NC Youth Advocacy: Making Every Experience Count
Currently in North Carolina, defenders of justice, youth advocates, lobbyists, parents, and communities are working diligently to reform our justice systems, and to create positive outcomes for youth. I am proud to say that I have also joined the fight to reform policy, defend youth, and impact the lives of our future citizenry.
My experiences as a sister with a brother entangled in the NC justice system; as a community organizer empowering families with deeply rooted ties in broken systems; and as a youth advocate providing a voice for those which have been silenced due to mental and physical oppression, has lead me to the path of legal defense for youth.
I was personally forced to survive the ills of the criminal justice system. In early 2013, on my brothers’ 16th birthday, he was wrongfully arrested and charged with armed robbery with a dangerous weapon and conspiracy to commit armed robbery. Police officers identified him as the suspect through an illegal show-up, thereafter he was immediately taken into custody. As a 16 year old, he was charged as an adult and was treated as such. My mother was unable to see him for approximately a week and could not post bond due to financial hardship. With the help of state politicians and reputable juvenile justice advocates, the case was soon dismissed. Unfortunately, most youth in my brothers’ position as well as those who need effective assistance after committing a crime, usually do not have or know how to access the resources that were afforded to my sibling.
During the summer of 2010, I interned with NC Child where I helped with the grassroots movement of that year’s Raise the Age Campaign. This proposed legislation attempted to raise the juvenile court jurisdictional age from 16 to 18 for particular crimes. In 2012, I interned with the NC Office of the Juvenile Defender, where I helped with the creation of the Office of the Juvenile Defender 2013 Strategic Plan Report and Summary. I drafted the summary of the juvenile defender survey and helped to facilitate panels in an effort to collect data from juvenile court judges across the state. In 2013, I worked for NC Senator Angela Bryant, where I became accustomed to the structure of state government and the creation and implementation of state law, including laws that directly affected the criminal justice system and the youth in the state for session year 2013-2014. Also in 2013, with the leadership and guidance of The National Juvenile Justice Network and NC Child, I created and implemented Parents & Friends of Incarcerated Youth Initiative (PFIYI). PFIYI is a community development program which operates in two counties in southeastern NC. PFIYI supports parents and community members with youth in the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems.
All of my experiences have helped to empower and strengthen my intellect, ability, courage, and boldness to go into the trenches and fight to help save our youth. Through training, I have developed the ability to help youth in a multi-dimensional fashion to access community support, effective legal defense, and other helpful resources which will enable them to strive toward positive youth development.
Currently, I practice law as a private defense attorney. My practice is mainly focused on youth advocacy and juvenile reform in southeastern NC. This includes criminal defense, education law reform and other youth related areas of law. My future goals include building a nonprofit youth law/advocacy center for the southeastern region. The law center will focus its attention on implementing a holistic case management system, creating a one stop shop for youth to connect with legal, social, educational, etc. services without falling through the cracks of the various institutions. Ultimately, the goal is to work with the already existing institutions to help build a system for youth that will promote positive youth development and rehabilitation for our younger population.
Sabrina Leshore, Campbell University School of Law, Class of 2013, was a 2013 Fellow of the National Juvenile Jsutice Network Youth Leadership Institute and is currently practicing law in southeastern NC