This week I was fortunate to facilitate a panel at the Annie Casey Foundation focused on social networks and the juvenile justice system. Some incredible folks doing some important work had an opportunity to reflect on their work helping families advocate and change the system, building networks of support and changing the practice of institutions. The session “Juvenile Justice and Social Networks: Tapping the Power of Family and Neighborhood Networks to Support Young People’s Long Term Success” was organized by Audrey Jordan of AECF. The 4 groups represented were: Lawrence Community Works, Family Justice Inc. based in NYC, Community Conferencing Center of Baltimore and Campaign for Youth Justice. There were some core messages that emerged from the stories and lessons of these 4 groups:
That much of what young people need to stay out of, survive or transitions well out of the juvenile justice system is a strong network of family and trusted adults.
That the juvenile justice system has not embraced “restorative” approaches and in many ways the systems have gotten more punative and more disconnected from communities over the past 20 years.
That the formation of networks of support will not happen on its own..BUT..does also not require and would not benefit from overly structured or rigid intervention – softer, more nuanced and flexible tools and supports are needed to “bake the community” (Lauren Abramson of CCC) to provide wrap around support.
That its about “being intentional and genuine” about engaging family members in a support environment.
That the institutions and bureacracies that dominate juvenile justice tend to teach workers and professionals to suspend their intuition about what people really need when they are in trouble or need support or assistance. At LCW we talk about this as fostering “habits of detatchment” when “habits of engagement” are needed.
It was affirming to see among the presenters so much resonance and evidence of the power of social networks to produce real and powerful outcomes even in the toughest family situations. It was disturbing to hear of a system that has little accountability to families and which grows and gets more disconnected every day. We heard that the movement for community based, restorative alternatives to a) incarceration and b) to support the integration of ex-offenders, is strong at the grass roots level, but still not a major force in our justive system. The battle continues on that front as it does on so many….Sooooo …to get inspired, and maybe to offer your support…check out these important efforts underway in the area of family and juvenile justice
Carol Shapiro founder and Director of Family Justice Inc. http://www.familyjusticeinc.org Family Justice taps the natural resources of families, the collective wisdom of communities, and the expertise of government to make families healthier and neighborhoods safer. Since its founding in 1996, Family Justice has emerged as a leading national nonprofit institution dedicated to developing innovative, cost-effective solutions that benefit people at greatest risk of cycling in and out of the justice system.
Lauren Abramson, Founder and Executive Director of Community Conferencing Center of Baltimore http://www.communityconferencing.org
The Community Conferencing Center (CCC) is a conflict transformation and community justice organization that provides ways for people to safely, collectively and effectively prevent and resolve conflicts and crime. Thier mission is To provide a highly participatory, community-based process for people to transform their conflicts into cooperation, take collective and personal responsibility for action, and improve their quality of life. Through partnerships with people, neighborhoods, governments and institutions, the Community Conferencing Center helps Maryland communities resolve conflicts and crimes within their own communities.
Grace Bauer, Mother of a formerly incarcerated youth and organizer for Campaign for Youth Justice http://www.campaign4youthjustice.org/ The Campaign for Youth Justice is dedicated to ending the practice of trying, sentencing, and incarcerating youthful offenders under the age of 18 in the adult criminal justice system. The Campaign is both a resource for Parents and advocated to Navigate the System, and an organizing strategy to organize parents and others to Change the System.