Extraordinary Mom Receives the National Mother of Distinction Award for Her Efforts in Reforming the Juvenile Justice System

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Today, the Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ) and the National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN) presented the National Mother of Distinction Award to Vicky Gunderson of Onalaska, WI. This honor is presented each Mother's Day to one or more mothers who have made an outstanding contribution to the juvenile justice field through working for reform in the juvenile justice system or changing the practice of trying, sentencing, or incarcerating youth in the adult criminal justice system.

Wendy Henderson of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families presents Vicky Gunderson with plaque at presentation

We are proud of Vicky and her persistence in calling for the reform of juvenile justice policies

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Today, the Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ) and the National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN) presented the National Mother of Distinction Award to Vicky Gunderson of Onalaska, WI. This honor is presented each Mother's Day to one or more mothers who have made an outstanding contribution to the juvenile justice field through working for reform in the juvenile justice system or changing the practice of trying, sentencing, or incarcerating youth in the adult criminal justice system.

"We are proud of Vicky and her persistence in calling for the reform of juvenile justice policies," said Liz Ryan, Executive Director of CFYJ. "There are too many kids locked up in adult facilities in Wisconsin and with her dedication, we can make an impact across the country."

Gunderson has become a leading advocate in Wisconsin to keep youth out of the adult jails and prisons. Unfortunately, she experienced first hand what effects this has on kids under the age of 18. At the age of 17, her son Kirk was incarcerated at the La Crosse County jail for nearly 7 months, at which time he ended his own life. Being a teenager in an adult environment was his biggest challenge.

Since losing her son, Gunderson has spoken out publicly, calling for change in policies that allow children to be held in adult jails. She has also written opinion articles for newspapers, spoken to groups at conferences, and much more. The Gunderson's words and those of Kirk, during his time in the adult system, were featured in the Campaign for Youth Justice's recent report, Jailing Juveniles. To download a .pdf copy of the report, please click here.

"We realize that something will be missing for Vicky and her family this Mother's Day," said Sarah Bryer, Director of NJJN. "We can only hope that by raising awareness of this issue, we can bring about changes that will spare other families the pain and devastation the Gunderson's have experienced."

An estimated 200,000 youth are tried, sentenced, or incarcerated as adults every year across the United States. Most of the youth prosecuted in adult court are charged with non-violent offenses and as many as one-half of the young people held in adult jails are returned to juvenile court or not convicted. However, most of them will have spent at least one month in an adult jail and 1 in 5, like Kirk, will have spent over six months in jail.

Research shows that placing youth in the adult system decreases public safety and puts young people in danger. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, youth who are transferred from the juvenile court system to the adult criminal system are approximately 34 percent more likely than youth retained in the juvenile court system to be re-arrested for violent or other crime. They are 36 times more likely to commit suicide in an adult jail than in a juvenile detention facility.

For her work to raise awareness about the realities of incarcerating youth in adult jails and seek reform, Gunderson will receive a plaque, as well as a $100 gift certificate from Sue Kolve's Salon & Day Spa and a one-night stay on the Plaza Club floor at the Radisson Hotel La Crosse. She was selected by nominations and recommendations from juvenile justice organizations across the country.

The Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ) is dedicated to ending the practice of trying, sentencing and incarcerating youth under the age of 18 in the adult criminal justice system. For more information, visit http://www.campaignforyouthjustice.org.

The National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN) enhances the capacity of state-based, juvenile justice organizations to advocate for fair, equitable and developmentally appropriate adjudication and treatment for all children, youth and families involved in the juvenile justice system. For more information, visit http://www.njjn.org.

CFYJ Contact: Eric Solomon
(202) 558-3580 x20
esolomon(at)cfyj.org

NJJN Contact: Sarah Bryer
(202) 467-0864 x105
bryer(at)juvjustice.org

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