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Transforming Wyoming’s Juvenile Justice System: The Power of Creative Arts

Date: 14 February 2023

Mature teacher working with art students during painting class at school

“Juvenile (in)justice” “Wyoming’s juvenile justice system fails too many kids. Can it be fixed?” “Wyoming Lawmakers Look to Close Juvenile Justice Data Gap — Partially” “Wyoming Lawmakers Explore Ways to Lock Up Fewer Kids” “How Can We Create Successful Juvenile Diversion Programs in Wyoming?” “For 20 Years Wyoming Failed to Collect Juvenile Justice Data” “Experts: Wyo Juvenile Justice Lacks Adequate Data, Consistency”

Recent Wyoming headlines like these encapsulate a portion of the story of the juvenile justice dilemma facing the state, presenting a snapshot of the crucial juvenile justice reform needed to address the state’s high juvenile incarceration rates. Wyoming holds the third-highest juvenile incarceration rate in the nation. Some of Wyoming’s highest expenditures go towards youth out-of-home placement for delinquent behavior resulting in generally poor outcomes. Persistent disparities existing in the juvenile justice system that affects the well-being of youth are largely attributed to a lack of community-based options and resources due in part to the state’s rural/frontier nature. The potential of the arts to positively impact youth development and reduce juvenile delinquency and/or recidivism can promote positive outcomes and achieve broader societal impacts.

Wyoming Families First (WFF) believes that youth are our state’s most important asset. WFF has a successful history of working with teens to teach skills that help them successfully transition into adulthood. WFF proposes to build on its success by integrating creative arts as an outlet for vulnerable, justice-involved youth to cope with trauma, build resiliency and develop interpersonal skills and prosocial behaviors needed to support their health and well-being. WFF’s Color the Future (Creating art, Optimal health, & Leadership skills Oriented for Resilience) project will focus its efforts on supporting underserved youth who were or are involved with the juvenile justice system residing in Laramie County, Wyoming. WFF’s Project Director, Kelsey Giroux, is passionate about the arts and bringing this program to life as she has seen firsthand the transformative power the arts have on individuals and the larger community, and the positive impact it can have on mental health, self-expression and overall well-being.

This high-quality arts-based community prevention project utilizes a complementary model of Positive Youth Development, known as Creative Youth Development (CYD) that is an equitable, relevant and inclusive holistic approach that identifies multiple leverage points where great impacts can be made. WFF’s project supports CYD by providing youth exposure to high-quality arts education in conjunction with community programs that create the conditions for youth to flourish by increasing skills that aid to reduce delinquency, recidivism and other high-risk behaviors. The skills the project focuses on are:

  • Positive relationships and leadership abilities
  • Wellness and resiliency
  • Hands-on skill building
  • Inquiry and self-expression
  • Sense of belonging
  • Safe learning environments

This project builds positive competencies through:

  1. Exposure to a variety of local artists, both as teaching artists and guest speaking artists, to enhance youth access to the creative economy and showcases pathways into art careers. It is essential to create safe physical environments and representation in all aspects of the project where young people from underserved communities see themselves reflected back.
  2. Creating art projects in a safe environment that support creative expression alongside the transmission of traditional and cultural practices. By introducing novel art materials, techniques and the creative process in a formal peer-to-peer group setting, youth are exposed to positive methods for expression and communication.
  3. Family Art Night events and youth-led final exhibition projects designed to increase youth-voice, leadership skills and connectedness between youth, family and/or caring adults. These events display a commitment to valuing youths’ creativity and provide platforms to showcase their creative work.
  4. Cross-sector collaborations with community programs to ensure youths’ academic, professional and personal success, including social-emotional competencies.

By fostering positive competencies, such as creative expression, strong relationships and leadership abilities, we hope to decrease the juvenile delinquency rate and repeat offenses while supporting the growth and success of Wyoming’s youth. We believe that this project has the potential to make a significant impact in the lives of those it serves, and we look forward to seeing the positive outcomes that it will bring.

Title: 2280 Pasos Bajo un Cielo Nublado | Artist: Hernán Jourdan | Medium: Film

When I was asked to create a work of art exploring literacy, I wanted to create a dance but I had no dancers or a studio, so I chose to use my own body in the space I had, my yard. Fluent Nature is video of micro-choreography that explores what cannot be expressed with words, how nature has its own language, and how placing the human body in nature changes the story.

Title: What Is Me and What Is Not Me | Artist: Alex Chadwell | Medium: Music

My thinking on arts and literacy centers around the concept of literacies and artmaking as both sense-making and meaning-making processes that organically and inevitably overlap, intersect, and reciprocate. Compositionally, What is me and what is not me is a sound collage of sorts (there is no notation for the piece, and I'd be hard pressed to recreate it accurately) that abstractly and aurally represents the relationships between literacies and artmaking.

Title: A Curious Honeybee | Artist: Gideon Young | Medium: Film

Offering welcome through traditional and digital elements of literacy, A Curious Honeybee provides an experiential learning environment by activating visual, musical, natural, and emotional literacies.

Title: Tercera Llamada | Artist: Karilú Forshee | Medium: Audio

La Carpa Theatre is a project that I am currently directing in the Detroit Latinx community. The project aims to strengthen and uplift youth voices through devised theatre, in the style of the Mexican Carpas. This audio was created in the theatrical environment envisioned for our project. The ways in which literacies are re-defined are at the heart of La Carpa Theatre's mission.

Title: Literaseas | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite and ink on paper with digital edits

Title: A Riddle | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite on paper with digital edits

Title: False Binaries | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite on paper with digital edits