TLTW big pic

2016 Juvenile Justice Leadership Honorees Teens Leading the Way. Front Row: Stephanie Bellapianta, An Tran, Idris Abdullah, Coy Walker, Carline Kirksey, Geoff Foster, director of organizing at UTEC. Back Row: Micah Quinonez, Jeff Alvarez, Melissa Maharaj, Gregg Croteau, executive director at UTEC, Hon. Judge Jay Blitzman, First Justice of Middlesex County Juvenile Court, Charice McMillan, Kimberly Walsh, Joselande Simon, Susan Le.

Last Thursday UTEC’s Teens Leading the Way (TLTW), a statewide coalition of young advocates, were honored for their juvenile justice work at the annual Citizens for Juvenile Justice’s (CfJJ) Leadership Celebration held in Boston.

“Teens Leading the Way combines smart, committed advocacy with personal experience to shine a light on critical issues,” said CfJJ Executive Director Naoka Carey. “We look forward to partnering with them again in the coming session, when we’ll be working to reform our juvenile records law.”

In the last legislative session Teens Leading the Way partnered with CfJJ to advocate for the expungement (erasure) of juvenile records in Massachusetts, a process the state currently does not have.  Youthful arrests can limit job, educational and other prospects, even after decades of law-abiding behavior. A bill that would have provided for expungement of juvenile records passed the state Senate this past summer but did not come to a vote in the House.

“Having a record is like a life sentence,” said Jamel Bonilla, 23, of Lawrence, who explained that a conviction at age 17 still limits his work opportunities. Bonilla got involved with Teens Leading the Way through UTEC, an organization he says was critical in helping him get on track. Today he is attending Middlesex Community College, where he is majoring in psychology in preparation for becoming counselor. “I want to help kids who are like me, high-risk, kids who are on a bad path,” he said.

Teens Leading the Way draws youth from member organizations throughout the state and offers them advocacy training. The young people then select issues that they will work on as a group.

In addition to Teens Leading the Way, the other 2016 “Juvenile Justice Leadership Honoree,” and the evening’s keynote speaker, was Adam J. Foss, one of the country’s leading voices for compassion in criminal justice. A former Assistant DA in Suffolk County (Mass.), Adam argues that prosecutors can and should use their considerable discretion to pursue a range of alternative approaches. His TED talk (“A procecutor’s vision for a better criminal justice system”) has been viewed over a million times.

The Leadership Celebration is an annual event hosted by CfJJ, which brings together hundreds of young people, advocates, and leaders from across the state. CfJJ is the only independent, nonprofit, statewide organization working exclusively to improve the juvenile justice system in Massachusetts. CfJJ advocates, conducts research, and educates the public on important juvenile justice issues.


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Source: Lowell Sun