OUR MISSION: The Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project (YSRP) uses direct service and policy advocacy to transform the experiences of children prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system, and to ensure fair and thoughtful resentencing and reentry for individuals who were sentenced to life without parole as children (“juvenile lifers”). We partner with court-involved youth and juvenile lifers, their families, and lawyers to develop holistic, humanizing narratives that mitigate the facts of each case; get cases transferred to the juvenile system or resentenced; and make crucial connections to community resources providing education, healthcare, housing, and employment. We also provide trainings on mitigation, and recruit, train and supervise students and other volunteers to assist in this work. Our ultimate goals are to keep children out of adult jails and prisons and to enhance the quality of representation juvenile lifers receive at resentencing, and as they prepare to reenter the community.
In Pennsylvania, kids as young as 10 years old can be prosecuted as adults, meaning that they face time in adult jails and prisons. This has harmful consequences for their health, emotional well being,and future. It also often means being sent far away from their families and other supporters. Being charged as an adult also makes a child 34% more likely to end up back in the system upon release.
Philadelphia also is the largest city in a state that has sentenced more children to life in prison without parole than any other in the country (and hence has the most juvenile lifers in the world): of the ~2,000 juvenile lifers nationwide, 500 received their sentences in Pennsylvania, and 300 in Philadelphia County alone.
YSRP understands that a child, and a juvenile lifer, is more than what a criminal docket or piece of paper says he or she is. There is so much more to the story – where they came from, their family life, their strengths and their struggles. And we help tell that story in courts in an effort to get kids’ cases transferred to the juvenile justice system, which is far better equipped to address their needs in education, emotional and physical healthcare, and social development–and in an effort to ensure fair and appropriate resentencing for individuals formerly sentenced to life without parole as children. We also partner with community organizations to refer youth, juvenile lifers and families to community-based resources that can help address their needs.
We are inspired by the belief that no person is all good or all bad, and that no child should be defined by the worst thing he or she has ever done. The experiences of the incarcerated youth, juvenile lifers and their families with whom we have had the privilege to work highlighted the significant need for the services YSRP was created to provide. MJ, a 16 year-old boy tried as an adult said, “in criminal court, I felt like I was the smallest person in the room, with the biggest problem.” YSRP is driven by the goal of preventing additional children and families from suffering the same fate. We launched YSRP in June of 2014.
There are three primary components of YSRP’s approach:
- Aiding under-resourced court-appointed attorneys with young (under 18) clients facing adult charges and juvenile lifers facing resentencing by providing mitigation services at the decertification and sentencing stages of criminal and juvenile court proceedings;
- Supporting young people, juvenile lifers and their families throughout their contact with the justice system, including during incarceration, and as they plan for and execute reentry; and
- Advancing policy reform based on the experiences of, and engaging as leaders, our clients and their families.
There are also three stages of YSRP’s work in each case:
YSRP is proud to announce that out of nearly 3,000 applicants, we were selected along with the leaders of 41 other organizations to receive 18 months of funding and foundational leadership and business development support through the Open Society Foundations Black Male Achievement (BMA) Fellowship, powered by Echoing Green. For more information click the icons below:
Echoing Green Fellowship
Black Male Achievement Fellowship
Echoing Green Fellows
A NOTE ABOUT LANGUAGE
The Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project believes in the need to be thoughtful about language and the role that it can play in both humanizing and dehumanizing individual people. Inspired by leaders like the late Eddie Ellis who have been outspoken about the need to reclaim language that has been used to oppress, our work attempts to bring people back into the way we mete out justice. In the words of Bryan Stevenson, we believe that “each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”
Although the term “reentry” appears in our organization’s title and in many of our materials, we understand the ways in which this term is complicated, and appreciate that other words, such as “recovery,” “resettlement,” and “new entry” often more accurately reflect the experiences of many people coming home from incarceration. The Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project seeks and encourages feedback from people currently or formerly incarcerated, from people on parole, people recently released from prison, people with criminal convictions and other community members who can help inform our programming and the way that we discuss it.
We admire the thought leadership by the Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions (CNUS) on the importance of language. The Language Letter Campaign is an important reminder of the need for thoughtfulness around how we talk about people with lived experiences.
Additionally, YSRP does not use the terms, “juvenile,” “delinquent,” “inmate,” “convict,” or “ex-con,” opting instead to use person-centered language such as “young person,” “person who is incarcerated,” or “person who was previously incarcerated.”
Nowhere is it written in statute or discussed in a court of law that the lifelong, extrajudicial punishment for crime should be the forfeiture of one’s humanity. If [people] can’t gain employment, education, or enfranchisement, many times because of a mistake made in their youth, the damage is not singular; the collateral impact threatens an entire race and the ideals of America. – Professor Irvin Weathersby Jr.