By Anne Teigen
Juvenile justice was the focus when legislators, senior executive branch staff and state budget officials from 15 states gathered in Chicago last month to exchange ideas for cross-collaboration and discuss current juvenile justice issues with national and local experts.
Convened through a partnership with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, NCSL collaborated with the National Governor’s Association (NGA) and the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO) to bring together officials from Alabama, California, Colorado, Delaware, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New York, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah and Virginia.
Participants learned about innovative and evidence-based safety policies and practices to improve outcomes for justice-involved youth. Participants discussed strategies to strengthen cross-branch and systemwide planning, including the coordination of executive and legislative initiatives and leveraging the budgeting and investment process.
The group also participated in a roundtable discussion on strengthening cross-branch collaboration to support statewide policy changes related to juvenile justice.
During a plenary lunch session, Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, discussed how youth incarceration is costly, ineffective and can seriously harm young people. He talked about reorienting the justice system by taking four action steps dubbed the “4Rs”: reduce, reform, replace and reinvest.
A highlight of the meeting was a trip to Youth Outreach Services (YOS) Day Reporting Center. YOS partners with the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice to accept referrals for the Day Reporting Center. Young people who go to the center already havebeen incarcerated and released but have problems meeting the conditions of their release and are at high risk for recommitment.
Young people who attend the reporting center develop an individual plan of wraparound services and spend daytime hours at the center furthering their education, learning life skills, and engaging in pro-social and recreational activities, and learn skills to enable independence when the program ends.
The group met with two young men who were referred to the center and who are now enrolled in community college, and witnessed a powerful program called called Story Catchers Changing Voices. This youth development arts program guides young people to transform their traumatic experiences into musical theater.
Professional staff coach young people through story-writing assignments, leadership development exercises, readings, critiques, planning sessions and rehearsals. The activities culminate in performances of a musical play built on a storyline developed from participants’ writing.
About 16 young men and women performed personal songs for the Cross-Branch Summit group that touched on anger and self-esteem issues, abuse, missing fathers and other trauma.
Heidi Mueller, the director of Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, who arranged the performance, said, “One of my main goals as director of IDJJ is to help get others to see our youth as we do: kids who are more than the mistake they made that landed them in DJJ, and who have already lived through more trauma than most people will ever experience.”
Anne Teigen covers juvenile justice issues in NCSL's Criminal Justice program.