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Youth Justice Leadership Institute | 2011 Advocacy Projects

Browse the advocacy projects from the Institute's 2011 Fellows:

Abdi Ali | Minneapolis, MN
Abdi Ali’s experience as a Somali immigrant inspired him to educate members of the Minnesota juvenile justice system in rural Minnesota on Somali culture and working with Somali youth and families. Through the trainings he developed, participants learn to remove barriers to their success in serving Somali youth and their families.

The Leadership Institute year for him was spent developing the training program, which included training preparation/design, development of materials, and conducting research. His preparation for the on-site delivery of the training was greatly supported by his mentor. Through her, he was able to develop contacts with juvenile justice system stakeholders in rural Minnesota and then schedule times when his training would be conducted. A number of fiscal considerations had to be attended to, such as consultation fees for training partners and other resource persons, local transportation, food and refreshments for participants, and rental space for the training. Abdi also knew that developing local partners for the trainings would be integral to success.

He entered the Leadership Institute with the goal of providing the training to one hundred staff of the Minnesota juvenile justice stakeholders in rural parts of the state. Those stakeholders would then be able to demonstrate a good understanding of Somali culture and apply new skills in effectively working with Somali youth and families involved in the juvenile justice system.

Ultimately, Abdi’s training provided the participants with new knowledge about Somali refugee culture, historical trauma, life experience, and mental health issues. Through these trainings, conducted in two rural counties, 80 participants are better able to assist Somali youth and their families traversing the counties’ juvenile justice systems. In addition, Abdi is now identified as an authority on Somali youth in the state, and developed strong statewide contacts that will serve his work well going forward.

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Sarah Jane Forman | Detroit, MI

For her advocacy project, Ms. Forman started the Youth Justice Clinic at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. The primary focus of the clinic was to provide juveniles with superior legal representation by protecting and advancing the legal and human rights of children and promoting their healthy development beyond the immediate triage of their legal case. She envisioned this clinic as an important resource in the community, since Michigan currently has no public defender system in place. Clinic students would also work on policy initiatives to support systemic change in the Michigan juvenile justice system. A long-term goal is to partner with the school of social work at neighboring Wayne State University, help connect clients with resources and services in the community such as after-school programs, gang prevention programs, and family counseling.

In the process of creating this crucially important legal resource Sarah Jane was required to acquaint herself with the many systems and community stakeholders impacting the outcomes for children and youth in trouble with the law in Detroit. In doing so, she discovered a conglomerate of conflicting interests and contradictory strategies to providing legal representation to children and youth in trouble with the law.

In the face of many obstacles, however, the clinic was established. The clinic is described this way on the UDM Law website:

In the Youth Justice Clinic, students provide representation and advocacy for indigent youth facing delinquency proceedings in juvenile court, school disciplinary matters in Detroit Public Schools and some cases involving students of diminished capacity. Students advocate at all stages of a client’s case, from conducting interviews, investigating allegations, negotiating with the prosecutor, opposing counsel or school officials, preparing motions, and conducting hearings with a goal is to assist juvenile clients in moving toward legal and future life success.

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Jennifer Kim | Oakland, CA
Jennifer Kim’s advocacy project was a legislative and budgetary effort to shrink and eventually close the abusive California Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) in favor of local realignment of juvenile services. She was directly responsible for drafting legislation, identifying budget advocacy and conducting grassroots organizing to achieve these goals. Strategies employed included:

  • Using a funding scheme that would best achieve a rapid reduction in the DJJ population.
  • Creating fiscal disincentives for minors charged in criminal court.
  • Eliminating time adds.
  • Allowing counties to recall wards.
  • Including family representation.
  • Creating enforceable standards for county juvenile corrections and probation.

Jennifer's advocacy project also focused on reducing Alameda County’s dependence on the DJJ. Based on the latest characteristics report from the DJJ from December 2010, at the beginning of the Leadership Institute, there were 65 youth from Alameda County in the DJJ. The project aimed to reduce that number by 50% or more, and reduce the number of annual commitments to DJJ from Alameda County by 50% or more. The project aimed to ensure that any reductions in commitments of youth to the DJJ did not also result in more outh in the adult system. An important backdrop to these efforts was that Alameda County had been awarded a $35 million grant to revamp its only probation camp, Camp Sweeney. Ultimately, the project would promote practices and policies aimed at creating a suitable environment of treatment for youth who would otherwise be sent to the DJJ.

