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Poster Campaign Wants To Bring Awareness To Pennsylvania's Incarcerated Youth

youth incarceration juvenile justice.JPEG
Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
The poster campaign features images of Pennsylvania youth who have been incarcerated and their families.

Posters with faces of formerly incarcerated kids and their families are on display along the Allegheny riverfront as part of a new juvenile justice campaign. The Care Not Control coalition wants Pennsylvania to stop locking up young people and instead invest in them through educational opportunities, job training and counseling.

Pennsylvania is consistently ranked high among states for incarcerating young people. Organizing director Michaela Pommells said the state’s reputation is poor.

“Generally, the story of youth incarceration in Pennsylvania is one of wasted government spending, of racial discrimination, of unchecked abuse,” Pommells said.

Black children in the state are locked up at significantly higher rates than white kids, and are more likely to be prosecuted in adult court. Jahir Williams, a youth advocate who was previously incarcerated, said the system is flawed.

allegheny river posters.JPEG
Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
The poster campaign by the group "Care Not Control" is along the Allegheny riverfront.

“They actually think that it’s a rehabilitation place. And it’s actually not. It tends to make it worse,” Williams said.

He said he hopes people feel motivated to make a change when they pass by the posters, which are along the 10th Street Bypass.

The Care Not Control project is made up of a coalition including the Village of Arts and Humanities in Philadelphia, the Youth Sentencing and Reentry Project, Youth Arts & Self-Empowerment Project and Juvenile Law Center, among other groups. It created a set of recommendations to help inform those of the state's recently created Juvenile Justice Task Force. The Juvenile Task Force was established in 2019 by Gov. Tom Wolf along with legislative and judicial leaders.

“Ending the carceral state for use in Pennsylvania, it looks like divesting from youth incarceration and reinvesting in communities, treating children as children,” Pommells said.

People incarcerated as children are more likely to find themselves back in the criminal justice system as adults, Pommells said. She said she hopes people who see the poster campaign “rethink their notions” of youth incarceration and “reimagine what a world without prisons can look like.”

Katie Blackley is a digital editor/producer for 90.5 WESA, where she writes, edits and generates both web and on-air content for features and daily broadcast. She's the producer and host of our Good Question! series and podcast. She also covers history and the LGBTQ community. kblackley@wesa.fm