Examining the role of public defenders in disrupting racial injustice

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Photo used with permission from Richard Ross.

www.juvenile-in-justice.com

 

Michelle Alexander wrote in The New Jim Crow: “The fate of millions of people—indeed the future of the black community itself—may depend on the willingness of those who care about racial justice to re-examine their basic assumptions about the role of the criminal justice system in our society.”

February is Black History Month. It’s a time for everyone to reflect on the legacy of progress that black leaders have left throughout history in the fight for liberation, equitable treatment, and empowerment. It is also a time for white allies to examine what they could be doing better to interrupt their own racism and that of others, what it means to support black leadership, and how our nation’s policies continue to oppress black lives. And indeed, it is a time for white allies to heed Alexander’s call to re-examine the role of the criminal legal system in society.

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Modest Reform: How JJDPA matters and why it is still not enough

On December 21, President Trump signed H.R.6964 – Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2018. This law reauthorizes the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) Reauthorization Act. First authorized in 1974, the act ensured certain minimum standards for the treatment of youth in the justice system, banning incarceration for status offenses (such as drinking, which is prohibited only based on the age of the accused) and adopting a requirement that youth incarcerated in adult facilities have sight and sound separation from adult inmates. Since 1974, reauthorizations of the law have included provisions that require states address racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system and incentives for states to use evidence-based interventions to reduce juvenile delinquent activity.

However, despite seeming longstanding federal commitment to the idea that all young people deserve a second chance, the JJDPA had languished, pending reauthorization, for more than ten years. So, when Trump signed the reauthorization act on the coattails of the much anticipated Second Chance Act, juvenile justice practitioners everywhere (myself included) were relieved and elated.

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The Sword and the Pen — A Story of a Veterans Creative Writing Group

In the spring of 2017, I was working as a Veterans Treatment Court Coordinator in Montana. I’d heard about groups that used creative writing as a form of therapy for veterans but hadn’t heard of any in Great Falls. So, I worked woman writing on mountain summit with the local Vet Center to start a group called The Sword and the Pen. Initially, we met every other Thursday and by October of 2017, prior to my moving to DC to pursue a graduate degree, we were meeting every week, rain or shine.

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Reframing our perception of young people in the juvenile justice system

I believe in art! I see it as a powerful tool whether used in teaching, as I’ve seen first-hand through the eyes of my good friend, Sara, who is an art teacher in a DC elementary school, or as I experienced this week during a remarkable photo exhibit, by Richard Ross, which focuses on juvenile injustice.

As I looked at the photos of young people not much older than my daughter, incarcerated and isolated I wondered: is it possible to reframe our perception IMG_20190205_160355of young people in the juvenile justice system to see them as young adolescents who are still developing, instead of, in a discriminatory manner, labeling and incarcerating them as offenders for adolescent behavior –ultimately causing irreparable harm?

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Friday News Roundup: February 1, 2019

Friday News Roundup

This week in the news – criminal justice reform is classified as a humanitarian issue in West Virginia, Purdue Pharma and several top executives are named in a lawsuit as profiteers of the opioid crisis, and a federal bill to support the expansion of veterans treatment courts nationwide is introduced in Congress. All these stories and more in this week’s news roundup. Continue reading “Friday News Roundup: February 1, 2019”