Considering the State of the Youth Address this year, I am very mindful of the accomplishments that have been made in juvenile justice, not just of the accomplishments that Kid CAT has made.
In February 2015, Sen. Lonnie Hancock, D-Berkeley, introduced Senate Bill 261. It allows offenders who committed their crimes before the age of 23 a Youth Offender Parole Hearing.
Penal Code Section 4801(c) requires that, when considering the suitability of a qualified youth offender for parole, the hearing panel must give “great weight” to the diminished culpability of juveniles as compared to that of adults, the hallmark features of youth, and any subsequent growth and increased maturity of the inmate.
Human Rights Watch estimates 10,000 California inmates could be affected by the passage of SB 261. The passage of this bill was due in large part to people like Human Rights Watch advocate Elizabeth Calvin and her team of supporters, who tirelessly work to change archaic sentencing laws.
Kid CAT responded to the passage of SB 261 and the verbiage Youth Offender by changing the name of our Juvenile Lifer Support Group to the Youth Offender Support Group, which is inclusive of offenders who committed their crimes before the age of 23.
Another change in legislation that Kid CAT has been sensitive to is the effects of Assembly Bill 1276, a bill that made it possible for offenders that committed their offense before the age of 23 to be housed in lower security facilities. Many youth offenders, who never would have been housed here, are making their way to San Quentin’s mainline population.
Kid CAT is sensitive to these youth offenders’ needs, and many members have taken it upon themselves to mentor these young men while a more formal program is being developed to help them.
The Writing Department of Kid CAT has held many workshops this year where the new youth offenders have begun to participate. A monthly collaboration workshop with the magazine The Beat Within has provided an opportunity for youth offenders to give back by sharing their stories and advice with youth housed in juvenile facilities.
The Beat Within is a publication that goes into these juvenile facilities, hosts writing workshops, and then publishes the writings of participants on a bi-monthly schedule.
The workshops are just one way that Kid CAT has opened up its doors to the San Quentin mainline population. We also graduated our third class from The First Step – Childhood Development Curriculum, which helps the participants connect with their child-self.
The curriculum explores childhood and allows a participant to see where they developed their values and identities. Emotional intelligence plays a huge role in the curriculum, and feelings often that are never articulated by an offender are confronted and expressed.
With the major legislation that has passed in the last few years concerning youth offenders, Kid CAT has now decided our attention can shift a little. Instead of working to change legislation about how youth offenders are treated once incarcerated, in the coming year we have decided we want to focus on how to help stem the flow of youth offenders into prison.
|“The passage of this bill
was due in large part
to people like Human Rights Watch
advocate Elizabeth Calvin and her team of supporters”|
What has been popularly labeled “The School-to-Prison Pipeline” is something we see as a serious problem in our communities. With 2.3 million people in America incarcerated, we have a problem. “More than half of all male inmates — White, Black, or Hispanic — between the ages of 20 and 34 had not completed high school,” according to Becky Pettit in her book Invisible Men: Mass Incarceration and the Myth of Black Progress.
Police officers are found on almost every high school campus across the nation. Minor infractions are often criminalized for young minorities. Instead of a conversation about a child’s behavior with the child and the parent, children are arrested and sent to a juvenile facility.
Minorities are often sent the message at a young age that school is a dangerous place where you can be locked up. “Barack Obama was chided for saying that Black men were more likely to go to prison than to college,” writes Pettit. But it is the truth.
Being accountable to our communities means that we in Kid CAT want to help change the system that is sending so many young men to prison. We know from personal experience that we lacked the emotional intelligence to communicate our needs and feelings properly. We adopted belief systems that were prevalent in our neighborhoods without questioning where our ideas of masculinity came from. Ultimately, we were failed by the system — the same system that is piping young men into prison.
Kid CAT’s solution to this problem is to help bring awareness to these issues and offer the solution of teaching emotional intelligence in schools across America. This will be the focus of Kid CAT for 2016, and we invite our supporters to help in this mission.