Readout of Office of Justice Programs Leadership Visit to Houston to Meet With Juvenile Justice Leaders
Office of Justice Programs Assistant Attorney General Amy L. Solomon and Liz Ryan, Administrator of OJP’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, last week traveled to Houston where they joined juvenile justice leaders and other federal agencies for a discussion of strategies to provide a greater range of multi-disciplinary services for justice-involved youth and to increase the accessibility of those services.
Assistant Attorney General Solomon and Administrator Ryan addressed the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, an independent advisory body established to coordinate federal juvenile justice programs. Solomon and Ryan underscored the importance of keeping young people connected to their families and communities and of reducing youth contact with the system, emphasizing the necessity of alternatives to youth incarceration. The meeting in Houston marked the first time the council has convened outside the greater Washington, D.C., area.
“The power of partnership is on full display here,” said Solomon. “We all share a goal – of a nation where children are free from crime and violence, and where youth interaction with the justice system is rare, fair and beneficial. Through this council’s willingness to engage in collective problem solving, tapping the combined wealth of its expertise, I know that, working together, we will be able to build on the impressive momentum the juvenile justice field has generated in recent years.”
Ryan welcomed three new council members appointed by President Biden: Amiyah Davis, Project Coordinator for the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy; Michael Anthony Mendoza, Director of Advocacy for the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, which seeks to end mass incarceration in California; and Liz Simons, Chair of the Board of the Heising-Simons Foundation. Ryan discussed the critical need to focus the juvenile justice system’s efforts on supporting youth well-being.
“Young people need and deserve supports and services that will help them grow into their best selves,” said Ryan, emphasizing the need to help young people maintain family and community relationships and find opportunities for personal growth through mentoring and other connections. “The juvenile justice system must do a better job of helping youth to access supports like these. That’s why partnerships with each of the agencies represented here are so critically important. And it’s why we are so pleased to bring the council outside of D.C., so that we can learn more about the best ways to partner with communities in this essential work.”
During their time in Houston, leaders were able to tour the Opportunity Center. Formerly a residential facility for young people in custody of the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department, the Opportunity Center has been repurposed and reshaped, now focusing on reinvesting in young people in the juvenile justice system. The facility offers academic programs and vocational training, providing them with the necessary skills and training needed to maintain successful employment in their career paths. It also offers a range of services for both youth and the community, including food and housing assistance, mental health treatment, life skills training, clothing and financial literacy.
They also visited Workshop Houston, a youth development program for people ages 12-18 in the city’s Third Ward. Workshop Houston offers workshops and classes on music, media, graphic design, dance and fashion, and provides paid peer mentors, called “near peers,” for young people who have successfully participated and excelled in the program. The visit was arranged by Civic Heart, a community organization serving clients in the greater Houston area.
Civic Heart is an OJJDP grantee and serves as the intermediary host organization for Houston’s Youth Justice Community Reinvestment Fund. The fund, which was featured at the coordinating council meeting, supports six grassroots organizations, including Workshop Houston, that operate in communities most impacted by the juvenile justice system. OJJDP funding has helped Civic Heart build its own capacity to support these six organizations.
Henry Gonzales, Executive Director of the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department, and Dr. Sujeeta E. Menon, the Youth Justice Program Director at Civic Heart, spoke to the council about the benefits of reinvesting in youth and taking innovative approaches to youth justice. Council members also heard from Vidhya Ananthakrishnan, Director of Youth Justice Initiatives at the Columbia Justice Lab; Danielle Lipow, Senior Associate at the Annie E. Casey Foundation; Tiffany Echevarria, Executive Director of Collective Action for Youth; Dr. Mike Feinberg, President and Co-Founder of Texas School Venture Fund and Career for All; Kelly Venci Gonzalez, Senior Policy Analyst with the Harris County Office of Safety and Justice; Karlton Harris, Executive Director of The Forgotten Third, Inc.; and Charles Rotramel, Chief Executive Officer of Houston reVision.
About the Office of Justice Programs
The Office of Justice Programs provides federal leadership, grants, training, technical assistance, and other resources to improve the nation’s capacity to prevent and reduce crime; advance equity and fairness in the administration of justice; assist victims; and uphold the rule of law. More information about OJP and its components can be found at www.ojp.gov.