Youth Justice


Across the United States, many youth – disproportionately youth of color — are referred to the justice system for behaviors that would more appropriately be handled within families, schools and communities. Once in the system, youth too often experience harsh, ineffective, and counter-productive interventions. Notably, nearly 50,000 youth each night are incarcerated in correctional facilities or other out-of-home placements, the highest youth incarceration rate in the world. And, at least 100,000 youth annually are tried in the adult criminal justice system. These policies ignore the developmental realities and needs of youth, subject youth to dangerous conditions, increase recidivism rates, and significantly limit youth’s future health, education, and employment prospects.

Pervading these systems are gross racial and ethnic inequities that cannot be ignored. Despite similar offense rates across demographic groups, youth of color are more likely than their white peers to be referred to and incarcerated in the juvenile justice system, and to be tried and sentenced as adults. Transforming the nation’s approach to youth justice requires focused attention on these racial injustices.


The Foundation’s Youth Justice Program supports groups working to advance a fair and effective community-based vision of youth justice, with a focus on ending the criminalization and incarceration of youth of color. In particular, the Program makes grants to groups working to:

Jim Crow Juvenile Justice

The EBP-PLUS Model: Liberating Youth, Families, and Community from the Justice System

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Supporting Youth in the Community

A series of 10 photographs features some of the participants at a Community Connections for Youth training on alternatives to incarceration in Chicago.

With more than 54,000 youths incarcerated each night, the Public Welfare Foundation supports groups working to dramatically reduce the use of incarceration in juvenile justice systems, expand the use of programs for youth in communities, and reduce racial and ethnic disparities within systems.

CCFY, based in the Bronx, New York, is a Foundation grantee tackling all these issues. It helps build community capacity to provide effective alternatives for system-involved youth, particularly in communities of color.

Photo Ten

Rev. Rubén Austria

“We can see a future with no juvenile prisons, where a child is never again put in a cage. But to get to that reality, the community needs to take back the responsibility and the resources it needs to support young people and hold them accountable when they make mistakes. For decades, we’ve outsourced that to the justice system and it hasn’t worked. Equipping community members to do this work, and bringing them together with system stakeholders who are willing to share power, information and resources is the key to this process. This diverse team in Chicago that includes faith leaders, youth organizers, restorative justice practitioners, police, probation officers, and school officials is coming together to create a new reality where intensive community support in the local neighborhood is the new norm in responding to youthful misbehavior.” #NoKidsInCages #juvenilejustice

(Photo by @davidylee for @publicwelfare)

Photo Nine

Ethan Ucker, Co-Director and Co-Founder, Circles & Ciphers

“There’s lots of momentum now. A lot of system stakeholders – judges, police commanders, principals, public officials – are pushing for alternatives. Where did that mandate come from? Those systems are responding to critiques that they are too punitive, too violent, too flagrantly racist. In any case, there is undeniable interest. And yet, the organizations with the capacity to step up and provide alternatives end up widening the net, extending new institutional tentacles into communities. Young black people continue to be systematically marginalized and dehumanized – only now, under the guise of alternatives, it happens in gentler, more insidious ways. I struggle with even the idea of an alternative, because an alternative centers and refers to the thing it is an alternative to as its defining feature. We’re talking about alternatives to incarceration, but even that conversation keeps us in the same world where incarceration is possible – that is, a world in which certain people, certain resources are disposable. Instead, how can we completely dissociate from everything that is causing the problems that afflict us? What can we imagine and build that is independent of structures that breed inequality and permanently subordinate black, brown and red bodies? An autonomous, community-based justice system, for example. That’s what we’re working to organize." #NoKidsInCages #juvenilejustice

(Photo by @davidylee for @publicwelfare)

Photo Eight

Darrius Lightfoot, Co-Director, Fearless Leading by the Youth (F.L.Y.)

