The Youth First Initiative approached Balestra Media about producing a video for a national audience that shows young people at the helm of the effort to close youth prisons across the country. The advocates featured in the video show that youth are at the forefront of the dialogue and organizing, resulting in the success of campaigns to invest in their communities.
Youth Lead the Way: A Call for Community over Incarceration was produced by Balestra Media for Youth First, with direction from Andy Stepanian and Jeffrey Wirth, storyboarding from Christina DiPasquale and Liz Ryan, and coloring by Raul Zahir De Leon. In the process of making this short film, Balestra conducted 21 interviews with youth and adults leading juvenile justice reform efforts and accompanied young leaders to community-based programs providing alternatives to incarceration.
The perspectives of the young people highlighted in the piece underscore that those closest to the problem are often closest to the solution. Dakota Hall of Youth Justice Milwaukee illustrates this poignantly when she states, “Divesting from police, divesting from prison, divesting from the criminalization of black and brown bodies, and pumping that [funding] back into our public schools, pumping that into neighborhoods, pumping that back into job programs, job training, healthcare, housing, stuff that we know creates better communities, stronger communities, allows communities to thrive ...it allows people to thrive.”
Since 2015, the Youth First Initiative has worked tirelessly to close youth prisons and help states develop community-based wraparound services for system involved youth —all while elevating youth voices and emphasizing the importance of youth-adult partnerships, that advocate Yancy Singleton explained are nothing less than “the youth having a hand in the decisions that are being made.”