Responses to Youth Today’s Coverage of JDAI and Models for Change

“Some people had strong reactions to ‘A Tale of Two Reforms,’ John Kelly’s cover package [in November] about the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI), the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change (MFC), and disproportionate minority contact (DMC). Several of the responses below have been trimmed for space; the more complete letters, e-mails and Web postings are at the JJ Today section of our website.” – From Youth Today

November 14, 2008

Dear Editor,

Your recent commentary on the DMC work of W. Haywood Burns Institute begs for a response with a bit more depth and insight.  Community in Ramsey County in Minnesota has been a highly engaged, critical force in our local effort to make substantive racial disparity reform happen.  Burns Institute (BI) continues to be a guiding light as we tackle the forces that resist this change. They were in town recently at the call of community forces. We know because we are among those who worked hard to bring them here.

There is a great deal to show from Burns Institute work in Ramsey County. Before BI emerged on the scene 3 years ago there was active refusal to engage in a conversation about racial bias in our juvenile justice system. While we see disparities everywhere we look in our system and the deeper in the system you look the greater the disparities, local systems leadership had become quite adept at deflecting the conversation.  We welcome the presence of the Annie E. Cassie Foundation and the W. Haywood Burns Institute in our local community. They have shaken the local landscape in such a profound way over the course of the past 3 years that now we are examining practices, policies and decisions within the juvenile justice arena as contributing factors to disparities.

Many of us believe that it is only through sustained, strategic pressure from community that we can affect true reform of criminal justice practices. When James Bell and his team are in town the balance of power shifts in favor of the community voice on this critical issue.  When the dust settles after they depart, we have typically advanced ourselves and our effectiveness in this work significantly. Just as there were champions in the 60’s that emerged to lead us through voting rights issues in this country, the Burns Institute, rooted in African American clarity, wisdom and experience, has appeared as a premier leader to provoke and guide corrections reform.

The Burns Institute stands out for the quality of the talent they have collected on their team and the coalition they are building around the country. They command a comprehensive grasp of the work ahead of us and the forces we are battling.   They come prepared with a strategic plan they have crafted to address the mess we have constructed of justice in this country.

The responsibility for real progress continues to lie with local juvenile justice leadership and their political will and courage to tackle the difficult decisions in house that can bring about the needed reform. This is where we should continue as concerned citizens to put our collective pressure. Let us avoid the all too human temptation to shoot the messenger.

Melvin Carter
Damon Drake
Joel Franklin
Laura LaBlanc

Click below to download a letter written by Ramsey County JDAI Executive Committee Co-Chairs Toni Carter and Judge Gary Bastian.