Welcome to the #NoKidsinPrison digital experience. This experience will guide you through the past and present of youth incarceration, and show you a possible future where young people are no longer locked up.

Impact on Youth


Explore the Data

Impact on Families

Chris’s Story

From a mother…

How We Got Here

Essay On Reentry


In 1996 – a time when the media and politicians were calling kids superpredators – the state of Maryland sentenced Reginald Dwayne Betts, a 16 year old high school class treasurer and honor student, to nine years in adult prison. Since release, Dwayne has graduated from Yale Law School, published 5 books of poetry, and is part of a growing movement to close youth prisons led by people who know first-hand how traumatic and ineffective it is to incarcerate children. Since the early 90’s, youth incarceration in the US is down by almost 70% and community programs that keep youth free are blooming across the country. Now is our moment Lets make sure not a single kid is growing up writing poetry from prison. Dwayne’s story is a snapshot of history. To understand how we got here, we need to look at the events and patterns that caused the youth prison system to grow in the first place. Dwayne Betts photo credit Mamadi Doumbouya

Timeline of Events

1646 The “Stubborn Child Law”

Enacted by the General Court of Massachusetts Bay, The "Stubborn Child Law" is the earliest-known legislation about childhood misbehavior, stating that teenage boys who disobeyed their parents could be put to death. Changes to the law were made that removed death as a penalty and added punishment for disobedient daughters. The law was not repealed until 1973.

1819 Civilization Act Fund of 1819

Civilization Act Fund of 1819 was enacted by U.S. Congress to fund missionaries, and partner in building schools in Native American communities. Their goal was to force assimilation in youth by replacing their Native American traditions and culture with Christian practices.Native parents were bound by law to send their children to government run schools specifically designed to erase Indigenous culture.

Elliott, Charles Loring, artist. “Thomas Loraine McKenney.” 1856. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; frame conserved with funds from the Smithsonian Women's Committee. https://npg.si.edu/object/npg_NPG.2011.62 (accessed March 28, 2021)

1824 New York House of Refuge opens

The New York House of Refuge was the first juvenile reformatory built in the United States. It opened in 1824 and operated until 1935. At the time of it's opening Black kids had already been enslaved and committed to lifelong servitude for over 200 years in America.

From the start these schools and reformatories were unsafe places where poor, homeless, and largely immigrant children were often sentenced indefinitely to years of unpaid labor. They were prisons by another name, an extension of slavery.

1824 Yates Report

New York City commissioned the Yates Report, which recommended that poor children in overcrowded cities be institutionalized “to avoid cruel treatment, idleness, and inadequate moral and educational development.”

New York (State) Legislature. Select committee appointed on the subject of the poor laws. The select committee, appointed on the subject of the poor laws, respectfully report. [Albany, 1823]. Library of Congress, Broadsides, leaflets, and pamphlets from America and Europe. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.rbc/rbpe.11600500 (accessed March 28, 2021)

1838 Ex Parte Crouse Supreme Court decision

In this case, the courts held that Houses of Refuge were reformatory, and could be used as a solution for any behavioral issue. This meant that the State was able to intervene and institutionalize children, even when they did not commit a crime.

1850 Creation of industrial schools

Industrial Schools were also known as training schools and reform schools. They worked to imprison youth under the guise of a greater emphasis on education. In 1859, the San Francisco Industrial School was created and throughout its turbulent 30-year history, the Industrial School was the subject of frequent scandals stemming from physical abuse to managerial incompetence. When the facility was finally ordered closed in 1891, the city’s judiciary denounced it as a failed system.

Butcher, Solomon D., (artist). Cauliflower field, State Industrial School, Kearney, Nebraska. Photographic print. Nebraska State Historical Society, Lincoln, NE, ca. 1908. From Library of Congress/ Nebraska State Historical Society: Butcher, Solomon D. (Solomon Devore), 1856-1927. http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/h?ammem/psbib:@field(DOCID+@lit(p2908))

1856 Lancaster Industrial School for Girls is opened.

First State Industrial School for Girls was opened in Massachusetts. While celebrated as a model for progessive correctional facilities, girls were subjected to severe forms of punishment, often locked alone in "strong rooms".

Leslie, Frank (Illustrator). “State Industrial School for Girls, Middletown, Conn. [4 images]: 1. Expostulating with a vicious girl; 2. Graduate; 3. Learning to cook; 4. Making paper boxes.” 1 print : wood engraving. Frank Leslie's illustrated newspaper, vol. 53, no. 1364, p. 197. 1881. From Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. https://catalog.loc.gov/vwebv/search?searchCode=LCCN&searchArg=99614071&searchType=1&permalink=y (accessed March 28, 2021)

1860 Youth incarceration grew from slavery.

Youth prisons as we know them haven’t always existed. They grew out of America’s long legacy of racist systems and unpaid labor as punishment that stem from slavery and Jim Crow Laws. According to the census, in 1860 45% of enslaved people were 14 years of age and younger. This means approximately 1.8 million youth were enslaved.

