Opinion: Juvenile Systems Need to Listen To, Trust Young People

Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

By Jaclyn Cirinna

The supposedly immaculate stone walls feel as if they are about to close in on me. I wait on court date after court date for a woman of privilege to apply a sentence or provide a “safe” placement for me. This woman asks questions every time I am dragged into that room by the shackles and cuffs that bind my voiceless frame.

These questions consist of: How is the program or detention center? How many females are there? What is the staff-to-youth ratio? These questions confuse me, because this woman stands so proper behind a wooden desk yet she has never seen the ill-lighted dungeons I have been in, off and on, since age 14.

When I was 18 and my commitment to the Department of Youth Services ended, I started consulting with the department. Now, once a month, I sit at the same table with judges, probation and department staff and do things like go over the statistics of races that enter the juvenile system in Essex County, Massachusetts, or try to think of alternative placements that would benefit youth. I am almost positive I am the only one in the room who can picture the youth face by face, voice by voice.

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