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Recapping the 2012 Missouri Juvenile Justice Association Conference

On October 24-26, the Missouri Juvenile Justice Association (MJJA), a statewide organization whose mission is dedicated to promoting justice for children, youth, and families within Missouri, hosted the 2012 Missouri Juvenile Justice Association Conference. The Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ) and partners led a three-day track, Examining National Trends in Juvenile Justice Reform: Exploring Multi-Strategy Efforts in Removing Youth from the Adult Criminal Justice System.

On Wednesday, October 24, Dr. Ken Callis (Southeast MO State University) and Erin Davies (Children’s Law Center) presented on the importance of adolescent brain development and the role of this research in recent U.S. Supreme Court cases. Jessica Sandoval (CFYJ), Erin Davies, and Stephanie Kollman (Children & Family Justice Center) shared the current national trends on youth incarceration. The audience was very interested in learning about the progress states like Ohio and Illinois have made in decreasing youth incarceration. Davies enlightened the audience by sharing the different ways youth are tracked into the adult system and what legislative reforms state leaders are implementing to decrease the number of youth in adult courts. Kollman detailed out the process Illinois used to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction for 17-year-old misdemeanants and the impact "Raise the Age" is having on juvenile arrests, probation, detention and incarceration in Illinois.

On Thursday, October 25, attendees received training on the new PREA standards. They had the opportunity to better understand the history and evolution of the law, as well as receive more detailed information on how the new standards impact youth in the juvenile and adult system. Liz Ryan (CFYJ), Elissa Rumsey (OJJDP), and Jason Szanyi (Center for Children’s Law & Policy), answered questions and clarified definitions within the standards. Attendees had the chance to share their concerns about implementation, but they also felt that Missouri was well-equipped to be in compliance. Following this session, I had the opportunity to facilitate a Family Panel, which included a screening of Young Kids, Hard Time and an opportunity to learn from Tracy McClard and Robert Johnson, parents who have experienced what it is like to have their children incarcerated at a young age.

On Friday, October 26, Families & Friends Organizing to Reform Juvenile Justice (FORJ) and MJJA hosted the Path-2-Justice Walk/Run as part of National Youth Justice Awareness Month. MJJA Conference attendees and their friends enjoyed the chilly yet energetic run in solidarity with other youth justice allies. Jason Szanyi and I closed out the track by facilitating an action session – allowing the attendees to get into small groups and strategize action steps that could be implemented in their own work setting. A lively discussion was had around opportunities to collaborate as well as potential legislative policy changes that could improve the experience of youth in Missouri DYS and detention centers.

The post above is reprinted with permission from the Campaign for Youth Justice's Blog.

Angella Bellota is the State Field Organizer at the Campaign for Youth Justice. Angella provides technical assistance to targeted state campaigns aiming to end the prosecution of children as adults. She currently provides technical assistance to the North Carolina Raise the Age Campaign, with a focus on grassroots mobilization, coalition building and public education.

Prior to joining the Campaign, Angella worked at Action for Children North Carolina, a state-level children’s policy and research organization. In her capacity at Action for Children, Angella led the Research and Data team in developing research and policy publications on a variety of child well-being issues in order to educate and engage policy makers and the general public. Her expertise and experience lead the organization to prioritize issues affecting children of color, resulting in Action for Children’s first state-level report on children of immigrant families. She also led community outreach efforts in developing and implementing state and local strategies to build public will for campaigns around juvenile justice, education, and health in under-served communities. She graduated from California State University San Bernardino, receiving a BA in Sociology with a minor in Ethnic Studies. She completed her master’s degree in Sociology from North Carolina State University.