Recently, we spoke with Lee Nave, who is a 2016-2017 fellow in NJJN's Youth Justice Leadership Institute (YJLI), 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-prepared advocates and organizers who reflect the communities most affected by juvenile justice system practices and policies.
Lee is the development and program associate at Citizens for Juvenile Justice (CfJJ) in Boston, Massachusetts. His work involves leading the organization’s online advocacy projects as well as managing numerous areas of fundraising. Before joining CfJJ, Lee was the co-founder and director of development and operations at Student Voice, an all-student organization that advocates for students to have a say in their own educational future. Lee's work with Student Voice led to major partnerships with corporations and foundations such as Microsoft, The Hewlett Foundation, and Dell. Lee has also guest lectured at numerous universities domestically and abroad. Lee holds two Master’s degrees from Seton Hall University, in public administration and diplomacy and international relations, and two Bachelor’s degrees, in History and Communications Arts, from Ottawa University.
Tell us about your advocacy project for the Institute.
My project – unofficially named the “Massachusetts Community Responsive Diversion Network” – is to build a network in Boston to support diverting youth in trouble with the law away from the justice system. My employer, Citizens for Juvenile Justice, will be supporting a bill this session that’s intended to get the legislature to adopt a statewide approach on youth diversion. The reasoning behind it is that, while there are some great diversion programs around Boston, like the ones in Cambridge and Brookline, not every youth or family has access to programs like them -- which is how justice by geography plays a role in increasing ethnic and racial disparities, in terms of which youth enter the system. So Massachusetts’ disparities have increased; we hope to begin to fix that by having a statewide, comprehensive diversion program.
One goal for the network I’m trying to pull together is to build support for passing our comprehensive diversion bill. So right now, I’m reaching out to the community to get feedback on our legislative agenda around diversion. I’ve begun conducting focus groups and giving presentations around the community to organizations and community members to educate them about diversion and ways they can get engaged on diversion issues, as well as on our diversion bill. But not only are we trying to put together a community network to grow support on this particular juvenile justice issue, we’re hoping to build support for other issues down the line. So we’re also going to take the information gathered from the focus groups to put together a youth justice conference in June. The themes for that will come from what they feel are the biggest issues that need to be addressed.
Also, as part of the focus groups, I’ll be talking to youth at the different organizations we’re meeting with, and will try to connect them with programs that will help them with leadership skills so they can become advocates and leaders in their communities.
What have you learned so far?
I’ve already held one focus group, and have a few more set up. The first one was with community members – so it included community organizations, parents, teachers, school administrators, and even pediatricians. What I hadn’t realized was how important schools and mental health (and health in general) can be in the process of thinking about this issue. Obviously, I was already aware of the school-to-prison pipeline, but what I hadn’t considered was the role of school-based health in that.
Can you say more about that?
Sure. When it comes to providing school-based health services to youth, there can be a lot of over-reaction or under-reaction to the issues the youth are facing. For example, children can be sent to alternative schools because of behavior issues at a very early age. One reason why that can be a problem is that kids get put in that system and never get a chance to get out of it. We have one alternative school here where kids can be put there pretty much from age 4 to 22 for behavior or mental health issues. The school isn't always used for this purpose, but in some cases, you can be acting out in the classroom at age 4 and get sent there, and get stuck there for a long time – for years.
So the health services provided to youth can have a major impact on the paths they take. As a result, I’ll be reaching out to health officials -- like pediatricians who see a lot of youth and run substance abuse or mental health diversion programs out of hospitals or health centers -- and try to get a better handle on what they see as the issues. I’d already set a meeting with Adolescent Consultation Services, which does direct clinical work with kids in Cambridge Juvenile Court. Originally, they were the only direct clinical program we were going to talk to. Now, I’ll be talking to more pediatricians to see what they think.
Overall, I think this type of work is a good investment by our organization – it has far-reaching implications. The goal is to keep young people out of the system -- and without a record -- so they can be more successful and contribute to their communities.