Home News Center Meet the Members: Just City (TN) and the Maine Juvenile Justice Reform Work Group

Meet the Members: Just City (TN) and the Maine Juvenile Justice Reform Work Group

May 31, 2016
Zoe Schein


NJJN is thrilled to introduce its two newest organizational members: Just City  Memphis and the Maine Juvenile Justice Reform Work Group

Just City was created in response to the need for a strong, independent voice to advocate on behalf of children, families, and individuals who have been in contact with the criminal justice system.

“When Just City was founded, I was working at the public defender’s office in Shelby County,” said Josh Spickler, executive director of Just City, “and we had really started, for the first time, to try to get out into the community to try and get the message out about the work we were doing in that office—which isn’t something that public defender’s offices do much of. At the same time, the public defender’s office had been given funding to create a juvenile defender unit as a result of a pretty damning report by the Department of Justice about our juvenile court system. So while we were doing more in the communities than is common for a public defender’s office, what we really saw was the need for an independent voice—free of restrictions like those imposed on government offices—to work with communities to advocate for more progressive, smarter approaches to youth justice.”

Just City’s work is organized around three pillars of action: serve, reform, and advocate. “The service so far has been mostly around expungement,” said Spickler. “There’s a $450 fee to get a record expunged, which is prohibitive for so many people. We applied for a local foundation grant to start paying for those fees. We’ve been able to fund about 70 expungements so far. We work with the Public Defender to find folks who qualify, and then we take care of the fee—which is something we couldn’t have done as a government agency. We’re also opening two bail funds, one in Memphis and one in Nashville. It will start small—maybe 50 folks per year, but we’re hoping that will help generate data and draw attention to stories of inequity in the bail system.”

“On the reform side, we’re wading into legislative advocacy. This year we tried to get that fee for expungement lowered. It didn’t go through, but it got much farther than we expected for our first year of advocacy—and we’re definitely going to try again. As we grow, the kinds of legislative reforms we’re able to pursue will expand as well.”

“As for advocacy, it’s really about affecting the narrative. We want to be a credible voice, as often as we can, in the media and the community, for a better way of doing things. It can be as simple as answering the phone if a reporter calls, or pitching a story—we have a number of stories coming out soon about what’s happening in Memphis, and we hope that that exposure will help to support the other work we’re doing, and help lead to meaningful reform.”

“We’re excited to be a part of NJJN,” said Spickler. “We work closely with the Public Defender in Shelby County, and our hope is that NJJN can be a bridge between us, those hardworking lawyers, and the rest of the advocacy world. We see it as an opportunity to be part of the larger movement, and to connect our communities and local public defenders to the advocacy work that’s out there.”

 

The Maine Juvenile Justice Reform Work Group is a core group of juvenile justice professionals and advocates working in Maine to reduce inappropriate detention and confinement and increase fairness in the state’s juvenile justice system.

Using a consensus approach, the Work Group identifies youth justice reform policies and works with key stakeholders, including agency officials and the legislature to address those issues.  Most recently, the Work Group advocated for a policy to ban the indiscriminate use of shackling in juvenile court and, as a result of this effort, in October 2015, Maine’s Judiciary adopted a Judicial Rule to ban the indiscriminate shackling of juveniles in court.  The Work Group is also promoting the use of restorative justice practices as a diversion strategy for youth in contact with the justice system and supports efforts being undertaken by the Maine Juvenile Justice Advisory Group and others to develop a comprehensive network of restorative programs.

Currently, the Work Group is examining the collateral consequences of juvenile justice system involvement in anticipation of possible changes to the juvenile records code in the upcoming state legislative session.  As part of this effort, the Work Group is collaborating with the Muskie Institute of Public Policy at the University of Southern Maine on a report to document the potential impact of a juvenile record on youth transitioning out of the juvenile justice system.

Ned Chester, the group’s co-chair, said, “Work Group members are excited about being a part of NJJN and look forward to working collaboratively with organizations and coalitions across the country to share ideas and information to improve our state juvenile justice systems.” 

 

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