Youth Engagement in Incarceration

Buffalo Save the Kids youth hip hop program participant

Corporations and politicians who hype crime and demonize young people stand to gain a lot of money, power and influence by building and operating prisons that lock up young people. Youth and incarceration are woven into politics, economics, discrimination and abuse by many people and systems, including schools, law enforcement, courts, prisons, and politicians. When young people become engaged in challenging youth incarceration, they can change the world in many ways.

Our youth are not failing the system; the system is failing our youth. Ironically, the very youth who are being treated the worst are the young people who are going to lead us out of this nightmare. – Rachel Jackson

[Prison] relieves us of the responsibility of seriously engaging with the problems of our society, especially those produced by racism and, increasingly, global capitalism. — Angela Davis


Ways Youth Engagement Can Happen In Incarceration

Community Organizing — Working together with youth, children and adults, youth community organizers can confront and challenge the school-to-prison pipeline and the prison industrial complex in several ways. Traditionally, physical presence like picketing, blockades and sit-ins were used to produce results. Today, in addition to those ways, youth organizers are also using social media, youth Participatory Action Research, policy advocacy, hip hop, and other actions to organize communities to challenge the incarceration nation.

Youth as Politicians — Working within the political system, youth government representatives are challenging juvenile injustice in a variety of ways. Youth as politicians are working with state legislators, they are forwarding legislation focused on legal reforms; working with school boards, they are challenging school policies to adopt restorative justice practices. Much more is happening, too.

Youth/Adult Partnerships — Building intentional relationships focused on mutual respect, trust, communication and meaningful involvement, young people and adults are working together to defeat juvenile injustice. Advocating to political bodies; educating communities including children, youth and adults; and raising public awareness of juvenile injustice, youth/adult partnerships today have succeeded in transforming personal attitudes, shared cultures and organizational structures.


Tools for Youth Engagement in Incarceration

Opportunities — Organizations, programs and individuals can support youth engagement in challenging incarceration by creating opportunities for reflection, critical thinking, and deliberate action. Youth programs can focus on a variety of actions to challenge incarceration, including service learning, Participatory Action Research, and community building activities, as well as community organizing, intergenerational partnerships, and mentoring.

Education — Teaching young people can challenge incarceration. Lessons can focus on education against incarceration; learning about social, political, economic, legal and justice systems and their effects on families and communities; or other topics that affect juvenile injustice. Education activities can also center on culture, heritage and history; life skills; and other issues that are relevant to learners as they apply to stopping juvenile injustice.

Personal Development — Having substantive opportunities to create the life they want to live is essential to challenging the cycle of juvenile injustice. Partly focusing on defeating consumerism, personal development can include formal education, informal education, homeschooling, life skills development, understanding family and community dynamics, or other issues young people can learn how to live a life they love.


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Other tools are out there, too – share your thoughts in the comments below! For more information about how The Freechild Project can support youth engagement in incarceration in your community or organization, contact us.

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