Contact: Seaira Wainaina
Phone: 202-558-7974 ext. 302
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Washington, DC— A new short film, Don’t Abandon Us: Addressing Youth, Crime, and Trauma was released today by the Justice Policy Institute (JPI).  In a moment of growing concern about crime, the 14 minute video explains how addressing the early traumas that afflict so many young people who come into contact with the criminal legal system must be a key element of any successful public safety strategy.

“For two decades prior to the COVID 19-pandemic, both crime and incarceration among young people decreased,” says JPI Senior Fellow Mai Fernandez, whose work focuses on the cross section between victimization and criminal legal system involvement. “While recent increases in some crime rates demand our attention, we cannot lose sight of the connection between early childhood trauma and unwanted behavior among some young people.”     

Don’t Abandon Us tells the story of two Maryland adults who spent decades in prison for crimes they committed as children. Like most system-involved youth, both Roszetta Timons and Alonzo Turner-Bey had experienced profound loss and trauma prior to their conviction, and neither received counseling or treatment throughout their years of incarceration. 

Research overwhelmingly shows that Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)—early exposure to things like physical, sexual, and verbal abuse, family and street violence, and the loss of a parent to incarceration, crime, or drugs—correlate with increased risk of serious, persistent, and chronic offending in adolescence and beyond. Federal, state, and local officials seeking to hold young people accountable and reduce the risk that system-involved youth present to public safety must continue to prioritize Trauma Informed Care and community-based safety strategies that address the conditions leading to unwanted behavior. Strengthening kids’ access to stable housing and home environments, keeping them connected to school, and addressing their substance use and mental health challenges, are some additional tactics that can also help young people toward a new life-long path. 

“[T]hat doesn’t mean that accountability isn’t important,” says former District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine, who appears in the video. “What it does mean is that the focus has to be on the proper services that kids need to get to those underlying issues that…are bringing them into the criminal justice system to begin with.”

In the film, both Timons and Turner-Bey offer moving personal testimony about the need for, and power of, healing as a public safety strategy.  

“The evidence is overwhelming,” says Racine. “Where health-based approaches to violence are utilized, particularly with kids, communities are safer.”

For more information, including a fact sheet and an issue brief, and to watch Don’t Abandon Us visit


About Mai Fernandez
Mai Fernandez is a nationally known victims advocate and a former New York City prosecutor. Over the course of her 30 year career, she has worked with the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs to develop policy related to violence against youth and women. She has also served as executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC), a national nonprofit organization working on behalf of victims of crime and their families, and as acting executive director of the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC), a nonprofit organization based in Washington, DC that provides multicultural, underserved youth with education, social, and job training services.

About the Justice Policy Institute  
Founded in 1997, the Justice Policy Institute (JPI) is a national nonprofit organization developing workable solutions to problems plaguing juvenile and criminal legal systems. Our research and analyses identify effective programs and policies and we disseminate our findings to the media, policymakers and advocates, and provide training and technical assistance to people working for systems reform.