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Women Who Inspire Us

PbS is celebrating Women’s History Month by honoring the many amazing women across the country who have made a difference in America’s juvenile justice systems. We are proud to share the stories of some of the many remarkable women who have dedicated their lives to moving that conversation forward to help young people turn their lives around. Please check back regularly as we will be adding stories throughout the month.

Velvet McGowan

Velvet McGowan: Adding ‘Care’ to the Juvenile Justice Equation

Her first experience with juvenile justice was as a teenager. Since then, and for the past 30 plus years, Velvet has been turning the lives of troubled young people around and making sure that above all else, that 'care' is included in their care.
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Chyrl Jones

Chyrl Jones: Leading and Working When No One Is Looking

Chyrl is the first woman of color to step into the leadership position at the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and brings with her decades of experience creating opportunities for young people to realize their potential and determination to make positive change.
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Laurie Garduque: Place Matters

Laurie has spent her life’s work pulling together juvenile justice leaders and researchers to ensure laws, policies and practices are informed by science and data and pushing for reforms that ensure all the voices are heard at the table. 


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Kim Godfrey Lovett: Starting Each Day With a Grateful Heart

Inspired by all the women who shared their stories with PbS in celebration of Women’s History Month, and to honor all women in juvenile justice, I share my answers to the questions we asked of them.

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Joyce Burrell

Joyce Burrell: Be the Change

The granddaughter, niece, cousin and a friend of many teachers, Joyce understands the difference education can make, especially in the lives of young disadvantaged people. She believes in giving every child the opportunity to learn, creating the change she wishes to see in their lives.
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Marsha Levick

Marsha Levick: Demand a Seat at the Table

A staunch advocate for children’s and women’s rights, Marsha has launched legal challenges all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, where her work led to landmark decisions banning the juvenile death penalty and juvenile life without parole.

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Christine Blessinger

Christine Blessinger: Lessening the Challenges Through Education

Throughout the past 20 years Christine has worked for the Indiana Department of Correction in many different positions, dedicating her career to reforming the system and focusing her boundless energy on creating opportunities through education and skill development.

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Gina Vincent

Gina Vincent: Strive for Progress, not Perfection

Sometimes the road you’re walking on is not the one you want to be on. Gina is helping youths across the country turn their lives around and carve out a different path.

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Tracey Dompeling

Tracy Dompeling: Learning Through Listening

If anyone understands the importance of listening to create change, it’s Tracy Dompeling. Some of the best changes she’s made in juvenile justice have come from listening to the youths she serves and putting their needs first.

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Valerie Boykin

Valerie Boykin: From Funeral Parlors to the Juvenile Justice Courts

From funeral parlors to the juvenile justice courts, Valerie is a self-subscribed life-long learner, believing that every environment and encounter represents an opportunity for learning and growth.

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Lisa Bjergaard

Lisa Bjergaard: Owning Your Integrity

Lisa is pointed to as the longest serving current director of a state juvenile justice agency with 15 years as the leader of the North Dakota Division of Juvenile Services. She’s done it by doing her best to do the “right” thing – and had a few instances when she thought that might have cost her her job. Her ethic to be truthful to herself and others is not always easy, but essential in establishing confidence, trust and respect in moving towards a juvenile justice system that is fair.

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Melissa Sickmund: Serendipity Means Saying Yes

Melissa has rarely, if ever, been known to pass up an opportunity to talk about data. Her passion for turning data into information and she’s shared the insights with everyone from Peter Jennings and Joe Biden to middle schoolers hungry for knowledge.

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Heidi Mueller

Heidi Mueller: Being Intentional To Reach Your Potential

A youth advocate since she was a teenager, Heidi has helped countless youths do what they are meant to do – heal, learn and grow into healthy, responsible adults.

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Gail D. Mumford

Gail D. Mumford: Dunking Like Mike, Serving Like Serena and Opening Like Johnny

One of five girls raised in a single parent home in rural North Carolina, Gail became the driving force behind the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI), now in nearly 300 counties nationwide.

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Tanya Banks

Tanya Banks: No Standing on the Sidelines

From starting out as a juvenile probation officer to running the Ferris School, showing up daily and making hard decisions is what Tanya does every day to get the best outcomes for the youths in her care.

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Hear Their Stories

On Tuesday, March 23, 2021, PbS held its inaugural Women’s History Month live webinar, “Moving Juvenile Justice Forward – Women’s Perspectives.” PbS’ Executive Director, Kim Godfrey Lovett, speaks with three extraordinary women who have led critical reforms in juvenile justice:

  • Chyrl Jones, Acting Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP)
  • Laurie Garduque, Director, Criminal Justice, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
  • Velvet McGowan, Deputy Director, Division of Institutional Services, South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice

They share their insights and experiences on what the culture was like when they first entered the field in relation to gender diversity, the challenges in breaking the glass ceiling, groundbreaking changes they’ve witnessed over the years and what hope they hold for the future of youths in the juvenile justice system.