Jennifer learned that many of the broad legislative and budgetary goals of her project would actually require at least one legislative cycle to succeed. Competing interests caused some pivotal support in the legislature to fall away at the last moment. One of those interests was organized labor. This dynamic has created a real need to explore creating practical coalitions with organized labor. Even within this contentious legislative environment, Jennifer and her colleagues were able to end time adds in the county and lower the age of jurisdiction from 25 to 23. From Jennifer’s blog entry on the Ella Baker Center’s website:

“This week, our commitment and your commitment to the youth and families has finally paid off. The budget process in California is always a roller coaster. Once we knew that DJJ closure through the budget was off the table, we immediately pressed for lawmakers to eliminate time adds at the very least. We once again won budget language to do just that. But this time around, Governor Brown’s signed and approved budget keeps our language intact-- we won!”

Over the course of the Leadership Institute year Jennifer and her colleagues used substantial, ongoing media coverage related to all of their campaigns. Coverage was found in television, print and internet sources.

Jennifer indicates that restricting, if not eliminating, solitary confinement for detained youth is the focus for her and her colleagues moving forward.

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Aurora Lopez | Oakland, CA
Aurora Lopez brings a public health and trauma remediation perspective to her reform efforts. In many urban communities, youth who become involved in the juvenile justice system do because of inadequate treatment of both personal and community traumas. The punitive responses to these youth -- e.g., gang injunctions -- further traumatize them and their communities.

Through her project, Aurora contributes to the base of youth and family leadership already present in her East Oakland community. Her goal of empowering East Oakland youth, young adults, and families to advocate for alternatives to incarceration (and other suppression-dependent strategies) means creating a community-level shift around the issues of violence associated with youth and its links to incarceration.

Aurora’s project taps into the creative impulses of the community’s youth, connecting them to established artists and speakers who can inspire and validate youth who are most commonly singled out for suspicion, surveillance, and arrest. In doing this, her project elevates the youth’s own sense of belonging and responsibility for themselves and their community.

Aurora identified a core group of youth who have been targeted due to gang injunctions. This group meets regularly; educating themselves about the presence of trauma, planning public events, and researching and discussing violence reduction strategies.

As this leadership group develops, Aurora has taken on the role of public spokesperson because the youth fear increased police harassment if they speak out publicly. In May 2012, she sat on a panel at San Jose State University on the criminalization of populations. Her task there was to counter the arguments of former Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts, a proponent of the injunctions. She envisions the time when the youth will be able to speak in defense of their community and themselves.

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Rukia Lumumba | New York, NY
Rukia Lumumba devoted the year of her project to creating an organizing and advocacy initiative to address the issue of parent/guardian disempowerment in the juvenile justice system. The project, entitled, "Our Children: An Initiative for Family Empowerment in the Juvenile Justice System,” is a system reform and advocacy effort that brings together public and private agencies, youth, parents, foster care parents, kinship care parents, and individuals concerned about the issue of family disempowerment in the juvenile justice system.

Her efforts to build the Initiative included: parent/caregiver focus groups about what parents/caregivers know and don't know about the juvenile justice system; why they are alienated from the juvenile justice system; what they expect from the juvenile justice system; and their opinions on how to bring parents into the juvenile justice process as advisors. The initiative uses a campaign/outreach strategy to use the information gathered from focus groups to train and connect parents to various advocacy groups.

Going forward, the initiative will also include a family empowerment and engagement coalition, titled "The New York Initiative for Family Empowerment (IFE)”. Following the Institute year, the coalition, or IFE, will create recommendations for family engagement and empowerment in the juvenile justice system. Some of the proposed issues for IFE will be: disproportionate minority contact with children of color; the criminalization of foster care youth (i.e. crossover youth); and the movement to raise the age of criminal responsibility in New York State. The goal of the initiative is to build family empowerment to negotiate the juvenile justice system by organizing parents and care givers to advocate on behalf of their children and participate in juvenile justice transformation.

Rukia deeply believes that a strong and visible presence of family members will compel the changes that are most needed to ensure that youth are treated humanely and fairly.

