When James Bell founded the W. Haywood Burns Institute to engage juvenile justice system stakeholders in strategies to reduce racial and ethnic disparities, he also set his sights on supporting community based organizations led by people of color who are working successfully with system involved youth.
To identify how to best support these community based organizations, James convened an initial gathering of practitioners at Alex Haley Farm. These individuals and organizations decided that what was needed was a network to be utilized to support each other and the work they were doing, as well as to provide a national vehicle to engage the country in juvenile justice reform – led by people representing communities most impacted by the juvenile justice system. This gathering resulted in the founding of the Community Justice Network for Youth!
CJNY started with holding regional conferences to deepen relationships between members and answer the question, “What can CJNY do to strengthen your work on the ground?” Members identified that they wanted to learn from each other and to learn from the Burns Institute about how to be more strategic in challenging the system. CJNY heard this call and focused its efforts on facilitating partnerships between members, in order to build their skills and infrastructure through peer exchanges and technical assistance programs.
CJNY also grew to provide training on the methods utilized by the BI to carry out system reform. Most CJNY members were actively involved in pushing for reform from the outside, but were consistently shut out of the system spaces where real decision-making happened. In 2004,CJNY held a Youth Policy Forum to further these efforts and expand the visions of community based organizations.
While regional conferences, peer exchanges, technical assistance, curriculum development, and trainings for trainers were happening, CJNY embarked on another important organizing strategy: the formation of community led CJNY Task Forces. Starting at just two in number to seven today, CJNY Task Forces have been springing up across the United States as vehicles to carry out juvenile justice reform work– to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities once and for all!