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A goal of justice, a reality of inequity

Our civil and criminal justice system mirrors and contributes to the inequities in our society. Rather than a registrar of harms, what would it mean to transform the system so that there was an opposite effect – eliminating inequities, not amplifying them, through alignment with people’s innate drive for wellbeing?

The civil legal justice system helps people stay safe, healthy and sheltered through laws that give rights and protections. Yet the civil legal system often falls short of providing “equal justice for all.” A lawyer is needed to navigate the processes, but many people can’t afford one. According to the The Justice Gap 2022 Report: The Unmet Civil Legal Needs of Low-Income Americans:

  • 3 out of 4 people with low incomes (37.5 million people) experienced a civil legal issue in 2021.
  • 1 in 2 said the issue “substantially impacted their lives”.
  • 92% did not receive any or enough legal help.

The challenges of youth justice in particular

The juvenile justice system has two primary responsibilities: 1) to keep the public safe and 2) to care for and rehabilitate young people. For decades, a corrections-based model has fallen short in both protecting the public and caring for young people. There is a growing consensus and extensive research suggesting that punitive practices and over-reliance on incarceration do not work.

A better system is within reach. By addressing the historical and current harms of the system – while also supporting the wellbeing of young people and their families – we can enable youth, families and communities to thrive while keeping everyone safe.

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Reimagining justice systems to create true justice for all

Featured Resources

Justice Determinants of Wellbeing

Justice Determinants of Wellbeing

To inspire action, this groundbreaking report maps the work of changemakers across the country to 40-plus recommendations for structural change.

It also advocates for a shift in power so that all people have what they need, when they need it and in a format they can use to reach just and fair resolutions.


Wellbeing for youth and youth involved in the juvenile justice system

In collaboration with the Missouri Division of Youth Services, the Full Frame Initiative developed this resource for anyone engaging with and advocating for youth.

This resource includes specific guidance for juvenile justice staff who wish to reinforce existing and develop new practices and systems that support wellbeing.


Find inspiration in the legal & justice systems

Looking for organizations and initiatives that are advancing wellbeing in the legal and justice systems? Here are some places to start:

DC Bar Foundation

Our partner DC Bar Foundation is promoting a more just civil legal aid system by applying a wellbeing orientation to new projects and initiatives. Through network building, community engagement, evaluation, prioritization of racial equity, and greater coordination within the legal aid community, the DC Bar Foundation is eliminating the challenges that prevent DC residents from experiencing wellbeing, justice and liberty in the civil legal aid system.

Debt Free Justice

By charging fees and fines, the juvenile legal system drowns youth and their families in debt and pushes them deeper into poverty. Because of targeted policing and over-surveillance of Black, brown and Indigenous communities, these youth are overrepresented and over-punished in the justice system. As a result, fees and fines disproportionately hurt youth of color and their families. Debt Free Justice works with partners at the local, state and federal levels to end juvenile fees and fines nationwide to promote community health, economic stability and reestablish trust in public systems.

St. Louis Family Court

Systems can force tradeoffs that undermine wellbeing and sustainable change. To acknowledge and address these tradeoffs, the juvenile division of the St. Louis County Family Court supports youth in setting their own goals instead of deciding goals for youth.