CJJ's ELC Presents Policy Recommendations to Federal Leaders

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By: Aide Samantha Moore, Youth Partnership and Training Associate CJJ

On Thursday, Oct. 27th, young leaders had a one-of-a-kind opportunity to share policy recommendations with Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) Administrator, Elizabeth Ryan. Young leaders from the Coalition for Juvenile Justice’s (CJJ’s) Emerging Leaders Committee (ELC) and youth from the National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN), had the chance to join virtually and in person in Washington, D.C., to talk about issues that are centralized to youth in the juvenile justice system. CJJ’s ELC is a group of 9 youths ranging from 16-23 from around the country. They help plan and execute CJJ’s Youth Summit each year and ensure that youth voice is included in all aspects of CJJ’s work. The group recently created a series of policy recommendations that they shared with Administrator Ryan and her senior leadership team during Thursday’s event. 

The event was part of Youth Justice Action Month (YJAM) which happens each October. YJAM is a time for youth justice advocates to come together to organize events, raise awareness, and bring change to the justice system. The event is one of several that OJJDP, NJJN, and CJJ have joined together to host this year. They also participated in a  Players' Coalition virtual dinner with young people from Cafe Momentum and professional athlete Soul Cole, of the NFL, Paige Nielsen, of the NWSL, and Tim Patrick, of the NFL's Denver Broncos. 

During their conversation with Administrator Ryan, youth advocates were able to share and express the unique struggles that they have experienced, from dealing with immigration and juvenile justice to aftercare and the lack of resources that youth with a criminal history have. Time and time again, a central theme was: youth prisons are doing the job they were intended to do, creating spaces for youth to be sent to prisons instead of keeping families united, and youth in their communities. 

Gabriella Henry, a member of CJJ's ELC stated that “If we are talking about rehabilitating young people we need to give them structure. That structure needs to be meaningful and intentional. If rehabilitation is the goal then the first time youth come into contact we need to start the rehabilitation process… We need to have some kind of virtual record to keep track of their progress, certifications, as well as behavioral analysis.”

Other policy recommendations that were mentioned by youth leaders from NJJN and the ELC include:

  • Creating a board to determine if youth facing adult sentences have successfully been rehabilitated and giving them the chance to not have to continue their sentence at an adult facility.
  • Creating independent living programs that encompass basic skills such as apartment searching, getting government-issued identification, and other skills that youth need in order to thrive post-incarceration.
  • Removing barriers for youth who have a criminal background so they can pursue their chosen careers. 
  • Educating youth on their rights.  

At the conclusion of the event, young people had the chance to answer questions from OJJDP’s senior leadership and watched a video from John Legend thanking them for their work and dedication. 

While every young person that attended and discussed policy recommendations had a different story, it was clear that what unified them was a passion to change a system that impacts the lives of so many young people. Oftentimes we forget that cruelty begets cruelty but these youth are the exception, in these cases cruelty begat compassion. 

To learn more about the ELC’s Policy Recommendations to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) click here. To learn more about NJJN’s Policy Recommendations to OJJDP click here.