In North Carolina, 16- and 17-year-olds are prosecuted as adults, exposing them to life-long criminal records and lengthy periods of incarceration in adult prison facilities. Rather than act as a deterrent to youth crime, this manner of prosecuting adolescents has been shown to inflate the chances of recidivism and give impetus to more serious crimes.
Young Durham is a restorative justice, arts program for 16- and 17-year-olds who have open criminal cases. The criminal court gives eligible defendants the option to participate in Young Durham rather than do jail time, community service and have a lifelong criminal record. The curriculum is uniquely tailored to develop the emotional and behavioral skills of the young participants while facilitating responsible and creative self-expression. Central to the curriculum is the concept of taking responsibility for past actions as a necessary step before becoming valued members and even leaders of one’s community. Each workshop is framed by a relevant theme: community; choice; accountability; responsibility; contribution; leadership. These themes are explored, as they relate to each participant, in conversation with the group and through art exercises utilizing photography, video, illustration, and design.
A series of six intensive, hands-on workshops prepares the participants to design a public art installation that expresses a positive social message of their choice. Local artists join each workshop and assist the participants in weekly art projects. The weekly artworks and the final installation design are then presented to the public at the Young Durham Finale. The Finale allows the participants to experience themselves as worthy, creative contributors to their communities, rather than as undeserving and irredeemable criminal actors.
Young Durham is seeking support from Durham’s Defender Services and administered through the Youth Peace Project initiative at the Terreiro de Arte e Cultura Community Center. Upon completion of the Young Durham workshops, the participants avoid serving any jail time and, in most cases, have their criminal charges dismissed and sealed, leaving their young lives uninhibited by an adult criminal record.