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National juvenile justice group honors Utah attorney for her advocacy

Nubia Peña has received the National Juvenile Justice Network’s 2019 Youth Justice Emerging Leader Award.
Nubia Peña has received the National Juvenile Justice Network’s 2019 Youth Justice Emerging Leader Award.
University of Utah

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah attorney and youth justice advocate Nubia Peña last week was honored with the National Juvenile Justice Network’s 2019 Youth Justice Emerging Leader Award.

Each year, the organization recognizes a person who demonstrates dedication to reforming the youth justice system by advocating for the fair treatment of young people, promoting racial equity and actively working toward the use of community-based alternatives to incarcerating kids.

Peña was chosen for her demonstrated commitment to ending the school-to-prison pipeline, being an active voice for court-involved youth as a youth attorney, and working within the community to support kids at-risk of becoming involved with the justice system.

“Our Youth Justice Emerging Leader Award reflects one of our primary objectives — to ensure our movement’s newest leaders are prepared to confront the structural barriers that have created an inequitable system,” Sarah Bryer, the organization’s executive director, said in a statement.

“Nubia's track record shows her dedication and passion for transforming our current approach to youth justice to one that prioritizes restorative justice and holistically supporting positive youth development.”

Peña dedicated her professional life to youth justice advocacy after working as a law enforcement victim advocate for survivors of domestic abuse, sexual assault and violent crimes. As she expanded her advocacy work to include racial and economic justice and immigration rights, Peña decided to enter law school and challenge unjust policies and practices as an attorney.

While studying at the University of Utah's S.J. Quinney College of Law in 2014, Peña was a contributing author on the report “From Fingerpaints to Fingerprints: The School-to-Prison Pipeline in Utah,” which examined school discipline rates in Utah — the first effort of its kind in the state.

She went on to act as the program director for Racially Just Utah and later as a juvenile defender with Utah Juvenile Defender Attorneys. Most recently, Peña was named the director of the Utah Office of Multicultural Affairs and she continues to serve as the training specialist for the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault.