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Rapid Response: March Spotlight on NJJN COVID-19 Mini Grant Fund

March 30, 2021

Rapid Response: Spotlight on NJJN Covid19 Mini-Grant Fund

Last year, the youth justice advocacy community responded to the COVID-19 public health crisis by advocating to ensure incarcerated youth received the necessary protections and pushing for the 
decarceration of correctional facilities across the country. Th
e National Juvenile Justice Network was proud to directly invest in advocacy efforts to protect justice-involved youth during the pandemic throughout our COVID-19  Rapid Response Mini-Grant Fund, which awarded 20 $1,000 grants to NJJN members.  

We are proud to report that our COVID-19 mini-grants supported the direct needs of youth and their families while also advocating for transformational changes that can ensure the rights and safety of system-impacted youth are always protected, even during a public health crisis.  

Recipients of the $1,000 grants have used the funding for projects as varied as:  

  • Purchasing tablets to help facilitate communication between family and youth where visitation was halted due to the pandemic; 

  • Providing stipends to youth advocates who are using their voices to push for systemic youth justice changes and release of incarcerated youth; 

  • Providing school supplies and laptops for system-involved youth going back to school; 

  • Providing transition packages for youth released during the pandemic including low-cost cell phones, grocery store gift cards and masks; 

  • And much more.

Over the next few months, we will highlight a sampling of the work being done by our members with funds from the COVID-19  Rapid Response Mini Grant Program. This month, we are spotlighting work done by the Children's Policy and Law Initiative of IndianaKansas Appleseed and the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights.

Children’s Policy and Law Initiative of Indiana: Supporting Youth Leaders  

With the $1,0000 COVID19 Rapid Response Mini Grant, the Children's Policy and Law Initiative of Indiana (CPLI) launched the Trauma and Resilience Youth Leadership Program. Through this program, CPLI provides stipends to 15-20 youth participating in planning and executing its Year-Long Community Initiative: Trauma and Resilience through a Cultural Lens.   

The goal of the Community Initiative is to expand knowledge and understanding in the Indianapolis community about the intersections among culturally-responsive, trauma-informed practices and toxic stress, brain-based learning development, student behaviors that occur in school, community policing, racial justice and reform practices that hold promise to prevent youth, especially black youth, from entering the school-to-prison pipeline. All these issues have been exacerbated by the challenges youth face through the COVID-19 public health crisis.   

The Trauma and Resilience Youth Leadership Program provides leadership development trainings and workshops for youth in the Indianapolis community and also offers the opportunity for youth to become advocates, serve with peers and adults on planning teams, meet with local public policy officials, and attend roundtable sessions on trauma, healing and resiliency practices, advocacy training, and youth trauma and policing. This August, CPLI will host a Roundtable Conversation on Youth Trauma and Policing as part of its Community Initiative.   

Kansas Appleseed: Addressing the School to Prison Pipeline  

NJJN’s COVID-19  Rapid Response Mini Grant Program provided the seed funds necessary for Kansas Appleseed to embark on an ambitious project to address the school to prison pipeline. In particular, as schools re-open to in-person learning, youth are at a greater risk of being overly punished for the social, emotional stress that may play out in their behavior. Through extensive research and advocacy efforts, Kansas Appleseed is working to prepare schools with information and best practices needed to ensure youth have counseling, support and treatment and that youth who act out as a result of the pandemic stress are not referred to law enforcement.  

Kansas Appleseed has long been working to address the school to prison pipeline. In collaboration with Appleseed Centers in Alabama and Massachusetts, Kansas Appleseed released a report last fall entitled, Protecting Girls of Color from the School to Prison Pipeline, that showed in Kansas, girls of color are six times more likely to be disciplined and eight times more likely to be placed in out of school suspension than their white counterparts.   

As schools begin to open up, students dealing with a host of social, emotional and academic issues related to trauma from the pandemic will require more mental health and onsite support. Concerned by the lack of preparation to address this challenge, Kansas Appleseed has begun reviewing 240 MOU’s between school district and local law enforcement agencies, which outline referrals to community agencies and law enforcement for in-school behavior. The research has been critical in gaining a better understanding of the power school resource officers have in handling school discipline and the criteria for local law enforcement involvement.   

Empowered by this research, Kansas Appleseed plans to outline best practices about effective school discipline, identify training on implicit bias, and create a process that will guide school districts more effectively in addressing the social/emotional needs of students instead of elevating issues to local law enforcement.    

Louisiana Center for Children's Rights: Helping Families Communicate with Youth In Facilities 

When the pandemic first struck in March, Louisiana’s juvenile and adult prisons suspended all outside contact. For incarcerated individuals, and especially children, family connection is a lifeline. Not having that makes the difficulty of being incarcerated all the worse. To address this issue, the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights (LCCR) used funds from NJJN’s COVID-19  Rapid Response Mini Grant Program to fund the use of JPay devices - small tablets that young people can use to email with loved ones and maintain their sense of human connection. One new JPay device was purchased for an incarcerated young person and funds were added to existing devices for ten other young people.   

Mini-grant funding also supported the purchase of coloring books and markers for kids being detained at New Orleans’ Juvenile Justice Intervention Center to keep spirits up while normal activities at the facility have been suspended due to the pandemic.

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