Statement from Young Women’s Freedom Center about Plan to Shut Down Remaining State Youth Prisons

Statement from Jessica Nowlan, executive director of Young Women’s Freedom Center, about Governor Gavin Newsom’s decision to shut down California’s three remaining youth prisons. The state would stop intake of new youth beginning in January 2021, according to the Governor’s proposed budget

“This commitment by the state towards a different approach to youth justice is a huge step in the right direction for juvenile justice reform in California. Community organizations have been working toward this for years because we know youth in Division of Juvenile Justice continually face harm, violence, and brutality in detention. Yet, we also know that the proposal to close the DJJ and move youth back to local jurisdictions is not in itself the solution to the mass incarceration and criminalization of young people, mostly youth of color in California. California needs an approach to youth justice that is rooted in healing and community response. Moving power to local county jurisdictions poses additional obstacles to the safety and wellbeing of our young people.

This crisis has shone a new light on how community alternatives to incarceration can be realized. In the nine weeks since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, community-based organizations have been nimble and quick to support youth and their families in meeting their basic needs. In order to achieve true systems change, our work to decarcerate young people must center community response. We must be vigilant to ensure we are not recreating the same institutional harm by shifting power from one jurisdiction to another without shifting our approach from punishment to transformational healing. Those of us who are directly impacted by the criminal justice system, our families and our communities must be at the table when these conversations are taking place. It is time to end the criminalization of Black and Brown youth in California once and for all.”

About Young Women’s Freedom Center:

The mission of the Young Women’s Freedom 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 its 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. In 2020, Young Women’s Freedom Center launched Freedom 2030, a 10-year campaign to decriminalize and decarcerate girls, women and TGNC people in California. For more information visit youngwomenfree.org.