May the Songs I Have Written Speak for Me


Research Abstract
May the Songs I Have Written Speak for Me

"For decades the United States has outstripped other nations not only in the number of adults, but the number of juveniles, in its correctional systems—systems that have historically failed to rehabilitate the young men and women entrusted to its facilities and services. In fact, involvement in the juvenile justice system has harsh life-long effects, diminishing young people’s school achievement, mental and physical health and, conse - quently, their ability to re-enter and thrive in their communities, to become someone other than that person who made and paid for bad choices.

Nationally, a groundswell of forces is advocating for change in the juvenile justice system. While mindful of public safety, states and municipalities are seeking to re-imagine this system as an intervention that can foster youth development, rather than as a junior penitentiary system. The reform is three-fold. First, a redesigned system focuses on prevention—to reform the process of arrest, arraignment, and detention into a network of effective youth engagement programs, alternatives to detention, community-based placements, probation, and supports. Second, advocates aim to transform the one-hundred-year-old correctional system from a “holding tank” model of incarceration into one that allows for a pause in self-destructive and violent behaviors and promotes develop - ment for young people who have lived much of their lives at risk. Finally, the third imperative is to address the harsh current realities of re-entry by creating sustainable paths out of the juvenile justice system and towards purposeful lives.

Turning these hopes into realities will demand a cascade of changes at the commu - nity, state, and federal levels, in the design, location, and staffing of juvenile facilities, and in programs that educate, treat, and support young people who enter and then exit the prevention, corrections, and parole systems. But while policy changes can provide the blueprints, funding streams, and agency mandates, it will require a network of partnerships to make the promised reforms realistic, meaningful, and sustainable—fiscally, politically, and socially. In part, this work entails guaranteeing the basic civil rights of youth offenders while in custody and afterwards: they have to be able to enroll in high schools, they must be eligible for jobs, or viable candidates for scholarship programs for colleges. And it entails fundamental services like counseling and high-quality mental and physical health care. But the young people involved in or exiting the justice system need access to more than these basics. Their minds, spirits, and imaginations also deserve attention—many of them will be on their own to invent new choices and futures. Thus, far from being “extras”, the arts could potentially make significant contributions to the reform and future conduct of juvenile justice." [Executive Summary, p. 5-6]

This exploratory paper, May the Songs I Have Written Speak for Me: An Exploration of the Potential of Music in Juvenile Justice, sets out to answer the question, “What is the potential of music in the lives of court-involved youth?” Written by WolfBrown in partnership with Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute, the paper is a major investigation of the potential of music to make contributions to the lives of young people in juvenile justice settings, building on the current work of many of the institutions committed to these young people.


Wolf, Lea and Wolk, Dennie

Carnegie Corporation of New York
New York