Economic justice

Advancing Economic Justice for Youth Justice Action Month

Through Duy Pham

While Youth Justice Action Month (JAMJ) in october, activists raise awareness and encourage action on behalf of young people affected by the criminal justice system. This year, the YJAM challenge is to ACT (Awaken, Confront, Transform) to end racism. However, we cannot tackle structural racism in the criminal justice system without examining how it blocks economic opportunities for youth and young adults of color.

In order for us to truly achieve youth justice, we must advance economic justice for those affected by the justice system. We can develop a holistic vision of community investment that does not rely on an oppressive criminal justice system using a range of poverty alleviation and equity levers, such as wages and income, community development. workforce and employment, education and training pathways, healing, mental health and wellness.

The criminal justice system reflects a glaring failure to make meaningful investments in public education, workforce development, behavioral and mental health, and the overall quality of life of people living in underprivileged communities. funded. Thirty percent of incarcerated individuals do not have a high school diploma, and only 6 percent have a post-secondary diploma. The median salary before incarceration are 41 percent less than non-incarcerated people of the same age. Furthermore, people with mental illness 2.5 times more likely to be arrested than those without, which probably indicates a lack of access to mental health care and the stigma of mental illness. These striking statistics underscore that people who come into contact with the justice system often lack educational, employment and health / mental health opportunities prior to incarceration.

Earlier this summer, COALITION brought together more than 60 national, state and local advocates, systems leaders, policy makers and other partners from the workforce, youth development, education and corrections fields. to discuss economic justice for individuals and communities affected by the criminal justice system. . We have focused our discussion on the voices of people whose lives have been touched to reinvent an agenda for action that puts economic justice first. The conversations we have had during this roundtable have reminded us that progressive reform, while necessary, is not a long-term solution. Ultimately we have to re-imagine what the system should look like, how it works and what its purpose is. In addition, we must work for a society that prioritizes vital community systems, such as quality education, employment and health care, which ensure that incarceration is not a response to underinvestment. .

Because racism is the primary driver of mass incarceration, we must ensure that economic reforms intentionally target youth and young adults of color alongside efforts to reduce racial prejudice in the justice system. We must begin to repair and rebuild the communities most affected by mass incarceration through systemic investments in jobs, education, health and well-being for youth and young adults of color. In addition, we must continue to advance traditional criminal justice reforms, such as police and sentencing reform. Here are some initial steps to advance economic justice:

  • Reinvest revenues from decarceration, prison closures and legalization of cannabis in communities most affected by the justice system. Redirect these funds to support workforce development, entrepreneurship, and mental health and addiction treatment. These targeted investments can prevent young people from entering the justice system and help them successfully reintegrate into their communities after incarceration.
  • Create education and training paths for the workforce, from incarceration to reintegration. We should invest in high-quality career paths, including paid recorded apprenticeships, that prepare students for well-paying jobs. We must also reverse the ban on federal financial assistance to incarcerated people so that they can access post-secondary education.
  • Eliminate collateral consequences. We need to ensure that education and workforce opportunities are subsidized and accessible to returning community members. We can achieve this by linking education and training opportunities for the workforce during incarceration with careers upon reinstatement, banning the box on higher education and job applications, lifting state professional licensing bans and automatically deleting the records of those unfairly targeted by the war on drugs. We must also eliminate the use of fines and fees in the justice system that undermine the economic viability of returning community members. Finally, we must remove barriers to public service programs for those affected by the justice system.

This month, and throughout the year, CLASP is committed to partnering with youth, government officials and advocates to fight racism and promote economic justice for youth and young adults of color to to transform and reinvent a fair justice system.