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  • Writer's pictureJace Cardona

Convening for Youth Justice

Updated: Nov 28, 2023

Stakeholders in youth justice from across the country convened with the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The Five: Opportunities to Establish Equitable Youth Justice Systems convening took place on November 15-17 in Houston, Texas. The five opportunities are 1) Expanding Diversion & Prevention, 2) Building Community/System Partnerships, 3) Addressing Guns, Violence and Safety, 4) Creating Healing Spaces for Youth & Young Adults, and 5) Sustaining Detention Reform. As pictured below, Rhode Island was well represented!

(left to right) Kelsey Bala (RI Kids Count), Jace Cardona (RICJ), Ines Merchan (RI Foundation & Providence JHB), Larome Myrick, PhD (DCYF), Neyda DeJesus (Stop the Wait RI), and Sen. Dawn Euer (Judiciary Committee).


Over 400 people from 49 states, DC, and Puerto Rico convened in Houston, Texas with the Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF) to discuss five opportunities to establish equitable youth justice systems identified by the AECF Juvenile Justice Strategy Group. In an effort to go deeper rather than wider, attendees were divided into five different focus groups based on the five opportunities.

Kelsey Bala and myself were part of the Expanding Diversion and Prevention focus group. We were presented with the framework for best practices in juvenile diversion by the Applied Research Center for Civility at UC San Diego with the National Conflict Resolution Center. This framework establishes five guiding values and six principles to implement community-led diversion, which you can learn more about here.

Our group then traveled through the city and arrived at MECA (Multicultural Education and Counseling through the Arts), a community based organization providing youth programming in the arts as well as support services for youth and their families. They have two sites that beautifully exemplify the power of culturally responsive youth programming created by and for the local community.

Photo credit: Bryan Taylor

Ines Merchan and Neyda DeJesus participated in Building Community/System Partnerships focus group. They traveled to Eldorado Ballroom, a historical music venue, to explore the nature of the trust required to have strong and beneficial partnerships in which systems can amplify the capacity of communities to implement equitable practices and programs according to their values.

Larome Myrick, PhD and Sen. Dawn Euer were part of the Sustaining Detention Reform focus group. They traveled to the Opportunity Center, formerly a juvenile detention center now reimagined and transformed into an educational center for justice-involved youth. Here, youth are offered academic support and vocational training in many different careers such as carpentry, music production, and more. This is accomplished through partnerships between nonprofit community based organizations such as Project Remix and the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department. They discussed strategies to promote youth detention reform and the recent data about the effects of COVID-19 on youth detention. The results come from an AECF monthly survey which you can view here.

The Addressing Safety, Guns and Violence focus group went to the Buffalo Soldiers Museum, an African American military history museum. They discussed how data and science-driven safety and community programs that address the trauma from

feeling unsafe and gun violence can positively impact communities. The Creating Healing Spaces for Youth and Young Adults focus group visited the Shrine of the Black Madonna Cultural and Event Center, a space dedicated to the community by centering local black creators and black history. Here, the group participated in a healing circle and experienced the power of vulnerability to create meaningful connections within a community.

Overall this convening was an amazing demonstration of the nationwide commitment to our youth in the fight for equitable justice. I am very grateful to the AECF and Kelsey Bala for inviting me to come along on behalf of RICJ to share about the amazing work of JHBs and learn about ways we can improve. We return to RI reinvigorated and eager to continue our work.

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