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Juvenile Justice and Racial Discrimination in the U.S.
Watch Books Not Bars
Human Rights Issue: Juvenile justice, racial discrimination
Location: United States
Partner: The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights (EBCHR) was founded in 1996 to document, expose, and challenge human rights abuses within the United States criminal justice system.
Background on the Problem: The proposed "Super-Jail for Kids" in Alameda County, California, was on the verge of becoming one of the biggest per capita youth jails in the country.
Target Audiences: Video was used by EBCHR and WITNESS and their allies as a tool to mobilize youth audiences. The production style of Books Not Bars was particularly geared toward youth of color (who are disproportionately victims of the human rights abuses highlighted in the video) to compel them to participate in the grassroots campaign against the "Super-Jail."
Distribution Strategy: EBCHR and other allies worked in 2001 and beyond to pressure Alameda County using the WITNESS video Books Not Bars as the centerpiece of its campaign. A collaboration among WITNESS, the EBCHR and Columbia University Law School's Human Rights Institute, Books Not Bars documented the inspiring youth-led movement against the growth of the U.S. prison industry, particularly in California. WITNESS and its partners developed an Action Pack that provides examples of tangible ways for youth to participate in the movement to reform the prison system, and created extensive Lesson Plans for high school students that examine incarceration-related issues within a human rights framework.
Advocacy Results: As a result of two years of collaboration, the grassroots campaign successfully derailed the "Super-Jail for Kids" proposal.
Books Not Bars videos and lesson plans are being distributed to 300 libraries as part of National Video Resources and American Library Association's Human Rights Video Project. WITNESS and EBCHR produced another video in 2005, System Failure: Violence, Abuse and Negect in the California Youth Authority, which includes the stories of children and families caught in the machinery of California's juvenile prisons. The video is directed toward policymakers, parents of imprisoned children, and community organizations.