From the Field: Four Ways to Transform Juvenile Justice Now

Posted December 9, 2019, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

James McLeary

The Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion has released videos of TED-style talks on four emerg­ing areas of juve­nile jus­tice prac­tice — youth part­ner­ship, cred­i­ble mes­sen­gers, restora­tive jus­tice and heal­ing youth trau­ma. The talks inspire prac­ti­tion­ers to think dif­fer­ent­ly about what’s pos­si­ble with­in their sys­tems and were record­ed before a live audi­ence of 800 juve­nile jus­tice prac­ti­tion­ers and advo­cates at Casey’s 2019 JDAI® Inter-Site Con­fer­ence.

Jar­rell E. Daniels on Youth Partnership

Jar­rell E. Daniels is a mem­ber of the Foundation’s Juve­nile Jus­tice Strat­e­gy Group Youth Advi­so­ry Coun­cil, a research assis­tant and stu­dent at Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty, and a 2019 Open Soci­ety Foun­da­tions Youth Activist Fellow.

Daniels empha­sizes the need for authen­tic part­ner­ships between youth and adults that sup­port chal­leng­ing con­ver­sa­tions and shared prob­lem solv­ing. While incar­cer­at­ed in New York State prison, Daniels par­tic­i­pat­ed in an edu­ca­tion pro­gram in which Man­hat­tan pros­e­cu­tors and young peo­ple behind bars learned from one anoth­er. This expe­ri­ence inspired Daniels to cre­ate the Jus­tice Ambas­sadors Youth Coun­cil at Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty. The coun­cil pairs for­mer­ly jus­tice-involved young peo­ple with city offi­cials over an eight-week peri­od. Dur­ing this time, the two groups work to devel­op joint pol­i­cy pro­pos­als on issues affect­ing young peo­ple, such as cop­ing with trau­ma and racial inequity. Part­ner­ing with youth forces peo­ple to step out­side of their title, their posi­tion with­in an agency or orga­ni­za­tion, and think like a human being again,” Daniels says. The expe­ri­ence showed me how both my mind and our jus­tice sys­tem could be transformed.”

Anto­nio Fer­nan­dez on Cred­i­ble Messengers

In his role as a leader of the cred­i­ble mes­sen­ger ini­tia­tive with the Dis­trict of Columbia’s Depart­ment of Youth Reha­bil­i­ta­tion Ser­vices, Anto­nio Fer­nan­dez con­nects with young peo­ple on a per­son­al lev­el, draw­ing on his own past in the crim­i­nal jus­tice system.

Fer­nan­dez — once a leader of the Latin Kings street gang in New York City — now ded­i­cates him­self to help­ing D.C.-based, jus­tice-involved youth heal and reflect on their deci­sions. In addi­tion to work­ing in neigh­bor­hoods, Fer­nan­dez and oth­er cred­i­ble mes­sen­gers sup­port youth who are in secure con­fine­ment a local facil­i­ty. Fer­nan­dez chal­lenges sys­tems to open their doors to cred­i­ble mes­sen­gers to con­nect with young peo­ple who may be hard to reach: Entrust us to do what you can’t do.”

Seema Gajwani on Restora­tive Justice

Seema Gajwani cap­tures the pow­er of restora­tive jus­tice — an approach that brings togeth­er offend­ers and their vic­tims — to help youth take respon­si­bil­i­ty for their actions and forge con­nec­tions based on com­pas­sion and empa­thy. Gajwani, spe­cial coun­sel for juve­nile jus­tice reform and chief of the restora­tive jus­tice pro­gram in the Office of the Attor­ney Gen­er­al for the Dis­trict of Colum­bia, reflects on how her first restora­tive jus­tice cir­cle upend­ed her ini­tial skep­ti­cism. I was floored,” she said. Two boys and their fam­i­lies came to res­o­lu­tion with account­abil­i­ty and fair­ness in an hour-and-a-half conversation.”

Gajwani dis­cuss­es research indi­cat­ing that tak­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty is fun­da­men­tal to chang­ing young people’s behav­ior. She also reviews restora­tive justice’s track record: Out of the 120 restora­tive jus­tice cas­es that have come through her office, only sev­en have been returned for tra­di­tion­al pros­e­cu­tion. Her vision of a youth jus­tice sys­tem ulti­mate­ly aban­dons court as a default for all cas­es: What if, instead, …we gave vic­tims and offend­ers a chance to work things out togeth­er first?”

James McLeary on Heal­ing From the Inside

James McLeary opens with clips from The Work,” a 2017 doc­u­men­tary chron­i­cling a four-day group ther­a­py retreat in California’s Fol­som State Prison. The retreat was part of McLeary’s ongo­ing work with Inside Cir­cle, a pro­gram that pro­motes heal­ing among indi­vid­u­als who are or have been incar­cer­at­ed. McLeary — now an elder and board mem­ber of Inside Cir­cle — walks indi­vid­u­als through a heal­ing expe­ri­ence mod­eled after the method­olo­gies of sev­er­al indige­nous groups.

McLeary high­lights four tenets of heal­ing shared by these groups: aware­ness, respon­si­bil­i­ty, account­abil­i­ty and vision­ing. He reflects on his own expe­ri­ences of trau­ma and his per­son­al heal­ing jour­ney, recall­ing the words of his grand­moth­er: If a wound is not wit­nessed, it will fester.”

Watch the Jus­tice Talks

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