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At YSRP, we share human moments. Our client-partners continuously demonstrate their humanity and shine a light on the inhumanity of our carceral systems. A year ago, YSRP invested more heavily in policy advocacy by hiring our first Policy Director. As a founding member of the Care, Not Control campaign, YSRP is part of the movement. While we will always be about human moments, our policy work allows us to participate in humane movements.

Margot Isman, YSRP’s Policy Director, is proud of the work done to date, but she’s even more excited about the next chapter. During the last year, Margot has been part of meetings with state legislators – with Care, Not Control partners – in which directly-impacted youth speak to elected representatives about their experiences of harm and resilience in carceral systems. In one example, Margot watched a young person speak with State Senator Camera Bartolotta.

Moved by the experience, Sen. Bartolotta, a Republican, introduced SB1240, which would eliminate “direct file,” or the practice of automatically charging certain children as adults. Soon, she was speaking on PBS Newshour about the need to end direct file.

“You can’t ignore the experiences of young people when they’re standing in front of you,” said Isman. “It’s such a privilege to play a role in facilitating that.”

YSRP provides policy leadership in the Care, Not Control campaign. And, we’re thankful for the progress made with our partners – this year, that resulted in the introduction of eight bipartisan bills to reform youth justice. But, the future seems even brighter.

“For years,” Isman continues, “there have been people interested in vilifying young people, especially Black and Brown youth – in promoting a “tough on crime” narrative that ignores their humanity. But, we have seen that Pennsylvania wants something better, and the newly-constituted legislature provides an opportunity to create the future our state’s young people deserve.”

By working with partners to connect legislators to those with real, lived experiences, YSRP and Care, Not Control have championed a new narrative about a future where the needs of young people are met. Our next chapter will see the end of the incarceration of children in adult jails and prisons and the practice of charging children as if they were adults.

YSRP’s policy work, says Interim Executive Director Bianca van Heydoorn,

aims to be a part of a movement of justice-minded people who travel upstream to the source of the challenges our young people face. It’s the human connections that build that movement, so we will continue to support individual youth in crisis and allow their experiences to direct the reforms we demand from our legislators. Just as we take a holistic approach to supporting individual young people in living lives with dignity, our policy work completes that picture by creating the external conditions that make a life with dignity more possible.

October 27, 2022: YSRP Interim Executive Director Bianca van Heydoorn testifies in front of Philadelphia City Council.

This is a moment for the movement. In Pennsylvania’s next chapter, children will not be treated as adults or held in adult jails or prisons. Instead, they will be connected to the resources they need, allowing them to live lives with dignity.

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