Breaking Down the Walls: Lessons Learned From Successful State Campaigns to Close Youth Prisons

Breaking Down the Walls: Lessons Learned From Successful State Campaigns to Close Youth Prisons

Grassroots campaigns to reform the juvenile justice system by shifting the emphasis from incarceration to more effective alternatives have not only improved the lives of children and families caught up in the system but has also saved taxpayers money without compromising public safety, a report from Youth First finds. Based on case studies of six successful campaigns to close youth prisons in California, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, Texas, and the District of Columbia, the report, Breaking Down the Walls: Lessons Learned From Successful State Campaigns to Close Youth Prisons (68 pages, PDF), found that advocacy efforts driven by legislative strategy and close collaboration among lawmakers, advocates, youth, and their families have resulted in the closure of dozens of youth prisons in all regions of the country. Lessons learned from the campaigns include the importance of taking the long view, having youth and families lead the campaign, explicitly addressing racial injustice, embracing diversity and being prepared for conflict, engaging local stakeholders for statewide reform, harnessing the power of public opinion and the media. The report also points out that even successful campaigns face challenges in sustaining change and recommends monitoring ongoing issues, including where youth are being sent after a facility is closed; whether system leaders, lawmakers, and other decision makers are committed to juvenile justice reform; and whether savings from reforms are being redirected into the community.