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Westchester Children’s Association Hosts Youth Justice Rally

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Nearly 100 young adults and representatives of various advocacy groups attended a Youth Justice Rally on Thursday, February 23rd at the White Plains Adult Community Center hosted by the Westchester Children’s Association. The rally was held to provide information and education to youth, young adults and their allies about four bills currently pending in the New York State legislature. If passed, each bill provides significant steps toward disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline and reducing the impact of the criminal legal system on young people. 

The four bills are:

  1. Solutions Not Suspensions (S1040 Jackson)
  2. The Youth Justice & Opportunities Act (Myrie S3426 / O’Donnell A4238)
  3. Right 2 Remain Silent Youth Interrogation Bill (Bailey S1099 / Joyner A1963)
  4. The Clean Slate Act (S211 Myrie / A1029 Cruz)

During the event Angel Gray, Program and Policy Manager for WCA said, “Youth are being ripped out of classrooms, and black and brown students are disciplined more severely and more frequently than their white peers for the same or similar behaviors in schools, which can lead to unequal educational opportunities and a host of negative outcomes later in life.” 

One student speaker said, “I was suspended frequently between 5th and 12th grade, each time I missed learning decimals, fractions and percents and to this day I don’t not know decimals, fractions or percents.” Another young adult spoke on behalf of a student who had been through the White Plains Youth Bureau Community Court, “Michael has lost interest in almost everything, how is a student going to get ready for their future if he can’t geta proper education, he feels 2 hours of virtual learning a day are not enough. Michael believes school should be there to help him, not hurt him. He believes his school has failed him …he would like to see changes so this doesn’t continue to happen to kids who have made one mistake in their life.” 

“It is important to remember that youth justice isn’t just about struggle. Youth justice is about joy, it’s about creating space for young people to be happy and creating space for young people to speak their minds. It’s not a youth justice movement without young people at the table,” stated Aaliyah Guillory – Nickens, who was one of the Emcee’s for the event and is with the group Youth Represent. 

Allison Lake, Executive Director of Westchester Children’s Association addressed the group at the recent Youth Justice Rally in White Plains. [Risa B. Hoag]

“Helping youth find the support they need, expanding alternatives to incarceration, developing solutions that promote positive outcomes, and addressing systemic barriers to jobs, housing and education breaks the horrendous cycle that often leads to lifelong struggles to get ahead and be productive members of society. We were proud to host this rally to help young adults understand that these bills, what they mean and how to make their voices heard in support. Enacting this legislation will make New York safer, save lives, and put hundreds of young people on a path to success. The energy in the room, the information shared and empowerment of young people was more than we hoped for,” said Allison Lake, Executive Director of Westchester Children’s Association, who closed out the event reminding young people “their voices matter and they have the power to make change happen.”

Co-sponsors of the event included Youth Shelter Program of Westchester, Youth Represent and Children Defense Fund New York. 

Information about the four pending bills is listed below:  

Solutions Not Suspensions (S1040 Jackson) — would establish that suspensions are the last resort to student misbehavior in schools, never the first. Instead, it promotes methods that are designed to hold students accountable while helping them learn from their mistakes. In New York, students lose hundreds of thousands of days in the classroom each year because of suspensions, often for normal youthful behavior. These punishments disproportionately impact Black and Latinx students, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ youth. Importantly, this bill would allow New York to take a big step away from the biased policies of the past. 

The Youth Justice & Opportunities Act (Myrie S3426 / O’Donnell A4238)– would expand alternatives to incarceration and immediate record sealing for young people up to age 25, allowing young people who have been arrested and charged as adults to move forward with their lives and pursue housing, employment, education, and other goals without the barrier of a harsh adult prison sentence and criminal record. 

Right 2 Remain Silent Youth Interrogation Bill (Bailey S1099 / Joyner A1963) — would require that a youth first consult with counsel before any police questioning can take place. Current data shows that 90% of youth waive their Miranda Rights. Children lack the capacity to fully appreciate the meaning and significance of the right to remain silent, and to understand the repercussions of waiving that right. Add to that the stress and tension inherent in an interrogation, and the prospect of an intelligent and voluntary waiver to the right to remain silent becomes a myth.

The Clean Slate Act (S211 Myrie / A1029 Cruz) — will help address the systemic barriers to jobs, housing and education posed by old conviction records.  Clean Slate is crucial to address intergenerational poverty. Nationally, nearly 50% of children in poverty have at least one parent with a conviction record, and children who grow up in poverty are far more likely to remain living in poverty throughout their lives. By lifting barriers to life essentials, including jobs and housing, Clean Slate will allow New Yorkers to support themselves and their families and break the cycle of poverty for millions of children.

Westchester Children’s Association welcomes all individuals interested in learning more about these bills, the process of enacting them into legislation and what can be done to support each one, to contact them.

About Westchester Children’s Association: Westchester Children’s Association (WCA) is a multi-issue, child advocacy nonprofit that works to ensure that every child in Westchester is healthy, safe, and prepared for life’s challenges, regardless of race or zip code. Since 1914, WCA has been the leading independent voice for Westchester’s children by identifying their needs, making those needs known to the public, and ensuring those needs are met through advocacy and mobilization efforts. For more information about Westchester Children’s Association, visit their website at www.wca4kids.org

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