Connecticut juvenile justice reform needs more young leaders

Kelan Lyon

Hartford Juvenile Detention Center is located in the Frog Hollow district of the capital.

To properly tackle youth crime, we must work continuously with young people directly affected by the justice system. As a member of the younger generation dedicated to freedom and equality for all, we believe more young leaders should be in decision-making positions statewide and across the country.

Iliana Pujols and Jordyn Wilson

During our collaboration with The Connecticut Justice Alliance, a partnership between youth and adults working to end the criminalization of youth, we have noticed the glaring disparities within the “juvenile justice system”. For one, the fact that Connecticut still uses the word “juvenile” to describe young people in 2021 is deplorable.

Earlier this year, CTJA changed its name from The Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance to The Connecticut Justice Alliance due to the negative connotation associated with the word juvenile. We believe that as a society we need to use people-oriented language and remember the implications that negative connotations have just for the sake of tradition. This initiative was spearheaded by the transition of CTJA’s leadership and the expansion of its team of legal advisors.

Justice counselors are a group of young leaders with first or second hand experience with the legal system. When we started with the organization as legal counsel, we had no idea that we would eventually be part of the CTJA leadership team. Iliana started with the organization as a founding member of the legal advisers and moved to their direct supervisor in 2018. Jordyn started her time with the organization as a legal advisor in 2019 and moved to their direct supervisor in September 2020, while Iliana rose to director of policy.

A year into our roles, we reflected on our journeys as young leaders, especially during the pandemic, and the importance of working in partnership with the young people the system has directly affected. Since the creation of our young-adult partnership, the CTJA has increased the number of decision-making tables and continues to press for other spaces to do the same. We realized that only adults who believe they know what is best for young people who make all the decisions does not lead to good results. Our young people are savvy and able to communicate their needs much better than any generation before us.

We also realized how our perspectives were very different from those of most professionals and since then we have been able to introduce young people to conversations about policies and help stakeholders solve the fundamental issues facing communities. , identify these issues, invest in credible messengers, and receive a lot of interest in our vision session practice, which allows our team to have transparent conversations about system gaps and how to address those gaps. across the state in various ways.

Visioning sessions empower youth and communities to create equitable solutions to youth crime and voice their needs to reduce their involvement in the system. Simply put: these are solutions created by young people, for young people.

We cannot continue to develop policies for young people, communities and families without including them in the conversation. We need to work with all those affected to find practical solutions. It is time to recognize experience as expertise. How else would we know if the programs or services are working? Or how would we identify the gaps? We urge legislative bodies, organizations, agencies and programs to center the experiences and opinions of young people and organizations like ours.

This month, we celebrate 20 years of working to end the criminalization of youth and hope to move the next 20 years toward justice by promoting youth leadership across the state.

Iliana Pujols and Jordyn Wilson are the Policy Director and Community Connections Associate for the Connecticut Justice Alliance / Bridgeport, respectively.

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