Unidentified photographer. “51-Sugar Cane Plantation, La, Stereograph of children standing in a field of sugarcane.” ca 1920-1930. From the Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Oprah Winfrey.

1865 Ratification of the 13th Amendment

When slavery was outlawed, the 13th Amendment created a loophole making it legal to force people to work without pay if they had been convicted of a crime. This gave the racist beliefs that fueled slavery’s power an incentive to convict people in court and maintain a free workforce. Then and now, our courts convict Black, Brown and Indigenous people at alarmingly disproportionate rates.

Detroit Publishing Co., Publisher. “A Southern chain gang.” , None. [Between 1900 and 1906] Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2016803065/

Detroit Publishing Co., Copyright Claimant, and Publisher Detroit Publishing Co. “Juvenile Convicts at Work in the Fields.” , ca. 1903. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2016818521/

Harpers Weekly. “Scene in the House on the passage of the proposition to amend the Constitution.” Harper's weekly, v. 9, no. 425 (1865 Feb. 18), p. 97. https://www.loc.gov/item/00652833/

1866 The Freedmen’s Code of 1866 was applied to the children of newly freed enslaved people.

It allowed former slaveholders to maintain guardianship of Black children until they reached adulthood under the guise of apprenticeships.

Taylor, James E, artist. “The Misses Cooke's school room, Freedman's Bureau, Richmond, Va.”. Sketch. Richmond: Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. 1866. Library of Congress: Prints and Photographs Division. https://www.loc.gov/item/98510871/ (accessed March 28, 2021).

1870 Beginning of Jim Crow laws

Jim Crow laws were enacted mandating racial segregation in all public facilities withhin states of the former Confederacy.

Wolcott, Marion Post. “Negro Going in Colored Entrance of Movie House, Belzoni, Mississippi Delta, Mississippi”. 1939. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. https://www.loc.gov/item/2017754826/ (accessed April 26, 2021).

1879 Founding of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School.

The first federally funded, off-reservation boarding school was the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. Created by a civil war veteran to “kill the indian, save the man”, The Carlisle Indian Industrial School attempted to assimilate native youth to white culture using harsh techniques and discipline. Native youth were forced into hard labor and exposed to sexual abuse at this school. ⅓ of the children who attended died.

[Native American men and a boy posed outside of Carlisle Indian School]. Photographic print. ca.1890. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington DC. https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/99471846/ (accessed February 24, 2021).

1880 The U.S. operated 60 schools for 6,200 Native students,

This included reservation day schools and reservation boarding schools. The boarding schools hoped to produce economically self-sufficient students by teaching work skills and instilling values and beliefs of possessive individualism. This emphasizes personal ownership as a core value and opposed the basic Indian belief of communal ownership, which held that the land was for all people.

“[Ciricahua Apaches at the Carlisle Indian School, Penna., 188-?: after 4 months of training at the School.]” Photograph. c188-?. From Library of Congress: National Photo Company Collection. https://www.loc.gov/item/2006679978/ (accessed March 28, 2021).

“Flandreau Indian School, South Dakota, choir.” Photograph. c1909-1932. Library of Congress; National Photo Company Collection. https://lccn.loc.gov/90711013 (accessed March 28, 2021).

1899 First juvenile court in America.

Cook County, Illinois creates the first juvenile court. Before youth prisons existed children were being sentenced to adult prison. While youth prisons were originally designed to be alternatives to adult prisons, they immediately became a feeder system to the adult criminal justice system. Youth prisons were founded on the ancient legal doctrine of parens patriae (the State as Parent), which declared the right and responsibility of the state to substitute its own control over children for that of natural parents when the latter appeared unable or unwilling to meet their responsibilities or when the child posed a problem for the community.

Hine, Lewis Wickes, photographer. The Slein boys. Meyer Slein 12 yrs. old his brother Abe 10 years old who has just returned from Industrial School Reform School. Another brother is in the School. Show effects of street life and are Juvenile Court boys.Location: St. Louis, Missouri. United States St. Louis Missouri St. Louis, 1910. May. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2018675816/.

Unknown photographer. Judge Ben Lindsey's Juvenile Court chambers; 3 boys and 6 adults shown, Denver, Colorado. , . [No Date Recorded on Caption Card] Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2007678631/.

Unknown photographer. “How the kids make their reports to the judge every Saturday morning.” Colorado Denver, None. [Between 1910 and 1915?] Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2008677150/.

1900 Increase in Youth Incarceration Begins

Youth prisons continue to be unsafe places for children. By 1900 every state in America has both a youth prison and juvenile court. Once juvenile courts could assert parental power over actual parents, the juvenile system became a place where the state asserted itself over largely Black, Brown and Indigenous parents by criminalizing their children and placing them into institutions.

Bolstered by Jim Crow Laws, these policies not only led to the incarceration of youth, but gave courts, police, and the public the means to push for the most horrifying forms of punishment.

