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Tyler Williams Advocates for Youth in Kansas Community

November 24, 2020
Julianna Cann

Why is it important to advocate for youth justice transformation?

The big reason why I really got into youth justice advocacy is because I was one of the youth who was in the facility. I spent close to five years and eight months from the age of 13 to 19 in the Kansas Juvenile Correctional Complex (KJCC). I wanted to use my experience to look into alternatives for incarceration throughout the state so that youth don’t have to go through the struggle and hardships of being in jail.

How long have you been doing this organizing work?

I started doing this work back in July of 2017. It was then that I really started getting into it. Most of us knew each other from inside the facility and then when we got out we were at a living placement. With help of the Seed House and Kansas Appleseed, we formed the youth-led organizing group Progeny, which is made up of youth who have been impacted by the justice system.

What are some of the campaigns or projects that you’ve worked on?

Some of the things I’ve worked on in the past with Kansas Appleseed have been presenting proposals, getting youth voices on looking into restorative-based practices in communities, and looking at how to use reinvestment dollars from Summit Bill 367. I do a lot of the same work with Progeny. Right now, we’ve been doing a lot of stuff on base building, really developing who we are, getting into spaces like the Kansas Department of Corrections, and having actual conversations along reinvestment and how that can look in the community.

In our current campaign, “Invest Don’t Arrest,” we look into the youth who are in the community and we focus on the different pipelines that lead youth into these situations. The big three that we focus on in Kansas are the school-to-prison pipeline, foster care loophole pipeline, as well as the victimhood-to-prison pipeline. We’ve also been looking into restorative justice and its effect on recidivism rates for youth, as well as mediation between the offender and the victims and rebuilding connections in the communities. We look to present this all to different legislators and different people in the community.

Earlier this year, we released our visioning session report, where we went to different places across our county and asked youth what they would do to reinvest in the community if they had $130,000 - the same amount of money that it costs to house them in KJCC for a year. Their responses were mainly about reinvesting in the community. There were a lot of things that were once there that were taken away - youth activities and programs to actually help youth in need. From these different interviews with youth, who have been directly or indirectly impacted by the system, we put together that Visioning Session Report to try to bring light and bring youth voices to the table around discussion of reinvestment, because you can’t talk about the next generation if you don’t have them at the table.

We also get our youth leaders and have them on local county level boards and committees; ours is called Team Justice here in Sedgwick County, where we’re mostly housed. Our campaign director Marquetta Atkins and I just got approved by the governor’s office to be appointed to the Kansas State Advisory Group for juvenile justice and delinquency prevention. By doing that, we really want to empower the youth voice to really give strength in their stories, as well as insights on what reinvestment looks like in Kansas.

What do you see as the biggest challenge in doing this work?

The biggest challenge that I have seen in this work is honestly just communication. Either a lot of people don’t know what’s going on, or people are hard to reach in order to get them information. When it comes to getting the word out about what we do, a lot of the people we’re getting connected with are more on a national level, but reaching out to people in our community seems a little harder.

When we were working on our conversations with the Kansas Department of Corrections in reimagining Kansas, we noticed that the governor’s email is not available to the public, so we were unable to get actual communication to our governor for a lot of the requests for conversations on reinvestment and what that would look like. We felt like that was a betrayal to the constituents of Kansas who were unable to reach our governor for questions or concerns that we have. So, communication is definitely the hardest part of the work. Once you really find the spider web of the people who really work within the organizations or places that you’re trying to get into, it gets easier, and once you make those connections, it really helps build out the reputation and the work that you are doing.

What motivates you to keep fighting when times are hard and when you come across those challenges?

I think about all of the struggles and the hardships I went through when I was in KJCC, and for how long I had to deal with that-- the time away from family, not being able to see my little brother, a lot of that had a huge impact on me. One of the things that always kept me going when times got hard is the thought that what if it wasn’t me that was there, what if it was my little brother. You know, I know I can handle it, but not many people can.

What is your vision for youth justice?

I would like to see the closure of KJCC, which is the last state-run juvenile facility in Kansas. I would also like to see investment in restorative-based practices with localized secure care facilities for those youth who are in need of more care. I’d like to see the removal of more punitive measures and replace them with more restorative healing, as well as giving youth tools for better chances in life. Especially in helping youth with preventative measures - addressing the issues before it becomes a problem. These youth are falling through the cracks in Kansas and we really need to help give them the tools to succeed; they are the next generation, and if we just leave them out to dry, what’s going to happen to our world?

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To learn more about Progeny, visit their website.

 

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