“I am a community organizer. I believe in moving folks who aren’t on my side to my side. So, if you are in the system and you are pushing for punitive action, but I see that your heart is leaning somewhere else that tells me that you could possibly be pushed to my side. We need to work with system folks and with community folks – like people of faith, police, everyone – we need to work with the whole community. My approach is that the community leads those efforts because there should be nothing about us without us. But the system has the dollars and we have to make our project look good for them -- and that’s what I find challenging.” #NoKidsInCages #juvenilejustice

(Photo by @davidylee for @publicwelfare)

Photo Seven

Michael Hodges, Juvenile Probation Officer

“A lot of [my fellow] probation officers would bring minors to me in order for me to talk to them because of different issues that the minors may have been having. And they [other officers] didn’t want to just report [the youth], but they wanted someone to hear what was going on to see if there could be any intervention and assistance given. And I think that they did that because they recognized that I really care, I really care. And I’ve told a lot of minors that I’m not looking to see you caught up in the system. And I tell them that the system doesn’t like you, the system doesn’t care about you. The system is here to do a certain thing, and, once you get in it, the system is going to work the way that it works. But I want to help you stay out of it.” #NoKidsInCages #juvenilejustice

(Photo by @davidylee for @publicwelfare)

Photo Six

Rev. Robert E. Biekman, Senior Pastor, Maple Park United Methodist Church

“My hope would be that we would begin to develop a kind of a program that would bring together the best of all the entities that are represented, that would work in concert with one another to be able to provide diversion for our youth, particularly those that are involved in school and that we would be able to have a kind of alternative to suspension. I would like to be able to have the kind of place, a restorative justice peace hub. We would be a resource for that kind of relationship building, but also to begin to work with the families, to begin to work with the school system. It would be a place in which faculty and staff from a local school could come and receive training in the community around restorative justice. But also, we would create accountability as well.” #NoKidsInCages #juvenilejustice

(Photo by @davidylee for @publicwelfare)

Photo Five

Jadine Chou, Chief Safety and Security Officer, Chicago Public Schools

“When I came to Chicago Public Schools, talking about restorative justice, people looked at me like I had two heads. And now, four years later, through the efforts of countless people in Chicago, we have a student code of conduct that really will help reduce or eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline by limiting the conditions under which students can be suspended or that lead to calling the police. Five years ago, students would get arrested for having a cell phone they wouldn’t give up, or for saying a swear word. Since these improvements, CPS has seen a 60 percent reduction in out-of-school suspensions, a 25 percent reduction in referrals to arrests and a 67 percent reduction in referrals to expulsions. When we do that, our kids are more in school than they are out on the streets, which is a great thing, because when they are in the classroom, they can focus on their education. Plus, when they are in school, we know they can be safe. But the strength has to come in from the community as well…[W]e can try to do everything we want inside the school, but if it’s not connected to the community, it’s really not enough…I talk to my peers, people who do my job in other school districts. They say that they don’t have the level of connection to the community that they need, that I believe we are fortunate enough to have here in Chicago. We still have to do much better, but without that, you sit in your little world and say, ‘If it’s not happening within these four walls, it’s not my problem.’ If you say that, you are doing your students [and] your communities a disservice. It’s all a continuity thing. You’ve got to connect. What the children experience outside of the school is going to come into the school. And likewise vice versa. And so, if you think about restorative practices, if you think about what we’re talking about in these [training] sessions, it’s all about building those bridges and giving kids a 7 by 24 view of a world where they can be treated in a restorative way and they can live in a world that’s safe for them. That’s what this is about for me.” #NoKidsInCages #juvenilejustice

(Photo by @davidylee for @publicwelfare)

Photo Four

Cheryl Graves, Co-Director and Co-Founder, Community Justice for Youth Institute

“Our goal initially was to build community capacity around restorative justice practices, because we were really concerned with the over-incarceration of youth of color, the school-to-prison pipeline. We were looking for ways not just to be zealous attorneys; we were looking for ways to keep youth out of the system. We realized that there had to be involvement – knowledgeable and intentional involvement of parents, community and faith organizations – and, without them, nothing could change. There had to be strong advocacy from outside the system. Over the years, our work has moved from focusing on juvenile court and how communities can impact the courts, to how communities can resolve their own issues and not have to rely upon the system.” #NoKidsInCages #juvenilejustice

(Photo by @davidylee for @publicwelfare)

