August 29, 2016
Each year, CCC engages over 75 NYC high school students in our advocacy. Through the YouthAction Community Leadership Course, teens are provided an introduction to a particular issue area impacting NYC youth and are trained in advocacy techniques. Many of our YCLC participants continue working with CCC after they complete the course as YouthAction members where they undertake a series of projects throughout the school year to advocate on behalf of themselves, their schools and their communities.
The following is an update penned by 2016 YouthAction Member Alex Crawford about the work CCC’s youth advocates undertook this year in juvenile justice.
As YouthAction Members, we start off each fall by choosing an issue on which to conduct our first advocacy project. During our brainstorming sessions, we talked a lot about the recent cases of police brutality in the media and also about our own experiences with the NYPD and school safety officers. We discussed the noticeable placement of metal detectors in some of our own schools, and debated whether it made us feel safer or like we are criminals. Because of our interest in youth justice issues, and our feeling that sometimes schools contribute to the criminalization of young people, we decided to focus our advocacy on the “School to Prison Pipeline.”
We spoke with policy experts here at CCC and at the Children’s Defense Fund to learn about the forces that push youth out of the education system and into the juvenile or adult criminal justice system. We also read recent reports from the Governor’s Office, the Mayor’s Office and the New York Civil Liberties Union in order to fully understand the scope of the issue and what is being done at the state and local levels to address it. Because of the complex nature of the issue itself, and the many recommendations we identified to combat the School to Prison Pipeline, we decided to create an animated explainer video. This medium allowed us to use visual aids as a way to reinforce our points, which are narrated over the animation. We worked for several weeks on the script and storyboard, and worked with a producer from Kings County Productions to bring our vision to life.
Because we became very passionate about youth justice issues while researching this topic, we were thrilled to hear that the spring class of the YouthAction Community Leadership Course would be looking into how the juvenile justice system works in NYC. The class visited service providers, advocates, police officers, and attorneys to better understand what happens to young people when they are arrested in New York City. Issues that were raised during these interviews included concerns about police/youth relationships, the importance of diverting low-level offenses away from the justice system altogether, and the lifelong damage done once a young person acquires a criminal record.
Perhaps the most critical issue discussed was the fact that in New York State, all 16 and 17 year olds are automatically prosecuted as adults within our criminal justice system and are unable to access the services in place within the juvenile justice system that could help them turn their lives around.
On June 1st YouthAction Members and YCLC graduates joined CCC staff, volunteers, and a host of other organizations in Albany as part of the Raise the Age Campaign. We met with State legislators to talk about our research, our experiences and our recommendations for a comprehensive bill that will Raise the Age of criminal responsibility to 18 years old. As teenagers ourselves, we know we don’t always make the right decisions and we trust that the adults in our lives will help us to learn from our mistakes and become better people. We also know that because we are so young and so full of potential that we will change for the better as long as the systems put in place to support us are working.
Unfortunately, we still have work to do to secure legislation that will raise the age of criminal responsibility in New York State. We will continue to lend our voices to this issue because right now, for 16 and 17 year olds, the justice system is not working and we need to Raise the Age so that this group of youth can benefit from the supports of NYC’s rehabilitative juvenile justice system. To learn more about these efforts, visit the Raise the Age web site.