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‘Stripped’ Web series depicts Detroit’s juvenile justice system

STRIPPEDBy Steve Furay
Special to the Michigan Citizen

The juvenile justice system can easily be considered one of the most overlooked institutions of law in America. Every year in the United States, over a million criminal cases are handled in juvenile courts, representing a failure on many fronts to ensure youth a safe and prosperous future.

A new Internet drama series, which calls attention to the day-to-day realities of the juvenile justice system, is now in production. The show, “Stripped,” is set in Detroit, a city where the cold realities of life on the street for urban youth regularly leads boys and girls to the path of self-destruction.

“Our hope is that our show ‘Stripped’ can be used to highlight topics for discussion in families, communities or youth groups as a vehicle for youth to learn from,” says Evelyn Brito, the show’s creator, writer and producer. “We aim to have a ‘take home’ message in each episode that warns youth of the dangers of bad life decisions. We see ‘Stripped’ serving as (a) powerful advocate for kids in crisis.”

“Stripped” compares itself to popular television shows like “The Wire,” “Oz” and “Law And Order,” where characters are entangled between the complex legal system that is rarely black and white, the detention facilities where mere survival trumps rehabilitation and the streets where crime can be confused by many as a path towards success.

“The show focuses on the complex relationships between law enforcement, the court systems and prison administrators,” says Brito. “’Stripped’ is loosely based on real events and tells the compelling and complex story of those dedicated to rehabilitating juvenile offenders and commitment to helping troubled youth.”

The show is being developed by Keep It Simple Productions, a collaborative venture between Brito and Maya-Ri Sanchez, who is also a creator, writer and producer for the show. The Massachusetts-based company has the goal of creating unique social content to stimulate community change.

For Brito, setting the show in Detroit was a personal decision based on her own family experience.

“The reason why we chose Detroit as the setting for the show is because I, too, have lost a brother to the street life in Detroit,” says Brito. “So it’s also a personal story to tell.”

According to a 2009 report from the international humanitarian organization Human Rights Watch, the state of Michigan had the second most offenders serving juvenile life sentences without parole at 346, behind only Pennsylvania with 444.

In 2009, U.S. Representative John Conyers of Michigan’s 13th Congressional District in Detroit co-sponsored the Juvenile Justice Accountability and Improvement Act, designed to create meaningful parole opportunities for youth offenders who had been sentenced to life in prison. By 2011, the bill had not been enacted by the U.S. Congress.

“Unfortunately, our criminal justice system is only focused on punishment,” says Louis Graham, a principal investigator for Detroit Youth Passages who frequently collects testimonies about the juvenile justice system. Instead of focusing on discipline, Graham says the system should stress rehabiliation so youth do not commit the same crimes again.

Once youth enter the juvenile justice system, they face many dangers, including wrongful prosecution, assault between inmates and sexual assault.

“Instances of sexual assault while in detention by officers and staff of the facility (occur) almost as often as it occurs between inmates,” says Graham.

Youth have proven to be particularly vulnerable to the recent economic downturns, with a multitude of pressures facing them. According to the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries, of the over 18,000 homeless men and women in Detroit, 25 percent of them are children. Youth employment has dropped dramatically nationwide, with many entry-level jobs going to out-of-work adults, leaving the young with less opportunity to earn a living.

“Detroit, just as many other major cities, can relate to the feelings of frustration for the senseless acts of violence against our children,” says Brito. “We want to take those frustrations and transform them into stories of awareness and prevention.”

Beyond the statistics, real people spend their lives working in the juvenile justice system to try and make a difference for the youth. A show like “Stripped” can bring to light the decisions they have to make daily, including whether to take a tough attitude for strong discipline, as well as knowing when to lend a loving ear to better understand the problems the youth face, either when locked up or on the streets facing the pressure to survive.

“The characters in ‘Stripped’ reflect the people who work the day-to-day jobs that keep the city going, the people in the communities who still have heart for their Detroit,” says Brito. “They are daily heroes who sacrifice to improve Detroit, and the youth who dream of a better life — some who make it and some who unfortunately get engulfed by the struggle.”

For more information about “Stripped,” visit www.stripped.shutterfly.com

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