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NJJN Statement on NC NAACP v. Cooper

March 15, 2021
NJJN

Imagining Justice Systems with Dignity
Statement from the National Juvenile Justice Network on 
NC NAACP v. Cooper


Our recent landmark settlement in NC NAACP v. Cooper will result in the early release of 3,500 people from North Carolina state prisons and stricter measures to protect incarcerated persons who remain in prison during the COVID-19 pandemic. This settlement represents a critical moment for youth justice advocates and all advocates working to ensure incarcerated people are always treated with dignity and humanity. 

The National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN) was proud to be a party to NC NAACP v. Cooper, which directly challenged the treatment of incarcerated people during the global coronavirus pandemic. As a network focused on the dignified treatment of youth involved in the justice system, it was important that we join with the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, ACLU of NC, Disability Rights North Carolina, Forward Justice, and our member organization Emancipate NC to stand up for the dignified treatment of people of all ages who are incarcerated.  

North Carolina, our Executive Director’s home state, has long been behind the times on its treatment of justice-involved youth. Until Raise the Age legislation was passed in 2019, young people were treated as adults in court at the age of 16, and in some cases as young as 13. In FY 2019-2020 there were 54 youth under 18 in adult prisons on any given day. Even worse, the deaths of children like Uniece “Niecey” Fennell, who diedwhile in custody at an adult facility in Durham, North Carolina, exposes the tragic realities of harm that can come to our children when we don’t recognize their need for developmentally appropriate support and treatment. 

With so many young people thrust into the adult system at a very young age, it was essential for us to stand up for the humane treatment of all people in prison during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the world seemed resolved to forget about their safety and care. 

No person is the sum of their worst mistakes, and no person should have to serve a prison sentence while being warehoused in inhumane and life-threatening conditions during a once in a lifetime global pandemic. The success of the landmark settlement in NC NAACP v. Cooper offers us a clear example of how our advocacy together, in the name of humanity, elevates a broad vision for justice rooted in human dignity. 

Anyone interested in joining NJJN in our mission to transform the youth legal system can find ways to get involved by visiting njjn.org. 

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The National Juvenile Justice Network leads a membership community of 60 state-based organizations and numerous individuals across 42 states and D.C. We all seek to shrink our youth justice systems and transform the remainder into systems that treat youth and families with dignity and humanity. Our work is premised on the fundamental understanding that our youth justice systems are inextricably bound with the systemic and structural racism that defines our society; as such we seek to change policy and practice through an anti-racist lens by building power with those who are most negatively affected by our justice systems, including young people, their families and all people of color. We also recognize that other vulnerable populations - including LGBTQIA+, those with disabilities and mental illness, girls and immigrants - are disparately and negatively impacted by our justice systems, and thus we also seek to center their concerns in our policy change work.

 

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