Supporting Youth in Trouble With the Law in Their Communities

Posted January 8, 2020
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Participants in a community program in Washington state.

Two new videos show­case how juve­nile jus­tice sys­tems and com­mu­ni­ty-based orga­ni­za­tions are work­ing togeth­er to safe­ly sup­port young peo­ple in their com­mu­ni­ties. Each five-minute video fea­tures a JDAI® coun­ty in Wash­ing­ton State — Pierce and King, home to Taco­ma and Seat­tle, respec­tive­ly — where lead­ers from gov­ern­ment and youth-serv­ing local groups share a vision of con­nect­ing young peo­ple who have been in trou­ble with the law with pos­i­tive oppor­tu­ni­ties and adult men­tors and role mod­els in their communities.

The answers are in our com­mu­ni­ties,” Dominique Davis, the founder of Com­mu­ni­ty Pas­sage­ways in Seat­tle, says in the King Coun­ty video, cred­it­ing com­mu­ni­ties and gov­ern­ment agen­cies with think­ing dif­fer­ent­ly and out­side the box” after decades of tak­ing puni­tive approach­es to young peo­ple with jus­tice-sys­tem involvement.

Using Pos­i­tive Youth Devel­op­ment in Pierce County

Through JDAI, Pierce Coun­ty has reduced its reliance on secure con­fine­ment and is pur­su­ing more effec­tive inter­ven­tions for young peo­ple on pro­ba­tion or oth­er­wise involved in the jus­tice sys­tem. TJ Bohl, Pierce County’s juve­nile court admin­is­tra­tor, says the county’s goal is to build young people’s con­nec­tions to adult men­tors, improve self-con­fi­dence and strength­en belief in their own abil­i­ties to meet chal­lenges, com­plete tasks and suc­ceed. With these skills, he says, young peo­ple are more like­ly to be engaged in school or a voca­tion­al pro­gram after going through court-spon­sored programs.

The court asked the young peo­ple and fam­i­lies it serves about the types of oppor­tu­ni­ties that would be most mean­ing­ful to them. We heard the arts, music, recre­ation and hands-on learn­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties,” says Kevin Williams, the pro­ba­tion man­ag­er. From there we start­ed meet­ing with folks to see who was aligned with our vision.” The video presents sev­er­al local part­ners — from the YMCA to Hill­top Artists, a non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tion that intro­duces young peo­ple to glass­blow­ing and oth­er forms of glass art.

Max, one of the young peo­ple who appears in the video, con­sid­ers his expe­ri­ence life-chang­ing.” He under­scores the role that court staff con­tin­ue to play: My pro­ba­tion offi­cer cared a lot about me and want­ed some­thing great for me.”

Get­ting to Zero Youth Deten­tion in King County

The No New Youth Jail move­ment in King Coun­ty, active since 2012, plant­ed the seed for the coun­ty exec­u­tive and sys­tem lead­ers to deter­mine what it would take to have no young peo­ple in secure deten­tion, accord­ing to gov­ern­ment and com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers. It’s an ambi­tious goal that is worth striv­ing for,” says Robert Gant, who man­ages com­mu­ni­ty part­ner­ships for the county’s juve­nile court, but we can’t do this with­out bring­ing the com­mu­ni­ty to the table.”

Young peo­ple need a chance to do some­thing new and dif­fer­ent that they had no idea was out there for them,” says Com­mu­ni­ty Pas­sage­ways founder Davis, whose orga­ni­za­tion offers com­mu­ni­ty-based alter­na­tives to incar­cer­a­tion that empha­size pos­i­tive rela­tion­ships with adults and restora­tive pro­gram­ming for its par­tic­i­pat­ing youth and young adults that relates to their cul­ture and backgrounds.

I’m get­ting these oppor­tu­ni­ties that I nev­er thought I’d ever have in my life,” says Rachaun, one of the young peo­ple who has pur­sued life and lead­er­ship skills with Com­mu­ni­ty Pas­sage­ways. My future is dif­fer­ent.” Anoth­er par­tic­i­pant, Kaeshon, adds: The peo­ple I’m around encour­age me in dif­fer­ent ways than I was encour­aged when I was on the streets.”

Sup­port­ing youth and fam­i­lies with com­mu­ni­ty-cen­tered resources is just one of the core objec­tives of King County’s roadmap to zero youth deten­tion. The oth­ers are:

  • lead­ing with racial equity;
  • pre­vent­ing youth from enter­ing the jus­tice system;
  • divert­ing youth from fur­ther sys­tem involve­ment; and
  • align­ing and opti­miz­ing con­nec­tions across systems.

The videos were pro­duced by the Pre­tri­al Jus­tice Insti­tute, the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s JDAI® train­ing part­ner, to inspire prac­ti­tion­ers to think dif­fer­ent­ly about what’s pos­si­ble with­in their sys­tems. The short videos pre­miered at the 2019 JDAI Inter-Site Con­fer­ence, host­ed by the Foundation.

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