Hine, Lewis Wickes, photographer. “Juvenile Court. An 8 year old boy charged with stealing a bicycle. Thursday May 5.” Location: St. Louis, Missouri. United States St. Louis Missouri St. Louis, 1910. May 5. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2018675656/.

1912 The Federal Children’s Bureau was established.

President Taft’s stated purpose in creating the Bureau was to report “upon all matters pertaining to the welfare of children and child life among all classes of our people.” This has led to reporting on infant and maternal death, child labor, orphanages, delinqunecy and juvenile courts, famility economic security, abuse and neglect, and foster care.

1920 Black Child Saving Movement

Black child-saving movement began to make substantial inroads in the provision of rehabilitative services for black youths

1931 Movement to Free the Scottsboro Boys

Nine black youths between the ages of 13 to 19 were pulled from a train, arrested and taken to nearby Scottsboro, Alabama, where they were jailed, tried and declared guilty of raping two white women — a crime that never occurred. An all-white, male jury quickly sentenced eight to death.This led to two landmark Supreme Court decisions, on the right to adequate counsel and on jury diversity. Movements against the ruling eventually led to all nine Scottsboro Boys being paroled, freed, or pardoned. Each spent at least six years in prison, some much longer. The Scottsboro Boys case is widely believed to have been an inspiration for Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

Scurlock, Addison N., Photographer. Scottsboro, AL, 1934. Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, Archives Center, Scurlock Studio Records. https://collections.si.edu/search/detail/ead_component:sova-nmah-ac-0618-s04-01-ref155?q=%22scottsboro+mothers%22&record=1&hlterm=%26quot%3Bscottsboro%2Bmothers%26quot%3B (accessed February 9, 2021).

1942 The Bracero Program was established

Was created to bring in temporary workers from Mexico to fill the labor shortage caused by WWII. The children of Braceros faced discriminatory treatment in juvenile courts and hostility from law enforcement as they created new subcultures in the cities they immigrated to.

Lange, Dorothea (photographer). “Eloy District, Pinal County, Arizona. Mexican irrigator.” ca. 1922. From Photographic Prints Documenting Programs and Activities of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics and Predecessor Agencies, ca. 1922 - ca. 1947. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/521048 (accessed March 28, 2021).

1944 George Stinney, Jr. was executed.

George Stinney, Jr. an African American 14 year old became the youngest person to be legally executed in the 20th century. Before he was strapped into a chair and electrocuted to death, he was made to sit on a bible in order to be fitted with the mask correctly. He was exonerated in 2014.

“George Stinney.” George Stinney Case Files Department of Corrections. Central Correctional Institution. Record of prisoners awaiting execution.-S132004, File #260 / Photo courtesy of the South Carolina Department of Archives and History. https://exhibits.stanford.edu/saytheirnames/feature/george-stinney-jr

1951 Barbara Rose Johns leads student and teacher walkout.

16 year old Barbara Rose Johns led 450 student and teacher walkout at R.R. Moton High School, an all-black high school in Farmville, Virginia, suffering from terrible conditions due to underfunding. This led to Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County one of the five cases combined into Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.

1951 Student Walk Out, Farmvile VA

16 year old Barbara Rose Johns led 450 student & teacher walkout at R.R. Moton High School, an all-black high school in Farmville, Virginia, founded in 1923, suffered from terrible conditions due to underfunding. Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County (Docket number: Civ. A. No. 1333; Case citation: 103 F. Supp. 337 (1952)) was one of the five cases combined into Brown v. Board of Education, the famous case in which the U.S. Supreme Court, in 1954

1954 Brown vs Board of Education

1955 Lynching of Emmett Till

An African Amerian 14 year old was accussed of whistling at a white woman in a grocery store. The two white men accused of lynching Till were exonerated, and then they admitted to the lynching avoiding further prosecution.

Mann, Dave. Photograph. 1966. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Lauren and Michael Lee. https://www.si.edu/object/till-boys-funeral-burr-oaks-cemetary-sic:nmaahc_2013.92?edan_q=emmett%2Btill&oa=1&edan_fq%5B0%5D=media_usage:CC0&destination=/search/collection-images&searchResults=1&id=nmaahc_2013.92 (Accessed March 28, 2021).

1963 More than a dozen girls ages 12-15 are arrested in Leesburg Ga on same day as Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech for protesting school segregation.

The girls were kept in a makeshift jail without sanitation or running water for 2 months, never charged with a crime and their parents were not informed they were in custody. When SNCC learned about the case, they sent Danny Lyon, a photographer. His photographs of the horrific conditions were published and the girls were released.

Lyon, Danny, photographer. Leesburg, Georgia. Arrested for demonstrating in Americus, teenage girls are kept in a stockade in the countryside / Danny Lyon. Georgia, 1963. From Magnum Photos, Inc. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2018645341 (accessed March 7, 2021).

1963 Childrens Crusade in Birmingham Alabama

More than one thousand students skipped classes and gathered to march to downtown Birmingham, Alabama. As they approached police lines, hundreds were arrested and carried off to jail. When hundreds more young people gathered the following day for another march, white commissioner, Bull Connor, directed local police and fire departments to use force to halt the demonstration. Images of children being blasted by high-pressure fire hoses, being clubbed by police officers, and being attacked by police dogs appeared on television and in newspapers, and triggered outrage throughout the world. Despite the violence, children continued to march and protest until an intervention from the U.S. Department of Justice. The event moved President John F. Kennedy’s to express support for federal civil rights legislation and the eventual passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

1966 The first Supreme Court case to modify the long-standing belief that juveniles did not require the same due process protections as adults

1967 Supreme Court settles in re Gault case.

In re Gault. The U.S. Supreme Court determined that the Constitution requires that youth charged with delinquency in juvenile court have many of the same due process rights guaranteed to adults accused of crimes, including the right to an attorney and the right to confront witnesses against them.

1973 "Homosexuality" is removed from the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM)

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) removed the diagnosis of “homosexuality” from the second edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). Prior to this, youth could be involuntarily placed in institutions and subjected to abusive forms of conversion therapy.

1974 Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act enacted.

In order to recieve funding grants, states were required to deinstitutionalization/incarcerate minors charged with offenses such as trunacy or curfew vilation.It also prohibited contact between minors and adult offenders.

1978 Indian Child Welfare Act.

Native American parents gain the legal right to deny their children’s placement in off-reservation boarding schools.

1980 Reagan reinforces Nixon's War on drugs

Centering narratives that drug use was the number one enemy of America, Reagan addressed addiction with criminalization, funding campaigns for zero tolerance and minimum sentencing instead of treatment. The number of people behind bars for nonviolent drug law offenses increased from 50,000 in 1980 to over 400,000 by 1997.

1989 Central park 5 case

Five teenagers—four Black and one Hispanic—were falsely convicted of the rape of a woman in New York’s Central Park. They served sentences ranging from six to twelve years. All were later exonerated after a prison inmate confessed to the crime in 2002.

1992 - 1997 Sweeping legistlative changes increase State power to criminalize youth

Laws in 45 states made it easier to transfer juvenile offenders from the juvenile to the criminal justice system.
Laws in 31 states gave criminal and juvenile courts expanded sentencing options.
Laws in 47 states modified or removed traditional juvenile court confidentiality provisions by making records and proceedings more open.
Laws in 22 states increased the role of victims of juvenile crime in the juvenile justice process.
As a result of new transfer and sentencing laws, adult and juvenile correctional administrators developed new programs. (Snyder & Sickmund, 2006, pp. 96–97).

Photography by Mark Strandquist for Performing Statistics (2018) used with permission from ART180.

1994 1994 Crime Bill is passed

The 1994 crime bill and fear of youth crime laid the foundation for a huge rise in youth incarceration. States received $2.7 billion to build and expand youth and adult prisons across the country. Youth prisons expanded across the US and 47 states made it easier to try youth as adults. Elected officials and media spread "Superpredator" narratives targeting BIPOC youth and contributing to public feeling that young people deserve to be treated like adults and seen as unredeemable criminals. Marshal Project found nearly 300 uses of “superpredator” in 40 leading newspapers and magazines from 1995 to 2000.

1994 The 1974 Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act was amended

Amended to include provisions that would allow states to try juveniles as adults for some violent crimes and weapons violations. Minimum detention standards were also put into place in some states. The anti-crime sentiment of the period caused changes to be implemented to the juvenile justice system that made it increasingly similar to the adult (criminal) justice system.

1996-2004 Louisiana’s Close Tallulah Now! campaign

In Louisiana, a perfect storm between the sheer numbers of children who were imprisoned and brutal prison conditions set the stage for reform. In 1995, approximately 2,000 young people were being held behind bars and Human Rights Watch documented the abusive conditions these young people commonly experienced. When asked what they would most like to change in the facilities, “virtually every child . . . responded that they would like the guards to stop hitting them and that they would like more food.” Louisiana-based attorneys and activists partnered with imprisoned youth, their families, and national juvenile justice advocates to launch a groundbreaking campaign that closed a notoriously abusive youth prison and aimed to transform Louisiana’s juvenile justice system

1998-2004 District of Columbia’s campaign to close Oak Hill

The District of Columbia reformed a dysfunctional system that over-relied on incarceration, warehousing almost exclusively African American and Latino youth at a large, inhumane, and abusive youth prison: the Oak Hill Youth Center. Recidivism rates were high, and there was a dearth of community-based programming for youth. The juvenile justice system did not serve youth or the community. DC’s campaign led to the closing of Oak Hill, its replacement with a smaller more rehabilitative facility, the creation of a cabinet-level agency to increase accountability and transparency, and a major increase in the availability of community-based services.

