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Closing Youth Prisons Is Not Enough

But without a plan to invest in and institute a restorative justice framework, most of that money might find its way back into local youth jails rather than into treatment and rehabilitation.

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Ella Baker Center staff and members attend a Books Not Bars rally in Sacramento advocating to close youth prisons in California. Courtesy of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

COMMENTARY

As a parent who was involved in the juvenile system as a teenager, I know too well that children who are struggling should never be incarcerated and treated like criminals. 

Instead, they should be cared for as young people in need of restorative help. This May, dedicated as National Mental Health Awareness Month, was the perfect opportunity to embrace human rights and racial justice by moving from a carceral system of punishment to a community-based health system of restorative care.

“We have a system in place that is not really focused on rehabilitation,” Los Angeles State Senator Sydney Kamlager told CalMatters in January. Unlike some states, we have not had a governing body in California to oversee trauma-responsive, culturally informed services for youth–the majority of whom are youth of color–in the juvenile justice system.

Fortunately, we in California finally have a chance to make a change. California Senate Bill 823, signed by Gov. Newsom last December, shuts down California’s Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) and redirects millions of dollars to counties to provide care and resources for young people. But without a plan to invest in and institute a restorative justice framework, most of that money might find its way back into local youth jails rather than into treatment and rehabilitation.

Sonya Abbott and her son Anthony Johnson can attest that a transformation is long overdue. When Anthony was 16, Sonya found a bag of Xanax in his back pocket. Believing that he intended to sell the drugs, she made the difficult decision to turn him in. At the time, she viewed her decision as a way to save her son’s life, and the lives of others.  Now she says, “I feel like it just made things worse.”

As is too often the case, Anthony was cycled through a number of ineffective programs and has been shuttled back and forth among several facilities. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the DJJ went into lockdown, Anthony was at the N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility in San Joaquin County. Feeling lonely and depressed because of the isolation, Anthony asked for extra counseling.

“They refused to give it to me. They laughed at me,” Anthony says.

 Anthony attempted suicide roughly two days later. He remembers a Chaderjian staff member witnessing his suicide attempt and saying, “You’re not doing it right, I’ll call this one in later,” then walking away. Afterward, Anthony was kept in the medical unit for a month, locked in a room for 23 hours a day, without any counseling or companionship.

Throughout all of this, the DJJ did not inform Abbott of her son’s suicide attempt, nor his consequent transfer to Patton State Hospital. After Anthony missed a scheduled Skype visit, Abbott had to call every juvenile facility in California to locate him, and only then learned that he had tried to take his own life. He remains at Patton today.

Statistics show that suicide and suicide attempts are too common. According to a 2014 report from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Protection, “11% of the youth (in the juvenile justice system) had attempted suicide at least once,” far exceeding the percentage  in the general population.

Nor are the dangers of youth incarceration justified by the outcomes. A 2015 study from the University of Washington, observed that, “juvenile incarceration is not only ineffective at reducing criminal behavior,” but that those who were incarcerated in their youth were more likely to suffer negative consequences in every aspect of their adult lives.

Abbott describes Anthony as a good kid who just got himself a little lost. “I don’t understand why there’s no resources for these kids,” she says. “They are just locked up and forgotten. I can’t let my kid be one of their victims.”

We now have an unprecedented opportunity to chart a new direction. Part of SB 823 creates Juvenile Justice Coordinating Councils (JJCC) in each of our 58 California counties, bringing together experts and constituents like Abbott and Anthony, whose lives have intersected with the juvenile justice system. 

These new councils will help guide how the millions of dollars in new state funding can best be deployed to provide a continuum of care. To inform that process, youth advocates have been working to implement a community vision of care to replace the old carceral model that has failed so many of our most vulnerable young people of color.

Advocates are also pushing the state to properly resource the new department within Health and Human Services (HHS) that will provide oversight for the new system. The proposed budget is a woefully inadequate $3 million; Assemblymember Cristina Garcia and state Senator Maria Elena Durazo, joined by the California Alliance for Youth and Community Justice and members of the Free Our Kids Coalition, are pushing for a larger allocation to help scale up community-based interventions by local groups. 

If a community system rooted in healing had already been in place, Sonya Abbott and Anthony might have received the help they really needed. We can do better for our kids and our communities.

Bay Area

Spoken Word Offers Aid to Black Men Facing Hardships

Their mission statement highlights that through sharing their lived experiences, members of Black Men Speaks and Men of Color “promote self and communal wellness, recovery, and freedom”.

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Image provided by Black Men Speak website

According to a National Health Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted in 2019 for the African American community, 6.5 million African Americans had a mental illness and/or substance abuse disorder.

These numbers don’t compare to the more in depth statistics on those who receive treatment and who do not and how, specifically, Black men are affected. For a lot of Black men and men of color, access to resources that may aid in mental health or substance abuse treatment are slim because of the influence within their own communities and outside of it to turn their backs on things that are perceived as anything less than the strength they should possess as a man, especially a Black man.

