Kevin Reverley, a youth organizer for Just Kids Maryland, speaks at an event hosted by Beyond the Classroom which addressed Youth Incarceration in the adult justice system on Mar. 3, 2015 in South Campus Commons.

Kevin Reverley was 15 years old when he was arrested and charged with attempted murder in 2007, before being convicted and sentenced to four years in prison.

While incarcerated, he learned about the Just Kids Partnership, a nonprofit organization that advocates for policies that would decrease the number of youths tried as adults and would allow youths convicted as adults to be held in juvenile facilities.

“Being a part of this shows us that everybody has a motivation, it just depends on how you use it,” said Reverley, who was raised in Baltimore. “There’s a place and organization for everybody that wants to better themselves, better their environment and better their community.”

Upon his release, Reverley became more involved with the group, and yesterday night he shared his story with students in UNIV 399Y: Youth Grassroots Leadership at an event held in Commons 1. Along with other Just Kids organizers, he and another person formerly incarcerated as a youth spoke about the organization’s fight to stop the automatic deferral of youths to the adult criminal justice system. 

“Youth voice is important, especially with issues dealing with youth,” Just Kids youth organizer Rashad Hawkins said. “We found it challenging, but more effective to work in a youth-adult partnership.”

In this state, 14-year-olds can be charged as adults with first-degree murder, rape and sex offenses. People ages 16 and older can be charged as adults for a longer list of offenses, including first-degree assault, second-degree murder and firearm crimes.

Just Kids works with state legislators, the Department of Juvenile Services and the Office of the Public Defender to push for legislation regarding youth incarceration. One bill they’re advocating for would allow juveniles convicted in the adult system to be held in juvenile facilities.

Hawkins said this bill is important because juvenile detention facilities are structured to rehabilitate inmates while adult prisons are designed to punish, which can have negative effects on still-developing children.

Sophomore Laura Miller and junior Karla Luetzow, who attended yesterday’s event, previously networked with a Just Kids organizer who had gone through the adult criminal justice system to talk about how to connect with incarcerated youth in a way that would aid their reintegration into society.

“The community is ultimately supporting the incarnated youth’s progress to a better life,” said Miller, a hearing and speech sciences major. “It’s important for us to use that in a positive way so we encourage and empower them.”

Together, Miller and Leutzow, an elementary education major, are starting a pen-pal program between university students and incarnated youth to bridge a gap between the community and students. 

They invited their writing volunteers in the program to attend yesterday night’s event and hear background information on the kinds of situations juveniles in the criminal justice system face.

“For these kids, it’s not the end of their story; they have a voice,” Luetzow said. “It was a great opportunity to come and see and hear a voice that’s not usually represented in a college community.”