Juvenile Justice

This October we celebrate Youth Justice Action Month (YJAM), a month of bringing awareness to and encouraging and inspiring action on behalf of young people that have and are currently being impacted by our criminal justice system.

Voices is committed to advocating for a more fair and equitable juvenile justice system and do so through assessing current juvenile justice policies and practices as well as partnering with the Utah Board of Juvenile Justice on key initiatives.

Below you will find recommendations for system involved youth and their families when interacting with the court system, along with other information and research in support of a more equitable juvenile justice system.

We also invite you to join us on October 20th as we celebrate Youth Justice Action Month with an online showcase highlighting and elevating youth voices including those that have had experience in the juvenile justice system. 


Recommendations for Utah Policymakers, Courts, and Youth & Families 


In August, we released a new report, Who's Helping Kids in Utah Courts? in which we assessed Utah's system for ensuring that all children in juvenile delinquency court are being represented by a defense attorney through a series of court observations.

The report had some good news to celebrate including that over the past two years, Utah children appearing in juvenile court without a defense attorney decreased from 33% statewide to less than 5%, revealing that Utah children now almost never waive their right to an attorney. 

Furthermore, our findings lead to several recommendations for policy makers, the juvenile courts, and youth and their families that are system involved. These recommendations are available in both English and Spanish. 

Who's Helping Kids in Utah Courts?: Executive Summary & Recommendations  English | Spanish


Juvenile Record Expungement Clinic (Register by Friday, October 8) 


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We are pleased to partner with the Utah Board of Juvenile Justice & Utah Juvenile Defender Attorneys in their efforts to provide a virtual juvenile delinquency record expungement clinic on October 29, 2021 and is providing FREE assistance with applications for expungement.

The clinic is open to individuals with juvenile delinquency cases which were originally processed in Salt Lake County, Tooele County or Summit County.

The deadline to apply is October 8th. Space is limited and registration is required. Register today at: bit.ly/expunge123 Questions? Please email

And Yet We Rise: October 20, 2021 at 3:30pm 


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In recognition of October as Youth Justice Action Month (YJAM), we have partnered with the Utah Board of Juvenile Justice to host a free, public, virtual event at 3:30pm on October 20, 2021. And Yet We Rise will elevate the voices of young people, including those who have experience in the juvenile justice system, through a variety of formats interwoven into an online showcase. Leaders, both youth and adult, will be awarded for their service and commitment to the juvenile justice system. Register here today! 


Recent Reports and Information 


Below is a list of recent publications in regards to supporting a more equitable juvenile justice system in Utah. 


Racial & Ethnic Disparities Advisory Committee


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The Utah Board of Juvenile Justice (UBJJ) has a state Racial and Ethnic Disparities Advisory Committee that is dedicated to addressing racial and ethnic disparities at key points in the youth justice system. The committee has county-level working groups in areas with the highest concentration of youth of color: Salt Lake, Utah, and Weber. If you are passionate about youth justice and would like to get involved, please contact Alyssha Dairsow at

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Salt Lake City - Voices for Utah Children released publicly today (January 6, 2021)  "#InvestInUtahKids: An Agenda for Utah's New Governor and Legislature," the first major publication of our new #InvestInUtahKids initiative. 

Utah begins a new era in this first week of January, with the swearing in of a new Governor and Lt. Governor and a new Legislature. The arrival of 2021 marks the first time in over a decade that the state has seen this kind of leadership transition. Last month Voices for Utah Children began sharing with the Governor-elect and his transition teams the new publication, and on Wednesday morning Voices will share it with the public as well.

The new publication raises concerns about the growing gaps among Utah's different racial, ethnic, and economic groups and lays out the most urgent and effective policies to close those gaps and help all Utah children achieve their full potential in the years to come in five policy areas: 

  • Early education 
  • K-12 education 
  • Healthcare
  • Juvenile justice
  • Immigrant family justice

The report, which was initially created in December and distributed to the incoming Governor and his transition teams, closes with a discussion of how to pay for the proposed #InvestInUtahKids policy agenda. The pdf of the report can be downloaded here

Published in News & Blog
July 30, 2020

Juvenile Justice

Dedicated to creating a more fair and equitable juvenile justice system 

Utah’s juvenile justice system has a lot to be proud of.  Thanks to legislative and community efforts over the last several years, our system has become smaller, less punitive, and more youth-centered. Youth and their families now have greater access to early interventions that prevent court-involvement, rather than only having access to support and help once misconduct occurs. State and local stakeholders utilize more evidence-based programming, and make decisions driven by data and collaboration. 

