on out-of-home placement and increasing access to community services. Both counties are grateful for this and all feedback received during the project and will use it to guide work with juvenile offenders.

 

At the same time, project leadership had hoped to have a more productive dialogue with community members at the December 6 meeting to guide plans for current and future treatment programs, project developments and backgrounds, and revised program models being evaluated.” – Allison Winters, Public Information Manager, Ramsey County

The disruption of the community session was done by members of MY Generation, adult allies from the Youth Prison Blockade (YPB), and the broader community.

MY Generation is a youth-run organization founded in 2013 by three Black foster youth. “MY Generation embraces the collaboration between youth of color and their circle of support. MY Generation works closely with youth of color to radically improve the child welfare system by connecting them to organizations and providing them with training that can better serve them and their communities“, said one of the co-founders, Lucina Kayee.

The YPB campaign is organized jointly by the Social Justice Education Movement, the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC), and the General Defense Committee (GDC), all of which are a part of the Industrial Workers of the World.

JOINT COUNTY FACILITY PROPOSAL CANCELLED

Less than two weeks after the disruption, on December 14, 2016, plans for the highly contested proposed new joint-county juvenile residential treatment facility in the Twin Cities Metro area were halted.

Allison Winters, of Ramsey County, said the discontinuation of planning, “was reached after reflecting on information gathered by staff, county leaders, community members, and consultants, as well as continued research into best practices.” Winters further stated:

the executive committee, which includes commissioners, judges and corrections representatives from both counties, concluded that the best opportunity for future collaboration between Hennepin and Ramsey counties lies in programming instead of a joint physical structure.

 

Both counties will continue to discuss youth programming and identify areas where they can partner to improve outcomes for local youth. Commissioners and county staff remain committed to the project’s original goals of keeping youth closer to home by identifying local treatment options and improving programming for youth and families.” – Allison Winters, Public Information Manager, Ramsey County

MY Generation released a statement after the cancelling of the facility in which they produced demands for the counties and the state, and they admonished what they perceived as the joint-county’s lack of efforts to gain youth involvement/input in the project:

Hennepin and Ramsey County’s complete disregard for any input from youth, the people who this project will affect most, has been reflective of a profits over children mentality often seen in Minnesota’s foster care system. This facility is using mental health certification in order to profit off of institutionalizing Black, Indigenous, and Brown youth. By naming this institution a residential treatment facility, Hennepin and Ramsey county not only save money due to partial medical assistance reimbursements, but they are giving a new image to the foster care to prison pipeline.” – A portion of the statement by MY Generation [12.14.16]

Recently, Lucina Kayee of MY Generation, said she views “the facility as a symptom of a bigger problem,” and wondered about the funding, saying, “we are still unaware or yet to see where these two counties will be placing the money that they’ve been given for their now-canceled joint-county facility.

YPB also released a statement in response to the discontinuation of plans for the joint county facility:

the campaign organizers are mindful that while this joint county facility has been defeated, the struggle may just be shifting terrain. Ultimately, this project is about how the county chooses to allocate resources. Communities of color and working class communities experience cycles of violence instead of investment. This must change.” – A portion of the statement by YPB [12.14.16]

Allison Winter, of Ramsey County spoke about what they perceived as community misconceptions of the proposal:

From the beginning of this project, both counties emphasized that the main priority for this initiative be about programming for youth and families. It became clear that discussions surrounding a physical site (facility/building) often reduced this important focus on programming and led to misconceptions.

 

For instance, the most prominent misconception was that the counties would build a singular 165 bed facility. In reality, the project was exploring a variety of options, including smaller, home-like settings in line with the latest research and recommendations. No ideas, big or smaller, were ever excluded throughout the process.

 

Our ultimate goal is to reduce confinement for as many youth as possible. At the same time, youth who pose a significant threat to public safety still need an out-of-home placement option. Both counties will continue to serve youth through enhanced community-based alternatives and programs that keep youth from entering the system at all.


SITUATIONS & CONDITIONS INSIDE

Abuse is endemic” is the title of a section in a recent report put out through the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS) titled ‘The Future of Youth Justice: A Community-Based Alternative to the Youth Prison Model‘. This report features scathing reviews of the incarceration based approach that most states have utilized in regards to youth prisons, saying they “exacerbate the trauma that most confined youth have already experienced,” and that “maltreatment is endemic and widespread.

