Fayetteville art program seeks to eliminate juvenile justice system fees

The Arkansas Justice Reform Coalition hosted a community art project with My-T-By-Design Therapeutic Art Studio focused on the criminal system for juveniles.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark — The Arkansas Justice Reform Coalition (AJRC) hosted a community art project on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023, in collaboration with My-T-By-Design Therapeutic Art Studio with a focus on improving the juvenile criminal justice system. 

According to AJRC, fines and fees for parental guardians of children in juvenile court can be upwards of one thousand dollars per case and are used to cover court costs for things like counsel, probation, supervision, and treatment services.

These fines and fees can be especially burdensome to low-income families, according to Arkansas Advocates for Children (AAC).

“Those fines and fees can really rip families apart, it really impacts families permanently,” says  Program Director for AJRC, Gracie Forman.

The goal of the collaboration between AJRC, and My-T-By-Design was to discuss the impact of these fees in a safe space through art expression. They say they want to empower families impacted by this issue to tell their stories through their own creativity.

Forman says, “I really hope people feel comfortable and empowered enough to tell their stories to us. And then we can then take those stories and tell them to the policymakers that can eliminate these fines and fees across the state.”

Jonathan Nunez, an organizer of the coalition and former juvenile in the system, found a way to express himself through his painting, while also making an impact on others.

“There is a Japanese practice called Kintsugi, where a broken piece of pottery, like a bowl or a vase, is put back together with gold,” says Nunez. “To me, that represents how even as broken people, we should never be thrown away … We can be repaired, reformed, and maybe even come out of that experience as something even more beautiful.”

The coalition introduced legislation to completely eliminate the fines and fees across the state this year. Despite the waiting game, AJRC says they’re staying consistent with communication with policymakers. 

Nunez says, “It’s a long-term fight. So it’s not something that you see results with right away, but we’re in it for the long haul.”

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