‘We can form a better system’

OYA youth and outside law students share their reflections on the class they recently took together.

This past fall, Oregon Youth Authority director Joe O’Leary taught a juvenile justice seminar inside MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility.

The class comprised a mix of “inside” undergraduate college students in OYA custody and “outside” Lewis & Clark Law School students.

The first law school course of its kind in the country, the course challenged all the students to not only learn the intricacies of the juvenile justice system, but to also interrogate their ideas and preconceptions about each other.

In mid-January, the class met for one last time. The law students gifted the inside students with t-shirts from Lewis & Clark Law School.

Inside students from MacLaren and Oak Creek pose with their new school t-shirts.

Inside students from MacLaren and Oak Creek pose with their new school t-shirts.

The students also reflected on what they had learned during the semester. Below are some of the perspectives they shared.

“People should not be judged for the worst decisions that they’ve made. I’ve made bad decisions in my life; I just didn’t get caught. People shouldn’t be judged for the rest of their life because they made a bad choice.”

“You hear a lot about how the system is broken, and this class in a lot of ways solidified that for me. But it also gave me a lot of hope. We can form a better system that can help young people and prioritize the right things.”

“Before, I couldn’t always see that there were good people, with this experience it changed my perspective. There are people out there trying to make changes, even if it’s within themselves.”

“To teach true change, it takes an entire community, and it takes invested individuals that actually care, and I saw a lot of that in this class.”

“This class solidified a longer journey for me of believing in people. I was pretty jaded and cynical as a teenager. Interacting with people here and having them be so open about their experiences, that was not something I was used to.”

“It not only put me in situations that I’d never been in before, but it also opened the eyes of people around me. By me sharing my experiences in the class with my family, I watched my family’s perspective change. It showed what a ripple effect even just our small group can have.”

“I believe ya’ll will be better lawyers than the one I had.”

“We all have the power to help transform the system, transform folks who have an us-versus-them mentality. We have the power to start that dialogue and help change that perception.”

“Knowledge fuels social change. Having knowledge about the issues in the system is what’s going to help all of us change it.”

“I believe that society as a whole needs to give our youth more credit. Our youth are our future, and they know more than people think they do.”

“It’s nice to see the other side of the system in general, and seeing there are people who actually do want to help us. That social change and that knowledge, and making that change together, that was the best for me.”

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