This opinion editorial was originally posted on JJIE.org on August 5, 2014.By Natrina Gandana and Tony Mastria
As two of the Justice Policy Institute’s newest recruits, we are excited to join our fellow youth advocates from the Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ), the Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), and our partner organizations in the juvenile justice community for the 2014 Juvenile Justice Youth Summit. This two-day summit taking place August 7 and 8 seeks to fuel a new generation of reformers, allowing participants to hear from leading juvenile justice organizations. Attendees participate in a series of workshops and info sessions designed to enhance their knowledge on juvenile justice and ignite their passion for advocacy.
The summit’s hosts and participants alike understand how important it is to engage young activists in the dialogue around juvenile justice reform. Not only does this give them an early foothold in the movement; it also allows them to become invested in a crucial public issue that is so patently pertinent to their own generation. This rare opportunity to interact with peers and experts in the field is sure to provide a memorable experience and have a lasting effect on this group of future leaders.
We are excited to hear from organizations with which JPI has partnered, such as Campaign for Fair Sentencing of Youth, Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ), Youth Law Centerand more. JPI works very closely with these organizations in the National Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Coalition, where we jointly seek to advance safe and smart youth justice policies that connect youth to school, work and opportunity, and advance public safety. Juvenile justice issues significantly affect whether we have a system that is fair, rational and effective, and that helps young people transition to adulthood.
For example, among the topics being discussed in the conference is the school-to-prison pipeline, a series of events that occur when a student is referred by police to the juvenile justice system, starting them on a path of serious, lifelong negative consequences. JPI played a key role in showing that there are better ways to ensure public safety than having police in schools, with our report, Education Under Arrest.
By meeting with colleagues and learning firsthand from these organizations, attendees will begin to grasp the depth of these issues and the best methods for addressing them. This includes networking with our fellow members in the juvenile justice community, both young advocates and seasoned professionals. We are confident that this exposure to such diverse experiences and perspectives will be exceptionally informative and serve to illuminate our own future efforts in the field.
As members of JPI’s communications team, we are especially keen on observing the panel “Take Action: Using Your Voice for Change” (presented by CFYJ and the Just Kids Partnership), which will discuss how youth advocates can use their communicative abilities to campaign and organize on behalf of juvenile justice reform efforts. We’re also looking forward to the panel “Empowering Young Adults: Strengthening Youth Involvement in Juvenile Justice at the State Level” (presented by the Illinois Collaboration on Youth and the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission), which will teach young reformers how to maximize their impact on state-level justice reform efforts. Both of these issues — strategic communications and state and local advocacy — are areas in which JPI has long been involved, and we are hopeful that honing our skills in these subjects will give us the tools to contribute even more to our organization and to the broader movement.
While we have a lifetime of hard work ahead of us, we understand that the problems associated with juvenile justice cannot wait to solve themselves. This sense of urgency is what drives young reformers to action and demonstrates why it’s so crucial to engage youth in policy forums like this.
By taking part in this stirring congregation, we hope to collaborate with our fellow advocates to develop smart, proactive solutions to the myriad problems facing the juvenile justice system, as well as cultivate our own skills and knowledge to confront this crucial public issue. We are certain it will be an insightful and engaging summit that challenges youth to think critically about the issues in juvenile justice and encourage participants like us to become life-long agents for change.
Natrina Gandana is the Communications Intern at the Justice Policy Institute and Tony Mastria is JPI's Digital Media Associate.