WASHINGTON — Funding that goes to states mainly for complying with a federal law designed to protect children in the juvenile justice system would be eliminated under a proposal to be marked up today by a U.S. House Appropriations subcommittee.
Juvenile justice advocates expressed alarm over that prospect and plan to meet with juvenile justice advocates in the House today.
The money for the grants to states — known as Title II, Part B formula grants — now totals $55.5 million annually. The Obama administration has requested $70 million for fiscal year 2016.
Efforts to reach the chairman of the subcommittee that’s marking up the proposal, Texas Republican John Culbertson, were unsuccessful.
In a statement released Wednesday night, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, criticized the proposal.
“Juvenile justice intervention programs are important tools to help local communities serve and protect at-risk youth who come into contact with the criminal justice system,” Grassley said.
“It’s discouraging to see that funding for these important programs is not included in the House Appropriations subcommittee’s markup proposal. … These are kids who need help, and it’s unreasonable to leave these programs out of the picture altogether.”
The proposed funding elimination comes at a crucial time, as Grassley and Rep. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., introduced on April 30 a bipartisan bill to reauthorize the JJDPA, which has not undergone a major overhaul in two decades.
The subcommittee proposal is the beginning of a lengthy legislative process that culminates in a conference committee meeting, where differences between the House and Senate bills will be ironed out.
Before introduction of the bill, some juvenile justice advocates had said that after earlier steep decreases of Title II grant funding some states might simply forgo the money. That would allow them to no longer even try to comply with the standards of the 1974 Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA). The funding is now just around $400,000 a year for many states.
The “core requirements” of the JJDPA, the main federal juvenile justice law, aim to prevent detention of “status offenders” who commit nonviolent offenses like skipping school or possessing alcohol; reduce disproportionate minority contact with the juvenile justice system; remove youths from adult jails and lockups; and keep youths who are incarcerated in adult facilities separated from adult inmates.
“If this proposal gets through the House, which it could, since it is more conservative than the Senate, it would mean that a stronger JJDPA would be moot, since there would be no money to fund it,” said Marie Williams, executive director of the Washington-based, nonprofit Coalition for Juvenile Justice, in an email.
And Act for Juvenile Justice, a Washington-based national coalition of more than 80 organizations, noted in a statement that the Title II funding goes not only toward protecting tens of thousands of children in custody but also to help children at risk of becoming involved in the juvenile justice system.
“Despite a continuing decline in youth delinquency, more than 60,000 young people are held in detention centers awaiting trial or confined by the courts in juvenile facilities in the U.S,” Act for Juvenile Justice said. “For confined youth, and the many more kids at risk of involvement in the justice system, these programs are critical.”
ARLINGTON, Va. — U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch served up some sobering statistics today at a national summit on preventing youth violence: More than three of five American children have been exposed to crime, violence or abuse.
“This violence can take many forms and can occur virtually anywhere — from the streets of our neighborhoods to the far reaches of cyberspace; from the schools where our children learn their earliest lessons, to the homes where they should feel most secure,” Lynch said at the fourth National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention.
“And it is clear that, regardless of how or when it occurs, exposure to violence can have real and devastating consequences for growth and development.”
Lynch, who took office April 27, noted research has shown that whether children observe or are victims of violence or abuse, it will make them more likely to fall behind in school, to suffer anxiety and depression, to struggle with drug or alcohol abuse — “and, ultimately, more likely to perpetuate the cycle of violence in what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called a ‘descending spiral of destruction.’”
In her first major speech on juvenile justice and youth violence, Lynch said efforts to prevent youth violence must be intensified and continue “until a child’s ZIP code does not dictate that child’s future.”
Lynch, who had served two stints as a federal prosecutor for the Eastern District of New York before being nominated attorney general by President Barack Obama, said: “As we’ve seen from recent events, preventing violence in our communities is not an abstract concept, but a clear and pressing need.
“It is a need that requires more than a prosecution strategy — but rather an approach that sees all sides of this challenging issue. Healing our neighborhoods, building mutual trust and promoting well-being are not lofty or unreachable goals; they are tangible pieces of the more prosperous and more peaceful society that we all seek.”
The summit, launched by the Obama administration in 2010, is a gathering for those participating in the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention to share ideas and develop strategies. Participants included representatives of the 16 cities in the forum as well as youth leaders and officials from federal and state agencies, law enforcement and school systems, along with private partners that support local efforts. More than 350 people from 40 localities were scheduled to attend, Justice Department spokeswoman Starr Stepp said.
The three-day summit, which began Monday, covered a wide range of topics.