1999-2012 California’s campaign to end abusive facility conditions and close youth prisons

In the late 1990s, more than 10,000 children were imprisoned throughout the state of California in facilities that were widely decried for violence and abusive conditions. Youth were locked in their cells for 23 hours a day, and in at least one facility youth were handcuffed around the clock, sometimes clad only in their underwear. There were suicides, beatings, and canine attacks, and youth were placed in small cages while in an educational setting. A small, committed, and persistent group of advocates and attorneys began to collaborate on strategies to improve conditions in state facilities. Although this group recognized the need to address the abuses in the facilities, it also realized that the model itself—large, distant, prison-like institutions—is inherently harmful to children. This recognition was driven in part by the experiences of young people who lived in the California Youth Authority prisons. California-based advocates and attorneys worked for decades to reform the system, and their strong coalition, nimble strategies, and ability to seize political moments of opportunity dramatically reduced the number of children held in state-level facilities.

2000 The height of youth incarceration.

While the warnings about a wave of violent crime never came true (it actually went down almost 70%) the 1990’s saw youth incarceration rise to the highest level in history, horrifying 109,000 children in 2000.

2000 Zero Tolerance Policies adopted nationwide in response to 1999 school shooting at Columbine HS in Colorado

Prior to Columbine, Bill Clinton signed the Gun Free School Act in 1994 a measure asking states to expel students who brought a gun to school for at least a year. After Columbine widespread Zero Tolerance initiatives that treated small infractions of school discipline the same as more serious violations were adopted nationwide. The applications of these policies have been explicitly racially discrimintive. They have resulted in over 10,000 police in schools, not 1 school shooting stopped and over 1M students mostly BIPOC, arrested for routine school rule violations.



2001-2012 New York’s No More Youth Jails and Empty Beds, Wasted Dollars campaigns

New York system leaders, advocates, families, and youth defeated strong union opposition and harnessed momentum for reform to close 20 state prisons. The momentum was in large part created by activists and youth organizers who, prior to the state-level campaign, had campaigned successfully to stop the expansion of youth jails and to create new community-based alternatives to incarceration in New York City. Also contributing to the momentum was a widespread recognition of the dismal outcomes that broken windows policing had on young people of color and the appointment of a strong, reform-minded leader, Gladys Carrion, as head of New York’s state system.

2003-2012 "Singing the Blues" for Mississippi's imprisoned children

In 2002, the United States Department of Justice released an investigation describing conditions in Mississippi’s youth prisons (euphemistically called training schools). Although the conditions documented by the federal government shocked some people, they were well known to Mississippi’s children and families. In these prisons, children as young as 11 years old were beaten, stripped naked, and confined to dark rooms with nothing but a hole in the floor as a toilet. They were sexually abused and denied access to medical and mental health care. The then-Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights called the prisons the worst the federal government had seen in 20 years. In the wake of the US DOJ report, Mississippi’s community organizers, racial justice advocates, attorneys, and other advocates built a powerful coalition to advocate for legislation that overhauled Mississippi’s juvenile justice system, reduced the number of children in custody, and ultimately closed a youth prison, two detention centers, and a prison built specifically for children tried as adults.

2005 Roper v. Simmons.

The Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional for a youth under 18 years old at the time of his or her crime to receive a death penalty sentence.

2006-2011 Texas’ legislative campaign to reduce youth incarceration

In the wake of a devastating sexual abuse scandal, Texas advocates seized a moment of opportunity and shifted the debate from one that centered on reforming abusive prisons to one focused on shutting down facilities and reducing the number of children who live behind bars. The advocacy efforts were driven by a legislative strategy and required strong collaborations between lawmakers, advocates, youth, and their families. The resulting landmark legislation transformed the Texas juvenile justice system and significantly reduced the number of children held behind bars.

2010 Graham v. Florida.

the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Graham v. Florida that sentencing a juvenile to life without the possibility of parole for a non-homicidal crime is in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

2011 Stop & Frisk Peak Year

In 2011, Blacks and Latinos were dispropionately stopped, frisked and had force used against them.
The NYPD stopped Black and Latino people nearly 575,000 times and used physical force against them almost 130,000 times. That’s 84% of all stops and 88% of all force used in stops that year. 341,581 of those targeted were aged 14-24 (51 percent).


2012 Miller v. Alabama.

Ruling made it unconstitutional to sentence someone who was under the age of 18 at the time of the crime to mandatory life without parole.

2016-2019 Footage of widespread School Resource Officer abuse goes viral.

Student Cell Phone Videos and body camera content begin to go viral on social media revealing incidents of extreme brutality from School Resource Officers against studens

2020 Covid Outbreak

In 2020, amidst a global pandemic, youth prisons immediately became virus outbreak hotspots
putting youth, staff and families at risk. Since their inception, youth prisons have been a public health crisis.

2020 National Rebellions following the murder of George Floyd.

In the summer of 2020, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, nationwide uprisings focused on defunding the police. Continuing the momentum of the Counselors not Cops campaign, youth organizers seized the moment and pushed school boards across the country to suspend their contracts with the police. Minneapolis, Seattle, Phoenix, San Francisco, Oakland, Charlottesville, Milwaukee, DC, Boulder, Madison, and both Portland Oregon anddddd Portland Maine ALL kicked the cops out of their schools!