Facilities feature archaic methods of control and conformity: locked rooms/cells/units, overcrowding, razor wire fences, pepper spray, leg irons and wrap restraints, physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. Sexual abuse of incarcerated youth is at 9.5%. Most controversial is the use of solitary confinement, a uniquely American tactic denounced multiple times by the UN as torture.

 

Consequences of youth incarceration include exacerbated mental illness, continued substance abuse, self-injurious and suicidal behavior, stunted emotional development and decision making processes. They have far less success returning to school and/or entering the labor market.” – Stefanie B., Youth Prison Blockade & Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee

Unicorn Riot spoke with nine people who had been incarcerated in a Minnesota juvenile facility in the last twelve years. Of those nine people, seven said that they had seen physical abuse by a staff and five said they had been victimized by an adult staff member physically accosting or assaulting them. All of them said they were verbally berated at some point in their incarceration by the adult staff.

Articles in mainstream press have articulated some of the abuse that happens in these facilities, which seems to be rampant. In an article put out last year by the Star Tribune, they spotlight that youth with mental problems, who haven’t been charged with a crime “now account for one-fifth of the population in Minnesota’s county juvenile correctional facilities.

In an investigation into youth facilities in New York by the Department of Justice, some of the observations written below are what many see as a reality across the nation in regards to youth incarceration.

Staff at the facilities routinely used uncontrolled, unsafe applications of force, departing both from generally accepted standards and [departmental] policy. Anything from sneaking an extra cookie to initiating a fistfight may result in a full prone restraint with handcuffs. This one-size-fits-all control approach has, not surprisingly, led to an alarming number of serious injuries to youth, including concussions, broken or knocked-out teeth, and spiral fractures.” – DoJ letter to New York Gov. Paterson [8.14.09]

IMPACTED YOUTHS SPEAK OUT

Unicorn Riot spoke with several youth who have been directly impacted by out-of-home placements, about their experiences, and some alternatives to placements that they thought would benefit them. The youths quoted below remain anonymous due to their age or wishes.

From my experiences being sent away, I hate it. I get taken away from everything I love and forced into a world where I have to lie to get ahead. Then I come home and lie to my family, and the sad thing is, it works, but then I can’t unlie, so I keep my lie going. I learned a lot of dirt from my sisters on the ‘ins’. The school classes we had were busted as f**k. We just did packets of sh*t that nobody cared about. There was like three cool staff inside of [a youth facility] who would like take their time to genuinely talk with us, otherwise, the rest had attitudes.” – Anonymous Youth

 

I get it, after three times being sent off I finally get it, they create this juvenile system, get you on probation, tie you into the cycle starting from school police officers, send you away, and then blame you when you go back.” – Anonymous Youth

 

I actually had some good mentors and my P.O. [Probation Officer] was cool, so like, being locked-up for me wasn’t too bad. I got to eat three times a day, didn’t have to deal with my crazy family. Like I said, some of the people cared. It was cool.” – Anonymous Youth

 

I got beat, shackled, spit on, segregated, isolated, treated like shit, not allowed to see my family. I mean, what else you want me to say?” – Anonymous Youth

We asked Lucina what she felt the main issues in the juvenile justice system, to which she responded:

The juvenile justice system is one part of the child welfare system and this entire system is not meant for children, especially children from marginalized communities. The juvenile justice system is one stop before a young person is placed in the adult correctional facilities. MY Generation recognizes the importance of mental health resources and access to community intervention programs that Hennepin and Ramsey county both have refused to fund. The juvenile justice system has shown time and time again that they are preparing these kids for prison.” – Lucina Kayee, MY Generation

DISPARITIES & STATISTICS WITHIN JUVENILE JUSTICE

The drastic racial disparities in the numbers of youth put into out-of-home placements is staggering. According to a new report [January 2017] by Minnesota’s Department of Human Services Child and Safety Permanency Division, titled, Minnesota’s Out-of-Home Care and Permanency Report 2015, American Indian children were 16.9 times more likely and Black children were over 3.4 times more likely than white children to be placed out-of-home.

In the screenshot below from the report titled above, you can see the staggering number of 104.5 American Indian youth out of 1,000 experience out-of-home care.

These numbers confirm the reality that for decades now Minnesota has continued to harbor “some of the worst racial disparities in the country.

Out-of-home care in this study includes shelters, foster care, and pre-adoptive homes as well as correctional, treatment settings, and the like. There are a multitude of reasons behind out-of-home placements for youth and a lot of them have to do with the community or family that that youth is residing in.

In a 2013 study, statistics show that “only 15 percent of youth in correctional facilities live with both biological/adoptive parents,” and 40 percent lived with just their mother, while 16 percent lived with “other.”

Further studies show a high rate of experienced jail, where over 54 percent of youth incarcerated have had a parent also in jail or prison, and 16 percent had a parent locked up at the time of the study.

YOUTH PLACEMENT NUMBERS GOING DOWN

The rate of out-of-home placements is about 50 percent less than what it was a decade ago. Juvenile justice analyst, Dana Swayze, put together a highly detailed report on the juvenile justice system’s volume and offender characteristics. In the picture below, you can see that admissions to Department of Correction licensed juvenile facilities fell 61 percent from 2001 to 2013.

Slide 28 of Juvenile Justice in Minnesota: Looking Back to Look Ahead by Dana Swayze, MSW, Juvenile Justice Analyst

When asked what has attributed to this steady decline, Allison Winters of Ramsey County had this to say:

Ramsey County attributes the reduction in out-of-home placements to policy, practice and procedure changes made through JDAI (Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative), which the county began working with in 2005.

 

Similarly, Hennepin County attributes its reduction in the number of youth in out-of-home placement and detention facilities to the implementation of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) and other reforms. The initiative is in effect in 300 counties nationwide and has been in effect at Hennepin County since 2006. The initiative strives to reduce the number of youth in these settings by providing alternative treatment options obtained in the youth’s own community.” – Allison Winters, Public Information Manager, Ramsey County

COUNTY & COMMUNITY ENVISIONS ALTERNATIVES

In NCJRS’s report, ‘The Future of Youth Justice: A Community-Based Alternative to the Youth Prison Model,’ it’s written, “It is long past time to choose a different path, one that aligns the moral, ethical, and human imperative with fiscal prudence, safer communities, and better youth outcomes. The momentum is beginning to shift.

The Justice Police Institute released a full, detailed report titled, ‘Sticker Shock: Calculating the Full Price Tag for Youth Incarceration‘, in which the first recommendation is to “reduce spending on confinement and shift funding to community‐based options for youth.

Allison Winters, Ramsey County’s Public Information Manager, answered what their views on the future for juvenile placement in Hennepin and Ramsey counties:

Hennepin and Ramsey counties take an evidence-based approach to youth in corrections. Evidence illustrates that limiting the use of out-of-home placement for youth in corrections is one of the best ways to reduce recidivism. Both counties strive to reduce the number of youth in out-of-home placement as much as possible. At the same time, some youth reside in an out-of-home placement setting, such as youth who commit violent crimes or other serious offenses, to receive treatment services. In the future both counties will examine the need for out-of-home placement facilities, while trying to reduce the number of youth in these facilities.

 

Both counties are fully committed to continuing work with juvenile justice reform initiatives, such as the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) and Deep End Reform, to further examine, prevent and reduce the number of youth being sent to out-of-home placement facilities while also acknowledging and fulfilling our public safety responsibilities.

Stefanie B., from the Youth Prison Blockade & Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, had this to say about alternatives to youth prisons:

People often feel that we just want to close the prisons and that’s that, which is of course not the case. The millions of dollars we spend on carceral solutions is taxpayer money that can be used to invest in our communities. Incarceration should be an absolute LAST resort, yet despite initiatives like JDAI, (Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative) counties and states continue to point to out-of-home placement as a solution when glaring evidence suggests we need to stop separating kids from their communities. Hennepin and Ramsey Counties were so close to becoming a pathetic hypocrisy by resorting to a new youth facility when demand is so decreased. We see incarceration as a lazy failure of the imagination.

 

Every “program” given to kids in isolation can be communalized. Money can be redirected to many other programs including but not limited to; Afterschool programs, Support for educators, Parks and Recreation, Mental Wellness clinics, Youth Mentorship, Counseling, Food shelves, Substance Abuse programs, Youth emergency shelters, Transportation programs, Faith-Based organizational support, Restorative Justice, Multi-language and Disability support.” – Stefanie B., Youth Prison Blockade & Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee

Lucina Kayee, of MY Generation said:

MY Generation and our allies have been calling on both Hennepin and Ramsey county to put more funding into the Extended Foster Care Program (TIP) and to allow young folks in the child welfare system to get more opportunity to choose their own method of mental health intervention. Connections to Independence (C2i) a foster care nonprofit, has proven to help prevent their foster youth from ending up in the correctional system. Programs like C2i and the Emma B. YMCA transitions program has shown if you give child welfare youth the chance to work with youth with similar experiences as them, they are more than likely to change their behaviors and the behaviors of their peers for the better.

