Short Film from Youth First Revealing a New Vision for Youth Justice--a World Without Youth Prisons

Balestra Media is humbled to have been invited to work on this short film about the efforts of the Youth First Initiative and to again team up with video partner Burning Hearts Media. Balestra’s Andy Stepanian and Burning Hearts Media’s Jeffrey Wirth co-directed this piece, produced by Balestra’s Christina DiPasquale, to provide a voice to the 50,000 youth incarcerated in America’s juvenile justice system.

The b-roll and 12 interviewees were filmed at the Youth First State Strategy Roundtable 2016 in Richmond. The team scouted locations around the conference, set up a room where lawyers, organizers and youth would feel comfortable talking about their work, and captured their positive vision of youth justice that doesn't rely on incarceration.

This video needed to show the lasting, negative impact of youth prisons where young people are subjected to restraints, brutal violence, and solitary confinement. The Youth First Initiative is taking aim at these facilities with a simple demand, #NoKidsInPrison and inviting more to join them:

NowThis shared a short version of the video on social media and got more than 350,000 views in the first week it had posted.

This Friday, the Larned Juvenile Correctional Center in Kansas will close after 45 years of operation. The closure of this medium/high-security facility, designed to imprison 170 youth, marks a significant victory for Kansans United for Youth Justice, part of the Youth First Initiative.

The tireless work of Youth First, a growing national constellation of organizations from Kansas, Virginia, Connecticut, Wisconsin, and New Jersey that launched in 2015 with a goal of closing youth prisons, has already lead to commitments to close five facilities in four states. Many more youth prisons are under scrutiny from state and federal authorities.

Today’s political climate underscores the importance of Youth First’s work. While youth incarceration has been on the decline for over a decade, due in part to the efforts of Youth First and myriad other juvenile justice advocates, the Trump administration and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have signaled that the youth prison complex may see renewed vigor.

Please follow Youth First’s work on Twitter, Facebook, or their website.

Christina DiPasquale