A defining characteristic of American juvenile justice is the overrepresentation of youth of color at every level of system involvement. When the Casey Foundation released JDAI at 25 last year, it reported that racial and ethnic disparities had persisted or worsened in Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative® sites, even while those sites had achieved significant reductions in both juvenile incarceration and juvenile crime.
More than 850 juvenile justice professionals dug into the root causes of these disparities by taking part in a structured series of activities known as the 21-Day Equity Habit-Building Challenge. The effort deepened participants' understanding of and willingness to confront racial and ethnic inequities. “Race equity is one of the cornerstones of what we do [as juvenile justice reformers] and is just as important as case processing, conditions of confinement and every other aspect of our JDAI work,” said Nick Costales, deputy director of field services with the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department.
The 21-Day Equity Habit-Building Challenge originally was developed by racial justice educator and author Debby Irving along with Drs. Eddie Moore Jr. and Marguerite Penick-Parks. Their idea: ask Challenge participants to dedicate themselves to one action related to equity daily for 21 days. The discipline and intentionality required to follow 21 days of carefully chosen activities was meant to encourage lasting practices that would further equity. Day after day, participants would give themselves the time and space to be more mindful of power, privilege, oppression and, ultimately, social justice in their communities and networks.
A 32-person team of JDAI™ Applied Leadership Network alumni and JDAI site coordinators modified the challenge for juvenile justice stakeholders and brought it to JDAIconnect, the free online community for people interested in youth justice reform.
“The challenge coordinators and I are under no illusion that 21 days is sufficient to undo racial injustice in our country,” said Gail D. Mumford, a senior associate at the Foundation. “However, with knowledge, practice and commitment, it’s possible to make sustainable progress and change.”
Challenge coordinators offered a range of activities for participants, including:
For each activity, participants are encouraged to consider — and share — how the activity and its related reflection questions challenged their perceptions, assumptions, ideas and, most of all, the way they do their work. The statistics for their discussions on JDAIconnect convey the level of interest: 2,050 comments and 28,000 views during the 21 workdays of the challenge among 880 challenge registrants who hailed from 40 states, two Canadian provinces, Mexico and Brazil.
The peer network on JDAIconnect was integral to building and maintaining the momentum of the challenge. Anthony Celestine, the assistant director of the Calcasieu Parish Office of Juvenile Justice Services in Louisiana, was among many participants who cited the transformative power of having open conversations about race. He lauded the “space to engage in intellectual discussions about race with people…to prove that most folks, no matter race or ethnicity, gender or demographics, want the same out of life and share more similarities than they realize.”
Said Sergio Castro, a juvenile probation supervisor and participant from New Mexico: “My biggest takeaway is how each of us has to walk the talk every day and have meaningful conversations about race without getting offended and defensive.”
Related Equity and Inclusion in Juvenile Justice Resources: