Progress in Closing Youth Prisons

A national campaign to shut down youth prisons gained significant traction in the last year, with support from the Youth First Initiative, a Public Welfare Foundation grantee.

Progress in Closing Youth Prisons

The national movement to close youth prisons and redirect resources to communities, particularly communities of color, made great strides in 2017. With intensive support from the Youth First Initiative, a Public Welfare Foundation grantee, advocates and organizers leading five state-based campaigns have had significant success in pushing for new models that are transforming youth justice.    

Of the five states, two have closed a youth prison and are reinvesting savings in community-based programs, and three have announced plans to close a total of five additional youth prisons.

New Jersey — This week, just six months after advocates launched the #150YearsisEnough campaign to close two of the state’s three youth prisons, Governor Chris Christie announced the state’s plans to close the Female Secure Care and Intake Facility, known as Hayes, and the New Jersey Training School for Boys, known as Jamesburg. The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice (NJISJ), a Foundation grantee, and Youth Justice New Jersey (YJNJ) are leading this campaign, which kicked off on June 28, 2017 on the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Jamesburg youth prison. NJISJ issued a statement on the historic announcement, and a news story about the closing is here. A video of the campaign launch is here.

Wisconsin – Just last week, less than 10 months after the launch of Youth Justice Milwaukee (YJM), Governor Scott Walker announced that he will close the state’s two youth prisons, Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake. Lincoln Hills is the largest youth prison in the country, and the facilities have been plagued by horrific abuse, making them the subject of multiple investigations and lawsuits. The intensive community organizing efforts of YJM were critical in securing this momentous decision.

Virginia – The Beaumont Youth Prison, which had been operating since 1890, was closed in June and millions of dollars are being reinvested in community-based programs for youth. Foundation grantee the RISE for Youth campaign held multiple town hall meetings with community members to solicit input and ensure effective expansion of the continuum of care for youth in their communities. Later in 2017, the RISE for Youth campaign was successful in stopping the construction of a new youth prison in Chesapeake, VA.

Kansas – In March, the Larned youth Prison was closed, as a result of youth justice reforms championed by grantee Kansans United for Youth Justice (KU4YJ) and the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Charitable Trusts. The state is now investing in community-based alternatives to incarceration, while KU4YJ is doing the critical work of advocating for effective implementation of these programs throughout the state.   

Connecticut – A budget agreement was finalized in 2017 that will lead to the closure of the Connecticut Juvenile Training School, the state’s only youth prison. Advocacy by grantee Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance (CTJJA) helped secure a commitment made by Governor Dannel Malloy to close the facility.   

What’s next for 2018? Youth First will work with its partners to help other states leverage this momentum for more success. That will take intensive organizing and advocacy in the current states to ensure that closure is not the end result of reform plans. The campaigns are focused on the critical and difficult work of making sure that resources follow youth into the community and that effective interventions are provided to youth when they are needed.

Youth First will also help three more states (yet to be determined) launch similar, locally led, high-impact campaigns to dismantle the youth prison model and create other models of youth justice that are racially just, effective, and community-based.

And, a new Youth First State Advocacy Fund, housed at New Venture Fund, will focus on mobilizing resources for the work on the ground in the states so that the existing work, as well as the new work, can be sustained.