Young People and Families Call on Elected Leaders for Immediate Action to Shut Down San Francisco Juvenile Hall

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | April 9, 2019

Press Contact: 

Bilen Mesfin Packwood, bilen@change-llc.com, 510.681.5978
Dina Sigal, dina@change-llc.com, 415.961.0305

San Francisco, CA – Young people, families and community members rallied in San Francisco today in a massive show of support for a proposal to transform the youth justice system in San Francisco, close San Francisco Juvenile Hall and invest in alternatives to incarceration.

“We envision a San Francisco where safety does not mean putting youth in cages, and where communities are trusted to have the solutions,” said Jessica Nowlan, executive director of Young Women’s Freedom Center. “Youth and families have been calling for reform for years, and can’t afford to wait. San Francisco can lead the state and the nation in modeling a new approach to youth justice and development — one that invests in children and communities so they can thrive.”

Legislation introduced today at the San Francisco Board of Supervisors meeting would require the closure of San Francisco’s Juvenile Hall by December 2021. In its place, San Francisco would develop an expanded array of alternatives to incarceration for young people who do not need to be legally detained.  The ordinance will also create a small rehabilitative non-institutional center in San Francisco for the small minority of young people who must be in a secure facility due to state law. A 12-person implementation working group will convene for the next two and a half years to attain these goals.

“Our vision is a city where safety does not mean putting youth in cages, and where communities are the answer to rehabilitation,” said Kandy “K.I.” Ifopo, program manager, Young Women’s Freedom Center. “We know first-hand  that incarceration harms children–we have the stories and hold the solutions.

Over the last decade, youth crime has steadily decreased, reaching record lows across the country, including in San Francisco. This has led to a sharp decline in the number of young people in juvenile hall in San Francisco. Currently, over 70 percent of San Francisco’s Juvenile Hall sits empty, with the city spending nearly $270,000 to keep one young person behind bars each year. In January, for example, there were 45 children detained in the Hall, filling only 30 percent of its 150 beds, with nearly 70 percent of those detained being held for a non-violent offense. The city’s approach also disproportionately affects African American youth; the majority of young people in juvenile hall are Black, despite the fact that African Americans make up a dwindling percentage of San Francisco’s population.

The rally organized today by Young Women’s Freedom Center featured remarks from directly impacted youth and families, elected officials including San Francisco Supervisors Hillary Ronen, Shamann Walton and Matt Haney, and community advocates.

“San Francisco has so many services and groups for youth,” said Joceyln Mati, a youth who spent time at San Francisco’s Juvenile who is now involved with the Young Women’s Freedom Center. “We should not have to go to juvenile hall to access them. As someone who has been in the hall and now helps other young people in the system, I am grateful we are working to shut it down.”

For over 20 years, the Young Women’s Freedom Center has been working with young women, girls, and transgender or gender non-conforming (TGNC) youth in San Francisco who have been incarcerated in Juvenile Hall and leading community organizing efforts to demand alternatives to incarceration for youth. Most of the organization’s staff were once themselves incarcerated in San Francisco’s youth jail and know firsthand how this system is failing our young people.

About Young Women’s Freedom Center

The mission of the Young Women’s Freedom Center, originally called Center for Young Women’s Development, is to empower and inspire young women who have been involved with the juvenile justice system and/or the street economy to create positive change in their lives and communities. Since 1993, the organization has begun their transformative work by meeting young women where they are: in juvenile halls, jails, and on the streets and linking youth development and youth organizing strategies with the mission to provide gender-specific, peer-based opportunities for high-risk, low- and no-income young women. For more information visit youngwomenfree.org