Keynote Speaker

James Bell, Keynote Speaker

James Bell, Keynote Speaker

Founder and Executive Director of the W. Haywood Burns Institute

Since 2001, James Bell has been spearheading a national movement to address racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system. The BI,which is named after civil rights pioneer W. Haywood Burns, was recently awarded the prestigious MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions. The award is presented to select organizations worldwide that have made a “remarkable impact in their fields.”

Mr. Bell and his colleagues at the BI work with juvenile justice systems across the country to reduce the disproportionality of youth of color. Mr. Bell guides the BI’s Community Justice Network for Youth (CJNY), a national network of programs working successfully with young people of color. Mr. Bell also works closely with the Casey Foundation’s JDAI jurisdictions and the MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change Initiative.

Mr. Bell is being recognized this year for his “profound contribution to human rights,” by the American Education Research Association Human Rights Award Committee, which has selected him to receive the second annual Ella Baker/Septima Clark Human Rights Award.

Mr. Bell has appeared on Nightline and the Tavis Smiley Show. He also authored the Unequal Justice section of the Covenant with Black America, a national plan of action to address the primary concerns of African Americans today by Tavis Smiley, as well as the Criminal Justice Policy Paper for the National Black/Latino Summit.

Mr. Bell has extensive experience in the international juvenile justice arena: He assisted the African National Congress in the administration of the juvenile justice system in South Africa; recently worked with Chinese officials and policymakers on alternatives for proven risk youth moving from the countryside to the cities; and worked closely with officials in New Zealand and Australia to analyze the principles and practices that form the foundation of their restorative justice systems.  

Mr. Bell is the recipient of a Kellogg National Leadership Fellowship, the Livingstone Hall Award from the American Bar Association, Attorney of the Year from the Charles Houston Bar Association, the Advocate of the Year from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Moral Leadership Against Injustice Award of the Delancey Street Foundation and the Local Hero Award from the San Francisco Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award.

He received his J.D. from Hastings College of the Law.


Unsustainable Systems Facing Financial Crisis: An Opportunity to Redefine Justice for Youth

Given the unique experience the Burns Institute has in conducting statewide work in California, as well as national work, the BI is prepared to respond to the question of how the current changes within the California Division of Juvenile Justice formerly known as California Youth Authority will impact the overall juvenile justice system within the next year to two years. The BI will respond to how this historic change can be utilized as an opportunity to forge a new, modern, more just and equitable system serving youth, parents, and communities, especially among youth and communities of color that are more disproportionately represented in the juvenile justice system. 

And, the BI will make the connection between the work of “Stop the Rail to Jail” and the “School to Prison Pipeline.” The W. Haywood Burns Institute currently works with 11 counties in California, among other counties in the nation, to reduce racial and ethnic disparities, building community and capacity with community-based organizations, youth & parents and youth advocates to be engaged in policy decision-making within their local juvenile justice systems, and is involved in federal, state and local policy-making circles advocating changes to build more just and equitable juvenile justice systems.