average number of youth incarcerations is steadily dropping. A new report by the
Annie E. Casey Foundation shows that the level of youth incarceration in the
United States has dropped 41 percent from its peak in 1995. In the most recent
study, in 2010, there were 70,792 teenagers behind bars, compared to 107,637 in
However, the problem of incarcerated youth is still a
prevalent one in the nation, and specifically in San Francisco.
In many city districts, teenage youth become engulfed in the
urban lifestyle, the fast-paced ways, and the always moving streets. There are
many opportunities for youth in the city limits of San Francisco to get sucked
down the wrong path.
Marcelo Muñoz, an Academic and Career Mentor with
the Unity Council's Men and Boys Program, says, "I have worked and
mentored youth from Richmond, West Oakland, East Oakland, and with youth across
the Bay, from San Francisco's Bayview to Hunters Point, Fillmore, Mission,
Lakeview and Excelsior districts, and I see it all the time. There are a large
amount of ways to get sucked into drugs, crime, or other things. The worse part,
however, is when there are kids who are just at the wrong place and the wrong
Children Now, an organization focused on promoting children's
health and education, reported in their most recent study of youth incarceration
in the United States, that "a vast majority of the country's incarcerated youth
(3 out of 4) are held for non-violent offenses."
Muñoz comments that the
worst problem is of how youth are treated in response to their crimes: "There
are instances when the things they do are completely blown out of proportion. We
lack resources for the youth to engage in to stay out of trouble. Oakland and
San Francisco need to remove gang injunctions immediately. The city should also
kick more money into the organizations and programs that aim to prevent youth
And what do those resources look like?
HOMEY (Homeys Organizing the Mission to Empower Youth), works
specifically in the Mission District of San Francisco to give high-risk youth an
ability to choose their own path, from education to non-violence, and to help
the prevention of youth from participating in crimes and violence.
Another organization, United Playaz, has a violence prevention
and youth leadership program that works with San Francisco youth through
reaching out in schools, on the streets and in specific cases.
Muñoz comments in response, "There is still a lot of work to be done
differently. For starters, we can change the way we see and interact with youth.
Instead of being scared of them on the bus or on BART, we should talk to them;
even though every generation grows up faster and faster, we must remember that
they are still kids. Everyone has a story."
organizations, however, focus on the power to give incarcerated youth, as well
as some youth on the "outside," who are not incarcerated, a voice, and the
ability to tell their story.
Lisa Lavaysee, program and
volunteer coordinator at The Beat Within, a non-profit weekly
publication of literature and writing from the inside and out, commented, "Our
mission is not to fix the problem of incarcerated youth. It's to give them a
voice, to bring their voices into the public forum in addition to workshops."
The Beat Within does that by hosting writing workshops in the juvenile
halls, and collecting the writing that is produced to publish in their magazine
that youth involved can keep and read on their own.
adds that The Beat Within is one of the only publications of its kind:
"There're not many publications that focus on incarcerated youth and the things
that they have to say. We may not specifically work to prevent the
incarceration, but we do focus on what the youth have to say after they've gone
through that experience."
However, the organizations that
still exist continue to do their job the best way they can. There are ways for
everyone to get involved.
"Sign petitions, organize, get
active in your community, mentor a youth who needs a positive role model, and if
you yourself are not involved, then support people who are involved in working
with youth," Muñoz added.
It is our job to do our part in
helping to nourish and maintain the community we live in. Every person who lives
here has an opportunity to prevent youth from dealing with the reality of