My role at the Justice Programs Office (JPO) is to be heard but rarely seen. I am not asked to go to conferences and present on the constitutional right to counsel. I am certainly not going out into the field to provide training and technical assistance to adult and juvenile treatment courts. But you have probably seen my Friday News Roundup or read my social media posts. I liken my role at JPO to a spotlight. I use my writing abilities and communications knowledge to shine a light on the fantastic work that JPO does and on the talented people that work here.
I will admit upfront that my main passion isn’t criminal justice reform. I made the cross-country trek from Southern California to study at American University’s School of International Service as a graduate student focusing on national security. As an undergraduate student, I was chair of a board that ruled on cases of campus police misconduct. In a subsequent position, I assisted law enforcement with promoting their community policing efforts in a large city in Southern California. Yet time and time again when I try to pivot back to foreign affairs I return to criminal justice work. Maybe because no matter how much I want to look outward at complex global problems, I can’t help but think about the very real issues we face here at home. For example, that so many Americans face nearly insurmountable barriers upon release from prison. That the constitutional right to counsel is guaranteed yet disparately applied throughout the country. Or that many of our fellow citizens suffering from substance use disorders continue to see the inside of jail cells rather than receive treatment.
But having worked to share and communicate JPO’s projects to a wider audience I am left with a feeling of hope for the future of criminal justice reform efforts. My second week on the job I had the honor of sharing events from the Right to Counsel National Campaign’s Third Annual Meeting. Law enforcement, public defenders, prosecutors, and impacted community members came together to share their stories and strategies to ensure the right to counsel promised by Gideon v. Wainwright lives on today. At the National Association of Drug Court Professional’s annual conference in May our team gave presentations on judicial leadership in treatment courts, improving treatment court communications practices, and how prosecutors and defenders in treatment courts shift from adversaries to partners in getting participants to graduation. Only last month juvenile drug treatment court teams from across the country came to our office in DC to learn about OJJDP’s Juvenile Drug Treatment Court Guidelines and how evidence-based practices can enhance their services.
My job has been to share these events, create messages that convey their importance, and to document the incredible talent, hard work, and dedication of JPO’s staff. Nearly every day drafting these stories I find myself filled with renewed inspiration. There is a famous quote popularly credited to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. which says, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”[i] It is my hope that our blog, newsletters, and social media accounts inspire and remind you that the moral arc of the universe may be long, but it won’t bend towards justice without us working to get it there.
[i] Martin Luther King Jr., “Sermon at Temple Israel of Hollywood” (speech, Los Angeles, CA February 26, 1965), American Rhetoric, http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlktempleisraelhollywood.htm.