Meet the 2019 JDAI Distinguished System Leadership Award Winners

Posted October 25, 2019, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Valerie Thompson and Steve Bishop with Clinton Lacey

From left: Valerie Thompson and Casey's Steve Bishop with Clinton Lacey. Fellow awardee Judge Charles Dortch is not pictured.

Leaders from New Jersey, Washington, D.C. and Santa Cruz, California have earned the 2019 JDAI® Distinguished System Leadership Award from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The award honors a youth justice system leader who has achieved lasting juvenile justice reform in a JDAI site.

“Leadership in JDAI isn’t about your job title. It’s about your principles and the difference you make. It’s about how you do your work and how you treat the people you are there to serve,” said Tom Woods, a senior associate with the Foundation, in remarks at the 2019 JDAI Inter-Site Conference in Seattle. This year’s honorees “…have big jobs that they do with their whole heart and their best selves and, in that way, have helped their sites to accomplish great things for kids, families and communities,” Woods said.

The honorees are:

Judge Charles Dortch, Superior Court of New Jersey

Dortch is the presiding judge of the family division in Camden County, New Jersey; co-chair of the state’s JDAI governance body, the New Jersey Council on Juvenile Justice System Improvement; and a leading force for diversity at the state bar association, among other roles. “Judge Dortch always reminds us that all human beings, and particularly young people, want a few basic, universal things ― to be treated with dignity and respect, to be provided opportunity and to feel safe,” wrote Jennifer LeBaron, acting executive director of the New Jersey Juvenile Justice Commission, in nominating Dortch, who frequently comes down from the bench to speak personally to youth and families. In one such instance, 12 years after appearing before Judge Dortch, Carmen Allen remembered her experience in his courtroom this way: “He didn’t see me as a docket number, or some poor girl from Camden…he saw me as a girl who needed help, who needed a chance."

Dortch’s colleague, the Honorable Christine Orlando, accepted the award on his behalf.

Clinton Lacey, Director, District of Columbia Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services

Lacey is one of the leading voices on justice reform in the country. Lacey “speaks with an eloquence and clarity when he challenges justice practitioners to anchor their work in a deep-rooted love for all young people, their families and communities,” says Stephen Bishop, a senior associate with the Foundation. Frequently, Lacey talks about “leading with love,” a term rarely associated with either justice systems or those who have broken the law, says Bishop. Lacey is an innovator in the field, with practices such as family navigators and credible messengers, and has invested in community organizations and funded programs and services that help young people achieve long-term success.

Valerie Thompson, Assistant Chief Probation Officer, Santa Cruz County Probation Department in California

Thompson has a strong focus on results, and has said “our work won’t be complete until we reach our ultimate goal of ensuring that all youth on probation in the county are on track for graduation and future success.” She applies “tenacity, grit and spirit to get the right things done for kids and communities,” says Gail D. Mumford, a senior associate with the Foundation, who also cited Thompson’s “stellar participation in the JDAI Applied Leadership Network and commitment to the learning and growth of everyone” in the network. The network comprises emerging and seasoned leaders in JDAI sites who apply the discipline of Results Count®, the Foundation’s unique approach to leadership development, to accelerate positive outcomes for young people. The Distinguished System Leadership award honors Thompson’s pursuit of equity and innovation, including her agency’s success in reducing new placements for Latino youth in group homes through a culturally informed effort that delivered services to youth and families in their home communities.

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