Johnny Jara's Recipe for Court Advocacy

Accountability, Empathy, and Support: Johnny Jara's Recipe for Court Advocacy

Most of Avenues for Justice (AFJ)'s court advocates grew up in similar under-served communities as our participants.

Johnny grew up in the Bronx in an immigrant household. His father worked 18-hour shifts, seven days a week, but always talked about wanting to be a defense attorney to help those who didn’t have money to be able to have a fair representation in court.

When Johnny turned 17, the family moved into NYCHA Housing on the Lower East Side.  Separated from old friends by distance, Johnny spent his time focusing on his education. Taking his father’s dream to heart, he earned both a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice from John Jay College of Criminal Justice and went to work at a law firm.

“But it was a desk job and that wasn’t my passion. Like my father, I wanted to help low-income people stay out of jail.” 

When he heard about an opening at Avenues for Justice, one of his professors at John Jay called AFJ to recommend Johnny and he was hired in 2015. Today he fills multiple roles as a court advocate, overseeing volunteers and organizing life skills workshops on legal rights, health, creative arts, and job readiness.

Here are Johnny’s takeaways on how to work with Alternative to Incarceration involved teens and young adults:

Accountability: I never cover for a participant. I let the judge know what’s going on.  Otherwise the kids will feel they can get away with things. And worse, they won’t get the services they really need.  So I let participants know they have to meet curfews and participate in our programs for job training, social and mental health, and tutoring to complete school. I understand situations come up where I have to have sympathy for the participant, but ultimately they need to make an effort on making changes. This is where I may meet them halfway.  If they want a good report, they dictate that and what their report will be to the court.

Empathy: I know what they’ve been through. A lot of them grew up with trauma. They lack self-confidence and they’re not used to structure. Some of them got arrested because they were selling drugs to support their families.

Support: I help them get through. My participants know I’m on their team. I don’t yell at them - I always talk to them. I tell them if they want an opportunity at a second chance, here’s what you have to do. And I’m going to help you get through this situation.

If you’d like to lead a workshop or volunteer, contact Johnny at