|Meg Williams (R) enlisted the help of Joe Thome (L). They|
traveled to Suriname to assist with juvenile justice reform.
Meg is the manager of DCJ’s Office of Adult and Juvenile Justice Assistance and is considered a national and even international expert in the field of juvenile justice. Meg assisted the Eastern European country of Georgia with developing juvenile justice diversion programming in 2010 and has presented criminal justice best practices to various international delegations.
Leaders in Suriname recognized that they need to implement system reform. The country’s justice system has little differentiation between the way it handles youth and adult offenders. It also lacks the type of prevention, tracking, diversion and community-based corrections programs that could keep juveniles from becoming repeat offenders.
When Suriname asked Meg for her help, she answered the call and quickly engaged Joe Thome of Colorado’s Division of Youth Corrections. (Joe recently accepted an offer to serve as the Deputy Director of DCJ and will start that position in September.) Together, Meg and Joe drafted a plan, which they sent to the Suriname Ministry of Justice for approval. They also performed a pre-assessment by sending a survey to participants from all sectors of the country’s justice system, including law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, public defenders, prison wardens and social workers.
|Participants represented all sectors of Suriname's criminal|
justice system, from defense attorneys and prosecutors to
judges, prison wardens and social workers.
For example, the Suriname team will now tackle data collection as one of its first achievable steps. Improving basic data collection will likely identify that a significant portion of youth offenders in their prisons are not a danger to the public and would be better served by community-based programs rather than incarceration; getting a solid number on those offenders could, in turn, help to identify the potential for cost savings through a reduced prison population, which in turn could free up funding for diversion and other community-based programs that currently don’t exist in Suriname. Additionally, solid data coupled with a solid plan could open doors for grant funding to launch new programs.
Suriname criminal justice system participants engage in
a group activity during the training led by Meg & Joe.
Already, her work has led to change within the system. Representatives from different agencies who previously communicated rarely – and may have viewed each other as opponents – have opened a dialogue, identified common goals, and have committed to meeting monthly to continue their progress.
"It was so beautiful,” Meg said of the eye-opening dialogue among participants. “In the end, the open conversations led to dispelling the myths about each other's systems. Everyone agreed they don’t want to send these kids to prison, they want alternatives. Even prison officials want these kids home with their families. If we’re successful in building alternatives, we’re going to see fewer kids in prison.”
|Joe and Meg by a sign greeting them to Suriname.|