Home News Center NJJN's Covid-19 Youth Justice Response Fund Grantee Spotlight: Emancipate NC

NJJN's Covid-19 Youth Justice Response Fund Grantee Spotlight: Emancipate NC

January 28, 2021
Courtney M. McSwain



In May 2020, NJJN announced a new COVID-19 Youth Justice Response Fund to support advocacy toward the decarceration of youth correctional facilities in the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic. Out of 40 applications, five organizations received 1-year grants to bolster their efforts to advocate for alternatives to institutional care and detention. We are pleased to report on the work of our grantees, this month highlighting the new Justice League fellowship led by Emancipate NC.

In response to the urgent advocacy needs elevated by COVID-19, Emancipate NC launched its Justice League - a fellowship program aimed at training justice-involved individuals and youth in advocacy and organizing in order to deploy those skills on campaigns to reduce mass incarceration, especially youth confinement. With funds from NJJN’s COVID-19 Youth Justice Response Fund, Emancipate NC hired Kerwin Pittman, a community organizer with lived experience in the justice system, to lead the Justice League. Additionally, 18 fellows - ages high school to 50s - were recruited to join the inaugural fellowship year with a paid stipend of $1,000 per person.

Each of the chosen fellows has been personally affected by the carceral state, whether through a personal arrest/incarceration or through family/friend connections. The Justice League has been active in real-world campaigns and in virtual learning spaces, convening on Zoom to build community and learn advocacy and policy skills. They have deployed comments and advocacy to the State Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice, led by NC Attorney General Josh Stein and NC Justice Anita Earles. The Justice League’s Kerwin Pittman also sits on the task force. After doing research on the relevant issues, they submitted comments on use-of-force policy, school resource officers and reimagining public safety. The fellows also organized street protests addressing COVID-19 in prison at the Raleigh women’s prison as well as police murders in the state.

In addition to activities supported by NJJN’s COVID-19 Youth Justice Response Fund, Emancipate NC has been central to informing incarcerated people in the state about their eligibility to receive COVID-19 stimulus checks after a recent court ruling determined that the IRS could not block incarcerated persons from receiving those funds. Emancipate NC also co-hosted a virtual forum with the NAACP of Wilson County, to address law enforcement in Wilson and Nash Counties and launched a campaign to alter the bond schedule and advocate for automatic first appearances for misdemeanors, which is not currently a rule. And the organization published a report on legislative developments related to police accountability reforms.

Looking forward, Emancipate NC plans to engage with fraternities at HBCUs in North Carolina, including at Winston Salem State University, continuing to push the State Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice to recommend an end to school resource officers in North Carolina public schools, and to continue to use COVID-19 as a lens for urging dramatic decarceration in jails, juvenile detention facilities and state prisons.

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To learn more, check out Emancipate NC and the Justice League online.

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