Real Justice Means Ensuring Opportunities for Justice System-Involved Youth (opinion)

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OJJDP on 10/24/2022 by Liz Ryan, OJJDP Administrator

October is Youth Justice Action Month, a national observance underscoring the need for equity in the juvenile justice system and for centering directly impacted youth and their families to advance youth justice. OJJDP is committed to transforming the juvenile justice system to promote the welfare of all youth. Three priorities guide our work: 1) Treat children as children. 2) Serve children at home, with their families and in their communities. 3) Open up opportunities for system-involved youth. My blog posts during Youth Justice Action Month will focus on these priorities and how OJJDP is working to achieve them. The following post focuses on the third priority, Opening up opportunities for system-involved youth.

Justice system-involved youth deserve the same access to opportunities and services as their non-justice system-involved peers. Time in the system carries a stigma that may follow youth even after release, impeding efforts to find a safe place to live, obtain financial aid for college, get a job, or serve in the military. We can and must offer youth who encounter the juvenile justice system the guidance and opportunities they need to move forward in life: to find confidence, achieve success, and grow into independent, contributing citizens.

I value honest, firsthand insights, like the reentry experiences shared by justice system-involved young people at a recent webinar held by the Performance-based Standards Learning Institute, an OJJDP grantee. A panel of young adults spoke candidly about their lived experiences in residential facilities and their transition back to their home communities. One young woman, Amiyah Davis, recalled entering the juvenile justice system at age 10. After years of confinement, she had “no independent living skills” at her release, she said.

“I didn’t know how to wash laundry, let alone cook a meal,” Ms. Davis recalled. She did not know how to apply for public assistance and hadn’t learned about the range of services she could receive. The schooling Ms. Davis received while confined did not qualify her for a high school diploma. Connecting with someone like herself—a young person who had experienced “the system” but already maneuvered the hurdles she faced—would have made all the difference, she said.