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Earlier this week, San Francisco Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer held a Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee hearing to discuss the current juvenile justice system’s shortcomings and to reimagine the role of community in the local system. At this hearing, a coalition of community-based organizations providing services to justice-involved youth in San Francisco came together in full force to shed light on the state of the system and lift up youth voices in the process for reform. Youth and service providers shared concerns over strained partnerships with the city and a pullback on investments in critical community-based services for the city’s youth.

Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer (far left) held a hearing to reimagine San Francisco’s juvenile justice system. CJCJ Deputy Director Dinky Manek Enty advocates for community-based programming.

Community-based programming plays a crucial role in the lives of young people who have come into contact with the justice system. As the proud member of a network of dedicated community-based organizations, the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ) leads numerous programs in San Francisco’s communities to protect and support youth close to home.

In particular, the Youth Justice Mentoring (YJM) program, which has been run by CJCJ since 2013, pairs probation-involved youth with mentors to provide culturally competent and gender responsive support. Mentors are members of the community that can relate to youth and who are trained to support youth at different points in the justice system. YJM program staff help assess a youth’s needs and strengths, develop a treatment plan, and provide linkages to additional services such as education, housing, and case management. 

Young people served by CJCJ’s YJM program have had many successes over the past five years. A young woman, Brianna*, began participating in the program last February and recently reached a positive milestone as she successfully completed probation. Her story serves as just one example of the optimistic futures in store for youth who receive the community-based support they need at a critical time in their lives.

Trang and Brianna stop at a plant shop on an outing together.

Brianna joined YJM while on probation and was paired with Trang Nguyen, a mentor coordinator and reentry case manager at CJCJ. With the support of the YJM program, Brianna committed herself to focusing on school and striving for stability as she navigated life’s challenges. When Brianna began working with Trang, she grappled with some instability in her home life and struggled to find confidence as many young people do at 17 years old.

Trang speaks of her experience working with youth like Brianna with love and compassion, explaining, They just need someone to show them support and provide guidance.” As part of their positive relationship, Trang went to all of Brianna’s court dates and supported her by helping maintain accountability and manage scheduling. Often times, seemingly small inconveniences can be huge barriers to a youth’s success. Mentors step in to support young people in overcoming obstacles overlooked by the system. Mentors attend meetings with the youth and their probation officer, take notes, and communicate information more clearly to help their mentee understand the next steps and successfully complete them. 

The probation process is really confusing to them, so we work to relieve some of the stress they experience and help them navigate the process” explains Trang. Her role as a mentor and reentry case manager includes a number of different responsibilities, but it’s all about the youth. Whether providing support in person, over the phone, or through text, the community-based mentoring program ensures that each youth has someone to talk to when they need advice or simply a shoulder to lean on. Since YJM mentors work as part of the youth’s community rather than part of the justice system, they are uniquely positioned to provide non-judgmental support in a meaningful way.

Brianna and Trang’s relationship has offered an opportunity for both women to feel cherished and to connect in meaningful ways. Often times, their conversations have centered on supporting other women and approaching situations with compassion even when it is challenging. Brianna has shown a desire to help her peers take a similar path by making choices to support one another and better their futures. 

Brianna and Trang enjoy a delicious celebratory dinner together!

This fall, Brianna successfully completed probation, which was a huge milestone in her progress. She worked extremely hard over the past year to get to where she is today,” Trang expresses proudly. In celebration of this major success, Brianna and Trang went to dinner at an Italian restaurant that does a delicious take on chicken alfredo – Brianna’s favorite dish.

During dinner, they enjoyed their time together with a lot of laughter, joking around, and reminiscing about the impact of the YJM program. During this reflection, Brianna expressed gratitude for Trang’s mentorship: I want to say thank you for being there for me and being such a positive influence in my life. I have always appreciated you and I want to make sure that you know that.”

Now, Brianna and Trang continue to stay connected. The relationship they have built over the past year is cherished by both women who share a special bond. As Brianna continues to focus on school and job opportunities, her future looks brighter than ever.

*Youth’s name has been changed.

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