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Nikki Todd: reimagining justice for our young people

Tears began to well as Nikki Todd started mentioning her two little girls. She talked about her daughters’ futures and how she will protect them at all costs.

Nikki said she knows that other children don't have the opportunity to have a loving parent experience because of the circumstances they were born into.

“I am privileged enough to take care of my children, love them and give them the attention they need, which every parent should have the chance to do,” she said, explaining how that drives her as a parent and as an activist.

Nikki is an activist for Youth Justice Milwaukee, which is a broad-based campaign advocating for community-based, family-centered, restorative programs as an alternative to locking up children in Wisconsin’s youth prisons that was founded in 2016. She is one of the original founders for the organization and also works full-time as the Director of Policy and Research at Wisconsin Community Services.

One of the reasons that Todd chose to do the work that she does is because she cares so much about children and young people. She stated that she wants young people to express themselves and that they deserve a support system rather than incarceration.

In order to have less incidents with young people, Youth Justice Milwaukee suggest that we need to invest in things that will result in fewer victims, invest in the children and try to prevent the events before they happen.

An example of focusing on this prevention is, if the city wants fewer carjackings, then give the young people an education on driving and provide them work and an opportunity to make money, and they won't steal. They will invest in their own car with their own money instead.

“We need to listen to (young people), even the ones that commit the crimes,” she said. “We will have a much safer community if we ask young people and listen to them and respond.”

Nikki said that we should listen to those young people to see what adults could have done differently to have helped them before they got to the point of committing a crime. She said that young people are the experts about their own lives and their living conditions, and their opinions are worth listening to.

“I am not the one who needs to be talking right now, and as a white adult woman if I'm in spaces with young people or people of color, I need to just stop,” Todd said. “I've said enough, people like me have said enough. We need to listen and that’s really important.”

Nikki feels like the people who are in power have had enough to say and that the decisions need to made by the people who are most affected by them.

“If the adults listen to the young people they work with, they will get answers,” she explained. “I don't think adults spend enough time listening to the way kids ask questions.”