A panel of justice-involved youth addressed the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention on October 26, describing difficulties they experienced in the juvenile justice system and challenges they overcame to turn their lives around. The Coordinating Council met to discuss upcoming plans for coordinating federal programs related to youth justice, delinquency, and missing and exploited children. It was the council’s first meeting since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, in March 2020.
Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta opened the meeting, welcoming council members and highlighting a Justice Department commitment to keep young people in their communities and out of unnecessary confinement. She also underscored the value of bringing together federal partners whose expertise spans a variety of fields. “The challenges that our youth are experiencing don’t fit neatly into one silo,” she said, “and neither can our responses to those challenges.”
Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Amy L. Solomon pointed to “incredible progress,” noting that arrests of youth and residential placements have reached historic lows. “Today’s meeting is an opportunity to build on the positive momentum in the field and the successes that we all know are possible,” she said.
OJJDP Administrator Liz Ryan shared the three priorities that frame OJJDP’s work: treating children as children; serving young people at home, with their families and in their communities; and opening up opportunities for youth involved in the juvenile justice system. She also highlighted a series of listening sessions and town halls held by OJJDP in the summer of 2022. Juvenile justice system stakeholders from across the country—including youth—attended, telling OJJDP about the lived experiences of young people in the juvenile justice system and the challenges practitioners face.
Following these opening remarks, the council heard from a panel of six youth representing the National Juvenile Justice Network’s Young Justice Leaders program; OJJDP Senior Advisor Andrea Coleman introduced and moderated the session. The youth contributed to Redesigning Justice: Our Youth Action Agenda, a blueprint for improving the administration of youth justice nationwide. Several said their involvement was motivated by their own experiences in the juvenile justice system, or by what they have witnessed family members go through.
“The system is made for people like me to fail.”
—Youth leader Dallas Crosby, addressing the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
“I’ve watched the system fail so many of my family members,” said Arrianna Jentink-Bristol. She and other panelists said they want to help the next generation—especially youth of color. They urged the council to transform the juvenile justice system, to move from exacerbating the problems justice-involved youth face to offering them opportunities to succeed. Rather than rehabilitating young people and preparing them for adulthood, the juvenile justice system often compounds the trauma experienced by system-involved youth, panelists said. Alani Rouse called her experience in a youth psychiatric facility “dehumanizing,” and said that isolation or lockdown keeps youth from healing or recovering from past mistakes. “Four walls gets real ugly real fast,” she said.
Panelists emphasized a need to increase resources for youth reentering to the community after detention. Nykia Gatson said a lack of support had forced her to focus on day-to-day survival. Youth with criminal records especially need assistance to find housing and jobs, panelists said.
Administrator Ryan thanked the youth panelists for participating. “We hear you,” she said. “We see you. You are our kids, and you bring a sense of authenticity to the conversation. You bring concrete solutions, and you also bring a sense of urgency to the work.”
|The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, as amended, established the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention as an independent body to coordinate federal programs related to delinquency prevention and missing and exploited children. By statute, the council comprises 11 ex officio members, 2 affiliate members, and 10 nonfederal practitioner members who are named by the President and Congress. The Attorney General is the ex officio Chair of the Council and the Administrator of OJJDP is the ex officio Vice Chair. The council holds public meetings up to four times per year to facilitate and support cross-agency coordination.