Photo Three

Maudessie Jointer, Police Sergeant, Chicago’s 3rd District

“That’s been the focus of the police department – I would say the city of Chicago as well as the police department – is that something new or something different has to take place. There has to be a new kind of policing. We knew a long time ago that by ourselves we absolutely could not do it, and that if we wanted to make this thing work – and I’m going to make it relevant to an incident – if we did not want Chicago to become a Ferguson, then we had to do even more of it, and that is engage in the community. We can no longer continue to have the ‘us versus them’ mentality, which a lot of officers had, and still do. You know, just like you don’t create something overnight, you’re not going to fix it overnight either. It’s a process. And the community engagement training has been the tool for us.” #NoKidsInCages #juvenilejustice

(Photo by @davidylee for @publicwelfare)

Photo Two

Kathleen Bankhead, Independent Juvenile Ombudsman, Chicago, IL

“As ombudsman, my role is to ensure that the rights of the young people who are in the care, custody, and control of the Department of Juvenile Justice, aren’t being violated. I see my role, in part, as helping the Department get to where it’s trying to go in terms of treatment and therapeutic models [for young people] - by advocating for certain policies and procedures that might help it get there; to be an advocate for the young people, not just in terms of protecting their rights, but also helping address personal and social needs that they have. So, this is the office they can call and then we’ll try to figure it out, whatever it is…I try to amplify the voices of youth and their families in an independent and impartial way. I would say 95 percent of the kids that I’ve talked to, when I ask, ‘What’s good in your life?’ They say, ‘My family.’ And I think…there’s this feeling that families don’t care, and that families are not supportive of their young people. But I’m hearing exactly the opposite of that from young people that I’ve met.” #NoKidsInCages #juvenilejustice

(Photo by @davidylee for @publicwelfare)

Photo One

As CCFY Executive Director Rev. Rubén Austria put it, “When children run afoul of the law, our first impulse should not be to lock them up. Instead we want communities to be able to respond to youthful misbehavior. We help communities develop that capacity by training grassroots faith and neighborhood organizations and facilitating partnerships between systems and community leaders to divert youth from deeper juvenile justice system involvement by intensifying their connection to the local community.” #NoKidsInCages #juvenilejustice

(Photo by @davidylee for @publicwelfare)

Keeping Youth Safely Home

A week-long photo series for the Public Welfare Foundation shows youth advocates at work in Baltimore, MD.

Youth Advocate Programs, Inc., a grantee of the Public Welfare Foundation, is committed to providing community-based alternatives to out-of-home care through direct service, advocacy and policy change. YAP serves more than 13,000 families a year in more than 100 programs across 18 states in rural, suburban and urban areas, including 25 major metro areas. Since it started in 1975, 100 percent of YAP’s programming occurs in the home communities of the people it serves.

Day Five

“I have been coming to @youthadvocateprograms for three years. They provide support and help integrate youth into the community. My mentor is really dedicated and goes out of her way to help me. I just started college and I am planning to study human services so I can do non-profit work. I want to open a group home for foster children.” Meet Dianna. // Youth Advocate Programs, Inc. is committed to the provision of community-based alternatives to out-of-home care through direct service, advocacy and policy change. For more information about Youth Advocate Programs, Inc.: (Photo by @davidylee for @publicwelfare)

Day Four

“I have been a youth advocate for nine years. I enjoy working with the youth. I want to make a difference in their lives. I am a college graduate and I want to instill those values in them. One of my youth is in college right now and so when he calls me, it feels very good. What I have been trying to tell him is that life is more than hanging on the street. You have to go get it. You have to work hard. You have to try hard to get what you want.” Meet Muka Salako. Youth advocate for nine years. // Youth Advocate Programs, Inc. is committed to the provision of community-based alternatives to out-of-home care through direct service, advocacy and policy change. For more information about Youth Advocate Programs, Inc.: (Photo by @davidylee for @publicwelfare)

Day Three

“It is essential for any group of men, especially black men, to give back to our youth. That is why I think the @youthadvocateprograms is an excellent program because it allows us to be in touch directly into the lives of young men that face high incarceration. We as men come in to help (youth) process their thoughts. What is that going to lead to? Where do you see yourself five years from now? What other things could you be doing to better your situation? Every day I get up and I am gratified by the work that I am doing. Gratified by the little changes that I see. For instance, a young man that previously wasn’t holding the door open for a young lady when she is coming through. The small, practical things that make men. Eventually they understand and they are able to process and understand the impact of being men. And how they can change their lives in some of the most minute ways.” Meet Jamal Lee. Youth advocate for one and a half years. // Youth Advocate Programs, Inc. is committed to the provision of community-based alternatives to out-of-home care through direct service, advocacy and policy change. For more information about Youth Advocate Programs, Inc.: (Photo by @davidylee for @publicwelfare)

