Collaborating for Youth Justice in Albuquerque

Posted August 15, 2022, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Two young women of color sit side-by-side in an office setting. The two are smiling and laughing; behind them, photos and typed documents are posted on the wall.

From left: Teresa Garcia and B. MonTeil Williams facilitate a workshop for members of the Albuquerque Justice for Youth Community Collaborative in June 2021. Photo credit: Jaelyn deMaria.

A new report doc­u­ments the first year of an ambi­tious, long-term effort in Albu­querque, New Mex­i­co, to reduce and even­tu­al­ly elim­i­nate depen­dence on the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem and to build a cul­tur­al­ly ground­ed alter­na­tive that keeps youth out of insti­tu­tions, and instead safe and sup­port­ed by the capa­ble hands of their own communities.”

Estab­lished in Jan­u­ary 2021 with fund­ing from the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, the Albu­querque Jus­tice for Youth Com­mu­ni­ty Col­lab­o­ra­tive is made up of local grass­roots orga­ni­za­tions, youth jus­tice advo­cates and young peo­ple and fam­i­lies who have been direct­ly affect­ed by the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem. Eighty per­cent of the collaborative’s mem­bers are peo­ple of col­or, and approx­i­mate­ly one-third are younger than age 21 — with more than 50% hav­ing direct expe­ri­ence in the crim­i­nal or youth jus­tice system.

For many years, we have worked pri­mar­i­ly with courts and pro­ba­tion depart­ments — pre­cise­ly because those insti­tu­tions have enor­mous pow­er to affect the free­dom and oppor­tu­ni­ties afford­ed to young peo­ple,” says Danielle J. Lipow, senior asso­ciate in the Foundation’s Juve­nile Jus­tice Strat­e­gy Group. But we weren’t see­ing things through the eyes of the young peo­ple and com­mu­ni­ties who had the most sys­tem con­tact and, in many cas­es, bore the brunt of over-polic­ing, sur­veil­lance and mass incar­cer­a­tion. We were miss­ing their insight, cre­ativ­i­ty and wis­dom, which became an unten­able omis­sion when we acknowl­edged our own lim­it­ed perspective.”

Strength­en­ing Connections

Albi­no Gar­cia, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the La Plazi­ta Insti­tute in Albu­querque and founder of the col­lab­o­ra­tive, designed its cul­tur­al frame­work: Quin­to Sol, or Five Suns, a mod­el root­ed in Aztec cre­ation sto­ries he has suc­cess­ful­ly used in his work with young people.

I’ve always thought that the phrase, We’re stronger togeth­er’ stands,” says mem­ber Khadi­jah Bot­tom, founder of VIZIONZ-SANKO­FA. This col­lab­o­ra­tive exem­pli­fies it.”

Going deep into his­to­ry to under­stand the roots of juve­nile jus­tice inequities and the alter­na­tives to incar­cer­a­tion, col­lab­o­ra­tive mem­bers have shared their own sto­ries and expe­ri­ences and offered solu­tions for youth and fam­i­lies involved with the legal sys­tem. If the community’s involved and the youth see that peo­ple care, they respond to that,” says a col­lab­o­ra­tive mem­ber in the report.

Par­tic­i­pa­to­ry Documentation

The frame­work for the collaborative’s com­pre­hen­sive doc­u­men­ta­tion effort has four elements:

  • oral his­to­ries of col­lab­o­ra­tive members;
  • an inside-out” per­spec­tive that rec­og­nizes the exper­tise and knowl­edge of those who have expe­ri­enced incarceration;
  • mod­ern, tra­di­tion­al and ancient forms of sto­ry­telling, includ­ing artis­tic and cre­ative forms of media; and
  • solu­tions-ori­ent­ed jour­nal­ism focus­ing not only on what may, or may not, be work­ing for youth but also on the how and why.
Poem and illus­tra­tion by Lisa Sami­u­dio. Pho­to cred­it: Jae­lyn deMaria

Fund­ing for the par­tic­i­pa­to­ry doc­u­men­ta­tion team includes stipends for young peo­ple and oth­ers con­nect­ed with the collaborative.

Next Steps

At the end of 2021, the col­lab­o­ra­tive formed engage­ment cir­cles,” or work­groups, that are mak­ing action plans in sev­er­al areas, includ­ing pol­i­cy and leg­isla­tive change. To ampli­fy the community’s voice in defin­ing chal­lenges and craft­ing solu­tions, the col­lab­o­ra­tive is build­ing bridges between its mem­bers and tra­di­tion­al deci­sion-mak­ers across New Mex­i­co and seek­ing state fund­ing to devel­op a com­mu­ni­ty-dri­ven and com­mu­ni­ty-based con­tin­u­um of direct ser­vices and oppor­tu­ni­ties for young people.

Lipow sees the Foundation’s invest­ment in the col­lab­o­ra­tive pay­ing off at mul­ti­ple lev­els: for indi­vid­ual mem­bers, for New Mexico’s youth jus­tice sys­tem and for the field more broad­ly. The Foun­da­tion has already learned so much from the col­lab­o­ra­tive, and those lessons are strength­en­ing and deep­en­ing our work all over the coun­try,” she says. First and fore­most, we have learned that it is easy to talk about shar­ing pow­er, shift­ing resources and pri­or­i­tiz­ing youth lead­er­ship. It is immea­sur­ably more dif­fi­cult to prac­tice the humil­i­ty required to put those val­ues into action.”

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