The Pittsburgh Foundation announced the completion of an eight-month study that involved partnering with community-based nonprofits to interview 53 youths and young adults with former or active cases in the county’s juvenile justice system. Foundation officials expect the 31-page report’s findings to spur grantmaking opportunities and community partnerships.
“If we mean to put an end to the school-to-prison pipeline, reform efforts must include listening to youth and involving them fundamentally in shaping programs and policy actions,” The Pittsburgh Foundation CEO and President Maxwell King said in a statement.
A common feeling echoed among the study’s participants, whose average age was 18: The adults in charge didn’t seem to care enough to ask why they had acted out.
“A lot of things happened that got me there,” a 17-year-old girl on probation told researchers, “and nobody ever went back and asked me what happened and how I had got there.”
“My mom tried to kill me, and I had to fight to survive, and I had to fight my mom,” said another interviewee, “and then I got in trouble for fighting her.”
A participant who faced repercussions for truancy pointed out that “a lot of times there are issues that keep you from going to school: heat, water, your clothes are dirty and you can’t wash them.”
The report, called “A Qualitative Study of Youth and the Juvenile Justice System,” marks the first research initiative to emerge from the foundation’s 100 Percent Pittsburgh efforts, which aim to study and reduce inequities across greater Pittsburgh.
“We really wanted to invest our energy in amplifying the voices of these kids,” said Michael Yonas, who led the juvenile justice research and is the foundation’s senior program officer for research and special initiatives. “We need this work to be about action and about helping support young people to thrive, and we want to continue to learn.”
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Read the full report here.