Home News Center YJLI Fellow Jasmine Jackson Finds Hope in Showing Change is Possible

YJLI Fellow Jasmine Jackson Finds Hope in Showing Change is Possible

November 24, 2020
Courtney M. McSwain & Sarah Natchipolsky



What got you into doing youth justice reform work?

I was always aware that we have a justice system that is not always fair, especially to people of color. I really wanted to be a part of that change. As I began to learn more and more about the criminal justice system, I realized many people have a history of court involvement starting from when they were in their adolescent years. And it was at that moment I realized I needed to shift my energy to the juvenile justice system and focus on rehabilitating and redirecting young people for positive and productive outcomes. The more and more I studied the juvenile justice system and became a practitioner in the field, it baffled me how jurisdictions were treating children and how differently each jurisdiction was treating this population. The laws and policies that were mimicking the adult system, the lack of effective treatment for youth of all needs and risk levels, subpar educational systems, and just the breakdown of family connection were all very troubling to me. And that's what led me to focus my career on youth justice reform. We really need a juvenile justice system that is about rehabilitating a young person and ensuring that their needs are met while also holding them accountable for their actions.

What got you into doing youth justice reform work?

I was always aware that we have a justice system that is not always fair, especially to people of color. I really wanted to be a part of that change. As I began to learn more and more about the criminal justice system, I realized many people have a history of court involvement starting from when they were in their adolescent years. And it was at that moment I realized I needed to shift my energy to the juvenile justice system and focus on rehabilitating and redirecting young people for positive and productive outcomes. The more and more I studied the juvenile justice system and became a practitioner in the field, it baffled me how jurisdictions were treating children and how differently each jurisdiction was treating this population. The laws and policies that were mimicking the adult system, the lack of effective treatment for youth of all needs and risk levels, subpar educational systems, and just the breakdown of family connection were all very troubling to me. And that's what led me to focus my career on youth justice reform. We really need a juvenile justice system that is about rehabilitating a young person and ensuring that their needs are met while also holding them accountable for their actions.

What are some of the things that you do as a senior policy specialist at the Crime and Justice Institute?

I provide technical assistance to states and local organizations, including strategic planning, use of data to support policy development, training, policy and practice implementation, and support of organizational development and system change.  For example, I would help states who are interested in alternatives to formal court processing by facilitating the implementation of a diversion process and helping them develop and improve their data collection and quality assurance processes to ensure there’s fair treatment in the services being offered and how the services are delivered to youth.

Tell us about your advocacy projects for YJLI.

My advocacy project is an initiative that recognizes and addresses girls’ diverse needs, which are at times different from those of boys. I plan to develop a resource guide that helps the people making decisions on behalf of girls better recognize and advocate against the biased treatment of those girls who are involved in the justice system, especially girls of color. I intend for this resource to promote positive and sustainable outcomes. More specifically, the guide can help someone improve outcomes for girls through gender and culturally responsive strategies that ultimately reduce the girls’ risk factors, prevent over-criminalization, and promote protective factors. It’s really a guide for practitioners: probation officers, agency heads, or legislators. I want this to be a guide where they can see that girls do have diverse needs, and there are some things that have to be a little bit different from how you treat a young boy.

Was there anything that prompted that particular project for you?

Prior to doing the work I do now, I was a probation officer. My caseload was primarily girls, and I worked in a gender-specific unit. I had the opportunity to see the difference in how girls were being treated in the system and realize that a lot of programs are not catering to the needs of girls. If you think about the history of the justice system, it was created with young boys in mind, and young girls often get grouped into services that aren’t addressing the real needs and circumstances that cause young girls to get intertwined with the system.

What motivates you in this work?

My motivation is the ability to see, or hear, or read stories of people, particularly Black people, doing amazing and innovative things in this field. We have such a long history of oppression in this country, and even in 2020, we're still dealing with racism and mistreatment. Regardless of our history, regardless of what's happening, there are people who are doing a lot of great things and making sure young people are receiving the services that they need. They're being creative in how they bring resources to underserved communities. Knowing that regardless of the circumstances or the limitations, there are agencies, organizations and individuals who are being creative and working tirelessly to make sure justice-involved kids are successful – that motivates me.

The second part of my motivation is being able to see a state or jurisdiction start off with very bad practices and then, after working with them and showing them the research, they make a transformation for better youth outcomes. It’s troubling to hear about what's happening in the world, but I know that there are agencies and states out there who want to make a difference and improve their systems. It’s hard to get to that point - it doesn't happen overnight. But the fact is there are agencies looking to make a justice system for young people that holds them accountable but makes sure their needs are met. Even if it's one county out of 100, that's motivation. Because that's really all it takes. People need to see it happening; if they can see those changes, then they will be more inclined and more encouraged to make a difference as well.

What’s your dream youth justice vision?

My dream youth justice vision is a system that is significantly different from the adult system. If you look at both systems side by side, you should see no link between the two. [I envision] a system where everyone is more concerned about what the research says, and they are delivering evidence-based programs and treatment.

And of course, fairness and equity within the system. If there are two kids from different neighborhoods, and they commit the same offense, they should still be treated the same way – they should still be afforded the same opportunities. A young person living in a wealthier, suburban neighborhood shouldn’t have all these diversionary opportunities, versus someone who is in underserved rural or city neighborhoods where they feel like the only way to get services is if they're actually under supervision. I just want fairness - structure and fairness.

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