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Youth Justice Leadership Institute | 2013 Advocacy Projects

Browse the 2013-14 Institute fellows' advocacy projects:

Nick Allen | Seattle, WA
Nick’s project is linked to his job as staff attorney at Columbia Legal Services in Seattle. The organization is working toward a comprehensive reform of juvenile sentencing in Washington State. The goals of his project are to: gather data in order to get a better understanding of the persons convicted of offenses they committed as youth in Washington State who will be affected by CLS’s policy efforts in the upcoming legislative session; build on community outreach efforts to increase support for changes in Washington’s juvenile sentencing scheme; and promote legislation that changes the way youthful offenders are sentenced in the adult criminal justice system in Washington State. Armed with the data gathered in the initial months of the project, he will argue that current sentencing policies fail to take into account the youth of the offender at the time of the offense, and that these policies have created widespread racial and class disproportionality and overly harsh sentences that do not take into account current adolescent brain science and youth’s potential for rehabilitation.

Natalie Collier | Jackson, MS
Natalie has chosen a project related to conditions of confinement and reentry for youth in Mississippi. She will conduct video interviews with young people who have spent time in juvenile detention centers about their time in the centers and how they were prepared to reintegrate into traditional school settings and/or their communities at large. The aim of this project is to: hear first-hand accounts of the conditions and culture of the juvenile detention centers in the state; to find things that are working and, more importantly, need to be improved in juvenile detention centers and further build policy recommendations based on these findings; compile the interviews into a short film to be screened for legislators and the community during the 2015 spring legislative session. This work may also prove beneficial to the long term goals of Elissa’s project. Natalie’s film crews will be comprised of young women from the leadership program that she coordinates in the state.

Kelly Gilbreth | Albuquerque, NM
As a mental health professional working with indigenous youth, Kelly created an advocacy project to organize and conduct a Youth Panel and Forum for Tribal Officials and Elders in New Mexico. The youth that she works with don’t feel heard or acknowledged. At the same time their voices are imperative for the tribal agencies to take into account. The adverse experiences faced by these youth are affecting their present; and in order to find healing for future generations, their truth must be taken into account. Tribal leaders have already indicated an interest in adopting policies that will positively impact the youth. Hearing from the youth directly will foster greater understanding by the tribal leaders and assist in their policy development. This information will not only serve to assist in the creation of prevention programs, but for transitional services, and to build an Alternative to Youth Detention Site. This project will also include a partnership with NICWA who has already voiced the need to develop a pilot site for Alternatives to Youth Detention.

LaShunda Hill | Washington, D.C.
Recognizing the needs of states with limited capacity, LaShunda’s proposed advocacy project focuses on building a comprehensive state legislative campaign, in the wake of Miller v. Alabama, for the fair sentencing of youth. This state campaign will begin in Connecticut and incorporate the voices of victims, those who are currently incarcerated and their families, impacted communities, faith leaders, unlikely allies and juvenile justice advocates. Utilizing four primary strategies (legislation, coalition building, community engagement, media and communication) her project will lay the groundwork for the introduction and successful passage of progressive post-Miller legislation that not only addresses juvenile life without parole sentences, but also other extreme de-facto life sentences in the state. This project is vital to the overall movement in rolling back extreme juvenile sentencing practices. In order to secure legislative wins, states will have to be equipped to create robust and diverse coalitions ensuring that the Supreme Court’s decision in Miller is applied broadly beyond simplistic and narrow compliance measures that replace mandatory juvenile-life-without-parole with other harsh punishments.

Elissa Johnson | Jackson, MS
This project titled “Passing the Juvenile Detention Licensing Standards” is a continuation of Elissa’s work at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) on conditions of confinement. During the 2012 legislative Session, SPLC supported Senate Bill 2598 which created a Juvenile Detention and Alternatives Taskforce. This group’s primary task was to develop recommendations for licensing standards that would apply to all juvenile detention centers in the state. Part of the Taskforce’s mandate also includes analyzing existing alternatives to detention and expanding and increasing the effectiveness of those programs. The recommendations from the task force are complete based in large part on the stipulations of a consent decree attained by SPLC, against a Juvenile Detention Center in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. If this legislation is passed, the systemic effect would greatly improve the juvenile detention centers in Mississippi and ensure counties are investing adequate resources in the operation of the juvenile detention centers.

Sabrina Leshore | Raeford, NC
This project is an ambitious community organizing project. The goal of the initiative Sabrina has crafted is to create a program that will: educate the most impacted communities about the juvenile justice system; provide tips to help the youth in their communities avoid the juvenile justice system; empower parents and community members by teaching advocacy skills which will prove effective to support juvenile legislation reform efforts; and support parents and families who are personally striving to survive the ills of the juvenile justice system by directing them to resources available in their respective counties. In this effort she will target two counties in North Carolina where she will recruit volunteers, hold informational events, and monthly meetings of family members. The intended outcome is to start a zealous juvenile justice reform movement within small communities throughout NC, consisting of parents and concerned citizens who are motivated and properly educated, and who are willing to advocate to their local leaders, state legislators, etc. regarding the well-being of the children in their communities.

Usha Maharajh | Stuart, FL
As a public defender handling juvenile cases in Florida, Usha sees the outcome of direct filing of juvenile cases. Her project will work to introduce legislation to end mandatory direct file, implement reverse waiver, provide criteria for when a child can be transferred to adult court, and look to develop a coordinated litigation strategy to attack direct file in Florida. The desired outcome is to drastically reduce the number of children prosecuted in adult court and to put the burden on the state to establish why a particular child would need to be prosecuted thusly, ensuring also that the children who are transferred to adult court have the opportunity to be heard and represented during the transfer process. She will engage all of the present actors in the state working on direct file to see how best to integrate her efforts, understanding that efforts in this arena have been undertaken previously by others. She intends to identify how she can help move this work forward.

Nadiyah Shereff | San Francisco, CA
The objectives and activities of Nadiyah’s project are to: raise awareness about the needs of parenting and pregnant incarcerated youth and the services that are (or aren’t available to them); convince the San Francisco juvenile department to collect data on parenting and pregnant youth in detention; provide young parents with a platform to share their experience of raising a family. Using qualitative and quantitative data she will craft policy recommendations based on the information received from city departments and the stated needs of young parents. Not only is there very limited funding for programs and policies that address parenting and pregnant incarcerated youth, there is no existing data on the number of pregnant and parenting youth who cycle in and out of the juvenile justice system every year in the city. If systems aren’t clear about exactly who they are serving, information resources and programs will not be sufficient to address the needs of young parents. Through creating a magazine and holding a community forum to gather data and input on needs she hopes to convince the San Francisco Juvenile Probation department to begin collecting data on the number of pregnant and parenting youth so that they are better served.

Alicia Virani | Long Beach, CA
Her work to institute Restorative Justice practices and policies in Long Beach, CA revealed to Alicia the need for a Restorative Justice coalition in Long Beach. A coalition of people focused on Restorative Justice and juvenile justice does not yet exist in the city. The coalition will be comprised of representatives from the following groups: the judiciary, district attorney, public defenders, police department, city council, probation, gang intervention workers, community and faith based organizations, and affected community members (including people who have been responsible for causing harm and those who have been harmed). Once formed, the one of the first tasks of the coalition will be to identify its goals. But, most, likely the initial goals will be to build community amongst the coalition and learn about Restorative Justice as it pertains to juvenile diversion. Alicia will act as the catalyst for the coalition and coordinator of it’s activities.