Hello. I am Liz Ryan, Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, or OJJDP.
October is a significant month for all of us in juvenile justice—it is Youth Justice Action Month, known as YJAM. During this month, advocates come together to raise awareness and inspire action on behalf of young people impacted by the justice system.
Since last year’s commemoration, young leaders from across the country—many with lived experience in the juvenile justice system—have shared with OJJDP their recommendations to make the system more responsive to youth needs.
These groups include youth and young adults serving on Governor-appointed State Advisory Groups, youth ambassadors from the Tribal Youth Resource Center, youth participants in juvenile justice programs funded by OJJDP, youth incarcerated in detention and correctional facilities, youth participating in alternatives to incarceration, the National Juvenile Justice Network’s young leaders, and the Emerging Leaders Committee at the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, just to name a few. We heard them.
A common theme raised by youth across the country is how essential youth input is to our work. We couldn’t agree more.
Our office is working to center the voices of system-involved youth and their families in several ways. First, we created a youth and family working group to review approaches for us to effectively partner with youth and their families.
For the first time, this year, in every solicitation we released, OJJDP added language urging prospective grantees to specify in their grant applications how they are partnering with youth and families. We also kicked off a new pilot program inviting youth with lived experience in juvenile justice to serve as peer reviewers for grant applications we receive.
To ensure that youth have a voice in the decisions made on juvenile justice and grant funding in their states, we supported the release of several toolkits for governor-appointed state advisory groups. The first toolkit features tips for recruiting, engaging, and working with youth members, and the second focuses on juvenile justice reform.
Young leaders have continuously highlighted the dire need to address systemic racism and ensure equity in the youth justice system. OJJDP is fully aware that we have a lot of work to do in this area.
The first step to combating disparities is to be transparent about them. We added the Racial and Ethnic Disparities (R/ED) National Data back to our website, so that data is publicly available. We’ve also engaged the National Center for Juvenile Justice to provide training and technical assistance to states on how to collect data on racial and ethnic disparities. And we have invited applications for a new TTA provider to exclusively focus on helping jurisdictions reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system.
The young leaders agreed that the most effective way to reduce the negative impact of justice system involvement is to keep youth out of the system in the first place. Prevention efforts are a central piece of OJJDP’s portfolio.
Our single largest funding stream is for mentoring. Mentoring has been shown to improve academic achievement and peer relationships, and reduce drug use and antisocial acts. We support both national and state organizations that are expanding access to mentoring. Like the youth leaders, we believe that every child deserves a mentor.
Support for young people while they are in the system, and as they reenter their communities, were other areas of concern for the young leaders. Providing opportunities for young people in the system is one of OJJDP’s priorities. This year, for the first time, OJJDP expanded its mentoring program to serve youth involved in the system—helping them stay in school, address substance use issues, and avoid further system involvement.
We also fund Second Chance reentry programs to help close the revolving door that has many young people returning to the system instead of reclaiming their lives.
Those are just a few of the many initiatives OJJDP is undertaking to improve youth justice and enhance opportunities for young people.
During Youth Justice Action Month and all year, I invite you to join us as we strive to improve youth justice. We can better serve our most vulnerable youth by hearing what they need and heeding what they say.
To learn more about YJAM activities and how you can get involved, please visit our website at ojjdp.ojp.gov.