Justice For Families is an organization that is doing really great work nationwide to end our mass youth incarceration epidemic. They work on a multitude of levels: supporting families with youth in the system, training family members to be advocates for reform and helping them to testify for policy change. You can read their awesome report “Families Unlocking Futures” HERE and learn more about J4F in our Q&A with founders Grace Bauer and Zachary Norris below…
Q: How did Justice For Families get started?
J4F: The quick answer…
Zachary Norris and Grace Bauer founded J4F in 2010 to connect and catalyze the work of local family organizations working to end the nation’s youth incarceration epidemic. J4F is the only national juvenile justice reform organization in the field that is advancing systemic juvenile justice policy change including the while building a base of those directly impacted.
Q: What is the most important issue J4F is working on today?
J4F: We are working diligently to assist OJJDP in creating a set of family involvement guidelines to issue to the juvenile justice field, technical assistance providers, staff and grantees. Family involvement has yet to be defined in the field and creating the guidelines with OJJDP would have a significant impact on systems nationwide especially if the guidelines are used to influence the way federal dollars can be used by states.
Q. I’m sure in your work you have encountered people with amazing/heartbreaking stories about their experience with the juvenile justice system. Can you briefly share one with us?
J4F: One of our family members recently lost her son to suicide in prison and after a day or so she sent me a heart breaking email to tell me how hurt she was that family and friends seemed to ignore her loss or dismiss it. She had lost another son in accident several years ago and she told me how she had so much love and support that she couldn’t manage it all yet when this son died, people wondered if she would even have a service for him and hardly anyone came forward to offer support or bring food as she had experienced before. She said, “Do people not understand he is my son too and that I love him just as much and am just as devastated by his death?” I sent that email around and within 24 hours our circle of families began to fill the void. We are family to one another even though many of us are separated by great distances and our varied backgrounds.
Q: How does J4F envision the juvenile justice system in 10-20 years?
J4F: Our goal would be to see the juvenile justice system as we know it today gone. In its place we would have services and programs to help young people who are a threat to themselves and others in home like settings (such as Missouri). The vast majority of children would never need a facility because their communities and schools would be home to positive youth development options that we know help young people overcome challenges and become successful adults. Detention of children produces poor results at a higher cost. Community based services and programs produce far better outcomes for significantly less. We need more quality education services, community economic development and restorative justice programs. If we spent our tax dollars on these kinds of things we would not need cages to lock children up!
Q: What is the best thing that a concerned citizen can do today to take action in the juvenile justice system? How can a concerned citizen best support your work?
J4F: Most immediately, people can sign our Family Bill of Rights petition as individuals:
and move groups they are part of to sign as organizations:
lastly they can also share their own story by going to the following link:
Thanks Grace & Zachary!