Equity, however, remains an elusive goal for Utah’s reform efforts. Despite many strong policy reforms, children of color still are overrepresented in our juvenile justice system. This is true from the first point of contact with law enforcement and other authority figures, all the way to secure care adjudications for youth who are deep in the system. Children who identify as LGBTQ+, have disabilities and come from low-income families also struggle to have their needs met within our system. 

We want to ensure that all youth have access to interventions and supports that work for them and for their families. These resources should be available early and often, before youth misbehavior becomes dangerous for the youth themselves, as well as for the broader community. Voices for Utah Children is dedicated to promoting policies and recommendations that contribute to a more fair and equitable juvenile justice system for all Utah youth.

Published in 2020 Issues
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While racial and ethnic disparities in the system have always been part of the reform conversation, equitable treatment and representation of all children (regardless of race and/or ethnicity) was not an explicit goal. So, four years later, how has our juvenile justice system improved with regard to equity?

The more pointed question is, has our system improved at all when it comes to the equitable treatment of children of color?

Voices for Utah Children is proud to announce the release of our new report, “Striving for Equity in Utah’s Juvenile Justice System,” an update to a collaborative 2017 report on racial and ethnic disparities in Utah’s juvenile justice system. 

Co-authored by policy analysts Ciriac Alvarez Valle and Anna Thomas, “Striving for Equity” shows that while enormous strides have been made in the past four years toward improving Utah’s juvenile justice system, equitable treatment of youth of color remains elusive. While the system overall has shrunk in size - youth arrests, referrals and petitions to court and admissions to locked to detention are all on the decline - youth who identify as Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) comprise a growing portion of the court-involved population. 

In our writing of this report, we were unsurprised to learn the following: when efforts to achieve equity are not intentional and direct, equitable outcomes remain elusive. 

While Utah’s juvenile justice system has decreased in size, overall, disparities between different racial/ethnic groups mostly have gotten worse. For example: 

  • In 2015, white children made up about 75% of the school-aged youth population in Utah, and only 58% of petitions to juvenile court. In 2019, white children were 74.2% of the general population, and only 51.8% of petitions to juvenile court. 
  • In 2015, Black children made up slightly more than 1% of the school-aged youth population in Utah - but 5% of all petitions to juvenile court. In 2019, Black children were still close to just 1% of the general population...but made up 6.9% of all petitions to juvenile court. 
  • In 2019, children of color made up the majority of youth in both locked detention and secure care facilities in Utah. In four years, non-white children grew from 43% of locked detention admissions to nearly 51%, and from a disappointing 54% of the secure care population to a staggering 61.2%. 

The report - which uses 2019 data from the Administrative Office of the Courts, the Division of Juvenile Justice Services, the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice and the Bureau of Crime Statistics - also explore state progress on recommendations made in the 2017 report, and makes new recommendations for policymakers and community members to pursue in 2020. 

Utah deserves plenty of accolades for juvenile justice system improvements so far; making equity a more explicit goal in the state’s system reform efforts could position Utah’s juvenile justice system as the best in the nation. 

Special thanks to the Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs for its support in the development of this report (including layout and design by Ephraim Kum, community engagement intern for the MCA), and also to the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice for its support (specifically from UBJJ/JJOC Co-Directors Kayley Richards and Van Nguyen) in obtaining and clarifying specific data points. 

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The Justice & Equality for Kids (JE4K) Rountable developed the pdfCommunity Compact on Restorative Justice to bring integrity and focus to ongoing efforts to make our schools safer, our juvenile justice system more effective and compassionate, and our communities healthier. 

Utahns have heard more and more about Restorative Justice over the past decade, sometimes in legislative proposals - such as this excellent offering by Rep. Sandra Hollins (R-Salt Lake) - and sometimes as part of discussions of about school-based discipline - such as this less instructive definition within the Utah State Board of Education's administative rules (R277-613-2.10). The term has been mentioned frequently in discussions about the appropriate role of School Resource Officers (SROs) practicing in Utah, as well as during the extensive juvenile justice reform process initiated by state leaders back in 2016. 

