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Imagining a More Humane, Fairer and Effective Juvenile Justice System

You could have heard a pin drop at the 2023 PbS Awards Night Gala as Abd’Allah Lateef, Deputy Director of the Campaign for Fair Sentencing of Youth, began to speak. He was one of three formerly life-sentenced children sharing their visions and stories as part of a panel discussion entitled: “Imagining a More Humane, Fairer and Effective Juvenile Justice System” moderated by Marsha Levick, Chief Legal Officer for the Juvenile Law Center. In the room were about 100 juvenile justice professionals who work in detention and correction facilities, community residential programs and probation services across the country.

He said he came to our event ready to lay into us. His experience in a detention center decades ago was anything but humane, fair and effective. But, he said, he wasn’t going to. He’d listened during the previous 60 minutes to Heidi Mueller, Director of the Illinois Department of Justice, and Joseph Dominick, Executive Director of the Florida Parishes Juvenile Justice District, the winners of the two 2023 PbS Barbara Allen-Hagen Awards, reiterate their commitment to treating young people like one of their own. He’d heard the J. Russell “Russ” Jennings Scholarship winner Dalton share his appreciation for PbS’ financial support and the compassion and guidance of his PbS mentor. And he enjoyed the live performance by Gary and Mee’Cour, the 2023 PbS Kids Got Talent Contest winners from the Ferris School in Delaware. Abd’Allah and his follow panelists, Donnell Drinks, Leadership and Development Coordinator, also of the Campaign for Fair Sentencing of Youth and John Pace, Senior Reentry Coordinator for the Youth Sentencing and Reentry Project, appreciated PbS’ commitment to treating justice-involved young people like one of our own and encouraged us to keep up the good work.

It hasn’t gotten any easier to work to improve our juvenile justice outcomes in my 30 years’ experience. Even though we know more now about how to help justice-involved young people and the skills and opportunities they need to give them the best chances for future success, adult-like practices and punitive policies continue in too many places. Putting research and data into practice requires commitment from the top down and professionals on the ground who care about young people. Our participants showed that they do both and do it well. Thank you Abd’Allah, Donnell, John and Marsha for recognizing their efforts and inspiring us all to keep pushing the rock up the hill.

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About the author

Kim Godfrey Lovett

Kim Godfrey Lovett

Kim is the executive director of the PbS Learning Institute. Kim was hired when CJCA incorporated in 1994 and has worked since it's inception to create the PbS system of continuous improvement to help facilities and agencies raise the quality of life and better conditions of confinement in youth facilities nationwide. She earned two master’s degrees: in journalism (Northwestern University) and criminal justice (Northeastern University.) She worked as a newspaper reporter for seven years prior to joining CJCA.

PbS has been a partner in assisting this facility to become a dynamic work environment that is not satisfied with maintaining the status quo.