How we can close youth prisons and #FinishThe5

Finish the 5 logo

This past August, breaking news revealed a major crisis in Texas youth prisons. The Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD), an agency that’s always been plagued with problems, was at a point of collapse. Due to severe staffing shortages, kids were stuck in their cells for up to 23 hours a day, forced to use the bathroom in water bottles and on lunch trays. In many cases, these are kids who are already traumatized – and isolated in tiny cells, their mental health was profoundly impacted. Nearly half were at risk of suicide, and many had self-harmed.

After the news broke, our team and partners came to an important decision: Asking leaders for piecemeal reforms wasn’t enough. With around 600 of our most vulnerable kids suffering in the state’s care, we decided to take decisive action. That’s why we launched the Finish the 5 campaign.

Our campaign has three major demands:

  1. Shut down TJJD’s 5 state secure institutions by 2030 through a thoughtful, staggered closure plan
  2. Invest in building communities’ infrastructure to appropriately address the needs of children who would have been sent to TJJD, and allow recapture from closed facilities to reimburse the costs for community-based resources
  3. Enact policy reforms that decriminalize youth, diverting children from the criminal punishment system altogether

As the 2023 legislative session comes closer (beginning in January!), we’ve been hard at work on this campaign along with a coalition of young people, parents, people who’ve been in the youth system, advocates, and more. The Finish the 5 Coalition will be the largest youth-led, statewide coalition working towards abolishing youth prisons in Texas history.

Here’s some of what we’ve accomplished so far:

  • A webinar highlighting the crisis and introducing the campaign [webinar recording]
  • A policy brief laying out our plan in more detail [policy brief]
  • Our campaign hub, which is a webpage with all these links and more [campaign hub]
  • A live video from Austin Liberation Youth Movement’s Krupali and TCJE Youth Justice Ambassador Amonie [IG live recording]
  • Testimony from TCJE’s Sarah on how we can close youth prisons [testimony video

We’re proud of what we’ve already achieved, but to do more we need to keep growing this coalition!

Here’s how you can join us:

  • Join our coalition meetings at 4:30 CST, every other Wednesday. Everyone is welcome! [meeting sign up link]
  • Sign the Finish the 5 petition, and share it with your friends [petition link]
  • Use our social media toolkit to change your profile picture, share stats, and more [toolkit folder]

We’re planning major youth-led action at the Texas Capitol, including a rally and advocacy day. At the same time, we’re measuring success not just by number of bills passed, but by the power of this collective movement. We’ll keep working to Finish the 5 through the 2023 legislative session and beyond.

We’d love for you to be a part of this campaign!

About the Author

Madison Kaigh

Madison Kaigh

From 2019 to 2024, Madison Kaigh served as Communications Manager at the Texas Center for Justice and Equity. She brought experience from targeted political campaigns, EMILY's List, the U.S. House of Representatives, and more to her communications and digital work at TCJE. She served as the public-facing voice of the organization, spearheading written communications, press outreach, and social media. Madison’s family history of justice system involvement and justice-related work have informed her passion for elevating unique voices and representing under-served communities. She used storytelling to help TCJE and allies defeat stigmas and positively impact the narrative around system involvement. Madison received her Bachelor of Arts from Georgetown University, where she studied Government and English.