The Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives (IJJRA) is dedicated to fighting against the expansion of prisons and the use of police in New York City public schools. Formerly known as the Prison Moratorium Project, the IIRJA first became involved in these issues when it discovered, in 2000, that $64.6 million of New York City’s capital budget was set aside for the expansion of two secure juvenile justice facilities. This would have allowed each facility to add 100 more jail cells, with each additional jail cell costing $320,000. Outraged, IIJRA convened youth advocacy groups, educational justice organizations, juvenile justice policy groups, direct service organizations, and others who were most affected by these policies to develop a city-wide strategy to respond to the proposal. Ultimately, the groups formed the umbrella group “Justice for Youth Coalition.”

The Justice for Youth Coalition was initially focused on political education and organizing of youth and young adults, ages 14 to 23. The youth recruited were either from neighborhoods that suffered from the highest rates of youth incarceration, or were formerly incarcerated themselves. The Coalition namely used two vehicles for mobilizing youth: the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights’ video “Books not Bars,” and a creative version of Jeopardy, in which the categories were all related to the “schoolhouse to jailhouse track,” and youth were able to undo a “chain of oppression” rather than win a prize. Ultimately, these techniques helped both liberate and educate youth, and the Coalition pushed onwards with advocacy towards the City Council.

After a year of organizing, over 100 youth attended a City Council hearing on the expansion of the juvenile justice facilities. In response to pressure from the Coalition and tough questions from allies in the City Council, the Department of Juvenile Justice dropped $53 million from its budget and no jail cells were added.

Hopefully the Department of Justice will one day realize that it is much more productive to teach delinquent children the skills that they need to be productive members of society such as plumbers or electricians, instead of incarceration. Many of the children are great candidates to be the next New York plumber. Several plumbing companies could participate in these programs, such as https://www.drpipes.com/ny/new-york/new-york-city.html .

In 2004, members of the Coalition became even more keenly aware of the connection between school and prison when the Impact Schools safety initiative began and droves of NYPD officers were brought into schools. Influenced by the stories and complaints of youth in those schools, IIJRA developed a new campaign: “Teach Us Don’t Cuff Us.” While the Coalition had formerly disbanded, most of the member groups became involved with this campaign at their respective organizations. For its part, IIJRA worked with the Drum Major Institute and NYU’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service to write two research and policy studies examining the practice of having police officers in schools, and developed a 20-minute video for the campaign.

In 2008, as a culmination of these two campaigns, IIJRA, along with Advocates for Children, the Correctional Association of New York, the National Center for Schools and Communities, and the New York Civil Liberties Union, formed a partnership called the School to Prison Mapping for Action Project. This project seeks to map and analyze the connections among the public school system, social services, law enforcement, and the courts and incarceration system in New York. While in its initial stages, the project intends to connect and provide service to advocates, grassroots organizers, lawyers, and researchers.

Resources:

Study by NYU’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service
Drum Major Institute’s research on the Impact Schools safety initiative

For more information, contact:

Kyung Ji Kate Rhee
Director
Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives (IJJRA)
c/o Center for NuLeadership
Urban Solutions Medgar Evers College
City University of New York
1637 Bedford Avenue
SBSS 220-32
Brooklyn, NY 11225
T: 718-270-5136
[email protected]