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Mardi 19 Novembre 2019

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Activists Must Take ‘Macro’ Approach, Address Fundamental Inequalities, NJJN’s Bryer Says

Tuesday 18th of June 2019 | Amerique du Nord, États-Unis
Juvenile Justice Information Exchange
Nouvelle

Sarah Bryer is planning to step down from her position as executive director of the National Juvenile Justice Network when her successor is chosen. The organization, which she led since its founding in 2005, works for a fairer juvenile justice system through a network of state-based reform organizations and with the alumni of its Youth Justice Leadership Institute. Here, Bryer talks with reporter Stell Simonton about the changes she’s seen and the continued challenges.

Stell Simonton: You’ve been at the National Juvenile Justice Network for 14 years. Over that period of time there has been a big shift in the juvenile justice landscape and I wondered if you might describe some of the changes.

Sarah Bryer: I began at NJJN in 2005, but I started working in this field in the mid-90s, … really at the beginning of the massive crime [decline] that we’re essentially still in. At this precise moment, [we saw the rise of] the Dilulio superpredator theory [which argued] that we weren’t dealing with normal kids. [It argued that] we were dealing with kids who had no moral center, who had no conscience, who aren’t able to feel guilt and therefore we had to be very scared of these young people and we had to treat them harshly.

Of course, all of this was very coded language around race … and it wasn’t true in any way, obviously. But the damage had already been done.

Even though we were at the beginning at this great crime decline, it was the beginning of this incredible surge of tougher crime policy. So we saw the expansion of transfer of young people into the adult system and treating them as if they were adults. [We saw] increased prison construction and a general discarding of the basic tenets of the juvenile court. [There was] a rollback of confidentiality concerns and an increase in detaining kids … So, as our communities were getting safer, our policymakers were ratcheting up these punitive responses.

[This] laid the ground work for increasing advocacy on the state level. The goal [was] to move policy based on facts, and data rather than based on fear and anecdote. The youth justice policy advocates — the community that NJJN was made of —really emerged from this fundamental contradiction of crime going down but crime policy is becoming more punitive.

Simonton: What were some of the things that you all did that swung [the youth justice system] in a better direction?

Bryer: You can’t underplay the importance of the MacArthur Research Network on Adolescent Development, which provided critical fodder for the policy [victories] that were to come, including many, many [U.S.] Supreme Court decisions. Many of our policy wins were based on this research that shows [adolescence is a] stage of life that demands a unique response from the justice system…I have to … note here that race defines our justice system … I would say still that we are only taking baby steps in this regard, we have not fully addressed this.

In March of 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that the juvenile death penalty was unconstitutional and that it was cruel and unusual punishment and that kids are deserving of different approaches and responses to their behavior.

Matière

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