CJCA President's Message Winter 2018

Posted by Lisa Bjergaard
January 24, 2018

The word “awesome” is certainly overused in modern vernacular.  When I use it in this next sentence, I mean it not in the pop culture sense, but in the dictionary definition sense.  Awesome:  Extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear.

I have been impressed these past few months by the awesome power of social media.  Who knew, in September of 2017, that by the end of October 2017, we would have witnessed the phenomena created by these 6 little characters; “#MeToo”? 

Ok, before I go on, I first want to make it clear that I am not an investigative journalist and I am certain that anyone who puts in the effort may be able to quickly assert a set of “alternative facts” to the account that I am about to give, but please bear with me for a few more minutes.  As I understand the timeline, on October 15, 2017, Alyssa Milano suggested via her Twitter account that readers reply “me too” if they had experienced sexual assault or harassment.  The theory was that there would be many positive replies and this would serve to call attention to the magnitude of the problem.

By October 24, 2017, CBS News reported that the #MeToo had reached 85 countries and had been tweeted 1.7 million times.  In 9 days, Milano’s suggestion had become a “social media movement”.  I am pretty sure that unless you live under a rock, the #MeToo movement must have somehow caught your attention.

In recent years, CJCA has engaged in a great deal of work around the topic of youth trauma. We have done the deep dive into learning, discussion, and taking action to move forward the field’s response to this issue.  We have concerned ourselves not only with the impact of trauma on the lives of the youth we serve, but also for the staff who engage in this work.  We have seen successes, some large and some small.  Almost all of us, though, have met resistance, encountered barriers, and on occasion, experienced frustration and disappointment as we wrestled with embedded culture and practice.

Late this fall, as I watched how quickly the  #MeToo caught fire, I found myself wondering what would happen if there were a way for youth who had experienced trauma to call attention to the magnitude of this problem?  If the magnitude were more visible, would it be easier to be impactful?

I did a little more reading and learned something interesting. Turns out, Me Too has been around for a long time, more than 10 years.  Since about the time that twitter was founded, actually.  However, it took time and the right combination of events and messengers to catapult the movement into the spotlight. 

We move into 2018 continuing our work with AECF on developing a Toolkit for addressing the impact of trauma on staff, exploring the topic of “what Directors need to know about downsizing” with our partners at PEW, beginning work with the NCJFCJ and AECF to create some talking points about what might be the “gold standard” practices within youth correctional facilities, strengthening our organizational relationship to PbS, preparing for the 2018 class of New Directors, developing a leadership curriculum for second level managers and administrators and responding to the needs and interests of our CJCA membership through our regional meetings and semi-annual best practice session.  

The PREA Resource Center has provided a grant for us to conduct a PREA Summit at the Summer Meeting in Minneapolis.  This is in addition to our endeavor to conduct PREA summits in each of our four regions to highlight and share promising practices and broaden thinking around leadership and culture models in support of PREA implementation efforts.  CJCA continues engagement work with various jurisdictions to improve conditions of confinement and reduce the use of isolation and other types of restraint.  We are continuing efforts to improve the overall atmosphere and culture of facilities and improve long-term outcomes for all youth entrusted to our care.

Whether it happens in a flash like the #MeToo twitter firestorm, or whether it inches forward a bit at a time like the original Me Too movement, I am confident that CJCA is tackling the right issues, at the right time. I am also confident that our Executive Director, Mike Dempsey, is always on the lookout for new ideas and opportunities for CJCA to move the field of juvenile justice forward, not just on the topic of trauma, but on whatever issues emerge as relevant.  While I doubt that our work will become internationally famous on social media, I know 2018 promises to be busy and productive year.