Earlier in my trip I visited Philadelphia, the city of ‘Brotherly Love’. While I was there, I was introduced to Judge Lori Dumas. Judge Dumas had previously sat in a specialist court programme in the Philadelphia Juvenile Court; WRAP Court.
WRAP court stands for ‘Working to Restore Adolescents’ Power’ and it is aimed at helping a specific cohort of children and young people who are at risk of or are a victims of commercial sexual exploitation and human trafficking. These young people come through the court system due to delinquency and (or) dependency matters.
One could argue that these young people shouldn’t be involved in the criminal justice system at all, but this is a first step in understanding the trauma that young people in the criminal justice system have been through. There is also a balance between accountability and understanding context, and the model is particularly positive in the context of the US incarceration rate.
The court saw many young women and girls who were participating in criminal activity but who were also victims of sexual violence and abuse from those they sought love from. This is true for a number of young women and girls associated with gangs who end up in the criminal justice system, so I was keen to understand and learn more about the programme.
Below is an extract from an interview with Judge Dumas about WRAP Court. The full interview will be made available in the final report.
Why was the WRAP court developed, and what was it in response to?
WRAP was created in response to Pennsylvania’s lack of safe harbor legislation. It was also created because there were children in our system who needed specialised attention from the courts due to the trauma they had undergone.
What were the challenges in setting up the WRAP court?
The main challenge was that it was a court of first impression in Philadelphia. Everyone was relying on my exposure to training and other experts in the field to help Philadelphia understand the concept and how each stakeholder fits into the solution. Once the Leadership changed in Family Court in 2015, there was little to no support from the leadership, so it was difficult to continue the momentum that the program had when it first began.
What were the immediate benefits of the new system when it was implemented?
The immediate benefit was twofold. Children who were in dire need of significant personal attention from the Court received treatment which began their healing process. Additionally, stakeholders who did not traditionally work together in a positive way, got an opportunity to do so and to do something that was good for others.
This project is looking at girls, gangs and their abusive relationships. Do you think this system would be suitable with a cohort of young women and girls who have committed crimes but who are identified as being associated with a gang?
Absolutely! The one factor that bound these victims together was trauma. My belief is that there isn’t a girl in the criminal justice system that doesn’t possess layers and layers of trauma that need to be addressed. The speciality court brings one on one attention to these youth and wraps necessary services around them, helps them to heal from the inside out and provides the level of concern and love that is missing from our system and their lives.
Finally, do you think the model has been successful?
Every one of our youth serviced through WRAP met some goal – THAT is a success!’