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Jason Smith | Skokie, IL

Jason Smith embarked upon his project never having worked so directly with raw data. But, at the urging of reform advocates in Illinois, he collected and managed data related to Village of Skokie’s youth citation program to evaluate its success and potential for replication statewide.

Instead of being formally charged and processed through the formal juvenile justice system, youth in Skokie are issued a citation that sets intervention services in the community in motion. The interventions include assessment and resource referral by a social worker, who serves as the case manager. The intervention process begins immediately after the juvenile's cited. In examining the data an assessment of success was made based on such things as repeat contact with law enforcement and cooperation by the youth with the prescribed interventions. The final report was slated to be used by the Illinois Juvenile Justice Initiative in crafting upcoming legislative efforts.

To accomplish the goals of his project, Jason was able to get “buy-in” and permission from the Village of Skokie to access the relevant data. As the project advanced, he was invited to present his findings to administrators and legislators in other jurisdictions in the state. Village of Skokie administrators, seeing value in his project, even accompanied him to presentations, giving real validation to his efforts. The Illinois Juvenile Justice Initiative usedhis report in crafting new policy recommendations.

In May, Jason also presented to his YJLI colleagues on how he accomplished his project. During his presentation, he explained the process by which he acquired the data, including how he determined which city agency possessed the data, and which agency had authority over the data. He also explained how he learned to navigate the "politics" of making the outcomes of the citation program public for the first time. Finally, he strongly encouraged more advocates to make use of data to further their goals.

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daNaE | Los Angeles, CA
daNaE Tapia’s project was one of the most ambitious. But the 1% project was not only hers, but also the stated campaign of her organization, the Youth Justice Coalition (YJC). In order to fund safe schools and stop relying on the mass criminalization, push-out, and arrest of students, the YJC was pushing for the transfer of 1% (or  $100 million) of LA County funds from law enforcement to:

  • 25,000 after school and summer youth jobs, prioritizing youth pushed out of school, are system involved or on gang databases, with a goal of giving them employment, and education enrichment, including college and/or vocational preparation;
  • 500 full-time intervention/peace workers working in and around schools to provide safe passage, truce building, mediation, and mentorship to keep youth in school and connect them and their families to additional resources and support;
  • 50 comprehensive youth centers to provide on-site homework help, college preparation, tutoring and test preparation, arts, recreation and team sports, job readiness and placement, career exploration; and
  • establishing a County Department of Youth Development to distribute the $100 million created annually by the 1%, as well as to build the vision and capacity of youth-serving organizations.

During the Institute year, daNaE was directly responsible for organizing one direct action at an abandoned public building in Los Angeles, coordinating twice-monthly coalition meetings, adding 40 new endorsements of the campaign by other organizations, and training community leaders and spokespersons; all of which she accomplished successfully.

daNaE  also presented to her YJLI colleagues on the Prison Abolition movement. She created a webinar using a PowerPoint presentation that introduced the other Fellows to the history and concepts underlying the movement to abolish prisons.

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Lynn Wu | Berkeley, CA
By addressing the real workings of the school-to-prison pipeline Lynn Wu’s project set out to improve educational outcomes for youth in jeopardy of juvenile justice system involvement. Titled “Supporting and Advocating for the Educational Success of Vulnerable Youth in Stanislaus County,” her project set out to encourage school districts, youth, parents, and probation administrators to adopt policies that contribute to school connectedness and success. Lynn, a former teacher, was able to identify numerous ways in which schools exacerbate the challenges faced by students.

Lynn’s goals included creating information handouts detailing suspension and expulsion protocols, designing trainings for school administrators addressing adolescent development as it relates to school disciplinary actions, identifying individual schools and districts responsible for the most suspensions and expulsions, and creating and training a pool of advocates to represent youth in expulsion hearings. Additionally, her project sought to introduce alternatives to suspensions/expulsions, such as restorative justice practices, and to improve school placements for students reentering after detention.

In the long-term, Lynn hopes to bring about passage of an education Bill of Rights, the first in California, and to develop a data-sharing system in Stanislaus County similar to the one in San Diego.

During the Institute year, she created four brochures for students about suspensions and expulsions, developed a agreement with Stanislaus County Office of Education to do trainings for school staff on the impact of suspensions/expulsions, and crafted a means of more effectively tracking the educational placements of students on probation.

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