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Pura Strong OpEd
It’s important to listen to voices of people who have experienced juvenile justice system as Michigan makes reforms
The stigma associated with being a youth who experienced the juvenile justice system can have a negative outcome on the youth’s perception of themselves. Too often, they feel they are identified as a criminal and that stigma can stay with them as an adult. My name is Pura Strong, and I have lived through Michigan’s juvenile justice system. Today, I stand before the world humbled by my experiences and the challenges I have faced. But things have changed for me; I am now part of a generation of young, aspiring leaders taking a stance on juvenile justice reform by utilizing our voices and lived experiences to create a systematic change.
In recognition of the challenges facing Michigan’s juvenile justice system Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed Executive Order 2021-6 establishing the Michigan Task Force on Juvenile Justice Reform which was chaired by the Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist and Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Elizabeth Clement. Task force members include representatives from across branches of government, political parties, locales, and the juvenile justice continuum representing diverse perspectives, including youth and family members with lived experience of the juvenile justice system. The task force was given a year to conduct juvenile justice system assessments, develop recommendations, and provide a final report.
Within a year, the task force has started making improvements to juvenile justice work based on the recommendations of the task force. These recommend included synthesizing input from hundreds of interviews and focus groups, including youth and families directly impacted by the system.
One of the Task Force’s recommendations included creation of the Michigan Juvenile Justice Advisory Council. This council will ensure that youth with lived experience have a voice in helping shape juvenile justice policy and law. The Michigan Juvenile Justice Advisory Council is a group of young adults 18-30 years old who have lived through the juvenile justice system. The council consists of passionate young adult voices who share their experience and provide the department, the courts, lawmakers, and the public with their perspectives and suggestions on how the juvenile justice system can be improved.
Our goal is to expand our network by reaching out to youth in secure settings to hear and share their voice, work alongside the court, MDHHS, and juvenile justice service providers to address concerns raised by the Michigan Juvenile Justice Advisory Council members and other youth with lived experience in hopes to provide advocacy, testimony, and support improvements to juvenile justice programs and policies.
As a member of the Michigan Juvenile Justice Advisory Council, I am honored to serve as a chair and lift the critical work ahead. It is imperative that we work together as a community to establish meaningful changes for youth, families, and our state. Along with my fellow council members, we plan to create a system that provides equitable opportunities for youth and families who have lived experience in the juvenile justice system and give them the resources they need for a promising future.
Change starts from within. It requires sacrifice and determination from passionate members who recognize the importance of fighting for what is right! If you are a former juvenile justice youth, or a family member with similar experiences, we encourage you to embark on this journey with us and ask yourself what changes you see need to be made and how you can contribute to those changes.
Pura Strong, a resident of Belleville, is a chairperson of the Michigan Juvenile Justice Advisory Council. She is a foster care supervisor for Guiding Harbor in Belleville and has a bachelor’s degree in social work from Ferris State University and a master’s degree in social work from Clark Atlanta University.