Teens Make Recommendations to Reduce Youth Crime in Brooklyn

positive-youth-development_youth-justice-board-recommendationsOn Thursday afternoon, I was busy calming the nerves of ten teenagers, who were about to step onto a stage and give the first of two presentations on their newly published recommendations about how to reduce youth crime in Brownsville, Brooklyn, a small community with one of the highest crime rates in New York City. These young people, members of the Center for Court Innovation’s Youth Justice Board program, had been preparing for this moment for ten months.  
The Board members completed a final read-through of their speaking parts and made their way onto the stage for the program to begin. During the welcome address, a Brownsville community leader shared some of her personal struggles growing up in the neighborhood, including a period during her teenage years when she decided to sell drugs -- or, at least, she tried to.
Neighborhood dealers that she approached with her plan took one look at her and said, “You’re a good girl. Go back to school.” One high-school diploma, one college diploma, and one law degree later, she addressed the crowd with the message that anything is possible.
Something else struck me during her speech—the underlying lesson that sometimes the best ideas come from the most unexpected places. Sometimes it is the people that we aren’t used to listening to who have the ideas that we most need to hear. 

This, I realized, is the strength of the Youth Justice Board, a program whose stated goal is to bring the voices of informed young people into local policymaking. Teenagers are largely absent from the tables where many decisions are made that have a profound effect on their lives, whether the issue is foster care, juvenile justice, or youth crime. As members of the Youth Justice Board, teens are taught to critically investigate issues from multiple perspectives. To develop their recommendations about youth crime in Brownsville, the Board interviewed 35 individuals including crime experts at the City and State levels and Brownsville community residents and leaders. The Board also held focus groups with young people living, working, and attending school in the community. Board members considered these different viewpoints as they came up with ten original recommendations about how to reduce youth crime. 
As the Youth Justice Board took the stage last Thursday, I couldn’t have been more proud. The crowd listened attentively as the youths shared their ideas, which included focusing crime prevention efforts on middle school-aged young people, strengthening police-youth relations, and establishing a youth advisory board in Brownsville to permanently include teens in community development. 
Afterwards, the audience of police officers, community planners, and residents of Brownsville—including other teens—asked questions that made it clear that the suggestions the Board made had sparked ideas for many people in the crowd. More than that, the effect that this program has on Board members became clear. When asked about the best part of participating in the Youth Justice Board, one member said simply, “It’s nice to be taken seriously.” Board members will have their serious ideas heard by another group of policymakers this coming Thursday, June 9, 2011, as they share their recommendations with New York City policymakers.   
Next year, the Board will partner with community leaders and justice system stakeholders to implement some of the key recommendations in the report. I have a feeling that whatever they decide to work on will be unexpected and unconventional. In other words, exactly what is needed. 

The Board’s complete report on reducing youth crime, entitled Looking Forward: Youth Perspectives on Reducing Crime in Brownsville and Beyond, is available for download at www.courtinnovation.org/youthjusticeboard
On Thursday, June 9, 2011 the Board presented its recommendations to juvenile justice system stakeholders in New York City. Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes was the keynote speaker.

About the Author

positive-youth-development_Linda-BairdLinda Baird is the Program Coordinator of the Youth Justice Board at the Center for Court Innovation. She oversaw the development of the Youth Justice Board’s curriculum and operations toolkit, published in 2009, and I Got Arrested! Now What?, an informational comic book designed for youths involved in the juvenile justice system. Prior to joining the Center for Court Innovation, Ms. Baird served as an AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow, working with young people in Boston, Massachusetts, and as the National Policy Coordinator at The After-School Corporation in New York City. Ms. Baird earned a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and a M.Ed. from Lesley University.

Updated: February 08 2018