Schools, Stoops, and City Streets

The School-to-Prison Pipeline

Lessons From Young Teachers

We Need a Constellation of Support


We Want Youth in Power Not Prison

The Future We Dream Of



Ask the Biden administration to invest $100 million in closing youth prisons

Excited to take action today? The Biden administration made a commitment to invest $1 billion per year on juvenile justice reform. For the first time in many years we have the opportunity to push for major reform at the federal level. A coalition representing more than 180 organizations is pushing for an array of progressive policy reforms, including the investment of $100 million in states that close their youth prisons in favor of community-based alternatives to youth incarceration.

Sign the petition to signal your support

Start a conversation at your school, workplace, or in your community

Eager to talk about your experience with others? We created a few tools for you to make that easier. Our curriculum is a discussion guide companion to this digital experience that is suitable for the classroom, workplace, or community. It also walks you through building your own transmission from the future.

Our how-to guide for planning your own event goes into more detail to help you host your own “screening event,” including sample timeline, event schedule, and marketing tools.

Join or support a youth justice
campaign in your state

Looking to make a difference? Take action now by joining a campaign or by connecting with advocates in your community!

Watch our new multi-part
Abolitionist FAQ web series!

Want to learn more about abolition, what it means, and how we can end youth incarceration? We put together a multi-part web series featuring the nation’s leading experts in youth justice and abolition. Each expert digs into the most frequently asked questions we get about ending youth incarceration.


#NoKidsinPrison was created by Performing Statistics in partnership with the Youth First Initiative and Columbia Justice Lab. Invisible Thread was contracted to develop the creative direction. Site design and development was completed by Oblio.

We are first, and foremost, grateful to every young person who bravely shared a piece of their story through their artwork, writing, films, and audio. This is dedicated to all those we’ve lost in the fight to abolish prisons, and the many more young people whose futures are wide open with the prospect of a prison-free world.

  • Performing Statistics

    Visit Site
    • Lead Creative Directors: Mark Strandquist and Kate DeCiccio
    • Producer: Trey Hartt
    • Graphic Designer: Jason Killinger jasonkillinger.com
    • Illustrator: Kha Yangni kahyangni.com
    • Videographer: Wren Rene wrenrene.com
    • Archival Researcher: Madeleine Jordan-Lord and Black Cashin
    • Actor and voiceover talent: I-sha-le
    • Additional voiceover talent: Reginald Dwayne Betts, Tracey Wells-Huggins
    • Performing Statistics staff: Gina Lyles, Sharron McDaniel, Kim Gomez, Amarie Baker, Raelyn Williams, Kiara Brandon, Keemari Johnson, Marvin Cain
  • Invisible Thread

    Visit Site
    • Producers: Annie Pomeranz and Alex Hessler
    • Creative Director: Rich Moore
    • Creative Director: Romi Morrison elegantcollisions.com
  • Oblio

    Visit Site
    • Producer: Ben Posedel
    • Site Developers: Jonathan Hooker, Scott Agrimson
    • Site designer/Animator: Cody Staudenmier
    • Sound Design: Matt Morgan sleepyvolcano.com
  • Youth First Initiative

    • Liz Ryan
    • Carmen Daugherty
    • Mishi Faruqee
  • Columbia Justice Lab

    • Vidhya Ananthakrishnan
    • Alex Rubin Schneider
    • Chijindu Giovanni Obiofuma
    • Cymone Renee Fuller

We are also thankful for the original group of advisors who gathered in December 2019 at the Art Students League of New York in New York City for a design lab that laid the foundation for this concept.

  • Lance Weiler, facilitator
  • Sol Aramendi
  • Terrence Bogans, Art for Justice Fund
  • Courtney Bowles
  • Katherine Kusiak Carey, Brooklyn Museum
  • Adjoa Jones de Almeida, Brooklyn Museum
  • Pam Korza, Animating Democracy
  • Kiersten Nash
  • Mike O’Bryan, The Village of Arts & Humanities
  • Shani Peters
  • Prerana Reddy, A Blade of Grass
  • Yosi Sergant, Taskforce
  • Janelle Evyn Heller Treibitz, Opportunity Agenda
  • Julien Turell
  • Allison Weisberg, Recess
  • Risë Wilson, Art for Justice Fund
  • Krystal, New Jersey Institute for Social Justice
  • Alex, New Jersey Institute for Social Justice

The #NoKidsinPrison digital experience is directly supported by:

  • Art for Justice Fund
  • Kresge Foundation Culture of Justice
  • Public Welfare Foundation
  • National Endowment for the Arts
  • Columbia Justice Lab

With additional support for Performing Statistics programs since 2019:

  • Robins Foundation
  • Richmond Memorial Health Foundation
  • Community Resource Hub
  • Art Matters, Inc.
  • Youth First State Advocacy Fund
  • Alternate ROOTS

