Just why did I leave D.C. feeling so energized and enthusiastic?
Well, despite being the city of muggy summer weather and partisan bickering, a little over a week ago Washington also played host to an amazing group of juvenile justice advocates and reformers from across the country, gathered for the annual conference put on by the National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN).
NJJN is a national group comprised of local organizations from over 30 states (we are Nebraska’s lone member) all dedicated to ensuring that all children and youth who come into contact with the justice system have fair treatment and access to what they need for healthy development. Over the course of the three day conference, our gathering learned about the latest research on what works in juvenile justice, discussed a vision of where our juvenile justice systems are heading with national leaders and partner organizations, and shared stories and strategies on how to achieve reform and make it last.
Nebraska made some tremendous strides towards reforming our juvenile justice system this past legislative session. The state’s commitment to serving youth in their communities, keeping them out of the system altogether, and reducing our reliance on detention and incarceration are admirable, as are the financial resources we put towards these goals.
But so much remains to be done, from successful implementation of new legislation across our state’s diverse communities, to reducing the presence of youth in adult criminal court, and on and on and on. Sometimes the size of the work left to be done can make me feel overwhelmed and wonder if the kind of wide-sweeping reform our kids and families deserve can ever be achieved.
That is precisely why NJJN’s conference was so inspiring. I returned home to Nebraska with new strategies, new ideas, and new stories of success from Wyoming to California to New York to Louisiana. I saw real examples of persistence paying off and defeats being turned into victories. I felt bolstered by the confidence and commitment in the room to work overtime for the well-being of our children and youth.
The task of reform is enormous, but so are the numbers of dedicated people who want all of our kids to have access to a bright future. Failure is impossible.