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Meet the Youth Justice Leadership Institute Fellows: Nick Allen

October 24, 2013

This month we spoke with Nick Allen, a staff attorney at the Institutions Project of Columbia Legal Services in Seattle, Washington. He is a fellow in NJJN’s Youth Justice Leadership Institute, a year-long program that aims to create a more effective foundation for the juvenile justice reform movement by developing a strong base of well-trained and well-prepared advocates and organizers who reflect the communities most affected by juvenile justice system practices and policies.

 

What motivates you to work in juvenile justice reform?

It’s always been an interest of mine, especially because of the intersections of race and class and the disproportionate involvement of persons of color and the poor in our criminal justice systems. I want to advocate on behalf of these folks to hopefully bring about some meaningful changes.

Fellows in the Institute are expected to complete a year-long advocacy project. What’s your project?

All kids are impulsive and reckless, and also more likely to be rehabilitated [than adults]. We want to implement policy that reflects that. We want courts to have more discretion to make appropriate decisions for youth on an individual basis.

To give some background, my advocacy project builds on work I did last year with Columbia Legal Services to ensure that Washington State was in compliance with the Miller v. Alabama decision would not be challenged in Washington State. [Miller v. Alabama is a U.S. Supreme Court decision that found mandatory sentencing of juveniles to life without parole unconstitutional.] The Washington prosecutor filed a bill that did not address the issue the way we wanted it to—we fundamentally oppose juvenile life without parole, so we filed a competing bill. Both of those bills died in their respective houses.

After the session was over last year, we began thinking about how to continue our work on fair sentencing for youth this year. So I put an advocacy project together for the Institute that focuses on the big picture of legislative advocacy efforts for youth who are sentenced in the adult criminal justice system in Washington State. So that can take a number of different forms, including advocacy efforts around life without parole, or automatic decline in Washington—where kids are automatically put in the adult system for certain crimes or at certain ages. Maybe extending jurisdiction and allowing for individual sentences for all youth. As I said, it’s a big-picture project.

Why is the Youth Justice Leadership Institute important?

The premise of the program is something that I believe is absolutely necessary in advocacy efforts throughout the country: to identify and cultivate leadership potential of advocates of color.

It’s been said time and again that often there’s just as much disproportionality in the advocacy population as there is with the kids involved in the justice system. So I think reaching out and being able to help advocates of color understand the issues, learn from each other, and build on leadership potential and be able to implement that in our respective communities is hopefully a benefit to those communities, the juvenile justice efforts, and the fellows themselves.

 


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