About the Producing Organizations

  • Performing Statistics is a national cultural organizing project based in Richmond, Virginia that uses art to model, imagine, and advocate for alternatives to youth incarceration.performingstatistics.org
  • Youth First Initiative is the nation’s leading youth justice initiative working to build a critical mass of states to make the shift away from incarceration and towards investing in youth in their communities.nokidsinprison.org
  • Columbia Justice Lab’s Youth Justice Initiatives is accelerating the shift away from youth prisons to community-based care and catalyzing equitable transformation by developing research, disseminating knowledge, and supporting work on the ground. YJI also organizes the Youth Correctional Leaders for Justice, a group of current and former state correctional leaders who are calling for an end to the youth prison model.justicelab.columbia.edu/YJI

© 2021 Performing Statistics all rights reserved


This website would not be possible without the bravery, creativity, and brilliance of sooooo many young artists and activists who shared their work, their stories, and their demands for a world without youth prisons.

We have done our best to give credit to all of the young people and artists who contributed to the creative elements of this site, provide the source for all images, and provide references for all data. All references below were current as of April 2021.

If you see a mistake, have a question about any of these credits and references, or would like to tell us about additional images and/or data we should consider adding to the site, please send us a message.



Art by Mer Young featuring photographs by Harris County Youth Collective organizers with additional illustrations by Kah Yangni, Amir Khadar, and Kate DeCiccio

“In a world without youth prisons...” (poem)



Detained is a virtual reality experience co-designed, filmed, storyboarded, and acted by youth impacted by the justice system, Gary Hustwit and Maya Tippett (Scenic VR) and the Performing Statistics team.

Youth collaborators; Sid, Tae and Jontae

Data Visualizations:

Data visualizations designed by Jason Killinger based on the art and stories of youth in the Performing Statistics workshops, and by the statistics shared by our partners at Columbia Justice Lab and Youth First.

Data/Statistics (linked to source):


“I wanna be an astronomer...” by O.


Chapter 1:

Chris’s Story (Film) by Chris in collaboration with Alex Dimitriadis for Performing Statistics

Data/Statistics (linked to source):

Chapter 2:

“From a Mother.” Narration by Tracey Wells-Huggins. These are the stories of many parents. They were combined into one shard narrative from the following reports: OJJDP’s Family Listening Sessions

Art, statements, and photographs by:

Santiago, Osei, Sid, Tae, Chris and Chanya


Intro / Reginald Dwayne Betts story:

  • Narration: Ish-a-le Watson
  • Photo by Mamadi Doumbouya
  • “Essay on Reentry” (poem excerpt) by Reginald Dwayne Betts. Used with permission.
  • Recording of poem; Library of Congress. Life of a Poet: Reginald Dwayne Betts. 2019. Video. https://www.loc.gov/item/webcast-8992

Prison Proliferation:

Stories Matter:

Community Led Abolition Wins:



  • Intro slideshow “Fund Education Not Incarceration.” Edited by Mike Kemetic in collaboration with Lewis, Ziggy and . Used with permission from ART 180.
  • Lift Us Up! Don’t Push Us Out! (painting) By Chanya in collaboration with Kate DeCicciofor Performing Statistics. Used with permission from ART 180.
  • Sid’s Story (film) By Sid in collaboration with Alex Dimitriadis and Mark Strandquistfor Performing Statistics. Used with permission from ART 180.
  • “Security Cameras Are Always Watching” (video). Narration by Naila Lyles. Script/writing by Jay, Marquon, Kemari, and Reese.
  • Great Schools Build Great Relationships With Kids… By AR in collaboration with Kate DeCicciofor Performing Statistics. Used with permission from ART 180.
  • Instead of Suspension Give Us Attention… By Santiago in collaboration with Kate DeCicciofor Performing Statistics. Used with permission from ART 180.
  • Respect Our Minds, Support Our Youth… By Martavious in collaboration with Studio Two Three for Performing Statistics. Used with permission from ART 180.
  • We Need More Money for Schools… from the Imagining Justice project in collaboration with Juvenile Law Center’s Juveniles for Justice.
  • Schools Should Be N-lightenment…from the Imagining Justice project in collaboration with Juvenile Law Center’s Juveniles for Justice
  • Schools Should Inspire…from the Imagining Justice project in collaboration with Juvenile Law Center’s Juveniles for Justice
  • I need a mentor who’s been in my shoes...from the Imagining Justice project in collaboration with Juvenile Law Center’s Juveniles for Justice
Data/Statistics (linked to source):
  • After a school shooting at Columbine High School, more than 10,000 police officers were placed on school campuses across the country.
  • Since 2000, more than 1 million students have been arrested at school, oftent for instances that would never lead to arrest in the community.
  • Black youth are 3 (some stats say 4) x more likely to be suspended than white kids and expelled at 9 X the rate of white students
  • Approximately 2 out of 3 students dropout of school after exiting the juvenile justice system. Dropping out of high school increases risk of unemployment and of being arrested again.
  • Roughly 80% of incarcerated adults did not graduate from high school.

