Honoring Unique Identities in JDTCs

diverse group of hands put togetherAt almost every decision point in the US justice system, disparities of gender, race, and ethnicity can be observed. Even in the juvenile justice system, which is meant to be rehabilitative, black youth are locked up at almost five times the rate of white youth for the same crimes. It is also estimated that as many as 39% of incarcerated girls may identify as LGBTQ. Upstream in the justice decision-making process, black youth are far more likely to be arrested and charged compared with white youth, and white youth are more likely to be offered diversion (an intervention or alternative to incarceration) programs. Sadly, Juvenile Drug Treatment Courts (JDTCs) are no different, a 2016 study found that minority youth are underrepresented in JDTCs, and even if they are offered the opportunity to participate, minority youth have a lower rate of graduating JDTCs than white youth.

Of all the interventions in juvenile justice, JDTCs, with their explicit dedication to individualized case planning, engaging the participant’s family and community, and individualization of programming and responses to behavior, should, in theory, be equipped to support all youth in their access to, and graduation from, their programs. But, despite the incredible potential in the JDTC model, and the deeply committed and caring staff who work in JDTCs nationally, something isn’t quite working for all the young people they serve.

I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I would like to offer one suggestion. We must avoid falling into the trap of treating everyone equally, rather we must ensure we are treating everyone equitably. Equitable treatment means we must acknowledge differences in experience and culture and incorporate those differences into the case plans we develop for our young people.

Our nation has a history of mistreating and subjugating people based on race, gender, sexual identity, indigeneity, and a myriad of other identities, and people get understandably nervous when we start talking about acknowledging and giving the space for racial and gender differences. But in the context of a young person seeking recovery, this may not just mean recovering themselves, but also recovering and grounding themselves back in their identity within their community, ancestors, family, or tradition. As we recognize Global Diversity Awareness Month this October, with its explicit call to recognize and honor diversity and cultural differences, it seems timely to reflect on the services JDTCs provide, and how we can ensure cultural traditions and diverse racial experiences are honored in our programs.

Despite our commitment to honoring the individual experience, JDTCs may not offer therapy targeted at addressing generational trauma, or the historical impact of racism on people of color, despite research showing that these traumas manifest themselves in both physical and emotional ways. This is not to say that all black children experience, or internalize, racism in the same ways, but a holistic approach to recovery must include the opportunity to acknowledge, process, and begin healing from scars inflicted as a result of one’s race. Normal Cognitive Behavioral Therapies do not focus on this, but there are programs, such as the HEAT program, that do. HEAT was designed by black men, for black men, to help them rediscover themselves through spirituality, community, and family. This program goes beyond the idea that to engage in therapy it helps young black men to have someone who looks like them, and instead demands that the therapist and the curriculum help them process all their experiences, including those directly related to race, in order to begin to recover.

Not every JDTC can access the HEAT Program, but all JDTCs can think critically about the populations they have; or, based on demographics in their systems, the populations they should be targeting, and what needs or programming might aid the recovery of those populations. I was in a JDTC a while back that had an influx of refugees, and aside from the standard issues with finding translators and interpreters, the team had made very few adjustments to their program to help youth and families cope with the trauma of fleeing home, seeking asylum, or adjusting to life in the US. Skilled therapists would be able to help these young people process some of the trauma, but they should also consider what community or spiritual practices the family holds dear that would aid them in their healing process. JDTCs should consider how they might be a partner with the community to facilitate this healing (without being appropriative).

Given our history, and contemporary fears around racism and sexism, it is understandable that JDTC staff become nervous when discussing race or gender-based interventions for young people. However, it is important to understand that the way to help young people recover is to allow them to connect with all areas of their identity, and that requires us as staff to acknowledge them, honor them, and provide services based upon their unique needs, including needs related to race and/or gender.

By recognizing these different identities and experiences in our case plans, JDTCs may finally be able to live up to their true, individualized, potential.

 

Want to know more about addressing racial and ethnic disparities (RED) in your JDTC? Check out the NDCRC’s new RED Program Assessment Tool, or email jdtc@american.edu to learn more about our RED focused TTA.

Mental Illness Awareness Week Brings Attention to the Need for Treatment Courts

Why Care? Mental Illness Awareness Week

The National Alliance on Mental Illness’ (NAMI) Mental Illness Awareness Week runs from October 6th through the 12th. This topic has not only started to get more attention in the last few months but remains a critical issue in need of effective solutions. For those incarcerated or involved in the criminal justice system, assistance for mental illness is often overlooked and it’s even more true for individuals experiencing suicidal ideation.

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Public Defenders are Heroes

JPO Director Kim Ball with Mark Holden at Smart on Crime conference.

Public defenders are heroes. That message rang loud and clear throughout the third annual Smart on Crime Innovations Conference. From opening remarks by John Jay College of Criminal Justice President Karol Mason who explicitly highlighted defenders as criminal justice reform leaders to the plenary session on day two when Mark Holden and Justice Programs Office Director Kim Ball had a passionate conversation about why the Sixth Amendment matters.

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Friday News Roundup: September 20, 2019

Friday News Roundup

This week in the news: “How do you find your place in the world as an old man when you’ve never lived in it as an adult?” Read Haywood Fennel’s story of release after spending his adult life in prison, the call for federal leadership on civil justice reform from the Center for American Progress and the Justice Programs Office’s own Karen Lash, and more.

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Four Themes in Youth Recovery

Young girl behind a gate, holding the gate railings with her hand.

September marks the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMSHA) 30th Recovery Month! In these past 30 years we have witnessed the expansion of evidence-based clinical drug treatment and a shift towards addressing substance use as a public health issue rather than an individual moral failing. With new evidence and approaches, policy makers, medical professionals, and social workers are combating a decades-rise of drug related deaths: due to the often cited opioid-crisis. But one group is often left out of the conversation: young people.

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