Justice Ambassadors Youth Council

Justice Ambassadors Youth Council

The Justice Ambassador Youth Council (JAYC) is a 12-week social action and life skills building educational seminar that brings together government officials and 18-25 year-olds – many of whom are legal system impacted or gang involved – and come from New York City’s most under-served neighborhoods. The JAYC approach is rooted in policy-by-proximity – a model of incorporating the voices and lived experiences of people, especially those who are living through public crises, into policy development conversations with government officials centered around system reform and community change.

At its core, JAYC empowers youth to directly shape policies and community interventions that are intended to support the healthy development of communities. In our learning environment, youth and government officials learn from and alongside one another while engaging in topics like mass incarceration, food and housing insecurity, gun violence, mental health and prejudicial policing.Each cohort features a diverse group of youth, government leaders, Columbia students and formerly incarcerated credible mentors.

The ultimate goal of Justice Ambassadors is co-authored policies that are created from the collaboration of city leaders and young people from throughout the city. By cultivating a broad network of individuals and government agencies dedicated to policy by proximity, JAYC seeks to generate the critical thinking needed to transform the legal system and foster paths towards communal empowerment, safety, and well-being.

The Justice Ambassadors centralizes three core Stages of Change:

1) Personal - members are introduced to critical life skills for healthy decision-making and encouraged to adopt new ways of achieving justice. Each member completes a personal statement that identifies an aspect of themselves, their community and/or agency they wish to change.

2) Community - youth conduct group presentations at NYC government offices or community centers to advocate for implementation of their policy ideas and

3) Social - youth and city officials develop co-authored policy proposals that seek to address societal challenges like gun violence, homelessness and so on. In sum, the Justice Ambassadors builds on the leadership skills of youth and provides them with the opportunity to become drivers of institutional and community change.

JAYC Participants

JAYC was developed by a formerly incarcerated staff member, Jarrell Daniels, and is a collaboration between the Center for Justice at Columbia University, New York City & State agencies, community centers and public serving organizations. Previous cohorts have featured representatives from City Council; New York City Police Department; Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice; the Departments of Education, Probation, Homeless Services; the Administration of Child Services; Borough District Attorneys Offices, Legal Aid Society and Borough Defender Services.

Jarrell was inspired to create the Justice Ambassadors Youth Council after spending time in a classroom alongside prosecutors during his time in Queensboro Correctional Facility. As he discussed in his recently aired TED Talk, it was through this experience that he came to believe that, “through education we will arrive at a truth that is inclusive and unites us in pursuit of justice."

Justice Ambassadors Participants pose for picture at program graduation

JAYC has completed 5 cohorts of programming: 2 cohorts at Columbia Law School (Spring & Fall 2019); 1 at Bronx New Settlement Community Center (Fall 2020); 1 at Harlem Living Redemptions Youth Opportunities Hub (Fall 2021); and 1 at Rikers Island (Summer/Fall 2022). 

For more information contact Jarrell Daniels at [email protected].

Learn more about the impact of JAYC