We Need a Constellation of Support

  • Invest in Success, Don’t Invest in Arrest...By Osei in collaboration with Kate DeCicciofor Performing Statistics. Used with permission from ART 180.
  • The mentor I need (film)... by Osei in collaboration with Ben Saunders for Performing Statistics. Used with permission from ART 180.
  • The Counselours We need (video)…. Audio by Lauren Francis in collaboration with Chris, Chanya, Santiago, and Osei. Artwork by Chris, Chanya, Santiago, and Osei. Used with permission from ART 180.

Bus Stop Posters:

  • We are the Future… By Sid in collaboration with Studio Two Three, Mark Strandquist and Performing Statistics.
  • Make Equality a Fact… By Reese in collaboration with Studio Two Three, Mark Strandquist and Performing Statistics.
  • Unlock All the Doors… By Kemari in collaboration with Studio Two Three, Mark Strandquist and Performing Statistics.
  • Speak Up, Speak Out!... By Jay in collaboration with Studio Two Three, Mark Strandquist and Performing Statistics.
  • Free Our Future!... By Osei in collaboration with Studio Two Three, Mark Strandquist and Performing Statistics. Used with permission from ART 180.
  • We need more Jobs in our community… By Lewis in collaboration with Mark Strandquist and Performing Statistics. Used with permission from ART 180.
  • Time is like a ticking clock… By Santiago in collaboration with Mark Strandquist and Performing Statistics. Used with permission from ART 180.

We Want Youth in Power Not Prison

  • Freedom Constellations Mural by Kayla, Kidaya, Iyana, Khai and Ta’Dreama in collaboration withMark Strandquistand Kate DeCiccio.
  • Freedom Constellations (film) by Departure Point Films
  • Giant Portrait on building, by Ta’Dreama, an organizer with RISE for YOUTH, in collaboration with Mark Strandquist for Performing Statistics
  • (video) Audio by Lauren Francis in collaboration with Chris, Chanya, Santiago, and Osei. Art by Doug, Marquon, Kenelius, and Da Quon in collaboration with Kate DeCiccio for Performing Statistics. Used with permission from ART 180.
  • Be Better Adults (video)... Audio by Lauren Francis in collaboration with Chris, Chanya, Santiago, and Osei. Photos by Mark Strandquist in collaboration with youth organizers from across the United States; Lupita (LA Youth Uprising), Julian (The Arts for Healing and Justice Network), Mora (The Arts for Healing and Justice Network), Black (The Arts for Healing and Justice Network), My (Care Not Control campaign), Rodney (Care Not Control campaign), Will (Care Not Control campaign), Kidaya (Performing Statistics), Anonymous (Harris County Youth Collective, Anonymous (Harris County Youth Collective)
Data/Statistics (linked to source):

$100,000 - $500,000 = the cost states spend to incarcerate one child, for one year. $15,908 = the average cost to educate a child for one youth.


“In a world without youth prisons...” (poem)

  • Poem written/edited by: Ta’Dreama, Iyana, Khai, and Kayla in collaboration with Mark Strandquist
  • Poetry vision sessions (to help inform and write text for the poem) were done with youth organizers from the following campaigns and organizations; Recess (NYC), Progeny (KS), Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, Maine Youth Justice, RISE for YOUTH, LA Youth Uprising, The Arts for Healing and Justice Network, Youth 4 Justice NJ, and the Care Not Control Campaign (Philadelphia).
  • Poetry read by: Ish-a-le Watson, Naila Lyles, Ta’Dreama, Iyana, Khai, and Kayla.
  • Recorded by: Mark Strandquist
  • Audio edited by: Nicki Stein

Artwork in the abolitionist galaxy;

All art was inspired and based on poetry and vision sessions led by Mark Strandquist and Kate DeCiccio (Performing Statistics) with youth organizers across the United States (credited above). Artist’s designs were inspired by portraits of youth organizers from across the United States (organizers and their campaigns cited below).

Lead art director for future scene: Kate DeCiccio

  • 1st planet
  • 2nd planet
  • 3rd planet
    • Art by Ashley Lukashevsky inspired by photographs by Lupita (LA Youth Uprising) taken by Mark Strandquist.
    • With additional illustrations by Kah Yangni, Amir Khadar, and Kate DeCiccio
    • With additional photographs by Iyana (RISE for Youth Campaign) taken by Mark Strandquist
  • 4th planet
  • 5th planet
    • Art by Mer Young featuring photographs by Harris County Youth Collective organizers
    • With additional illustrations by Kah Yangni, Amir Khadar, and Kate DeCiccio
    • With additional photographs by Maine Youth Justice organizers


Banner image; Justice Parade, Richmond, VA featuring youth organizers in the RISE for Youth Campaign wearing t-shirts designed by youth in Performing Statistics workshops. Photo by Mark Strandquist.








We’re going to share real and traumatic, first hand experiences of youth incarceration. If you have experienced incarceration or other traumatic experiences, particularly as a child, proceed with caution. At any point in this journey you can pause, or skip parts of the experience. Take care of yourself, and we promise, this journey ends in our vision of the beautiful future we all deserve.