Across the U.S., from Alameda County, California to New York, family driven organizations have mobilized to hold officials accountable to the rehabilitative mission of juvenile justice systems and shown their capacity to press for and sustain changes to local juvenile justice systems.

These organizations have come together to form Justice for Families (J4F), the only national organizing hub of families of ‘at-risk’ and incarcerated youth. These families are bringing a long ignored voice to the formal justice system conversation. Not only are government officials being challenged to respect the experiences and opinions of families, they are also being challenged to fundamentally rethink justice.

Rethinking justice is crucial to our work. We see firsthand how the system is both morally and fiscally broken. Warehousing teenagers is not justice. Partnering with local organizations (e.g., FFLIC and others) and organizing families, J4F seeks to eliminate racial disparities within the system and reduce youth incarceration through justice reinvestment -- the reallocation of government resources away from failed justice policies toward the communities most harmed by them. In conjunction with local partners, J4F organizes over 2,000 families from across the country to keep children in school and out of the justice system, while contesting policies that reinforce the permanent exclusion of incarcerated youth. Recognizing that families want help but also that bureaucratic and heavy-handed interventions are part of the problem, J4F trains families to become advocates for systemic solutions as well as to access critical support services.

In sum, J4F seeks to:

1)Reduce barriers to family support and advocacy;

2)Redirect the pipeline from school-to-prison to school-to-opportunity; and

3)Reinvest dollars wasted on ineffective and harmful juvenile justice policies in systems of support for youth and families (i.e. “justice reinvestment”).


J4F works with civil rights leaders, unions, faith communities, academics and government officials and stakeholders to: 1) amplify family voices in making juvenile justice policy through family centered participatory research; 2) promote implementation of family-driven practices in juvenile justice systems that reduce youth detention, incarceration and racial disparities; and 3) increase the capacities of local organizations of families of incarcerated youth to move a justice reinvestment agenda.

Justice for Families (J4F) is a national alliance of local organizations working to transform families from victims of the prison epidemic to leaders of the movement for fairness and opportunity for all youth. We are founded and run by parents and families who have experienced “the system” directly with their own children (often the survivors of crime themselves), and who are taking the lead to help build a family-driven and trauma-informed youth justice system.

J4F is building a national bipartisan movement for justice reinvestment--the reallocation of government resources away from mass incarceration and toward investment in families and communities.

It costs $88,000 per year to confine a child in a residential facility (and in some states, like New York and California, more than double that amount). While alternative family oriented therapy programs provide a benefit of $13.36 for every dollar spent and states are beginning to reassess budget priorities, progress is slowed by persistent stereotypes that youth of color are incorrigible and that their families are to blame. In other words, rather than being viewed as assets in youth development, families (especially families of color) are blamed for youth delinquency.


Over the past several decades, the reduction in social support systems coupled with an increasingly punitive justice system has hit working families hardest, especially low-income families of color. From 1980 to 2000, state prison budgets grew 200% while education budgets grew 30%. Every year, 1.7 million cases are referred to juvenile court.

Today, families must navigate a maze of bureaucratic hoops to support their incarcerated loved ones, access dwindling services, and struggle to find a path to sustainable educational and career opportunities. With each interaction, families risk becoming entangled in government systems that are all too quick to expel their children from schools or remove children from the home.