Long-time youth advocate Liz Ryan joined OJJDP as Administrator on May 16, appointed to the post by President Joseph R. Biden. Administrator Ryan brings more than 30 years of professional experience in legislative and justice-related issues, including more than two decades spent as an advocate for juvenile justice reform.
“Liz Ryan is an impassioned advocate for America’s youth and a visionary whose actions have benefited our nation’s young people in countless ways,” said Office of Justice Programs (OJP) Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Amy L. Solomon, when she announced the appointment on May 4. “As a champion of reform and as a proven problem-solver, she will put our children first and help guide our nation toward smarter, more just, and more humane juvenile justice policies and practices.”
“The only way to truly reform our juvenile justice system is to reimagine it. We must literally close the doors on youth prisons to open the doors for better alternatives—alternatives that are more effective, that have a greater return on investment, and are safer.”
—OJJDP Administrator Liz Ryan, addressing the 2022 Coalition for Juvenile Justice conference
The new Administrator’s first official engagement occurred May 19 at the Coalition for Juvenile Justice annual conference, where she assured attendees that, in her youth advocacy work, she has “never shied away from a challenge.” She highlighted three priority areas for OJJDP:
- Treating children as children.
- Serving children at home, in their communities and with their families.
- Opening opportunities for youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system.
“I also want to highlight one overarching focus that runs through all of these priorities, and that is a commitment to racial equity and fairness,” Administrator Ryan said. “We must reduce the disparate treatment and disparate impact that youth of color experience in the juvenile justice system. I don’t have to tell you all this. We all know that youth of color are treated much more harshly and much more punitively than white youth by the juvenile justice system, even when charged with similar offenses.”
The Administrator championed direct partnerships between OJJDP, its grantees, and youth impacted by the juvenile justice system—to make “changes in the system to reflect their needs.” OJJDP will hold virtual listening sessions with the field throughout June, and she encouraged attendees to participate and share their insights.
Administrator Ryan has long sought to amplify the youth voice, asserting a need to capture and apply youth input in meaningful ways. She also values families’ experiences. In testimony to the U.S. Congress in 2015 and 2017, for example, she advocated for establishing an independent, national technical assistance center focused on family and youth engagement, and for requiring family representation on the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and in state advisory groups.
The Administrator also assured conference attendees that OJJDP is working to award the fiscal year 2021 Title II formula grants “as soon as possible. We want to get this money out to the states, where we know it can directly impact young people who need our support,” she said. “Getting this funding to the states is at the tippy top of my must-do list.”
Before joining OJJDP, Administrator Ryan served as founding president and CEO of the Youth First Initiative, a national campaign to end the incarceration of youth by investing in community-based alternatives. Since 2014, the initiative has achieved the closure of youth prisons in six states and redirected more than $50 million to community-based alternatives to incarceration.
Administrator Ryan founded the Campaign for Youth Justice in 2005 and served as its president and CEO until 2014. A national, multistate initiative, the campaign sought to end the prosecution of youth in adult criminal courts and their placement in adult jails and prisons. During her tenure, it contributed to legislative and policy changes in more than 30 states, a 60 percent decrease in the number of youth in adult courts, and a greater-than 50 percent decrease in the number of youth placed in adult jails and prisons.
Administrator Ryan cofounded and cochaired Act 4 Juvenile Justice, a campaign to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. She also served as advocacy director for the Youth Law Center, national field director for OJJDP’s Juvenile Court Centennial Initiative, and as an advocate for the Children’s Defense Fund. She has written extensively about juvenile justice reform, including articles, editorials, reports, and chapters of books.
Read Administrator Ryan’s biography to learn more about her background and accomplishments.