Reentry Central’s Managing Editor Beatrice Codianni first met poet, author, criminal justice reform activist and former gang member Jason Davis when he was a panelist at the Think Outside the Cell conference in New York City in 2011. Davis and Codianni have stayed in touch throughout the years and when he told her that he and Dr. Liza Chowdury created a new organization, “Reimagining Justice,” she asked them to share information on how that came about and what the organization hopes to accomplish. The following is Davis’ and Chowdhury’s reply.
By Jason Davis and Liza Chowdhury, PhD
In November 2016, Jason and Liza were invited to Belize to participate in their annual youth forum that was attended by hundreds of young people, outreach workers, government officials and the media. Belize has been suffering through tragedy due to gang violence and was looking for solutions. Jason and Liza traveled around the country to help send a message of hope by encouraging community engagement, advocacy and outreach. This was the beginning of a relationship built on synergy and mutual passion to save future generations from violence. When Jason and Liza first met, both came from different spectrums of the criminal justice system. Jason had a history of gangs and violence.
Meanwhile, Liza, a criminal justice professor and former probation officer, was well-known for her expertise regarding solutions to crime problems. After their first conversation, they realized that despitr their different backgrounds they shared several things in common and needed to use their experiences to bridge the gap between the criminal justice system, gangs and the community. Both have years of experience in outreach and activism that was fueled by their personal experiences with poverty, trauma, victimization, depression and disenchantment with institutions. They shared the goal of creating a system that needed to become more compassionate.
Frustrated by the consequences of failed institutions, they observed something had to be done about a system that has helped to isolate their neighborhoods from true justice. In their work within the community, they learned that the current system has helped to proliferate community war zones that are constantly afflicted with violence because young people have few opportunities, and often suffer from the consequences of deprivation and grief. Over time they become armed with frustration, which eventually unleashes chaos into their surroundings. With a passion to help those that may not have the platforms to articulate their desperation, Jason and Liza decided that they wanted to use their new partnership to ask others to Reimagine Justice.
What does a justice system that encourages equity, compassion, righteousness and true corrections for those who come before it look like? Liza and Jason encourage those they partner with through their consultation and training firm to imagine a community-engaged justice system that can forgive and accept a gang leader or career criminal who for years has done nothing for his community, except create turmoil. This requires thinking outside of the box. Troubled youth whom we fear will engage in violence look up to gang leaders and drug dealers because they are the ones who provide protection, economic opportunity and sometimes even love. This information is very difficult for some to digest, but it is a reality we must understand. Punishing and releasing damaged individuals back into the community reinvents the cycle and becomes counterproductive. Instead, reimagining justice means we everyone must be invited to be a part of the solution.
Jason and Liza encourage investment in a system that is framed by models such as a restorative justice, public health and collective efficacy. Jason uses his skills in gang mediation and mental health advocacy to promote the training and utilization of gang leaders, people with a criminal record and passionate outreach workers as Credible Messengers to help build trust between the justice system and partnering communities. Liza supports participants by providing them with evidence-based research about effective practices and technical support to become more data driven to measure outcomes. Both encourage all participants in their training to become agents of change to help foster meaningful solutions. Their call to all is to reimagine a society where people can let go of labels and bring about meaningful change to help our most vulnerable.
For Information please feel free to contact: Jason Davis at 917-912-7696 or Dr. Chowdhury at 201-563-4018
Follow us on Facebook @reimaginingjustice
Email us at email@example.com
Visit the Reimagining Justice website at here.