An intensive 16-week arts program offers an alternative to incarceration while lifting up youth voices and addressing oppression.
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Decades of research shows that juvenile incarceration does not increase public safety and puts youth at further risk, causing severe trauma, inhibiting their ability to thrive in the future, and wasting tax dollars. Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities are disproportionately impacted by this system; nearly 75% of juveniles admitted to King County detention are youth of color.
In 2015, local community organizers, led by youth of color, helped to pass a Seattle City Council resolution that called for “zero use of detention for youth” and the use of community-based alternatives to incarceration. 4Culture and a cohort of community partners developed Creative Justice as an innovative approach to this effort.
Led by writer and educator Aaron Counts and artist and attorney Nikkita Oliver, Creative Justice provides intensive 16-week sessions for youth involved with King Cunty Juvenile Court to work with experienced and trained mentor artists. Over the course of the sessions, these mentor artists invite youth to consider the root causes of racism, classism, sexism, and other oppressions, focusing on the positive role youth voices can have in building a more just and equitable society. Participants meet as a group twice a week to dialogue, share a meal, produce original artwork, and learn new skills, working individually and collaboratively to express themselves through writing, music, performance, and visual art. At the end of each session, the youth produce culminating events to share what they’ve created.
After graduating from the program, participants have the opportunity to stay involved through the Youth Justice Leadership Board. These leaders, currently ages 16 to 19, provide program input to staff and advisors, serve as peer mentors, and collaborate on related creative initiatives.
Participation in Creative Justice is totally voluntary. Youth facing nonviolent charges are referred to the program by judges, attorneys, probation officers, social workers, and advocates. In exchange for their creative efforts, they receive community service credit and stipends to help cover court fines and other expenses, along with Metro bus passes to help remove barriers to participation. Through an agreement with the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, most participants see their charges dropped or substantially reduced.
Creative Justice. King County Public Art Collection. Video: KCTV