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Gutsy Advocate for Youth Award Winners - Past


The Beth Arnovits Gutsy Advocate for Youth award was first given in 2012. Details of on past winners are listed below. 

Past Winners:

- 2015 -

>>Check out this profile of Jody in the Jackson Free Press: "Jody E. Owens III," June 15, 2015.

>> See Jody's blog post on how blocking the school/prison pipeline is the key to eliminating racial and ethnic disparities in our prisions. 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE          July 20, 2015        


Honored as a “Gutsy Advocate for Youth”

(Washington, DC) Jody Owens, II, managing attorney of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Mississippi office (SPLC), is being recognized this month for his tenacious work on behalf of young people caught in the justice system.

Owens is the fourth recipient of the Beth Arnovits Gutsy Advocate for Youth Award, which is given annually by the National Juvenile Justice Network 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 the NJJN’s founders. The award will be given July 20, 2015, at an annual gathering in Washington, D.C., of youth justice advocates from across the country.

“Jody was a natural choice for the Gutsy Youth for Advocate award,” said Sarah Bryer, who directs the National Juvenile Justice Network. “He and his team at the Southern Poverty Law Center have consistently fought significant battles in the courtroom and in the legislature on behalf of the civil rights and well-being of youth in the justice system — and won. His track record is all the more amazing because he’s done this in a deeply conservative state.” 

Owens is one of the leaders in juvenile justice reform in the country. During the past five years, he has authored an in-depth piece for Politico, “How Prison Stints Replaced Study Hall,” and: 

  • Stopped Abuse and Harmful Practices at Five Mississippi Youth Detention Centers –Owens and his team sued county officials at Forrest County’s juvenile detention center and forced them to address abusive conditions and improve educational and rehabilitative programs for youth; sued Hinds County for similar reasons and reached an agreement designed to eliminate abuse and improve services; and closed youth detention centers in Lauderdale and Pike counties over abusive and unsanitary conditions, respectively.
  • Removed youth from a “cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts.” An investigation led by Owens revealed horrific conditions at the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility near Jackson. A federal judge called it a “cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts.” Guards regularly had sex with youths; brutal rapes among youth at the facility were described as the worst of “any facility anywhere in the nation”; and guards regularly kicked and punched “handcuffed and defenseless” youths; they also organized – and even bet on – fights between youths. As a result of Owens’ work, youths are no longer housed at the facility.
  • Stopped a School-to-Prison “Taxi Service” in Mississippi — An investigation led by Owens found that schools in Meridian routinely had kids arrested (some as young as 10 years old) instead of disciplining them at school. Denied counsel and due process, children and teens — all children of color — were put on probation, where they could be sent straight to detention for minor infractions like wearing the wrong-colored clothes to school. Local police referred to this as a “taxi service” from school to prison.
  • Championed Legislation Protecting the Rights of Young People  —  Among other victories, Owens successfully backed legislation in Mississippi that stopped kids with misdemeanors from being sent to abusive detention facilities as well as legislation allowing youth to expunge their criminal records (a project he undertook while a fellow in NJJN’s Youth Justice Leadership Institute in 2013); and helped pass a bill that created Mississippi’s Juvenile Detention and Alternatives Taskforce, which will create licensing standards for juvenile detention centers and expand community-based alternatives to detention.

“Jody’s ability to utilize his deep roots in Jackson and Mississippi to effectively promote the fair treatment of youth in trouble with the law is, simply put, amazing,” says Ebony Glenn Howard, managing attorney of the SPLC’s Alabama office, who nominated Owens for the award. “Although Mississippi is a staunchly conservative state, Jody has been able to convince policymakers that the success of [these] children … is Mississippi’s success. Through legislative advocacy, litigation, and community partnerships, Jody has attacked the harmful practices and policies in the juvenile justice system and fought to replace them with policies and laws that support youth and families.”

* * *

- 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