(This Q&A originally appeared as part of Salzburg Global Seminar’s news updates.)

Lisel Petis is a resident senior fellow for criminal justice and civil liberties at R Street, a public policy research organization. She recently participated in Salzburg Global Seminar’s A Whole System Approach to Justice: Creating a Brighter and Safer Future for Today’s Youth program, which is part of the multi-year Global Innovations on Youth Violence, Safety and Justice initiative.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Christina: What got you into youth justice reform work?

Lisel: So, I was a prosecutor for several years, and certainly, as a prosecutor, I mean, I appreciated being a prosecutor. I think most people that are prosecutors are doing it for good reasons, but you do see some things are just broken into a  system. But after that, I started working with victims. You see here how the system is even more broken for victims. When I also served in my local city council, and just from a budgetary standpoint and a governmental standpoint, you got to see some of the issues going on. So, I think, between all those different examples, or all those experiences, it made me just realize there’s so much more work we could do to fix the system.

Christina: What are the biggest gaps in justice reform?

Lisel: There’s a lot I focus on some of the things that I think not a lot of people focus on. [For example], training specifically for prosecutors. Prosecutors wield an immense amount of power in the courtroom and on people’s lives. They are trained on how to win trials and how to do their job, but they are rarely trained on mass incarceration or the impacts of detention. So, to me, that is a huge area that just actually should be low-hanging fruit. 

Christina: What needs to get done that isn’t?

Lisel: I think, again, I want to try and see something that’s different than [finding] the easy answers. But to me, it’s different people on different sides working together. So, we’re seeing a lot of people who are either in the reform space or they’re in the pro-police space, and they’re working on their own agendas in their own silos instead of trying to cross the bridge and do it together. I’m finding better legislation and more sustainable things coming out of those collaborations where people can actually work together. You see them in some areas, I shouldn’t say it’s not happening anywhere, but I just don’t feel like it’s happening enough.

Lisel Petis was a participant at the Salzburg Global program A Whole System Approach to Justice: Creating a Brighter and Safer Future for Today’s Youth, which is part of a multi-year series Global Innovations on Youth Violence, Safety and Justice. The program was hosted in partnership with the MacArthur Foundation, the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation and the David Rockefeller Fund.