Photo of the OrangeU Event. Credit: Dakota O’Brien

 

By Dakota O’Brien

 

On Thursday morning, OrangeU Going held a discussion at Berkeley College in Manhattan titled “Data and Policy: Solutions to Youth Criminalization.” Panelists discussed the problems associated with mass incarceration of youth, cash bail, and systemic racism within the justice system. OrangeU Going is an organization aimed at creating a public, online calendar of events held in New York City, where “socially minded professionals,” as founder Samantha Diliberti puts it, can connect over shared passions and networking.

Thursday’s discussion was moderated by an investigative journalist, Frank Runyeon, and it featured two panels of experts on the subjects of mass incarceration and juvenile justice. The panelists’ professions ranged from researchers to attorneys, and also featured activists who have been formerly incarcerated.

In a city like New York, where practices like ‘Stop and Frisk’ have disproportionately affected black and Latino residents, issues like racism in the justice system are taken very seriously, especially when teenagers are involved.

Statistics show that one third of black boys, and one sixth of Latino boys, are expected to go to prison in their lifetime, compared to only one seventeenth of white boys, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

For youngsters of color, there is an overwhelming tendency in the justice system to presume guilt rather than innocence and to police neighborhoods with a majority of people of color more heavily. “The people who are in jails are not necessarily the people who are committing crimes,” Nicole Triplett of Policy Council for the New York Civil Liberties Union.

“They’re the people who are being policed – those are two different things.”

While much of the discussion was centered on the data regarding juvenile justice, there was also much debate about whether all data can be taken at face value.

“Data is not politically neutral,” said Katie Schaffer, an organizer from JustLeadershipUSA.

Groups like Court Watch NYC seek to tackle this issue by encouraging New Yorkers to attend court proceedings and report on what they see.

In addition to letting panelists offer their thoughts, there was also a conserted effort to allow the voices of those actually affected by the system to be heard. Vidal Guzman, a Community Organizer for JustLeadershipUSA, and also a man who was incarcerated at the age of 16 years old, spoke about the faults of the cash bail system. He talked also about the biases that perpetuate the mass incarceration epidemic. “Criminalizing doesn’t start with laws, it starts with how we mentally judge people,” he said.

Giovannie Hernandez, another panelist and Client Operations Associate for the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, spoke about his experience while incarcerated at Rikers Island for 26 months, from the age of 16 to 18, held there only because he was unable to make his bail set at $1 million. While the expertise of other panelists was rooted in their research experiences, Hernandez’ could be found in his unfortunate intimacy with the system. “Data is important but there’s certain things you can’t quantify, like trauma,” he said.

“My trauma still is with me to this day.”