Home News Center Rapid Response: May Spotlight on NJJN COVID-19 Mini Grant Fund

Rapid Response: May Spotlight on NJJN COVID-19 Mini Grant Fund

May 27, 2021

Colorful Graphic with Abstract Art

Last year, the youth justice advocacy community responded to the COVID-19 public health crisis by advocating to ensure incarcerated youth received the necessary protections and pushing for the decarceration of correctional facilities across the country. The National Juvenile Justice Network was proud to directly invest in advocacy efforts to protect justice-involved youth during the pandemic throughout our COVID-19 Rapid Response Mini-Grant Fund, which awarded 20 $1,000 grants to NJJN members.  

We are proud to report that our COVID-19 mini-grants supported the direct needs of youth and their families while also advocating for transformational changes that can ensure the rights and safety of system-impacted youth are always protected, even during a public health crisis.   

Recipients of the $1,000 grants have used the funding for projects as varied as:   

  • Purchasing tablets to help facilitate communication between family and youth where visitation was halted due to the pandemic;  

  • Providing stipends to youth advocates who are using their voices to push for systemic youth justice changes and release of incarcerated youth;  

  • Providing school supplies and laptops for system-involved youth going back to school;  

  • Providing transition packages for youth released during the pandemic including low-cost cell phones, grocery store gift cards and masks;  

  • And much more.  

Over the next few months, we will highlight a sampling of the work being done by our members with funds from the COVID-19 Rapid Response Mini Grant Program. This month, we are spotlighting work done by Families and Friends of Louisiana's Incarcerated Children,  Maine Center for Juvenile Policy and LawNew Jersey Parents CaucusTexas Criminal Justice Coalition 

NJJN’s COVID-19 Rapid Response Mini Grant Program supported stipends to youth engaged in the Louisiana Harvesting Opportunities Outside of Prisons (HOOP) Coalition for which FFLIC is the lead agency. The first campaign of the HOOP Coalition is the youth-led #NoMorePrisons campaign that launched this spring with a website, social media and direct-action activities. Through the initiative, youth leaders have developed the #NoMorePrisons campaign by: 

  • Creating protocols and values for LA HOOP Coalition;  

  • Facilitating twice monthly LA HOOP Coalition Committee Meetings and Steering Committee Meetings;  

  • Developing the #NoMorePrisons Logo;  

  • Planning and co-facilitating a 2-day Youth Leaders Boot Camp to recruit and train peers and envision a world without youth prisons, and  

  • Preparing holiday gift bags for delivery to incarcerated youth. 

With funds from NJJN's COVID-19 Rapid Response Mini Grant Program, MCJPAL partnered with Maine Law’s Juvenile Justice Clinic to purchase phones, phone cards, and grocery cards to help with essential services for justice-involved youth. During COVID-19, keeping in contact with system-involved youth can be even more challenging as in-person meetings have not been advised and important court dates, and appointments related to representation frequently require access to technology. Additionally, families have been strained to purchase basic items such as food, hygiene products and other necessities, and grocery cards were purchased to help with meeting these fundamental needs. NJJN's COVID-19 Rapid Response Funds provided an initial investment of emergency funds, which were further leveraged to establish a more permanent Emergency Youth Assistance Fund to help with the immediate needs of youth beyond the courtroom.  
MCJPAL, in collaboration with the Juvenile Justice Clinic, plans to continue building the Emergency Youth Assistance Fund as part of its on-going mission to improve outcomes for system-involved youth or youth at risk of becoming involved in Maine’s justice system. 

The New Jersey Parents Caucus utilized funding from the NJJN COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund to support the New Jersey Youth Caucus Series FY’2020 -2021. The New Jersey Youth Caucus is a statewide coalition of youth and young adults who have been impacted by the juvenile justice and/or mental health systems in New Jersey. Youth caucus members that are currently incarcerated participate in meetings via email, telephone and the quarterly newsletter. Through the series, NJ Youth Caucus Members developed and delivered a series of meetings and ZOOM events to raise awareness about the impact of COVID-19 on their lives as justice involved youth and its impact on incarceration, mental health, parenting, juvenile justice and racial justice. The events also provided an opportunity for NJ Youth Caucus Members to continue to educate interested stakeholders on the importance and inclusion of the voice of those most impacted. Four videos were produced and NJ Youth Caucus Members that participated were provided a $100 gift card for their participation in the series, as well as their hourly rate of $20 per hour.  

With funds from NJJN's COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund, TCJC provided stipends to high school and college student interns who have assisted with research, education, and other supports for youth decarceration efforts. Specifically, youth interns worked to advance TCJC's work to reduce the school-to-prison pipeline and expand placement options for children being released from detention as a result of COVID-19.  
Given the over-representation of kids of color who are impacted by over-discipline, over-policing, and justice system involvement – and given that students of color are especially likely to experience physical and mental health disparities post-COVID – TCJC interns helped create a mini-campaign for Black History Month that included graphics and quotes explaining the critical need for youth decarceration and racial equity; student-produced graphics about School Resource Officers and the school-to-prison pipeline were TCJC’s most popular-ever Instagram posts and had significant impact across their social media channels. The campaign also underscored the larger message around the need for decarceration in light of COVID-19.  
While Texas’ youth prisons saw the steepest population decline in years, moving from 959 children behind bars in March 2020 to 718 in December 2020, many children remained in local correctional facilities, including those awaiting transfer or release in local post-adjudication facilities. At the same time, kids were returning to an abnormal and difficult education setting, sometimes in-person and sometimes virtual, leading to challenges that require mental and behavioral health support in schools – not a continued focus on discipline.  
The students’ research and advocacy helped TCJC continue to call attention to these issues throughout the spring, and TCJC remains committed to fighting for youth decarceration alongside a growing group of youth advocates. 

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