Empowering Healing and Growth: Create Safe Spaces for Young People
My name is Jared Cooper. I was arrested and thrown into the criminal justice system at 18 years old. Through fighting for my life and freedom, I was able to break the shackles that so effortlessly tried to hold me back. Now, my primary focus in life is health and wellness, and I currently do restorative work with a nonprofit organization, Youth Art & Self-empowerment Project (YSAP) and advocacy work as a member of Advocates for Youth Justice with Juvenile Law Center’s Youth Advocacy Program.
YASP is an organization working to end the practice of trying and incarcerating young people as adults and instead create a world without youth incarceration. The Youth Advocacy Program at Juvenile Law Center provides youth with system involvement the opportunity to develop, propose, and advocate for effective solutions to longstanding systemic problems.
One youth-driven advocacy effort I have been involved with for awhile is the Youth Participatory Defense Hub through YSAP. The HUB for short is a community organizing model that supports young people and their families as they navigate the criminal justice system.
HUB focuses on 4 main things:
- Systems education which is teaching young people and their families about how to navigate the criminal justice system and specifically walking them through each process, what to expect, and how to prepare for upcoming court dates.
- Court support which is actually showing up for the young person and their families in court and writing letters on the young people’s behalf.
- Resource advocacy, which can range from connecting a young person to a job, to things like mental health support and therapy.
- Lastly, we create something for young people called social bio videos and social bio packets which show the judge who the young person truly is as opposed to being judged based on a crime that was said to be committed.
Being a young person directly impacted by the criminal justice system allows me to truly understand and be receptive to the ongoing issues surrounding criminal justice inside and outside Philadelphia. Being from Philadelphia, I believe it’s a city most impacted by our one sided criminal system. For youth who have had experience in systems, we see how harmful they are to children and how they break apart communities.
photo credit by Devin Avery via Unsplash