Youth Walls ‘Turned Sideways’
By: Patrick Schelle, MSW

In the US we are facing a severe public health crisis; the incarceration of children, black and brown children. This crisis is extremely prevalent in the state of New York and specifically here in Westchester County. “America’s youth custody rate including youth both in detention and correctional custody) was 336 of 100,000 youth in 2002 nearly five times the rate of the next highest nation (69 per 100,000 in South Africa).” (Hazel, Neal 2008) In Westchester 14% of youth are Black, and they comprise 62% of youth in detention.” (Westchester State of Black Youth & Children Report 2020) Not only does our country incarcerate children at a disproportionate rate, our state and county do as well.

[Annie E. Casey Foundation – No Place for Kids report 2011]

aecf-NoPlaceForKidsFullReport-2011 by BLACK WESTCHESTER MAGAZINE on Scribd

[WCA (Westchester Children’s Association) – State of Westchester Black Children & Youth report 2020]

In Westchester County we are far from a real transition away from incarcerating youth. Do you know that children in New York can be incarcerated as young as seven years old? The state Senate Bill S4051A, which will raise the minimum age from seven to twelve, has yet to be signed by the Governor.

“Relates to raising the lower age of juvenile delinquency jurisdiction from seven to twelve years of age and establishing differential response programs for children under the age of twelve” (NY State Senate) 

These are some policies and state legislations that we can advocate for:
1) Apply the “Close to Home” legislation created just for New York City to all of New York State. 
2) Amend the Raise the Age legislation allowing for the co-mingling of different types of offenses (in detention). These decisions should be made at the local level on a case-by-case basis. 
3) Incarceration should not be permitted for anyone under the age of twelve. 
4) Limit by statute the categories of youth who are eligible for incarceration to those who have been accused of a serious crime. 
5 ) Create a task force specifically to oversee the progress/outcomes in prevention/diversion throughout the entire process. 

The County of Westchester has maintained the youth jail known as “Woodfield Cottage”, a probation department with the traditional punitive approach, a family court system lacking support for caregivers, and lacking alternative’s to incarceration for judges to utilize. The truth is, we know why this system is being maintained and the status quo is not being challenged. This system maintains racial oppression and specifically it is designed to oppress black and brown youth and young people. The question is what can we do? And how do we do it the right way?

There is often the forgotten fact that you need the voice of young people and community throughout the process of social advocacy/change. When activism, community, and research cross paths there is chemistry that creates radiating hope for productive outcomes. The reality is that combined, activism, community, and research, are found catalysts to combat even the most devastating social problems such as systemic racism, and mass incarceration. Change agents must focus energy on policy transformation to drive the narrative for future generations to achieve a more equitable, happy, and long life.

In the works of scholars from past and present you can learn about the possibility for systemic change. One of the most effective tools in justice system transformation has been participatory action research (PAR); this method includes the people from within the target population in which you are trying to help. The answers are in the experiences, thoughts, and voices of our young people. Known scholar of PAR research methods, Dr. Yasser Payne, says, “there are versions of PAR research that are light with research and heavy with action.” This method can be used in a way that is very academic and qualitative oriented in its execution. Community assessment and data research led by the voices of our young people is what we need in Westchester County. “We have a revolution moving along and it can be seen in our children and youth.” (Angela Davis, 1999) 

What can we do to do be more accountable to young people?
– Listen
– Ask, “How can we help?”
– Volunteer for local youth organizations
– Donate 
– Research your local officials; see who supports racial equity and criminal justice initiatives, and vote. 

There are ways to get involved! For more information you can contact these local community-organizing groups:;; (;; (