In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak earlier this year, the GJJCI team worked closely with other advocates and the local juvenile justice agency to reduce the population of incarcerated youth by 72% and the population of detained youth by 83%. Additionally, the team worked in coalition with other community-based advocates to convince the DC Council to remove the police department’s control over the school security contract and return it to the public school system. This coalition also convinced the Council to reduce the overall funding for the security contract and redirect those funds to socio-emotional learning and support in the schools.

In January 2020, the Juvenile Justice Clinic launched a year-long Ambassadors for Racial Justice program in partnership with the National Juvenile Defender Center (NJDC) to provide a core group of defenders with resources, training, and support they need to challenge racial injustice in their direct advocacy and systemic reform efforts. The inaugural class of Ambassadors hails from ten states – Nevada, Illinois, California, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, New Jersey, Michigan, Louisiana, and Massachusetts. Throughout the year, the Ambassadors participate in regular training webinars that explore issues like civil rights litigation, data collection, race and police trauma, criminalizing normal adolescence, the school-to-prison pipeline, and policy advocacy, among others. They will also complete a capstone project of their own design and have been assigned state-based and national mentors.

Following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, the Ambassadors developed action plans to combat injustice in their communities. In June 2020, New Jersey Ambassador Ana Tent led an interactive statewide race-based training to teach defenders how to raise race in their legal advocacy. Ana is also working to introduce legislation to the New Jersey Senate requiring youth to consult with attorneys before waiving their Miranda rights. Each Ambassador is taking the lead to promote systemic reform through legislative advocacy, training programs, coalition building, litigation strategies, and peaceful demonstrations.

The Juvenile Justice Clinic’s Director, Professor Kris Henning, has continued to train defenders, prosecutors, judges, and probation officers across the country on the critical impact of race at every stage of the juvenile and criminal legal systems – from stop and frisk to sentencing.  These trainings introduce system actors to research on racial bias, stereotype threat, adolescent development, and the traumatic effects of policing on communities of color. Professor Henning has also been leading a series of monthly litigation trainings with NJDC to help juvenile defenders advocate for a “reasonable Black child standard” and incorporate racial justice arguments in their law and practice.

In October 2019, GJJCI and NJDC launched the Racial Justice Toolkit to provide defenders with training materials, sample pleadings, case summaries, and other litigation and policy resources to fight the criminalization and over-policing of people of color. The Toolkit has been a tremendous asset for the defender community. GJJCI’s engagement numbers have doubled, with a huge spike following the racial justice protests this summer. In June 2020, there were over 3,000 visits to the toolkit website.