Four leaders honored for juvenile justice reforms

By John Lam

Four individuals have been honored for their work in reforming the Tennessee juvenile justice system.

“We wanted to honor these leaders because they understand that Tennessee’s youth justice system is like a maze, with too many entrances and lots of dead ends,” said Sarah Bryer, who directs the National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN).

“They’ve each done crucial work to redesign the maze with fewer entrances and clearer pathways out, so that our justice system makes sense and kids can be rehabilitated and contribute to their communities.”

The four recipients were:

Tennessee State Representative Raumesh Akbari received NJJN’s “Reformer Award” for spearheading bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation.

“We nominated Representative Akbari because of her courageous and compassionate work,” said Josh Spickler, executive director of Just City, the Memphis justice reform organization that nominated Akbari for the honor.

“Representative Akbari has distinguished herself by working with a variety of community partners, fellow legislators, and the Governor’s Office to keep our communities safe and support better outcomes for youth and their families.”

Mahal Burr and Evan John Ross Morrison, co-workers at BRIDGES, are recipients of the network’s “Advocate Award.” They created a leadership program for youth in lockup called Incarcerated Youth Speaking Out for Change. It is aimed at preventing other youth from becoming incarcerated, and tackling youth violence in Memphis.

Burr said that without the insights of those who know the problems best, we are blind. “Listen to these young men if you want to know what needs to be done to strengthen our schools, communities and jails.”

“Ms. Burr and Mr. Morrison asked a simple question: ‘Who understands the problems these youth face better than the young people themselves?’” Spickler said. “The result is a powerful program that can transform the lives of children who find themselves in trouble with the law — and our justice system.”

Lauren Wilson Young of the Kemmons Wilson Family Foundation received the network’s “Servant Award” for her work in making her community safer by helping youth in trouble with the law.

Young serves as chair of the board for the Juvenile Intervention and Faith-Based Follow-up program, which focuses on helping youth break the cycle of crime and offering them hope and employment for a productive future.

“Lauren has long known that changing outcomes for young people who are in contact with the justice system will depend wholly on the opportunities, support, and truly rehabilitative programming they receive during and immediately after incarceration,” Spickler said. “Her personal leadership in finding these kinds of solutions for Memphis children and their families is an inspiration to our entire community.”

The NJJN is composed of coalitions, organizations and alumni of the Youth Justice Leadership Institute across 43 states and the District of Columbia, all of whom advocate for a fairer justice system for children and teens.

The awards were reported June 30, 2016, on the njjn.org website.

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