Day Two

“I saw one of my @youthadvocateprograms guys yesterday morning. He had just gotten a job as a cook. He had just come from orientation. It makes me feel awesome. A lot of the times people in our community don’t get opportunities. The opportunities are just not there. It is hard for the youth to reach out because they constantly get berated with No’s. There is nothing to do. There are no recreation centers. There is no help. There is no assistance. There are no afterschool programs. The opportunities are not there for our youth. So when you get the opportunity to reach out and go in and make a difference, you have to act on it. Because it has to start somewhere. That is all it takes. Somebody cares.” Meet Ray Davis. Youth advocate for three years. // Youth Advocate Programs, Inc. is committed to the provision of community-based alternatives to out-of-home care through direct service, advocacy and policy change. For more information about Youth Advocate Programs, Inc.: (Photo by @davidylee for @publicwelfare)

Day One

“We did a little research the other day and it takes $88,000 – which I didn’t know – to keep a youth in jail. Yes, $88,000. We were sitting there like, what can we do with $88,000? It makes me upset. Do you know how much money that is? As much money as you are putting into them in the jails, you could have done something else with them as far as putting them into a program or giving their families help or anything else like that. It is ridiculous. They just need a little tough love they are not getting at home. That is where we come in. Help that support.” Meet Sharine Ward. Youth advocate for five months. // @youthadvocateprograms is committed to the provision of community-based alternatives to out-of-home care through direct service, advocacy and policy change. For more information about Youth Advocate Programs, Inc.: (Photo by @davidylee for @publicwelfare)

Youth First! Tackles Youth Justice Reform

DYRS Achievement Center Photo Series

Day One

On any given night, an estimated 60,000 youth are incarcerated in a juvenile correctional facility or out-of-home placement. The overwhelming majority of these youth are accused of minor and non-violent offenses. Because of the well-documented harms of incarceration, the Public Welfare Foundation supports groups that are working to advance policies that restrict the juvenile justice system’s use of incarceration and expand community-based programs for youth in jurisdictions across the country, including Washington, DC. Over the next two weeks, @publicwelfare will share some insights into what youths need through their voices and those of the staff from the DC Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services.

(Photo by @davidylee for @publicwelfare)

Day Two

After a lengthy advocacy effort, DC’s secure facility for youth, Oak Hill, was replaced in 2009 by the much smaller New Beginnings Youth Development Center. In addition to more contemporary buildings and better educational and developmental programming at New Beginnings, DC’s Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services created DC Youth Link to keep more youth under its jurisdiction out of secure detention and in their communities. From FY 2011 – 2014, DYRS has helped hundreds of youth connect to community-based health and substance abuse treatment services, relationship and mentor programs, and job experiences. Also, more than 100 youth have earned a high school diploma or a GED and two dozen have enrolled in colleges or universities. Most recently, in August, 2014, DYRS opened the Achievement Center in downtown Washington, DC with the mission to inspire and empower court-involved youth through Positive Youth Justice programs that foster career development, life skills and healthy living.

(Photo by @davidylee for @publicwelfare)

Day Three

The Achievement Center offers DYRS youth classes and programming six days a week, 25 hours per week during the school year and more than 60 hours per week during vacation breaks. Since its opening, the Achievement Center has worked with 125 youth and 39 specific service providers. DYRS plans to open another center in Southeast DC in 2015. “The Achievement Center is moving toward answering the questions, ‘What supports do our young people really need to be successful in life and are we giving those to them?’” – Daniel Okonkwo, Executive Director of DC Lawyers for Youth, a Public Welfare Foundation grantee.

(Photo by @davidylee for @publicwelfare)

Day Four

“I grew up really poor. Just getting to where I am now, and just being around the people I am around now, and being the person I am now, I just won’t allow myself to go back. I just can’t. I won’t. It doesn’t matter what I got to do. Just a couple of months ago I was in a group home. Before October, I was going through a lot of stuff. And to know that in just two months, I have a job. I make money. I am doing good. Success is knowing that I worked hard, that I never gave up. There is such a thing as second chances. You have to know the risk of awarding a person second chances. I understand second chances. Me getting this job is a second chance. And I told them that when I interviewed for the job.” – A, 19.

