Across America, many neighborhoods in areas of historic divestment and concentrated poverty can easily count 20 incarcerated youth from within a few square blocks. Putting young people in the juvenile justice system costs millions each year, plucks youth from their communities, and leaves low-income neighborhoods of color bearing the burden of a broken system. Proposing a new, neighborhood-led model of youth justice, the Neighborhood Opportunity and Accountability Board (NOAB) offers a paradigm shift that relies on community leadership and supports youth to thrive. Launched by the Oakland, California–based National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, NOAB envisions a system of neighborhood-based boards governed by principles of positive youth development and restorative justice. Each board will consist of neighborhood residents, including community leaders, pastors, youth, victims, family members of system-involved youth, and others. Incidents will be referred to boards by the community, as well as by the police as diversions from formal proceedings. With initial agreements to pilot boards with the City of Oakland and the City of Richmond—two communities highly affected by mass incarceration and violence—NOAB seeks to re-route resources spent on locking youth up and instead invest in young people, their families, and their communities.
NOAB is a program of the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, which works to reform the juvenile and criminal justice systems; reduce gun violence; and promote positive youth development. We provide training, technical assistance, and management support to community-based organizations, government agencies, and philanthropic foundations throughout the country. We also advocate for criminal justice policy reform. Our direct service arm, Community and Youth Outreach, provides innovative and intensive case management and life coaching to system-involved youth and young adults in California.
In 2006, when I was a deputy director of the juvenile justice system in Washington, D.C., we had maps printed of the city with dots showing where children under our supervision lived. I noticed dots clustered in certain neighborhoods—in some areas, a few blocks had 20 youth under our charge. We were spending approximately $150,000 annually on each one, so 20 youth in a five-block radius equaled $3 million per year. I thought how much more effective those funds could be if they were spent within that neighborhood, and members of the community could be involved in youth rehabilitation. That’s how NOAB was born.
We are proposing to redesign the juvenile justice system, so traditional institutions like the district attorney’s office and other law enforcement agencies may be reluctant to change. Also, there are communities who have been used to youth who engage in delinquent acts being taken away, and there are some members of the community who want to see that practice continue.
I have been inspired by Vinny Schiraldi, James Bell, Chet Hewitt, Sandy Close, and Bryan Stevenson, among others.
I would have to say two people: Start with a 16-year-old who has experienced some trauma in his life, who has not received much support in school, and has poor attendance. That young man steals the car of a woman in his neighborhood. The woman whose car was stolen was then unable to drive her young daughter to daycare, so she missed work and pay for two days. NOAB is about getting that young man to go through a process with the victim of his behavior so that he is held accountable and the victim is made whole—a process that also involves community leaders.
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