Young Women’s Freedom Center Launches Santa Clara County Site in Partnership with Local Leadership Dedicated to Ending the Criminalization of Girls and TGNC People of Color in the South Bay

YWFC, Santa Clara County leadership and the Vera Institute will develop a holistic, place-based, systems change approach to ending incarceration of girls and TGNC youth in the County

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | November 8, 2019

Press Contacts: 

Layla Crater, layla@change-llc.com, 310-804-3107
Bilen Mesfin Packwood, bilen@change-llc.com, 510-681-5978

SAN JOSE, CA — This week, Young Women’s Freedom Center (YWFC) announced the launch of YWFC’s newest location in Santa Clara County. Located in San Jose, the organization’s newest site will focus on the movement to end the criminalization of girls, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and gender nonconforming (LGB/TGNC) people in the South Bay.

“We need big ideas, bold leadership and, above all, deep partnerships to achieve our collective vision of decriminalizing our girls and TGNC young people in Santa Clara and across the state,” said Jessica Nowlan, Executive Director of YWFC. “Thank you to Santa Clara County for welcoming us and joining with us in our mission, to Vera for your invaluable leadership and to these powerful young people that will lead the way to reaching our goal of ending incarceration for girls. Along with those most impacted, together, we can transform systems so that they truly serve our young people.”

Across the country, girls—particularly girls of color—have not equally benefited from recent reforms aimed at reducing juvenile confinement. Nationally, persistent racial disparities for Black, Latinx and Native American girls, as well as the stark overrepresentation of LGB/TGNC girls in juvenile facilities, show that not all girls are treated equally by the justice system. Santa Clara County data mirrors national trends:

  • Latinx youth are just over 30% of the County’s youth population, but Latinx youth are just under 70% of girls’ arrests and just under 80% of girls’ detention admissions (source). 
  • The majority of girls (59% in 2018) admitted to Juvenile Hall each year receive a low or medium score on a risk assessment tool but are detained despite a recommendation for release (source).

Most girls enter the system on low-level charges but have complex needs that have been unaddressed. Instead of receiving necessary supports, girls are often criminalized as a result of family conflict, trauma, exploitation and violence, including sex trafficking. Girls and TGNC youth who end up in detention have often experienced multiple forms of trauma, do not feel safe in their homes, and have been forced to turn to the streets for survival. Once arrested, they are met with a punitive system that is ill-equipped to respond to the underlying challenges they face.

 “In Santa Clara County, we have put our money, our brick and mortar and our time behind the belief

that our young people are better than their worst moments,” said the Honorable Katherine Lucero, Superior Court Judge of Santa Clara County’s  Juvenile Justice Courthouse. “We are committed to ending the incarceration of girls and addressing the things that land them in the justice system in the first place. It’s an ambitious goal, but we can do it. And if anyone can do it, it’s us: government, private sector and nonprofit partners working together in the innovation hub of the country. This is only the beginning.”

YWFC is partnering with local leadership in Santa Clara County and the Vera Institute to develop a holistic, place-based systems change approach to end the incarceration of girls and TGNC youth in the County. The approach is grounded in YWFC’s successful model built by formerly incarcerated women and girls based on their experiences in the juvenile justice system, which has resulted in systems change toward decriminalization and decarceration of girls, women and TGNC people. YWFC’s Santa Clara County Initiative to End the Incarceration of Girls will serve as a model for counties across California to scale up decarceration across the state.

“When Vera called on jurisdictions across the country to commit to zero incarceration on the girls’ side of the juvenile justice system, Santa Clara County answered that call,” said Hannah Green, senior program associate for the Vera Institute’s Initiative to End Girls’ Incarceration. “For too long, girls and TGNC youth have been left out of juvenile justice reforms. Together with the Young Women’s Freedom Center, we are working to get to zero and to not only listen to young people, but to act on what they say to advance their well-being at home and in their communities.”

The County is one of six sites participating in the Vera Institute’s Initiative to End Girls’ Incarceration. Leadership from the County of Santa Clara Office of Women’s Policy, the Probation Department and the Superior Court has been integral in bringing attention to girls in the justice system and building cross-systems collaboration to end confinement.

“Five years ago as an intern with OWP, I heard a statistic that if you are a Latina involved with the juvenile justice system in Santa Clara County, by the time you are 29, you are nine times more likely to be dead. As a Xicana from Santa Clara County, that hit home for me,” said Ketzal Gomez, Management Analyst for the Office of Women’s Policy. “I have seen firsthand the effectiveness of the Young Women’s Freedom Center and putting the voice of young people first. The movement to end the criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and gender nonconforming people is gaining momentum. I am thrilled, honored and inspired to welcome YWFC to Santa Clara County to continue this work in partnership.”

YWFC partnered with the Vera Institute and the Office of Women’s Policy, the California Wellness Foundation, Heising-Simons Foundation, East Bay Community Foundation, NoVo Foundation and more partners to host a celebration for the new site at the Mexican Heritage Plaza in San Jose. 

About Young Women’s Freedom Center

The mission of the Young Women’s Freedom Center, originally called Young Women’s Development Center, 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.

About the Vera Institute of Justice

The Vera Institute is a justice reform change agent. Vera produces ideas, analysis, and research that inspire change in the systems people rely upon for safety and justice. Vera collaborates with the communities most impacted by these systems and works in close partnership with government and civic leaders to implement change. Across projects, Vera is committed to explicitly and effectively reducing the burdens of the justice system on people of color and frames all work with an understanding of our country’s history of racial oppression. Vera is currently pursuing core priorities of ending the misuse of jails, transforming conditions of confinement, providing legal services for immigrants, and ensuring that justice systems more effectively serve America’s increasingly diverse communities. Vera has offices in Brooklyn, NY; Washington, DC; New Orleans, and Los Angeles. For more information, visit www.vera.org

About the County of Santa Clara Office of Women’s Policy

The County of Santa Clara Office of Women’s Policy (OWP) is a special department within the Office of the County Executive’s Equity & Social Justice Division, serving as a bridge between County and community to ensure the voice of women and girls is present in local decision-making.  Developed in the spirit of collaboration between the County and the community in 1998, OWP is a leading voice in Silicon Valley on the needs of women and girls. Through analysis, research and strategic collaboration, OWP works to ensure that programs and services, and also systems and policy, support women’s leadership, full equality and advancement in the home, at work and in the community. For more information visit sccgov.org/owp