Deep this year deepened our partnership with the Chatham County Juvenile Court, which is currently struggling to shift its internal culture and systems to curb the over-sentencing of youth, especially youth of color. Deep operationalized recruitment of court-involved youth, significantly developed our supports for this population, and began integrating court administrators, parole officers, and judges into our programs. These partnerships are creating opportunities for court personnel to rethink the ways Savannah’s youth are dehumanized as they pass through the system. In these spaces, many of which overlap with Block by Block, Deep is pushing for narrative and systems change in the juvenile justice system as well as encouraging an overhaul of Savannah’s dominant narratives about youth of color.
Transformative Community Conferencing
BxB hosted a series of transformative community conferencing sessions focusing on Savannah’s troubled juvenile justice system. Youth, judges, parole officers, parents, and other stakeholders came, free from titles and uniforms and as equal co-learners, to share from the heart, talk root causes, and problem solve. Our mantra: “People aren’t the problem. The problem is the problem.” Without a doubt, there has never been another space or conversation in Savannah like this one: dedicated to an unflinching look at the harms of Savannah’s juvenile justice system that is inclusive, hierarchy-free, honest, and willing to get to the hard topics like race, trauma, and policing.
Context: Until recently Savannah had more than twice the number of court-involved youth than other GA counties, including Atlanta. The County has brought the number down, but we still have the most — by far. (Those are real numbers, not per capita.) This isn’t because our children are extra bad. It’s because Savannah sentences our children when we should support them. And the vast majority of these court referrals are boys of color. Again, it’s not because Savannah’s African American boys are extra bad. It’s because boys of color cannot play safely in their front yard or classroom, cannot have a bad day, cannot walk down the sidewalk, without being perceived as a threat.
One point made over and over in our restorative justice sessions: trauma runs through the ecosystem and is the result of historical and ongoing injustices. And this trauma is a corrosive element on all sides, from court-involved youth, to families, to police officers and educators. Hurt people hurt people. (Deep is working increasingly from a trauma-informed lens.)
This learning made for powerful raw materials for not just Deep’s creative products but for deeper ongoing future conversations with the courts and others involved in Savannah’s juvenile justice system.