Opportunity Nation Working Group Highlights: Exploring Juvenile Justice & Criminal Justice Reform

by Juanita Tolliver   •  

On the eve of the 43rd anniversary of the passage of the
Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), Opportunity Nation convened a group of juvenile justice and criminal justice reform-focused Coalition members and network partners for an exploratory dialogue about the current state of reform efforts at both the state and federal level. We discussed how they engage in this work, the challenges they face and how Opportunity Nation can elevate and substantively contribute to the work in the field.

Opportunity Nation is particularly interested in exploring juvenile justice and criminal justice reform — an issue area that touches the lives of a number of young people who are disconnected from school and work — because addressing the needs of system-involved youth and adults is a key component to authentically increasing access to opportunity for all Americans.

During our conversation, Marcy Mistrett, CEO of the Campaign for Youth Justice, and Alex Nock, Principal at Penn Hill Group, offered a robust state of play, and Dwanna Nicole, Director of Policy and Stakeholder Outreach at Advancement Project shared updates about implementing restorative justice practices in the field. Here are a few highlights:

While 2016 saw the rise of a bipartisan push for juvenile justice and criminal justice reform, and a shift in understanding about the need for reform on both sides of the aisle, we should not expect comprehensive reform related to policing, criminal laws and process, sentencing, prisons or re-entry just yet. Instead, the current focus at the federal level is on a bill to update the JJDPA, which hasn’t been reauthorized since 2007. The bill is currently in procedural conference, but there is concern about its likelihood of getting across the finish line given opposition to a key change that would prohibit the incarceration of young people who skip school or run away from home. Follow the National Juvenile Justice Network’s news updates for the latest information on the JJDPA.

Meanwhile, states have picked up the baton and taken action to reform record expungement policies, bail practices, mandatory sentencing standards, raising the age to ensure that youth under the age of 18 fall under the jurisdiction of the juvenile justice system, etc. To date, more than 30 states have taken action to reform juvenile justice and criminal justice practices. Check out the Campaign for Youth Justice’s State Snapshot and the Sentencing Project’s 2016 Policy Brief for more information.

In addition, during our open dialogue, some of our Coalition members and network partners flagged that a primary barrier they face in their work is related to re-entry and job placement — even after program participants received training and skills development opportunities. As outlined in our policy plan, Our Opportunity Nation, we are committed to expanding and supporting re-entry programs to reduce recidivism, and promoting fair hiring policies that prohibit discrimination. After discussing this barrier, we have decided to initiate preliminary conversations in the coming weeks and months with employers in our network about how we can address this challenge together.

As a next step, we encourage you to join our Coalition members and network partners in action with the following engagement opportunities:

  • Join Opportunity Nation as we initiate conversations with employers about hiring system-involved youth and adults. Email me for more information.
  • October is Youth Justice Action Month: Join the Campaign for Youth Justice in action by signing up to participate in community activities to raise awareness and to get closer to ending the practice of trying, sentencing and incarcerating youth as adults.
  • Help Advance the JJDPA: Sign on to Spark Action’s letter to urge Congress to pass the JJDPA.
  • Raise the Age Report: Read the Justice Policy Institute’s newest report on the growing national trend to Raise the Age, and how the youth justice systems are shifting towards more effective practices.
  • Join our exploratory discussions about criminal justice and juvenile justice reform, and share information about how your organization engages in this work. Contact me to sign up today!
Juanita Tolliver Juanita leads the strategic expansion, engagement and mobilization of Opportunity Nation’s Coalition in a collective advocacy effort driving policy change and impact at the local, state and federal levels as Opportunity Nation’s Coalition & Advocacy Manager. Her full bio can be found here.

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