Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama, US Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason, and members of the US Attorney’s Office (USAO) spoke to young women at the District of Columbia’s Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS) about the power of choice and relationships yesterday as part of the Justice Department’s National Reentry Week efforts.
This visit started with a sexual assault awareness presentation to educate girls at DYRS’s Youth Services Center (YSC) on prevention methods and their rights in the District of Columbia.
The girls then participated in a group session with Jarrett and Mason, who addressed their 37-year friendship and the importance of building healthy relationships. “We weren’t much older than you guys when we met,” said Mason. “The relationships you have when you’re young are really important…the choices you make determine the future leaders that you are going to be.”
The young women enthusiastically engaged in a dynamic conversation where they learned about the roles Jarrett and Mason play in US Government and asked how they might be able to follow similar, important paths.
“Well, a lot of the challenges in this country happened over the course of years, and we’re trying to fix them in a relatively short period of time,” said Jarrett. “If we can help you all just a little bit, and give you the confidence to live up to your dreams, we’ll have done something.”
Both Jarrett and Mason agreed that “we need to do better by our young people because young people make mistakes,” a sentiment agreed upon by DYRS Director Clinton Lacey, who had welcomed the youth saying, “You are greater than your worst mistake and that’s why we brought you here today. It’s a time for women of color rising up to leadership, and we want you to have every opportunity possible to be a part of this.”
The visit coincided with the agency’s new strategy and heightened focus on girls programming and services, which recognizes that girls enter the juvenile justice system with personal stories of trauma, poverty, and physical, sexual and emotional violence. DYRS is developing and launching a trauma-informed, gender responsive program that is focused on healthy development, healing, restorative justice, and keeping girls closer to their home communities and families.
The event stemmed from biweekly girls groups that the USAO holds at YSC on topics such as sexual assault, self-awareness and domestic violence. These groups started three years ago to address the specific challenges of young women in the juvenile justice system.
National Reentry Week is an effort by the Department of Justice to encourage and highlight the importance of “supporting successful reentry…because by helping individuals return to productive, law-abiding lives, we can reduce crime across the country and make our neighborhoods better places to live.” (www.doj.gov)