 

As we all know, programs that center the emotional and physical well-being of Black, Brown and Indigenous youth are usually targeted for budget cuts and are rarely receiving the funding that they need to sustain their programs.” – Lucina Kayee, MY Generation

WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS

After the disruption of the community listening session and cancellation of the youth facility, Ramsey County’s Allison Winters said that, “both counties are retaining contact information from residents who provided it during the community engagement process to notify them of future engagement opportunities.” Winters pressed the importance of community engagement around youth incarceration and said that Ramsey County welcomes ongoing discussions.

Ramsey County plans to involve the community earlier in planning for any future correctional or treatment facilities. We will use lessons learned from this project to better guide future outreach. We encourage community members to stay involved in ongoing conversations around juvenile justice reform and the youth continuum of care. It’s important that community members, non-profits and other organizations have a voice in these discussions and are able to collaborate on the role community can play as we all work together to create better outcomes for youth. Community members interested in receiving updates on ways to stay involved can subscribe to emails at http://bit.ly/2lqzAJW. While the county has noted from the beginning of this project that Boys Totem Town is outdated and in unsuitable condition for providing a modern residential treatment program, we do not currently have a timeline for when any new treatment center(s) will be constructed.

 

Hennepin County is in the process of reviewing and analyzing the information it obtained throughout the Hennepin County/Ramsey County treatment center project before moving forward with any new initiative. The county values the information it received from the community, criminal justice partners and staff.

 

The department plans to start a larger community engagement effort focusing on a variety of criminal justice issues. It will be reaching out to the community to participate in this effort. For more information or to participate in future community engagement efforts, please contact Jerald Moore at [email protected]

Lucina Kayee promised further actions to “shut down any initiative” not involving conversations with those “directly affected.

We will continue to shut down any initiative that does not involve the voices of the directly affected. If this system is unwilling to respect the lived experiences of young people in the child welfare system, then we will take control and show them what being trauma informed actually looks like, and it’s not putting already traumatized youth of color in the juvenile justice system.

Stefanie B. challenged the premise of reforming the juvenile justice system and gave reasons to push for abolition:

Reform vs. abolition is another common question. Youth Prison Blockade works alongside institutionalized adults with Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee- these are abolitionist projects because we know these two things to be true:

 

Building better prisons is a common idea, but they are still prisons, which deprive people of the freedom to heal and make better choices. They still keep our loved ones away from our communities even though most kids (and adults) that are put in these institutions did not choose the precarious conditions they were born into-such as those of poverty, mental illness, addiction, disability, etc. We see it as immoral to lock people up who are first and foremost victims of economic instability. 

 

Secondly, a solid analysis of capitalism is important here. We know that the system of commodification and profit-maximization under capitalism cause facilities to become the unstable, violent, abusive places they are. In order to maximize profit (including fulfilling contracts and receiving State funding) corners will always be cut in the name of efficiency and stability. Examples of this are everywhere where money and accumulation of capital become the primary and corrupting influence over industry. We can see this in America’s Healthcare, Housing, and Education systems. Capitalism demands productivity and expansion, so building the best prisons possible will be a short-term solution, until the shareholders and the State catch up and demand more efficiency. Cuts will be made towards programming, staff and youth safety, cleanliness, building maintenance, etc etc and then we are right back to where we started. Reform has also been on the table ever since the first prisons were conceptualized. We are currently staring at decades of “reform.” Angela Davis talks exhaustively about using the system to “cure” the system. Still we recognize reform as being better than nothing, but we also want to push reform so absolutely far that we leave this nightmare behind, put our efforts back into actual rehabilitation via the community, until what we are left with is something so transformative that it resembles nothing close to prison, and thus abolition becomes a reality.

While we see a major decrease in the numbers of youth placed into facilities, we still see blatant disparities pointing to a racist and unjust system of ‘justice’. What is clear is that the researchers, analysts, affected ones, the community, the commissioners, and the author of this article (who spent four years in juvenile facilities), all know that incarcerating youth in out-of-home placements is an out-dated method that does not work. Seeing the grassroots actions push the commissioners to canceling the joint-county facility, and understanding that there are alternatives to the status quo, is empowering communities to take a new path away from abusive, hierarchical institutions that instead of building support systems, simply further traumatize underserved youth.

Authored by Niko Georgiades with support from Jenn Schreiter

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