(Photo by Flickr user Governor Tom Wolf, used under a Creative Commons license)
The eyes of the nation might be on President-Elect Donald Trump as he builds out his administration, but reformers holding out hope for progress might be wise to divert their gazes somewhere closer.
Especially advocates for juvenile justice reform, many of which may find themselves discouraged by the prospect of reanimating late-20th century America’s tough-on-crime policies. Instead, argues Stoneleigh Foundation Senior Program Officer Marie Williams, juvenile justice reformers should look to local leaders and local legislation.
“First, reform has always been local,” Williams argues in Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. “Apart from the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act itself, true groundbreaking reform in juvenile justice has almost always originated at the state level.”
State legislatures control over 90 percent of juvenile justice funding, writes Williams, making the national political climate all-but obsolete — as long as local leadership is aligned.
That’s why the foundation has placed public defender Rhonda McKitten inside the Philadelphia Police Department. For the next three years, McKitten will work to improve interactions between officers and youth of color. Meanwhile, policy researcher and child welfare advocate Dominique Mikell will be working with Juvenile Law Center to reform extended foster care in Pennsylvania.
By gradually planting local leaders in fellowships across the system, Stoneleigh is hoping to pave the path forward for juvenile justice reform.