Our History

The Youth Art & Self-empowerment Project (YASP) was created in 2006 as an offshoot of a project of a series of jail-based art, poetry and music workshops run by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). When AFSC  discontinued their workshops, YASP became an independent, youth-led and youth-staffed organization with a focus on building youth leadership in the movement to end mass incarceration. YASP was founded by four young people who had been prosecuted and incarcerated as adults, and one ally who had previously served as the coordinator for AFSC’s workshops with young people in Philadelphia’s adult jails.

Over the past sixteen years, YASP has provided ongoing, year-round creative arts workshops for youth under 18 in the Philadelphia adult jails and continued support and leadership development for youth who have come home from those jails. During that time, YASP has hired many young people who were previously incarcerated in the adult jails to assume leadership roles as primary decision-makers in the organization. Our other major accomplishment have included:

  • Creating and leading a movement to end the practice of prosecuting and incarcerating children as adults in Pennsylvania
  • Filming and producing two short films about the impacts of direct file and adult transfer laws on young people in Philadelphia
  • Co-founding the #No215Jail Coalition in 2015, which successfully stopped the construction of a new jail in Philadelphia, launched the campaign to end cash bail in the city, and served as a catalyst for the creation of Philadelphia Community Bail Fund
  • Launching the nation’s first youth-led and youth-centered participatory defense hub in 2019
  • Partnering to create Care, Not Control, a campaign to end youth incarceration in Pennsylvania, in 2020
  • Creating a youth leadership development and organizing training program, our Youth Hub Fellowship, in 2020
  • Launching Healing Futures, Philadelphia’s first pre-charge restorative justice diversion program, in 2021, through which young people who have committed harm are able to move towards healing and accountability outside of the criminal legal process