“We believe in going through the hard with young people.” It’s a statement Back2Back Cincy staff, Michael Sickles, spoke honestly. It is at the core of the work staff are doing in Cincinnati within a system where minority teens need representation and advocacy. “We want to get to the real reason why bad behavior and poor decision making is repeated,” shared Michael. “It is often not the reason we think it is. We are ready to step into hard storylines so recovery and growth is the ending, not incarceration.”
The Juvenile Justice Program in Cincinnati started at a local gym. A trainer who worked there left his job and partnered with a local pastor to begin ECJI – Empowering Community Justice Initiative, and Back2Back Cincy wanted in on what they were doing.
“ECJI is about galvanizing leaders from within their own communities- teachers, business owners, or neighbors,” explained Michael, “and encouraging their involvement by writing letters, showing up in court and advocating on behalf of the accused teen.”
In the state of Ohio, any time there is a violent crime or higher felonious assault involving a weapon, the courts often try defendants as adults. With the help of ECJI and participatory defense hubs, youth have voices speaking on their behalf, defending their right to be tried as juveniles.
“The participatory defense hubs allow community members, the defendant, and their family to come in, hear the facts of the case, learn the court process, what their rights are, and what to expect in trial,” explained Michael. “It is a team effort – the public defenders are no longer enemies or seen as ill-equipped, but as safe people coming alongside families in trying times.”
Back2Back Cincy’s role is two-fold. They step in as part of the hubs, giving voice to reasons why juveniles should remain in juvenile court for sentencing, but they also invite the defendant and their family into programming. They’re offered crisis coaching and given a crisis care coordinator to help the court system see the individual for who they are, not just what they’re being charged for. “We’re humanizing the young people, highlighting their trauma, and explaining how it impacts decisions they’re making,” explained Michael. “If they are tried as adults, they never get the opportunity to access care, heal their brains and bodies, and return to society ready to reintegrate.”
When traumas are addressed and managed by safe, professional adults, cycles of incarceration are broken. This is the fight ECJI and Back2Back Cincinnati are in – ensuring children are seen as children in need of assistance and safety, not cyclical criminals.
The efforts of ECJI have collectively given back over 30 years to youth who would otherwise be tried as adults and sit behind bars without resuscitation. Back2Back Cincinnati has worked with ECJI on six cases specifically and have saved 15 years of life for juveniles in the city. This is the power of advocacy, of trauma competency, and of recognizing there’s always meaning behind the behavior.
Please join us as we pray alongside Back2Back Cincinnati and their efforts in the city to provide healing for at-risk youth. This work is not possible, and minds are not changed and transformed, without God at the front. Please pray for open doors and soft hearts toward the youth of Cincinnati.