NJJN Puts Spotlight on Advocates with Annual Awards

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The National Juvenile Justice Network is shining a light on the often unsung work of youth justice advocates.

The group on Thursday announced its annual awards for six advocates who are pressing for juvenile justice reforms at the state and national levels.

For the first time, NJJN will give an “Emerging Leader” award. The inaugural recipient is Jeree Thomas, an attorney with the JustChildren program of the Legal Aid Justice Center in Richmond, Virginia.

Virginia Attorney Wins Inaugural Award for Her Work in Youth Justice Reform

Virginia Attorney Wins Inaugural Award for Her Work in Youth Justice Reform

Thomas is the campaign manager of the RISE (Re-invest in Supportive Environments) for Youth Campaign, which focuses on community-based alternatives to youth incarceration.

“When Jeree identifies an injustice impacting JustChildren’s young clients, she moves swiftly and steadily towards resolving it and you can count on her to succeed in doing so,” said Angela Ciolfi, Legal Director at JustChildren in a news release.

A second national award, the Beth Arnovits "Gutsy Advocate for Youth" Award, will go to Carmen Perez, executive director of The Gathering for Justice. Perez incorporates direct services, policy advocacy and public awareness through rallies, vigils and protests into her work on behalf of youth.

State Representative Raumesh Akbari

State Representative Raumesh Akbari

“By serving as a bridge between grassroots organizations and policy institutions, she’s fought to replace harmful practices and policies in the juvenile justice system and with policies and laws that support youth and families,” said Erika Stallworth, a founding member of the Children’s Policy and Law Initiative of Indiana, in a news release.

NJJN also recognized four juvenile justice leaders in Tennessee with three awards:

State Rep. Raumesh Akbari will receive the “Reformer Award” for championing criminal justice reform;

Mahal Burr & Evan John Ross Morrison

Mahal Burr & Evan John Ross Morrison

Mahal Burr and Evan John Ross Morrison from the non-profit BRIDGES, a youth development organization, will receive the “Advocate Award in recognition of a leadership program they created for incarcerated youth; and

Lauren Wilson Young of the Kemmons Wilson Family Foundation will receive the “Servant Award” for her work with youth, including through the Juvenile Intervention and Faith-Based Follow-up Program.

Lauren Wilson Young

Lauren Wilson Young

“We wanted to honor these leaders because they understand that Tennessee’s youth justice system is like a maze, with too many entrances and lots of dead ends,” said Sarah Bryer, who directs NJJN, in a news release. “They’ve each done crucial work to redesign the maze with fewer entrances and clearer pathways out, so that our justice system makes sense and kids can be rehabilitated and contribute to their communities.”

NJJN will present the awards in July at its annual conference, which will take place this year in Memphis.

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