(Photo by @davidylee for @publicwelfare)

Day Five

“[The DC Achievement Center] is very important for me because I had a good childhood. Most of our kids didn’t have the childhood I had, so I want to make sure that they have at least part of the childhood I had. I see myself as the pioneer of their life, as a leader, as a mentor, as someone they can believe in, as someone they can trust. Our youth are looking for love, for someone to support them, for someone who cares about them, for someone that will look out for their life and their well-being. In me, they have someone that will help them reach and achieve goals. Once you have built that trust and bond with that youth, they are always going to look to you. That is why so many youth in the past come back and ask me for help because they know I am going to help and support them.” – Anthony Wilson, Workforce Development coordinator.

(Photo by @davidylee for @publicwelfare)

Day Six

“To me, what is important is where they want to go, not where they’ve been. The past is the past. The cliché is don’t cry over spilled milk. What happens is done. Sometimes you have to break a few eggs to make a nice omelet. In cooking, you got to burn something to realize that you do not do it that way. That is life. We all learn by mistakes and not just by people telling us. I tell them, it is not that I know more than you guys, it is just that I’ve screwed up before you guys did so I know how it is going to end up.” – Diego Rojas, Director of Culinary Programs

(Photo by @davidylee for @publicwelfare)

Day Seven

“Music is something that will connect with them. Working with students at the DC Achievement Center in the music department helps them to have an outlet to express themselves. They are going through a lot as well in their backgrounds, in their dispositions; a lot of them are coming in and out of adverse situations like jail. So giving them this outlet helps them release and express themselves so they can vent through the media of music in a positive way.” – Damu Musawwir, Music Production teacher.

(Photo by @davidylee for @publicwelfare)

Day Eight

“I enjoy listening to and learning from the young people in this program. They are smart and strong, and they want to be heard. I encourage them to dream about what they could accomplish in their life and then think about a plan to achieve it. Most want to do something different, better, but have said that they didn’t know how and they had no one to ask. For some of them, the DC Achievement Center is one of the few places where they can come and ask HOW.” – Judith Johnson, Instructor of Customer Service 101.

(Photo by @davidylee for @publicwelfare)

Day Nine

“Everyone makes mistakes. You learn by process of elimination. You eliminate one thing you were doing wrong and move onto another thing. I don’t think I had one of those life-saving moments like walking into my home and seeing my mom crying, and thinking to myself I can’t do this anymore. I don’t think I had that. I didn’t have that Hollywood moment. In the three-act structure of a film you have the beginning that leads to the trouble, then you have this over tipping, then you have happily ever after. That is not life. Life is a continuous struggle and we all struggle in things. You don’t just have this one moment because that makes you weak, if you live off one moment. Life moves on. If you hold on to that one moment, it can cripple you in a way. I just made a decision as a young man to do something positive.” – R, 23

(Photo by @davidylee for @publicwelfare)

Day Ten

“In the last 10 years, Washington, DC has come a long way in its treatment of young people. We are attempting to move away from a focus on secure detention and toward an effective system of community-based care. On this continued path to becoming the smallest and best youth justice system, it is important that we adults listen to our young people, to their voices, their needs, and their desires.” – Daniel Okonkwo, Executive Director, DC Lawyers for Youth, a Public Welfare Foundation grantee.

(Photo by @davidylee for @publicwelfare)

Katayoon Majd and James Bell


James Bell


Youth Justice News


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Public Welfare Foundation Announces Two New Program Directors

John Bae, Galit Lipa will advance efforts to catalyze a transformative approach to justice … Full Story


Public Welfare Foundation Announces New Grants

The Board of Directors of the Public Welfare Foundation approved over $3 million in grants to seven organizations, including more…… Full Story

Youth Justice Resources

Breaking Down the Walls: Lessons Learned from Successful State Campaigns to Close Youth PrisonsLink

Raising the Age: Shifting to a Safer and More Effective Youth Justice SystemLink

2017 Legislative Options for Youth Decarceration ReformsLink

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