Painting a new picture of youth criminal justice

new-york-cropped-widerRachel Barnard (Bachelor of Architecture ‘04) went from designing structures in New York City to restructuring the criminal justice system through her not-for-profit organisation Young New Yorkers (YNY).

For five years YNY has provided diversion programs for 16 and 17-year olds who, in New York State, are prosecuted as adults. After successfully completing a diversion program most participants will have their case closed and sealed, allowing them to avoid the burden of an adult criminal record at such a young age.

“We provide arts-based diversion programs for 16 and 17-year-olds who are prosecuted as adults and are facing jail time,” said Ms Barnard.

“Our programs provide both a pathway for teens to swiftly exit the system and avoid a lifelong criminal record, and a platform for them to advocate for themselves and for a transformed criminal justice system. Participants design and host exhibitions exploring criminal justice issues and invite those involved in their sentencing to attend. Bringing teens and court actors together in this context humanises the culture of the courtrooms.”

YNY, which started initially as a public art project, has evolved into two court-mandated programs. The one-day and eight-week Arts Diversion Programs were developed with therapists, attorneys, artists, community leaders, and other experienced professionals.

Ms Barnard said the program is a platform for the voices of court-involved young people who cannot yet vote on the legislation which affects them most.

“Our ultimate mission is to transform the criminal justice system through the creative voices of young people who live across New York.”

“While we aim to transform the criminal justice system (and that’s a huge goal to have as an organisation) we cannot claim to achieve this alone. We have beautiful relationships with our criminal justice partners and there are some brilliant people within the system in Brooklyn who have created an environment that has allowed our work to be successful and our young participants’ voices to be heard,” she said.

Ms Barnard said her education prepared her well to tackle the challenges of this project.

“I had a great education that set the foundations for my design thinking and collaborative working approaches. My education at UQ set me up in unexpected ways for the work I’m doing now and I’m incredibly grateful for that,” she said.

The program has been well received by those working in the criminal justice system.

“In the courtrooms that we work in, YNY is a celebrated program. This is because of the collaborative justice model that exists between our partner agencies in Brooklyn. The District Attorneys, the defence attorneys, and the judges, have all agreed to involvement in YNY as an alternative sentencing option to being locked up and facing the repercussion of a permanent criminal record.”

YNY requires continued support, so anyone with an interest in this kind of work is encouraged to get involved.

“The best way people can assist is by either donating to us directly or for those in the New York area, by helping us build our capacity through linking us to foundations or organisations that may be able to fund us,” said Ms Barnard.

You can donate to Young New Yorkers here or find out more about their work at: http://www.youngnewyorkers.org

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