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OJJDP News @ a Glance

This issue highlights OJJDP’s fiscal year 2023 funding awards, OJJDP Tribal consultations, a panel discussion on advocacy with system-involved youth and parents, and the Preventing Youth Hate Crimes and Identity-Based Bullying Virtual Symposium.
Message From the Administrator: A New Year Brings New Opportunities for Justice
OJJDP Administrator Liz Ryan - News @ a Glance

Justice System Involvement Shapes Advocacy, Youth and Parent Panelists Tell OJJDP

OJJDP Youth Justice Action Month Panel Discussion: Centering Impacted Youth and Families - October 26, 2023
OJJDP Administrator Liz Ryan (far left) met with a panel of youth and parent advocates who have lived experience in the justice system.

Youth and parents with lived experience in the justice system spoke with raw honesty during “Centering Impacted Youth and Families,” a panel discussion convened by OJJDP on October 26. Each of the panelists is an advocate working to empower youth and families to improve the justice system. OJJDP invited them to Washington, DC, to discuss how their contact with the system informed their development as leaders and fueled their desire to work with policymakers to achieve change. 

“The core of today’s panel is so much about having directly impacted people at the table,” said Brent J. Cohen, Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Justice Programs, who offered opening remarks. Mr. Cohen described growing up “on the periphery” of gang violence—close enough to see its effects on friends who cycled in and out of the juvenile justice system. Those experiences contributed to his decision to pursue system reform, he said.

Young people on the panel reflected on opportunities where they developed tangible skills in areas like public speaking and data entry—internships, for example, or invitations from caring adults to learn more about their own professions. That exposure led to expertise.

“[There were] a lot of different entries or gateways where I gained these different tools,” said Mylan Barnes, who spent time in a youth detention center and now cochairs the Juvenile Justice Advisory Group in Washington, DC. “Now I’m using them to help uplift other young women who may not feel worthy, or feel that shame that, you know, you gain from going through certain traumas. Am I good enough to be in this room? Am I good enough to show up? And I want to say that we all are good enough to be at this table.”

A student in social work at the University of the District of Columbia, Ms. Barnes is also a program specialist at Restoring Ivy Collective, working with young women who have survived sex trafficking; she previously worked at a Washington, DC, drop-in center for young adults and as an administrative assistant for the city’s Department of Behavioral Health. Each experience led her to the next, allowing her to acquire and finetune skills.

Youth panelists described lived experiences in both the child welfare and the juvenile justice systems. They spoke about the stigma and shame they endured—how labels like “delinquent” followed them, tainting the way others perceived and treated them. Mentors can serve as antidotes to this, they said, helping young people build self-confidence and reframe their self-image. Youth are more likely to thrive when caring adults listen to them, get involved, celebrate their victories, and accompany them through struggles. Ms. Barnes reflected on having “that village” of adults in her life who told her, “Hey—you don’t have to look or sound like others to be able to speak or advocate for what you believe in.”

“I had mentors who really invested in me as a young individual. They had seen the potential in me before I had even seen the potential within myself.”

—Derrell Frazier, deputy director of Memberships and Organizing at REFORM Alliance

Another panelist, Derrell Frazier, grew up in Baltimore, 1 of 10 children raised by their grandmother. Mr. Frazier's father was imprisoned and his mother suffered from addiction and mental health issues, so neither was present for him, he said. Like Ms. Barnes, Mr. Frazier spent time in a youth detention center. He was released to a community with few resources and no access to training programs “to help us get to where we wanted to be.” None of Mr. Frazier’s family members had graduated from high school; no one worked as a professional. He could have floundered—but caring adults stepped in.

“I had mentors who [had] really seen something in me,” he said, “and who told me and molded me and motivated me—that I could be more.” As a teen, Mr. Frazier witnessed many of his peers facing the same challenges. He became a youth organizer at school, giving voice to their needs and frustrations, and demanding something more.

“So when I realized I had a voice, and people actually began to listen to me—all because I spoke up about the inequities, and the negative things that was happening within my school, and the lack of resources—I began to gain some attention,” he said. He encouraged others to speak out, too. “So that kind of sparked off my interest in really wanting to advocate on behalf of others, and really fight for justice and fight for what’s right.” Finding his voice enlarged Mr. Frazier’s vision of what his life could be, he said. He is now the deputy director of Memberships and Organizing at REFORM Alliance, an organization that aims to increase community safety through criminal justice reform.

The panelists also made recommendations to policymakers, suggesting ways they can closely involve youth and families when making critical policy decisions—such as inviting them to participate in public committee meetings, using them as credible messengers, and compensating them for their time and expertise.

“Centering Impacted Youth and Families” was one of several OJJDP events commemorating Youth Justice Action Month (YJAM) in October. OJJDP Administrator Liz Ryan and Program Manager Diamond Lewis co-moderated the panel discussion. In addition to Ms. Barnes and Mr. Frazier, panelists included Miya Horse, a parent advocate and member of the Maryland State Advisory Group; Noah McQueen and Audi Wodrazka Espinoza, who are members of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice’s Emerging Leaders Committee; and Ahmad Rivazfar, a parent advocate for missing and murdered children. OJJDP’s YJAM webpage includes biographies and photos of each of the panelists.

Date Created: December 12, 2023