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Unloved, Unwanted, and Unsure: The Counternarratives of Incarcerated Youth

by Shiv R. Desai - 2020

Background: Black youth are five times more likely, Latinx twice as likely, and Native American youth three times as likely to be incarcerated as their White peers. One of the dire consequences of the prison-industrial complex is that countless youth of color have been disenfranchised and cast out of society.

Purpose: The purpose of this study is to document the features of a Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) project conducted by Leaders Organizing 2 Unite & Decriminalize (LOUD) youth members, which is made up of allies, formerly incarcerated youth, and youth on probation, to provide a model that could be adaptable in similar other contexts.

Setting: This study takes place in the American Southwest in a state where marijuana is only medically legalized.

Participants: I worked primarily with five Latina women and three Latino men, one African American man, and one Dinť woman. The ages of the LOUD members ranged from 15 to 20 years old and from a high school freshman to a first-year college student.

Research Design: As a co-facilitator for LOUD, I investigated how this YPAR project provided youth with the opportunity to shape and challenge current juvenile justice policies that detrimentally impacted youth for three years. YPAR endorses a collective process between the researcher and youth, allowing both parties to contribute meaningfully to all areas of research.

Data Collection and Analysis: Data were analyzed from three sets of semistructured interviews and 40 field notes taken over three years. I used a conventional content analysis approach to analyze both individual interview and weekly meeting transcriptions. Line-by-line coding was conducted through the use of Dedoose qualitative software.

Results: Through their YPAR investigation of the juvenile justice system, LOUD members were able to identify several key issues that affected system-involved youth such as being dehumanized, the mental, emotional, and spiritual toll, access to their lawyers, and unfair burdens placed on their families. LOUD members found their voice, became empowered to recommend changes in juvenile justice policies, and became social justice advocates for incarcerated youth through this process.

Conclusions: This project demonstrates how vulnerable marginalized youth became empowered by conducting and analyzing research, developing important recommendations, and being able to share their stories to change the juvenile justice system.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 122 Number 8, 2020, p. 1-40
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23358, Date Accessed: 1/15/2021 12:08:34 PM

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About the Author
  • Shiv Desai
    The University of New Mexico
    E-mail Author
    SHIV R. DESAI, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in Teacher Education, Education Leadership, and Policy Department at the University of New Mexico (UNM). He is currently working with the Albuquerque Public Schools (APS)-UNM Ethnic Studies Education and Health Research Practice Partnership to study the challenges and successes of implementing Ethnic Studies in APS and how Ethnic Studies teachers promote healing and wellness. Dr. Desaiís other research area focuses on a Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) project with LOUD (Leaders Organizing 2 Unite & Decriminalize). LOUD members-- made up of allies, formerly incarcerated youth, and youth on probation--used YPAR to inform new policies to shape a more humanizing juvenile justice system. Dr. Desaiís research draws upon critical race theory, critical literacy, and decolonizing/Indigenous methodologies.
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