Black Men Speak, INC.(BMS), an international speakers bureau, was founded in 2009 through the Alameda Pool of Consumer Champions with this very notion in mind, that the best way to connect to other Black men who were struggling with mental health and substance abuse was through storytelling of their own struggles.

Three years following Black Men Speaks’ foundation, Men of Color(MOC) speaker’s bureau was established, which allowed them to expand their reach in the community.

Their mission statement highlights that through sharing their lived experiences, members of Black Men Speaks and Men of Color “promote self and communal wellness, recovery, and freedom”.

The stories that are told are set in the present day and feature unique challenges of loss, trauma, social and family issues and community violence and the importance of faith on the road to overall wellness & recovery.

Besides aiding their fellow men through connection in storytelling, BMS offers resources that help with employment, housing, homeless prevention, mentoring and peer support and training for presentation and public speaking.

Alongside these resources and mentoring, they make sure to do their part in advocating and assertively addressing other issues within their communities that have a direct impact on the African American community.

Black Men Speak is located in Oakland at 303 Hegenberger Road in Suite 210. Hours are Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 510-969-5086 or email 1blackmenspeak@gmail.com.

 

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Activism

Jasmine Market Encourage Unity in Marin City

During the event, Jong Lee, Caitilin Damacion, and Tammy Lai discussed how to raise the awareness of the various ethnic groups to each other in Marin City. A mobile clinic provided free COVID-19 vaccines.

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Top: The Jasmine Market at the St. Andrew Presbyterian Church. Bottom: Jong Lee, Caitilin Damacion, Tammy Lai (Photos by Godfrey Lee)

The First Marin City’s Jasmine Market was an inclusive, outdoor market celebrating Asian joy and intercultural solidarity in honor of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month in May.

It was hosted by the Marin City Community Development Corporation (MCCDC) and was held at the St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Marin City on May 28, 2021.

A Marin City Librarian read an AAPI story. Sammy Brionnes gave a musical performance. Natalie Nong performed a Spoken Word poem.

During the event, Jong Lee, Caitilin Damacion, and Tammy Lai discussed how to raise the awareness of the various ethnic groups to each other in Marin City. A mobile clinic provided free COVID-19 vaccines.

Lee is the director of Women’s Rights and Peace Bay Area, and a board member for the Asian American Alliance of Marin. She is involved in advocating for ethnic studies in the Marin County School District and is working to spread awareness of the “comfort women” from Korea and other Asian nations. These women were forced to serve as sexual slaves for Japanese soldiers during WWII.

Tammy Lai is the CEO at Foundation for Justice and Peace (jpf.world).

Damacion, who lives in the East Bay, is the Micro-Enterprise Program Manager at the MCCDC.

During the discussion, Lee says that God created people in his image. We need to treat people in the image of God.

Lee really wants to see Asians, especially women, integrate with the other minorities, such as Koreans, who can become culturally isolated, and spoke to the need to bridge and understand other ethnic groups. “We need to step forward to meet each other halfway, and to reach out to understand each other,” Lee said.

Lai says that we have this opportunity, as we question ourselves in this cultural landscape, to build bridges. Communities become healthier when its members take one step toward one another to understand, listen and to build something better together.

Damacion, who is Filipino and mixed-raced, feels very strongly about building connections that are positive and beneficial to a community. Through her work with the MCCDC, she will work to advance diversity in Marin City, and will shed a light on the beauty she sees in Marin City and how people in the community took care of each other for generations.

Lai’s family immigrated from China to America after the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in 1882. Her family history has brought her a deeper awareness of her identity. It becomes important to carry these conversations forward and share them with others.

“We all have our stories and should be open to tell them. There is nothing new under human history so we should learn to share them. You become much closer to each other,” says Lee.

For more information, go to www.marincitycdc.org/jasmine-market

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Bay Area

Vice Mayor: Business Group Wants to Buy Coliseum, Attract WNBA Team

The group will provide additional details of its effort at a news conference at 11:00 a.m. Friday at a site to be determined.

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Oakland Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan.

Oakland Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan said a local business group has made serious inroads to buy the city’s 50% stake in the Oakland Coliseum complex and to bring a WNBA team to the city.
Kaplan’s office shared a news release Monday about the effort by the African American Sports and Entertainment Group.

Kaplan said the group is in negotiations with the Oakland-Alameda Joint Powers Authority, has submitted a formal proposal to WNBA officials, and has submitted a term sheet to the city, which the City Council’s rules committee recently voted to advance to the full council for a vote.

The group will provide additional details of its effort at a news conference at 11:00 a.m. Friday at a site to be determined.

“I am pleased that there is such great interest in doing an important development at the Oakland Coliseum that will provide jobs, revenue and community positivity,” Kaplan said. “My goal is to help this process move forward before the summer recess.”

Kaplan said the group has the backing of more than 30 community groups of faith-based institutions, labor organizations, civic leaders, and job development organizations. She did not name the groups

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