YJLC Summit 2023: Exploring Alternatives to the Criminal Legal System for Children
The summit's agenda encompassed several critical topics that were discussed over four panels.
The first panel session began with a discussion with MiAngel Cody, André Gomes, and Anne-Marie Cockburn. The group spoke about their respective experiences in restorative justice as a legal practitioner, from a systems and policy perspective, and on a deeply personal level. They collectively offered a wide variety of restorative justice models and strategies for engagement with young people. MiAngel discussed restorative justice hubs in Chicago de-escalating conflicts using a “for us, by us” approach. André shared wisdom from Portugal’s policy decriminalising drug use and investment in public health initiatives. Anne-Marie concluded by leading the audience through her path to justice through letter writing with the man who sold her daughter a fatal drug dose and creating a policy campaign to end the failed war on drugs and better protect children.
The second panel session, with speakers Tayyiba Bajwa, Michaela Rafferty, Johnathan Akindutire, and Saqib Deshmukh, explored the interconnectedness of exclusionary responses to student behaviour and police activity in schools. The panellists looked to the increased reliance of police to manage children and questioned their efficacy in meeting the complex needs of children. Each panellist emphasised the same message: schools house groups of vulnerable students with complex needs, and police do not contribute to the environment students need to thrive. Drawing from social sciences, law, and the lived experiences of students, the panel then explored alternate approaches for student engagement that nurture a positive, productive environment for students.
Featuring government officials Alan Webster, Phil Bowen, and researcher Dr. Sarah Beth Kaufman, the third panel explored some of the work of the UK government to reduce criminalisation rates of young people and channel more funding into the youth justice system. Despite this progress, candid discussion from conference attendees demonstrated just how much more work needs to be done. The question-and-answer session of the conference’s third panel articulated that both a dramatic increase in funding and a fundamental rethinking of how the UK government approaches youth justice was necessary in creating a system that achieved the necessary goals of all in attendance. One such rethinking emerged from Dr. Kaufman’s discussion of restorative justice practices, which, when properly implemented in schools, cost little to run, reduce criminalisation, and foster a more engaged and compassionate school environment.
The conference’s final panel featured Chris Callender, John Drew, Dr. Hannah King, Raheel Mohammed, and Maya Sikand KC. The group highlighted central themes from previous panels, primarily that systemic failures by both civil and criminal legal systems cause cascading harms in young peoples’ lives. Legal practitioners spoke to the role of litigation to bring civil challenges against local authorities and public bodies for failing to fulfil their duty to protect young children, especially those at a heightened risk of vulnerability. Building from Dr. Kaufman’s earlier discussion in the third panel of restorative justice, researchers and community organizers advocated for a contextual safeguarding approach to youth engagement and greater investment in local infrastructure to better care for young people.