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Deborah LaBelle

Ask any human rights lawyer to describe Deborah LaBelle and you’ll likely hear tireless advocate, visionary, and groundbreaker, noting that she artfully blends litigation, documentation, and advocacy strategies into an integrated model for reform. Whether it’s acting as lead counsel in class action suits, or arguing before the United States Supreme Court and international forums, Deborah has utilized a human rights framework to successfully challenge policies affecting the treatment and sentencing of incarcerated men, women, and children.

Deborah’s work on the human rights of people in detention, the intersection of race and gender, and the rights of children in the criminal justice and education systems has given her a deep knowledge of the institutional impediments that hold people back from fulfilling their potential.

Charging a kid as an adult might make an interesting sound bite for a prosecutor or lawmaker who needs to get elected, but doing that doesn’t make communities safer or improve the child’s chances for success when they come back out into the community. 

YJF came into being because community members started talking about Michigan’s willingness to over-criminalize adolescent behavior and characterize it as adult behavior. We realized that each community can counter some of the effects of those errant policies through group action. YJF is a community response to the failures of the systems that impact children’s lives; we are collectively saying “These are our children and we will support them where government has failed them.”

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