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Inaugural Winner of the Youth Justice Emerging Leader Announced

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 30, 2016     

CONTACT
Benjamin Chambers
Office: 202-467-0864 x556 | Cell: (503) 709-1917
chambers@njjn.org      

Jeree Thomas
Phone: (804) 521-7310
jeree@justice4all.org  

>>Download the press release (PDF)
 

VIRGINIA ATTORNEY WINS NATIONAL AWARD 
Honored as an Emerging Leader in Youth Justice Reform

youth-justice-reform_Jeree-Thomas(Washington, DC) Jeree Thomas, an attorney with the JustChildren program of the Legal Aid Justice Center in Richmond, VA (pictured at right), is being recognized this month as an emerging leader in youth justice reform by the National Juvenile Justice Network, based in Washington, DC. 

Thomas is the inaugural recipient of the Youth Justice Emerging Leader Award, which was created by the National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN) to honor, each year, an advocate for youth justice who embodies passion, boldness and perseverance, and who is committed to raising up the voices, experiences and expertise of system-involved youth and people of color to ensure that those most directly impacted by injustice are at the forefront of the youth justice movement. The award will be given July 26, 2016, at an annual gathering of youth justice advocates from across the country. This year, the conference is hosted in Memphis, TN by NJJN’s Youth Justice Leadership Institute, of which Ms. Thomas is a fellow this year. 

“Jeree’s the embodiment of an emerging leader in youth justice reform,” said Sarah Bryer, who directs the National Juvenile Justice Network. “In addition to her work representing individual youth caught up in the justice system, she helped create Performing Statistics, an innovative advocacy-through-art project -- the first of its kind in Virginia -- in which incarcerated youth create art in support of reform. In her work with a new statewide justice reform coalition, she insisted that a former client and survivor of Virginia’s juvenile justice system serve as a community organizer –and then she mentored the young man chosen for the role so that he had the professional skills to do the job.” 

To be eligible for the Emerging Leader award, nominees must have been engaged in youth justice advocacy for five years or fewer. Ms. Thomas began her work at JustChildren in 2011, with a coveted two-year award from the Skadden Fellowship Foundation – its program has been called the “legal Peace Corps,” because it ensures that some of the brightest young lawyers in the country begin their careers in public interest work such as advocating for youth in trouble with the law. 

Among Ms. Thomas’ other accomplishments, she laid the groundwork for the Virginia-based RISE for Youth Coalition, a nonpartisan group that supports community alternatives to incarceration. In part because of Jeree’s work, RISE secured budget language during the 2016 legislative session that could result in over $15 million being reinvested in services and supports for young people in Virginia. 

“Jeree’s calm and polite demeanor hide a real powerhouse advocate. She is a true force to be reckoned with,” says Angela Ciolfi, Legal Director at JustChildren. “When Jeree identifies an injustice impacting JustChildren’s young clients, she moves swiftly and steadily towards resolving it and you can count on her to succeed in doing so.  Jeree’s commitment to her individual clients as well as to systemic reform as a whole is powerful and inspiring.” 

The award will be given July 26, 2016, at an annual gathering of youth justice advocates from across the country. This year, the conference is hosted in Memphis, TN by NJJN’s Youth Justice Leadership Institute

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The National Juvenile Justice Network is composed of coalitions, organizations and alumni of the Youth Justice Leadership Institute across 42 states and the District of Columbia, all of whom advocate for a fairer justice system for children and teens. For more information, visit www.njjn.org.

>>Download the press release (PDF)



More About Jeree Thomas


Jeree Thomas is an attorney with the JustChildren Legal Aid Center in Richmond, Virginia (an NJJN member) and a Youth Justice Leadership Institute fellow. She started her career with JustChildren in 2011 as a Skadden Fellow representing incarcerated youth experiencing education and re-entry issues.

Jeree received her B.A. from the College of William & Mary in Social Justice & Community Advocacy, where she received the President’s Award for Service to the Community, and the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award. She received her law degree from the University of Virginia Law School, where she was one of five students selected for the first class of the Law and Public Service Program. She was also inducted into the Raven Society and received the James C. Slaughter Honor Award presented to an outstanding member of the graduating class.

Jeree is a member of the Virginia State Bar. She has served as the co-chair of the Young Lawyers Conference Commission on Women & Minorities in the Legal Profession, and as the Chair of Madison House Board of Directors, a non-profit that coordinates over 3,000 UVA student volunteers. She is a co-author of Virginia CLE’s Education Law and Advocacy Manual.  

Jeree currently serves as the campaign manager of the RISE (Re-invest in Supportive Environments) for Youth Campaign, focused on investing in community-based alternatives to youth incarceration in Virginia.


Purpose of the Emerging Leader Award

To honor an individual advocate for youth justice who embodies passion, boldness and perseverance, and is committed to raising up the voices, experiences and expertise of system-involved youth and people of color to ensure that those most directly impacted by injustice are at the forefront of the youth justice movement. 
 

Emerging Leaders are... 

... passionate advocates working to empower system-involved youth, people of color, and families of youth who are system-involved as leaders in the youth justice movement. In addition:

  • They are committed to racial justice as a crucial tenet of youth justice system reform. 
  • They represent a directly-impacted community, such as formerly incarcerated or system involved youth, people of color, families of system-involved youth, and/or a person harmed by crime. 
  • As an "emerging" leader, they have been involved in youth justice reform advocacy for no more than 5 years - and may even be youth under the age of 18 themselves. 
Please note: only NJJN members, partner organizations, and staff are eligible to nominate folks for these awards, though anyone affiliated with a member or partner organization may nominate themselves for an award.


Photo at top: Thomas Hawk, under Creative Commons license. Model shown for representative purposes only.