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2020: A Year of Resistance and Resilience

December 30, 2020
K. Ricky Watson, Jr.

Gold Background with illustrated characters holding protest signs. Graphic font reads: 2020 A Year of Resistance and Resilience

Dear NJJN Members, Allies, Partners and Supporters, 

2020 has been a year of resilience and resistance. Collectively as a society, we’ve confronted the reality of a global pandemic, deepened economic insecurity and the tipping point of frustration from centuries of racial injustice. In confronting these challenges, those working in social justice advocacy spaces have had to tap into the strength and tenacity necessary to ensure the most vulnerable in society remain a top priority while the world responds to this year’s hardships. Though the work has been exhausting at times, the persistence displayed by advocates, especially young leaders, around the country has been inspiring. 

The National Juvenile Justice Network’s advocacy community counts among those who have displayed the spirit of resilience and resistance this year. We are proud of our collaborative efforts between NJJN staff, state organizational members, Youth Justice Leadership Institute fellows and alumni, and allies that have continued to amplify the importance of racial justice and equity within the youth legal system throughout this year. 

Here’s a brief look at some of the highlights from this year:

COVID-19 Response:

In response to the global coronavirus pandemic, NJJN quickly banded together to share policy, advocacy and legal resources for the protection of justice-involved youth throughout our network. Our COVID-19 resources page provided a hub of information specifically tailored for youth justice coronavirus response. We also worked with our national partners the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, Youth First and the National Network for Justice to hold a total of seven different strategy calls and webinars that provided vital information for advocates as they crafted responses to the pandemic in jails, prisons and detention centers. In addition, NJJN dispersed $370,000 in large and micro-grant funds for advocates to address COVID-19 and the youth justice system in 2020. 

NJJN also joined civil rights groups in North Carolina to file a lawsuit seeking emergency action to prevent the deadly spread of COVID-19 in the state’s prisons by reducing the number of people who are incarcerated in state facilities. After multiple hearings, a North Carolina judge appointed a Special Master to oversee the processes needed to protect people who are incarcerated during the pandemic. The appointment was an important step and acknowledgement of the State’s obligation to ensure the health safety of incarcerated persons, including youth, in facilities. In addition, NJJN worked with members in six different states to inform their states' COVID-19 response for youth in the justice system.

#JusticeForCornelius and #ShutDownSequel Campaigns:

In partnership with our member the Michigan Center for Youth Justice, NJJN joined the call  for
justice for Cornelius Fredricks, a 16-year-old black male who died after being restrained for throwing a sandwich at Lakeside Academy in Kalamazoo, Michigan, which is run by the national for-profit company Sequel Youth and Family Services. After several weeks of online petitioning, public relations outreach, a social media day of action and demonstrations by activists in Kalamazoo to raise awareness of Cornelius’s story, action was brought down against Sequel Youth and Family Services with a license revocation for Lakeside Academy by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, a state ban on the use of restraints in all public and private facilities and criminal charges filed against the staff members involved in restraining Cornelius. 

The #JusticeforCornelius campaign activated a nation-wide campaign to close Sequel facilities. We have worked in close partnership with the National Disability Rights Network and NJJN members in 10 additional states to bring media attention and advocacy pressure for states to cut ties with Sequel. In addition to the win in Michigan, we have seen wins with California, Minnesota, and Washingston state ending contracts with Sequel and Ohio advocates recently succeeding in pushing for Sequel Pomegranate’s license suspension. The #ShutDownSequel campaign will be an ongoing effort in 2021. 

Raising the Lower Age of Juvenile Court Jurisdiction Campaign:

Early in 2020, NJJN convened a work group composed of members from 12 state organizations working on raising their lower age of jurisdiction.  While many states' legislative sessions were cut short due to the pandemic, our Utah member was able to push through legislation to increase the lower age.  Since then, NJJN has worked with Dr. Elizabeth S. Barnert, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, and Dr. Laura S. Abrams, Chair and Professor of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare, in leading the formation of a national coalition of advocates and health professionals to raise the age at which children can be processed in juvenile court. Of particular concern, is that over half (28) of states in the U.S. still have no minimum age of juvenile court jurisdiction. It is shocking to the conscience that there are still states in this country that have not set a bare minimum age at which you can try a child in juvenile court. We will work together with this coalition and our membership to ensure all our children have the protection of a reasonable minimum age of prosecution when in conflict with the law.

NJJN continued to publish resources for youth justice advocates in 2020. Publications disseminated this year include:

Youth Justice Leadership Institute:

NJJN welcomed the 10th cohort of its Youth Justice Leadership Institute program. Eleven leaders of color were selected to participate in the year-long  leadership development program aimed at clearing a broad path for people of color and those who have been impacted by the youth legal system to lead us toward reform.

NJJN Ally Week:

We launched our first “NJJN Ally Week” during Youth Justice Action Month, which takes place annually in October. Through a dedicated social media campaign, we promoted the importance of our Ally program for non-member advocates who want to support NJJN’s work through financial and other contributions. During NJJN Ally Week, six allies were highlighted on our website and social media platforms in order to encourage others to take action and join NJJN’s work as a public supporter.

New Youth Justice Live Conversations:

For the first time, NJJN utilized Instagram and Facebook live streams to elevate the message of youth justice reform with NJJN members and young leaders participating as panelists and moderators. Collectively, NJJN’s 2020 live streams garnered 697 views across social media. 
Our live streams included:
NJJN Forum: 

We held our Annual Forum virtually this year with 96 registrants for our live panel sessions, which took place via Zoom. Additionally, our pre-recorded sessions have garnered 475 views to date on YouTube.

Looking Ahead: 

In 2021, we plan to continue building power for youth justice transformation by:

  1. Growing our network of members,

  2. Deepening regional collaboration within NJJN,

  3. Strengthening our public base of support through growing our ally program,

  4. Amplifying the national message for youth justice,

  5. Leveraging new opportunities for youth justice engagement with the incoming federal administration and Congress, and

  6. Continuing to provide education, technical assistance, resources and convening opportunities for youth justice advocates.

We thank all of our members, allies, and partners for your continued support, and we know that our work moves forward only with you and the power of our community.

Your partner in the movement,
K. Ricky Watson, Jr.
Executive Director, National Juvenile Justice Network

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