Reclaiming Futures Considers an Anti-Oppressive Frame to Decrease Disparities

When youth of color encounter the juvenile justice system, they face a multitude of inequities. African American youth receive higher penalties than their White counterparts for drug and alcohol use and are more frequently streamed toward punishment rather than treatment.

Throughout the Reclaiming Futures initiative, an RWJF demonstration program to improve substance abuse service interventions in the juvenile justice system, efforts have been made to reduce disparities. In 2008 these authors introduced an anti-oppressive practice (AOP) to Reclaiming Futures through learning and dialog sessions at national conferences, and subsequently in webinars and other trainings with judges, juvenile probation officers, treatment professionals, community representatives and project directors. The AOP model is characterized by a focus on power, oppression and privilege as avenues to account for differential experience and life outcomes for people of color.

Staff training in cultural competency, however, “is an insufficient response to racial disparities, particularly when it omits racism as central to the experience of people of color,” the authors write. “‘White’ and ‘of color’ are not simply different identities but positions of winners and losers in the dynamics of racism and whiteness.”

The authors, however, are “optimistic about the possibilities that AOP offers to redress systems of domination.”

This article is part of a special issue of Children and Youth Services Review on the RWJF-funded Reclaiming Futures program.