Reimagining Youth Diversion through Holistic Approaches
ChiByDesign partnered with the City of Chicago to develop a new model for youth diversion consisting of visions, principles, and best practices. During a public presentation/town hall, the mayor's office stated, "The City has adopted these principles to help guide any youth diversion and deflection work."
In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, policing and criminal justice reform took the main stage of many local government bodies around the country. Many of these conversations focused on modifications to the current system, but very few reforms centered the desires of communities in the front-end development of public safety. The Mayor's Office partnered with ChiByDesign to conduct engagement sessions with young people impacted by the justice system and trusted adults such as parents/guardians, school administrators, and community-based service providers to co-create guiding principles to inform youth diversion reform work in the future. ChiByDesign's goal is to end racial inequity. We do this by co-designing with communities and stakeholders most affected by racist and oppressive systems and amplifying their voices and desires.
The City of Chicago offers an opportunity for redirecting justice-involved youth through the youth diversion mechanism, the Juvenile Intervention and Support Center (JISC). It is a service-oriented alternative model that incorporates pre-arrest diversion and deflection opportunities and redefines law enforcement's role by providing youth with social services and resources or sending them home without further action.
The JISC model has been proven ineffective in diverting youth from the juvenile system, especially for youth of color in Chicago. The problem with the current approach to diversion is that it prioritizes policing and presents no alternative to arrest. It also does not focus on the needs of the youth, families, and communities to minimize harm. The City of Chicago's Mayor's Office understands a critical need for a new model for youth diversion in Chicago to support young people and their families appropriately.
From the creativity and expertise of youth and community partners, ChiByDesign created a co-designed framework that includes visions, goals, values, and principles for the new youth diversion model that can continue to evolve as the needs will. The engagement also led to recommendations for expanding youth diversion pathways beyond post-arrest diversion and replacing the current JISC structures. This new model has been set as the north star for the city as they work with partners to develop the future of public safety in Chicago.
Youth Diversion Co-Design WorkshopFirst, we virtually convened a Design Committee of nine - four organizational leaders and parents and five youth leaders - to articulate the values and principles of community safety through co-designing a vision for a future community.
Youth Diversion Prototyping SessionIn the second session, two organizational leaders and five youth leaders tested these values and principles' desirability and feasibility by prototyping a new justice-centered space for their future community.
Youth Diversion Equity-Centered RoadmapThe critical conversations and key learnings that emerged from the youth diversion sessions led to a co-designed framework that includes visions, goals, values, and principles for the new youth diversion model that can evolve as the needs of the city does. This engagement also led to recommendations for expanding youth diversion pathways beyond post-arrest diversion and replacing the current structures.
Understanding a critical need for a new youth diversion model that appropriately supports young people and their families, the City of Chicago Mayor's Office engaged ChiByDesign, for we pioneer co-design practices, where we design with, not for, the people closest to the need. As a Black-owned, people-of-color-led design firm, we are boldly anti-racist in our design process and the outcomes we create. We work to understand and identify how racism penetrates our society from interpersonal to structural levels and how they impact one another. Our goal is to end racial inequity. We apply this approach by co-designing with communities and stakeholders most affected by racist and oppressive systems and amplifying their voices and desires.
Research shows that disparities exist in juvenile justice in the nation.
— In 2017, Black youth represented 54 percent of youth charged in adult criminal court but only 15 percent of the total youth population.
— Black youth are nine times more likely than white youth to receive an adult prison sentence.
—Although 62 percent of children arrested in the U.S. were white, children of color were nearly two times more likely to be arrested than white children.
In the context of Chicago, the JISC model perpetuates these disparities and has not proven to be effective in diverting youth from the juvenile system. The problem with the current approach to diversion is that it prioritizes policing and presents no alternative to arrest. It also does not focus on the needs of the youth, families, and communities to minimize harm. The City of Chicago engaged with ChiByDesign to develop visions and principles that will serve as an equity-centered compass for the City as they collaborate with key partners to create the future of youth diversion in Chicago. Our community-led approach helped the City and our team understand and identify the various pathways racism penetrates the system. Furthermore, our approach emphasized the importance of co-creating with communities and stakeholders most affected by the challenge. Our due diligence enabled us to amplify the voices and desires of the community above all, for we believe this is the value-add needed to disrupt the disparities in juvenile justice.
Considering the nuance and layers of this issue, ChiByDesign determined three key objectives:
— To discover and understand how participants define safety, justice, and well-being.
— To outline supports and infrastructure needed for keeping a community physically, mentally, and emotionally safe.
—To identify and share systemic conflict resolution best practices.
The model developed in ChiByDesign's engagement is an equity-centered compass for the City to create new policies, practices, and infrastructure for community safety and juvenile justice reform. We engaged community members from the beginning to the end of this project through a series of co-design workshops. We convened a Design Steering Committee of nine members—four organizational leaders and parents, and five youth leaders for the first co-design workshop. These participants developed a vision for their ideal community by determining the values and principles needed to guide a future community centered on safety, justice, and well-being. They then considered the implementation of those values into their future community through technology, human and cultural elements.
