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Winner of 2016 Beth Arnovits Gutsy Advocate for Youth Announced

June 30, 2016      

Benjamin Chambers
Office: 202-467-0864 x556 | Cell: (503) 709-1917

Jules Hoffenberg, Gathering for Justice

>>Download the press release (PDF) 


Honored as a “Gutsy Advocate for Youth”

 juvenile-justice-reform_Carmen-Perez(Washington, DC) Carmen Perez, executive director of The Gathering for Justice (shown at right), is being recognized this month for her tenacious work on behalf of young people in trouble with the law. 

Ms. Perez is one of the leaders in juvenile justice reform in the country. She takes a holistic approach to reform work, working at the grassroots level as well as at the level of state and federal policy. Last year, she led a 250-mile, nine-day march from New York City to Washington, DC to deliver The Justice Package to Congress -- three criminal justice reform bills that included the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA), and the Stop the Militarization of Policing Act. One hundred people participated, stopping in key cities along the route. 

Perez is the fifth recipient of the Beth Arnovits Gutsy Advocate for Youth Award, which is given annually by the National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN) to an individual who advocates for youth justice and juvenile justice reform and embodies “the tenacity, vision, fearlessness and wisdom of Beth Arnovits,” one of NJJN’s founders. The award will be given July 26, 2016, at an annual gathering of youth justice advocates from across the country. This year the conference is hosted in Memphis, TN by NJJN’s Youth Justice Leadership Institute, of which Ms. Perez is an alumni fellow. 

“Carmen was a natural choice for the Gutsy Youth for Advocate award,” said Sarah Bryer, who directs the National Juvenile Justice Network. “In addition to her work at The Gathering for Justice, Carmen also founded Justice League NYC, a grassroots organizing task force that held a three-day conference on juvenile justice in New York and used high-profile media tactics to pressure city and state officials (including the Mayor of New York City and the Governor of New York) to meet on justice reform issues -- all while gaining attention and growing momentum for the justice reform movement.” 

Ms. Perez uses a multi-pronged approach to advocate for reform. First, she provides direct services to youth in detention using art, culture, film, and critical thinking as tools for transformation; second, she testifies and advocates for policy and legislative reforms such as Raise the Age NY and the reauthorization of the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), and third, she coordinates rallies, vigils and protests to bring awareness to issues impacting youth in the system. One recent vigil was centered on the death of Kalief Browder, the young man held for three years in horrifically abusive conditions on Riker’s Island while awaiting trial for the alleged theft of a backpack – charges that were eventually dropped.  

“I nominated Carmen for this award because she’s dedicated her life to working with youth in prisons and detention centers, advocating for policy change, and creating coalitions to build collective power to transform the system,” says Erika Stallworth, a founding member of the Children’s Policy and Law Initiative of Indiana, an NJJN board member, and an alumni fellow of NJJN’s Youth Justice Leadership Institute. “To make change, she works in the community and connects with policymakers. By serving as a bridge between grassroots organizations and policy institutions, she’s fought to replace harmful practices and policies in the juvenile justice system and with policies and laws that support youth and families. There is no doubt that Carmen is ‘gutsy.’  She embodies all of the attributes befitting this honor and is a wonderful role model for other advocates.”

The award will be given July 26, 2016, at an annual gathering of youth justice advocates from across the country. This year, the conference is hosted in Memphis, TN by NJJN’s Youth Justice Leadership Institute

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The National Juvenile Justice Network is composed of coalitions, organizations and alumni of the Youth Justice Leadership Institute across 42 states and the District of Columbia, all of whom advocate for a fairer justice system for children and teens. For more information, visit www.njjn.org.

>>Download the press release (PDF)  

More about Carmen Perez: 

youth-justice-reform_Carmen-PerezCarmen is something of a Renaissance woman in modern-day activism. In her years of work, Carmen, the executive director of Gathering for Justice, has touched on many of today's important civil rights issues, including mass incarceration, gender equality, and community policing. From working with young women as a probation officer to helping organize labor activism, she hasn't shied away from any challenge.  

After the death of her 19 year-old sister when Carmen was just 17, Carmen began dedicating her life to creating programs and initiatives that would help transform the lives of young people.  As executive director of the Gathering for Justice, Carmen has crossed the globe promoting peace, advancing human and civil rights, and building alternatives to incarceration and violence while collaborating in national policy presentations. She has organized cultural, spiritual and educational events and provided support to individuals incarcerated in juvenile detention centers and inside California’s and New York’s prisons. 

In November 2013 she founded Justice League NYC, a task force of juvenile and criminal justice advocates, experts, artists, and formerly incarcerated individuals brought together to build “Growing Up Locked Down” (GULD) a three-day juvenile justice conference in September.  Justice League NYC recently led a 250-mile, nine-day March2Justice from NYC to DC to deliver The Justice Package to Congress – 3 pieces of federal legislation to end racial profiling, stop the militarization of the police and invest in our children and protect our communities.

Carmen has gained respect as an expert in the field of juvenile and criminal justice and system accountability, and in that capacity has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, NY1, CNBC, CBS and been featured in articles in The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and more.  She recently testified before the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing as a criminal and juvenile justice reform expert.


About the Award

Created by the NJJN Executive Committee to honor one of NJJN’s founders and a true leader in the juvenile justice reform movement, this award is designed to both acknowledge other leaders in the field and to create a communications platform for justice reform work. Each year, we will honor an individual advocate for youth justice who embodies the tenacity, vision, fearlessness and wisdom of Beth Arnovits. (See below for more about her.) 

Please note: only NJJN members, partner organizations, and staff are eligible to nominate folks for these awards, though anyone affiliated with a member or partner organization may nominate themselves for an award. 

Elizabeth (Beth) J. Arnovits (1950-2011) -- pictured at right -- was executive director of the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency for 36 years and one of the founders of NJJN. She spent most of her life working to reform the justice system for both youth and adults. Beth’s heart for second chances made a huge difference in the lives of youth, and her adventurous approach to life inspired those who worked beside her. Before she died, she received recognition as a Greater Lansing Woman of the Year 2011 Finalist. NJJN is honored to sponsor this award in remembrance of Beth, who was nothing if not gutsy.

Past Winners:

- 2015 -

Jody E. Owens, III, of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Mississippi office. Learn more here

- 2014 -

Ernest Johnson, of Families and Friends of Louisiana's Incarcerated ChildrenLearn more

- 2013 - 

Elizabeth "Betsy" Clarke of the Juvenile Justice Initiative in Illinois. Learn more

- 2012 -

Kim McGill of the Youth Justice Coalition (CA). Take two minutes to see Kim McGill talk about winning the Gutsy Youth Advocate for Youth Award »  

Photo of Beth Arnovits: Michelle Weemhoff
Headshot of Carmen Perez by DeRonn Kidd Photography.