Francis V. Guzman has been announced as a recipient of the Juvenile Law Center’s 2018 Leadership Prize. Guzman, known for some time as somewhat a of a trailblazer in the juvenile justice arena, currently directs the California Youth Justice Initiative (CYJI) at the National Center for Youth Law (NCYL). In this capacity, he is working to eliminate the practice of prosecuting and incarcerating children in California’s adult justice system as well as seeking to reform sentencing and incarceration practices for youth in the juvenile justice system. Almost every week, Guzman is in a different city and state, visiting juvenile halls and detention centers where he mentors youth while conducting research in his goal to develop the best practices in juvenile justice. His own journey mirrors the backgrounds of many of the youth he speaks to. Guzman grew up in a challenging environment in Oxnard, CA. Surrounded by gangs, crime and homelessness, he was arrested at age 15 for taking part in an armed robbery. He ultimately spent six years behind bars. With his incarceration occurring during many of his most formative years, Guzman fully realized the damage the justice system is doing to the youth who became involved in it. He decided to dedicate his life to addressing the problems of our juvenile justice system, eventually graduating from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Law with a juris doctor degree in public interest law and policy.
It was less than a year after his graduation from UCLA that he took the job as director of the California Youth Justice Initiative after having previously served as the assistant to the director of NCYL for two years between his undergraduate and graduate stints. He also immediately went about getting onto the boards of many juvenile justice and youth organizations to try and bring his reform ideals to several different sectors. He served for three years on the board of Everyone Cares and for almost five years at Legal Services for Children, a nonprofit that provides free legal representation and social work services to children and youth. He is currently on the boards of Communities for Restorative Youth Justice, UnCommon Law and California LAW. Through his established partnerships with community organizations and advocacy groups as well has his tireless work leading CYJI , Guzman has helped to catapult juvenile justice reform issues to the forefront in California. With many recent legislative successes and a new partnership with the Office of California Governor Jerry Brown, Guzman is undoubtedly leading the reform of the entire juvenile justice system in our nation’s most populous state. It is for these reasons that Francis “Frankie” V. Guzman is the recipient of the Juvenile Law Center’s 2018 Leadership Prize.