Concentration: Public Policy
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
You recently submitted your thesis, titled: “A Comparative Study of Pre-arrest Diversion Programs: Coordinated Systems-Change to Prevent Youth Arrests and Increase Access to Community-based Support in Rhode Island.” What was your thesis about?
My thesis investigates the question of how to build coordinated, community-driven solutions to prevent youth contact with the juvenile justice system. I conducted a comparative study of pre-arrest diversion programs, which create a formalized system for police to connect young people to community-based supportive resources instead of making arrests or court referrals. Unlike justice reform, upstream prevention demands collaboration across health agencies, services providers, community-based organizations and law enforcement to drive a shift from a criminal justice approach to youth behavior to a public health approach.
I conducted a comparative analysis of three pre-arrest diversion programs and examined how multi-agency coalitions have come together to design referral processes and build out a network of coordinated community supports. I then conducted a strengths and needs assessment for implementation in Rhode Island by interviewing community members and advocates, service providers, agency leaders and law enforcement. It was very exciting to learn that all of the assets for profound systems change are here in Rhode Island, and these case studies help us to understand what it takes to design a program model that builds from this strong community-driven foundation.
Throughout the year you have also been producing a film — what is the story behind that project?
I’ve been working with a film crew based in Guantánamo to produce a film about Cubans who live near the Guantanamo Bay military prison. The film will aim to show Cuban artists, poets and musicians perspectives on the U.S. imposition on the island and the reality of daily life around the prisons. The inspiration to work to uplift these stories sparked when I visited the town that surrounds Guantanamo Bay while studying abroad through Brown’s Consortium of Advanced Studies Abroad program. The following semester, I took a class where I learned about these Cuban filmmakers, artists and poets and got to study their work. After working together on pre-production this past winter, we're now in the process of creating the film. We really hope to highlight the complexities of the lived reality around the base--this part of Cuba is a site of political tension, military surveillance, economic restriction, where jazz meets Cuban rhythms of Son and Changüi, we want to depict what that looks like for people day to day.
As you’ve worked on your thesis and the film, what classes at Brown have particularly shaped your approach to these complex topics?
The course “Gender and Public Policy” really highlighted the power dynamics that play into shaping policy processes from framing an issue to agenda setting — and then how policy solutions are ultimately designed and implemented. That class really drove my initiative as a policy analyst and advocate to center the voices of people who've been directly impacted by policy issues in the processes of policy making. It also asked me to consider how to continually center gender, race, class, immigration status — all these axes of identity — throughout the process of program design, evaluation and improvement. I really look forward to bringing that into my own work on pre-arrest diversion, as I think about how to design policy recommendations that insist on youth leadership to drive systems change toward public health-informed and community-driven solutions.
How do you hope to continue working on these projects after graduation?
I will be working in the Public Policy and Advocacy branch of the Nonviolence Institute here in Providence. My main roles there will be driving strategies for coordinated prevention of youth contact with the justice system. I look forward to presenting my thesis research with key stakeholders and hope to advance a coordinated and community-driven effort to promote racial equity and positive youth development in Rhode Island.
--Elise Ryan '21