On Wednesday, March 6, Solid Ground President & CEO Gordon McHenry, Jr. received the 2019 Norm Maleng Advocate for Youth Award for his work as Chair of the Washington State Partnership Council on Juvenile Justice (WA-PCJJ).
Gordon has chaired WA-PCJJ since 2016, during which time the council has advocated for a number of issues facing justice-involved youth. WA-PCJJ aims to prevent delinquency, improve outcomes for justice-involved youth, and reduce ethnic and racial disparities within the juvenile justice system.
During his speech at the Norm Maleng Advocate for Youth Award Breakfast, Gordon spoke to some of WA-PCJJ’s achievements so far: “I’m proud of the work that is being accomplished, such as increased diversions, alternatives to incarceration, more use of evidence-based practices, incorporation of brain science into juvenile justice strategies and tools, increased prosecutorial and judicial discretion in place of auto-decline, and extending juvenile rehabilitation services and jurisdiction beyond age 25.”
“At Solid Ground, we work hard to make sure that those who are most directly impacted by a system are at the tables where decisions are being made to try to change the system. One of the reasons why our Partnership Council is being recognized by the CCYJ and across the nation is because we are one of the few state advisory groups that has justice-involved youth actually serving on the council.”-Gordon McHenry, Jr.
According to Racial & Ethnic Disparities data from the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, Black and Native American youth are disproportionately securely detained and arrested in comparison to Asian and White youth. Furthermore, the data shows that non-white youth are diverted from the juvenile courts at significantly lower rates than White youth.
According to Gordon, one of the leading vectors of racial disparities in the juvenile justice system is the Valid Court Order, a long-standing piece of Washington state legislation that allows for youth to be detained and arrested for “status offenses,” which are only offenses due to a defendant’s age (such as truancy or underage alcohol use).
“Sometimes a youth will run away from a dangerous home – and instead of us as a community working together to find a safe place for the youth, we fall back into blaming and detaining them because they ran away and broke the law,” elaborates Gordon.
As a society, when we detain and arrest youth for status offenses, we send a message that we do not care about institutional and systemic factors that drive youth to break the law in the first place. We should be motivating, advocating for, and franchising our youth, not sticking them behind bars with lifelong consequences for one wrong turn.
The WA-PCJJ has not simply advocated for the rights and protections of justice-involved youth, it has also equipped them with the tools and resources needed to advocate for themselves under Gordon’s leadership. Justice-involved youth now serve on the council, integrating their voices into policy processes and decisions that determine the outcomes for their futures.
“One thing that we’ve done is very analogous to what we do at Solid Ground: We work hard to make sure that those who are most directly impacted by a system are at the tables where decisions are being made to try to change the system. One of the reasons why our Partnership Council is being recognized by the Center for Children & Youth Justice (CCYJ) and across the nation is because we are one of the few state advisory groups that has justice-involved youth actually serving on the council,” states Gordon.
The future of any society relies on the contributions of its youth, and thus it can be said that every society owes a debt to its youth. Gordon McHenry, Jr. and his colleagues at the WA-PCJJ have paid homage to the youth of Washington state today and forever by helping to make sure juvenile justice in our state values not only equality, but equity as well.