Youth Shelter of Westchester and DA Partner with Vera Institute to Reduce Racial Disparities by 20%
White Plains, NY – The Youth Shelter of Westchester and Westchester County District Attorney’s Office announce an innovative partnership with the Vera Institute of Justice, pledging to reduce racial disparities in the Westchester County criminal legal system by at least 20 percent during 2022. The Youth Shelter of Westchester and the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office are one of only 12 community organization and prosecutor’s office partners across the country to receive the grant. As part of its Motion for Justice program, Vera Institute will provide financial support and resources to both local partners. This includes:
1. policy and strategy recommendations;
2. data on the disparate impact of prosecution practices on Black people and other marginalized communities;
3. educational materials and programming designed and delivered in partnership with people from communities most impacted by the criminal legal system; and
4. Financial support to a community-based organization that partners with prosecutors to implement racially equitable policies and practices.
The Motion for Justice program creates pathways for prosecutors to bridge the gap between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve to create lasting policies and practices that tackle the racial injustices deeply rooted in the criminal legal system. As part of this program, prosecutors have an opportunity to partner with a community-based organization to disrupt and rectify the decisions and policies that have historically targeted and harmed marginalized communities and inspire others across the country to adopt similar measures to address the racial inequities in the criminal legal system.
Joanne Dunn, executive director of the Youth Shelter said, “This partnership allows us to collectively examine the policies and practices that shape key decisions prosecutors make. As an organization that serves young people, particularly Black and Brown youth who are on the receiving side of the prosecutor’s decisions, we are able to help prosecutors better understand the life experiences and challenges these young people face. Our expertise lies in our ability to view the justice system through a lens of racial equity and recommend sentences that consider the whole person, not simply a particular offense.
The District Attorney’s office stated, “This office has partnered with the Youth Shelter to establish a special court in Mount Vernon for young adults aged 18 to 25 who are charged with crimes. Called the Mount Vernon Emerging Adult Justice Part, the court pursues alternatives to conventional prosecution for young people who meet eligibility requirements. With the involvement of Motion for Justice, our office and the Youth shelter can dedicate additional resources to staff and support this important new court.”
Jami Hodge, director of the Reshaping Prosecution initiative at the Vera Institute of Justice commented, “As a former prosecutor, I know the unique and immense power that prosecutors wield. They can either perpetuate the injustices of the criminal legal system or work to rectify them. Local prosecutors are on the frontlines of justice and thus have the responsibility and discretion to address the racial inequities inherent in the criminal legal system. We are far past time for prosecutors to operate through a racial equity lens and in partnership with the community, so I am thrilled to partner with both the Youth Shelter of Westchester and the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office to tackle the deep-rooted injustices that continue to plague our communities.”
Other partners in Motion for Justice include Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins in Massachusetts, Ingham County Prosecuting Attorney Carol Siemon in Michigan, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi in Minnesota, City of St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, and Commonwealth’s Attorney for Arlington County and the City of Falls Church Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephen Descano and OAR in Virginia; Washtenaw CountyProsecutor Eli Savit and Washtenaw County My Brothers Keeper in Michigan; Athens-Clarke County District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez and People Living in Recovery in Georgia; Chatham County (Savannah) District Attorney Shalena Cook Jones and Savannah Feed the Hungry in Georgia; Kauai Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar and Hale Opio Kaua’i in Hawaii; City of St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner and Freedom Community Center in Missouri; Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears and Horizon House in Indiana; and Franklin County District Attorney Matt Fogel in Pennsylvania.
The Vera Institute of Justice is powered by hundreds of advocates, researchers, and community organizers working to transform the criminal legal and immigration systems until they’re fair for all. Founded in 1961 to advocate for alternatives to money bail in New York City, Vera is now a national organization that partners with impacted communities and government leaders for change. We develop just, antiracist solutions so that money doesn’t determine freedom; fewer people are in jails, prisons, and immigration detention; and everyone is treated with dignity. Vera’s headquarters is in Brooklyn, New York, with offices in Washington, DC, New Orleans, and Los Angeles. For more information, visit vera.org.