On Oct. 29, the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law (UDC Law) Youth Justice Clinic (YJC) and community partner National Center for Juvenile Justice Reform hosted a symposium at UDC Law to discuss changing the narrative and practices around juvenile justice. In connection with Youth Justice Action Month, Candid Conversations: Changing the Culture of Juvenile Justice featured a variety of stakeholders committed to shifting the way the system impacts youth, including public defenders, lawmakers, law enforcement, youth justice advocates, judges, progressive prosecutors and D.C. youth. 

D.C. Councilmember Anita Bonds
addresses guests at a juvenile
justice symposium at
UDC Law on Oct. 28.

The student attorneys in the YJC, all of whom are part-time students engaged in an intensive 10-credit clinical semester under the supervision of Clinic Director Professor Saleema Snow, organized and facilitated the event. Executive Director of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice Naomi Smoot Evans ’13 began the event by framing the conversation about the racial disparities in the juvenile system. YJC student attorney Jennifer Tindie provided  statistics on the disparities in the juvenile system and the purpose of Youth Justice Action Month. 

Members of the juvenile justice community spoke on a panel titled Reimaging and Resetting the Juvenile Justice System. Speakers included Executive Director of the National Center for Juvenile Justice Rahim Jenkins, Director of the Office of Gun Violence Prevention Linda K. Harllee Harper (UDC ’88), Deputy Chief of the Juvenile Services Program at the Public Defender Service of D.C. Brittany Mobley, Deputy Director of the Office of Neighborhood and Safety Engagement Dana McDaniel, Executive Director or Peace for D.C. Lashonia Thompson-El and Director of the Court Social Services Division at the DC Superior Court Terri Odom

After lunch, the Clinic students facilitated small group discussions in two breakout rooms. The purpose was to collectively discuss strategies to address the issues facing the care, custody and treatment of juveniles.  

Throughout the program, anyone who wanted to engage in self-care could access a wellness room. The program explained that individuals “cannot honestly and effectively advocate for others if we do not advocate for ourselves.”  

Seema Gajwani addresses guests
at a juvenile justice
symposium at UDC Law
on Oct. 28.

YJC student attorney Rashiida Clark facilitated Disrupting the Youth Reentry Pipeline, featuring Jenkins, Social Services Officer at the Credible Messenger Division of the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services Musa Mahdi and Executive Director of DC Black Broadway Dr. Lovail Long Sr. This session examined how familial, societal and legal systems fail to provide safeguards to keep youth from reoffending and discussed strategies to fill the gaps. A lively discussion provided support and recognition to participants affected by the juvenile legal system.  

Student attorney Fenyang Stewart facilitated Know Your Rights: Myths v. Reality. Matthew Fogg (link), retired U.S. Marshall and Drug Enforcement Administration Agent and whistleblower, and UDC Law’s Criminal Law Clinic Director Ieshaah Murphy discussed the positive correlation between being stopped and arrested. In 2019, D.C. police stopped 2,213 Black youth while only stopping 61 white youth; 738 Black youth were subject to being searched while only four white youth endured a search. Given these deep disparities in treatment, participants shared their experiences and solutions. 

D.C. Councilmember Trayon
White, Sr. addresses guests
at a juvenile justice symposium
at UDC Law on Oct. 28.

Upon reconvening, The Moral Imperative to Action and Town Hall Dialogue included Special Counsel for Juvenile Justice Reform in the Chief Restorative Justice Section of the Office of the Attorney General Seema Gajwani; D.C. Councilmember At-Large and Chair of the Committee on Housing and Executive Administration Anita Bonds; Ward 8 Councilmember and Chair of the Committee on Recreation, Libraries, and Youth Affairs Trayon White, Sr.; Director of the Mayor’s Office on Returning Citizen Affairs Lamont Carey; Magistrate Judge at the U.S. District Court Judge Zia M. Faruqui and Mylan Barnes, recipient of DC’s most influential youth under 24. The participants were mesmerized and moved by “Invisible Crown,” spoken word by Makeda Crane ’18, in which she summarized highlights from the community summit. Many participants commented that the event was wonderful, necessary and expressed enthusiasm to participate in the event again next year. 

Other YJC students who planned and implemented the Youth Justice Action month event are Amber Stewart, Wenona Edwards and Omar Astrero.  

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