Unfortunately, once a complex and deep-rooted philosophy becomes a buzzword, things can get a little hazy with regards to principles and definitions! But Restorative Justice does have a specific definition, grounded in historical pratice by indigenous cultures and built upon several key interrelated principles. The Community Compact on Restorative Justice is our iteration of that definition, developed in partnership with local Restorative Justice practitioners. It is an honest effort, by multiple community stakeholders, to assert that you can't just slap a "Restorative Justice" label on a random diversion program, and expect it to produce the positive results that are associated with the practice of this philosophy. 

If you prefer to add an audiovisual element to your review of the Community Compact on Restorative Justice, JE4K Roundtable members unveiled the Compact for the first time at the Fourth Annual Breaking the Pipeline Symposium in March, hosted by fellow JE4K Roundatble member organization, Racially Just Utah. Here is a link to the livestreamed event, with discussion of the Community Compact on Restorative Justice beginning around the 39:09 minute mark. 

It is hard to define Restorative Justice in a linear fashion, in a way that fits neatly into a slogan or list of bullet points. That is because the philosophy was not conceived in a linear way, and not developed by cultures that communicate in slogans or bullet points. That is why our Community Compact on Restorative Justice works together with a few simplified graphics, that stress the multi-dimensional nature of the approach. Below is the first and most foundational of the three graphics. The pdfsecond graphic and pdfthird graphic demonstrate the practical application of these principles in an education and a juvenile justice setting, respectively. 

JE4K RJ Compact Graphic 3

So far, several organizations have signed on to the Community Compact on Restorative Justice - including the following members of our JE4K Roundtable: 

We would like your organization to join us on this list, and commit to holding restorative justice programs in our state to this standard. Your participation will also signal your organization's intention and commitment to practicing restorative justice in a manner that is based on this understanding of Restorative Justice. Our intent is to share this definition of Restorative Justice with governmental and community partners, toward the end of pushing policy in the direction of a more restorative framework.

For example, as we take part in policy conversations about "school safety" in the era of Parkland, Newtown and Santa Fe, we will continually point our stakeholder/partners to the underlying principles in this definition. That means a successful approach to school safety - if it truly aspires to be restorative - must be primarily preventative, relationship-based and encompassing of the whole school community. "Solutions" that focus only on emergency drills, mobilizing law enforcement, high-tech gadgetry and threat assessments cannot claim to be restorative, and will not lead to the positive outcomes associated with Restorative Justice practices (one of those positive outcomes being safe schools!). These approaches, when utilized, can and should be grounded in Restorative Justice principles, in order to ensure prevention of future problems rather than simply mitigation of current ones.  

Restorative Justice

NOT Restorative Justice

A values-based approach to building trust, strengthening relationships and resolving conflict. A discretely-packaged program with a defined curriculum that will work in any setting, from school to prison. 
A philosophy with deep roots in many indigenous cultures, with broad practical application.  A cool new idea, created by modern professionals and espoused only by bleeding heart liberals. 
Practices are primarily preventative and can be easily integrated into other activities.  Practices are only employed after harm has been caused and all "traditional" solutions exhausted.  
Example: Law enforcement officers and administrators meet regularly with community members to discuss neighborhood needs and issues.  Example: City officials hold an annual Town Hall where frustrated and angry community members sit in a circle and vent their frustrations at members of the local police department, who are forced to attend and listen. 
Example: Bringing a group of students together to check in about their day before beginning the lesson.   Example: Forcing a student who has bullied a peer to apologize, then sit with the bullied student at lunch for a month to "get to know her." 

 

Restorative Justice is harder to explain than an active shooter drill or counseling program. It requires more than the hiring of a few new staff people, or the implementation of a new curriculum. It is not a quick fix, but it is a research-supported and fruitful investment in our community's health, prosperity and safety. This approach is worth the investment of time and intention, and we will continue to champion its principles in Utah's education, justice, and community landscapes in order to achieve the best possible outcomes for Utah kids. 

To add your organization's name to this Compact, please contact the JE4K Roundtable via

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