Center for Urban Pedagogy
Comic Book Empowers Teens in Trouble
On any given day, hundreds of youth under the age of 17 are arrested in New York City, most of them for nonviolent, low-level offenses (16 is the age of adulthood in New York State). They are disproportionately children of color and are from the city’s poorest neighborhoods. In fact, black children are twice as likely to be arrested and four times as likely to be detained in juvenile justice facilities as their white counterparts, according to research from the Children’s Defense Fund.
These stark figures were the impetus for the creation of I Got Arrested! Now What?, a comic book for teens that empowers young people by providing them with essential information about how the juvenile justice process works and how they can best protect their rights. Teens who read this comic are better prepared to deal with arrest and its consequences.
The publication is the result of an unusual collaboration between graphic artists and policy advocates, a project of the Center for Urban Pedagogy’s Making Policy Public series (http://welcometocup.org). It informs young people of their rights and responsibilities in straightforward and easily accessible language and images (http://makingpolicypublic.net/index.php)
The four-page pamphlet/poster comic features the equivalent of eight full-size pages of graphic information on the foldout side and a full-size poster that charts and summarizes the content on the flip side. It takes young readers on an easy-to-follow journey from arrest to intake to disposition, using a familiar graphic style to break down complicated legal concepts and terms (including intake, the term used in the juvenile justice system for booking, and disposition, the term used for sentencing).
The pamphlet introduces each successive scenario accused offenders will face—identifying whom they will meet, defining the words they might hear, and explaining their rights and choices. They meet the probation officer who decides if they must remain in detention, and their court-assigned lawyer, moving step-by-step through the juvenile justice process. It includes vital information a teen might not otherwise know, for example, that having a parent present at probation intake can make a huge difference in whether a case is dropped or moves forward in the system.
The comic is the product of a two-year process undertaken by the Youth Justice Board (YJB), a project of the Center for Court Innovation (CCI). It was designed for teenagers with teenagers. YJB members spent the first part of the process talking to juvenile justice attorneys and advocates and young people who had been arrested. They then focused on how to address what they learned: that arrested youth lack knowledge of the legal process and feel powerless because they do not know their rights or how the system works.
The Youth Justice Board submitted an application to CUP’s Making Policy Public program to select organizations to partner with CUP staff and a graphic designer or artist to address a policy issue. YJB was one of four groups selected to participate, and CUP staff worked with them and Danica Novgorodoff, a painter, comic book artist, and graphic novelist. CUP staff structured the project, provided art direction, and worked with CCI and YJB to help summarize the information into accessible language. CCI staff did the fact checking, while the teen members of YJB did the reality checking: Would I want to pick this up and read it? Would my friends?
New York City’s Department of Probation has distributed nearly 11,000 copies to teens at the time of their arrest. CCI has distributed over 34,000 additional copies to 40 organizations, including the Department of Juvenile Justice in Washington, DC, the Legal Aid Society in New York City, and the New York City Police Department. The comic has also been distributed to institutions that are considering using it as an educational resource, including New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.
The results of a survey CCI staff have given to teens in Juvenile Alternatives to Detention (ATD) programs in Queens and Staten Island show that the comic book/poster was familiar to most of them. An unusually large percentage of those surveyed (28 of 31 youth asked) had in fact read the comic.