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How Moms are Fighting for Juvenile Justice Changes

New research says families of kids behind bars have been especially effective advocates for changes in the juvenile-justice system. (iStockphoto)
New research says families of kids behind bars have been especially effective advocates for changes in the juvenile-justice system. (iStockphoto)
May 6, 2016

ST. PAUL, Minn. - The families of more than 120 young people in Minnesota will be feeling the pain of separation this Mother's Day weekend because of incarceration, a new report suggests.

In many states, according to the "Mothers at the Gate" report from the Institute for Policy Studies, family members are challenging the juvenile-justice system to make changes.

Report co-author Karen Dolan, a fellow at the institute, said Minnesota recently has taken positive steps, including a law that requires that kids younger than age 18 be held in youth facilities, even if they're being tried for a crime as an adult. She said moms across the nation are trying to do more by becoming policy experts and activists.

"These mothers don't want to be seen as victims," she said. "They are experts, they are resources in terms of how to change the conditions, not just for their children but for other children."

Dolan said groups including the Juvenile Justice Coalition of Minnesota are trying to get states to end solitary confinement, while others want to ultimately abolish youth imprisonment altogether. Over the past decade, Minnesota has been among the states to enact laws aimed at reducing the youth prison population.

However, Dolan said her research shows more kids are being locked up for a wider range of offenses, including those that once were considered juvenile misbehavior.

"We see more criminalization and policing inside of schools," she said. "You have much less tolerance for childish behavior, and so these children end up being locked up instead of sent to the principal's office."

The report suggested several other changes Minnesota and other states could make, such as improving visitation rules and telephone access for families.

The report is online at ips-dc.org.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - MN