To evaluate the feasibility and viability of the values and principles that emerged from the first workshop, two organizational leaders and five youth leaders served as the Prototyping Committee to prototype a new justice-centered space for their community today. The current youth diversion space resides within a police station. With the current climate surrounding how police officials engage with communities, especially those of color, it is imperative to consider the physical environment of a justice-centered space.
In the prototyping workshop, participants identified the following elements to include within this new justice-centered space that will create a more holistic youth diversion environment:
— Green spaces or plants. Participants emphasized the importance of incorporating natural elements into space.
— Quiet and reflection spaces. Providing youth with a dedicated space to process their emotions and reflect on their behavior enables them to problem-solve effectively.
— Meditative spaces. Meditation fosters healthy routines and habits to remain centered and maintain balance.
— Justice navigators. The participants identified key community members to assist and guide youth in more holistic pathways. These members include youth counselors, credible messengers, violence interrupters, outreach staff, mutual friends, other court-involved youth, mentors, and elders in the community. They will have instrumental roles in this new justice-centered space and should exhibit the following characteristics: make individuals feel loved and included, empathetic, caring, compassionate, non-judgemental, open to sharing their personal experiences, and good listeners.
The workshops spotlighted the importance of approaching this critical issue from a systems lens—understanding the complexities and nuances of engaging youth, their communities, and the policy and legislation that influence this engagement. The common threads that emerged from these workshops to create this new diversion model are systemic accountability – the new model must embed accountability in all aspects–and community-centric decision-making —the community is at the forefront of all fundamental changes and implementations.
Organizations, youth, and community advocates who were at the workshop worked together to define vision, principles, and best practices for youth justice-oriented projects moving forward and how to implement them:
Participants envisioned a system for community safety that was preventative and not just reactive. This means that intervention occurs before a particular action (or before the community is in a specific state). For this vision, the following principles should guide the City of Chicago:
— Early intervention. Making investments in youth early on to ensure success
— Resource equity. Making resources available and creating equitable access to economic opportunities.
— Connected pathways. Understanding the youth's unique needs of today as well as guiding them to create a productive future.
— Family-oriented. Activating and supporting families is an integral part of the process.
To also implement this vision, the community recommends the following:
— Assist with self-identity and personal development. Engage youth through career and social opportunities.
— Invest in community needs and divest away from things that do not meet those needs to improve community safety and well-being.
— Foster transparency in decision-making.
— Advancing the emotional and overall well-being of the community is equally crucial to community safety.
— Establish connections to support youth in shaping and building a positive future.
— Engage families to shape support.
Best practices include:
— Involve schools
— Create family-targeted services
The community also envisioned a system for community safety that was restorative. This means that serving justice should involve repairing harm instead of relying on fear and punishment. For this vision, the following principles should guide the City of Chicago:
— Community & connections. Creating a space where diverse community members can establish commonalities and be vulnerable with each other.
—Accountability. The collective responsibility community members have to hold each other and the judicial system accountable.
— Help vs. hurt. Demonstrate commitment to Restorative Justice and Transformative Justice.
To implement this vision, the community also recommends the following:
— Create safety by building community strength.
—Facilitate trust and healing in the community.
— Promote self-reflection and reconciliation.
— Create an equitable stake in holding each other accountable.
— Emphasize accountability over punishment.
— Provide opportunities to process trauma.
Best practices include:
— Organize forums to bring people in the community closer together.
— Create more restorative policies.
The third vision the community has for community safety is youth-led. This means that this community acknowledges and elevates youth as leaders who contribute to their community. For this vision, the following principles should guide the City of Chicago:
—Youth appreciation. Acknowledge and elevate youth as leaders who contribute to their community.
— Non-judgemental. Creating spaces where young people can openly make mistakes and learn from them.
— Participatory. Honoring the voices of children/youth in community decision-making.
To implement this vision, the community recommends the following:
— Provide opportunities to engage with young people, listen and have dialogue.
—Remove harmful labels that stigmatize youth.
— Young people need spaces JUST for themselves.
— Encourage hard conversations in an open, neutral environment.
— Provide youth with leadership opportunities.
Best practices include:
—Provide training for conflict resolution.
—Create a check-in process for youth to provide them with guidance.
To keep the conversation going after the project wrapped up, we co-facilitated two community engagement sessions with the City to solicit feedback for the initial framework. Participants included youth, parents, community members, individuals from youth-serving organizations, and more. These public town hall sessions provided a space to center the voices of community members. They began a long but critical journey of trust-building between the City of Chicago and Chicagoans.
Without question, nuances and various factors lead to youth involvement with the juvenile justice system, and the City must consider these things when creating pathways for diversion. This design process made it clear youth justice efforts must be preventive, restorative, and youth-led. The City has committed its efforts to "collaboratively reforming and reimagining diversion and deflection opportunities for young people in Chicago."