Among them: developing and measuring the success of violence prevention efforts; leveraging funding for anti-violence initiatives; working to reduce crime in neighborhoods; examining the convergence of child welfare, social services and juvenile justice; harnessing youth ideas on curbing violence; partnering with faith-based organizations; starting state and community partnerships; engaging boys and young men of color; reducing the “school-to-prison pipeline” and “zero-tolerance” policies in schools; providing education to incarcerated youths and helping them prepare to re-enter society; and turning to federal prosecutors for help combating violence through enforcement, outreach and prevention.
Lynch recalled traveling last week to Baltimore, which had been beset by rioting, arson and looting after the funeral of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died after suffering severe injuries in a city police van.
She met with Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, police officers and people who took to the streets after the unrest to clean up trash and debris.
“But,” Lynch said, “I think I was most impressed with the young people I met with in Baltimore — about nine of them who are working within their community and with their peers to make their city a better place for everyone. A few seemed to have read more about civil rights law than many lawyers I know. And they were optimistic — even in the midst of great challenge — about the future of their city.
“They are a testament to the strength of our young people — even those who live in tough neighborhoods and face real economic challenges. They are making a real and positive difference and serving as an example to others. And I told them that I hoped they would challenge their peers to do the same, because in many communities in Baltimore and in communities across America, it is all too easy for our youth to get caught up in drugs, gangs and violence and give in to a troubling status quo.”
Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who had served as CEO of Chicago Public Schools from 2001 to 2009 before joining the Obama administration, recalled the horror of the violence in that city and said the hardest part of his job was going to funerals of students who were shot and trying to comfort victims’ families and fellow students.
During his tenure, Duncan said at the summit, “On average, we lost one child every two weeks to gun violence … and the vast majority of these students were not gang-bangers.”
There was the young girl shot by someone with an AK-47 from 100 yards away as she sat in her living room at 7:30 a.m. and the boy shot in a bus at 2:30 p.m. as he headed home from school. Duncan said the gun violence in Chicago has declined in recent years.
“But whether it’s my hometown or it’s anywhere across the nation, what we’re seeing is just absolutely staggering,” he said. “And the loss of human potential and the loss of leaders, as a nation, we can’t afford to let that happen.
“We are thrilled that high school graduation rates are at an all-time high. We are thrilled that dropout rates have gone down, but as a nation, we are nowhere near where we need to be” in reducing youth violence, Duncan said.
He still has a picture of a fireman a Chicago school student drew him. “The caption is, ‘If I grow up, I want to be a fireman,’” Duncan said.
That mindset remains far too common.
“It’s a really, really deep thing. To too many kids around the nation, that’s their thought — ‘if I grow up.’”
WASHINGTON — Tear down more state youth prisons, and spend the money saved on community-based alternatives to incarceration.
Doing so, juvenile justice advocates say, would reduce overall youth crime and recidivism, keep nonviolent offenders from being incarcerated, save states millions of dollars and help the juvenile justice system live up to its mission to rehabilitate, not mostly warehouse, youths.
Against this backdrop, the Obama administration is seeking in its fiscal year 2016 juvenile justice budget a $30 million initiative known as “Smart on Juvenile Justice.”
The initiative is designed to help states decrease youth incarceration while increasing community-based alternatives to locking kids up and reducing racial and ethnic disparities.
“The Smart on Juvenile Justice Initiative will drive nationwide system reform, guiding states toward a developmentally informed approach that maximizes cost savings and strategically reinvests those savings into efforts that improve outcomes for youth,” said Robert Listenbee, administrator of the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, in an emailed statement.
Congress has yet to approve the requested funding, though the Obama administration has funded a pilot of the program, rolled out last year in Georgia, Hawaii and Kentucky, working with private foundations and the Washington-based nonprofit Pew Charitable Trust’s Public Safety Performance Project.
The states, each of which received $200,000, worked to divert youths from the juvenile justice system, provide community-based alternatives, decrease correctional spending and improve public safety.
“It was clear the status quo was not working,” says a Pew video that points out the initiative has begun achieving many of its chief goals.
Juvenile justice advocates embraced the Obama administration’s request to take Smart on Juvenile Justice nationwide.
“If you look at the data for what kids are locked up for in the ‘deep end’ of the system, there’s a lot that shows that these kids don’t need to be incarcerated,” said Liz Ryan, president and CEO of the Washington-based nonprofit Youth First! Initiative, which seeks to dramatically reduce incarceration in state facilities while increasing community-based alternatives.
“You see the stats for kids with misdemeanors, you see kids in for probation violations, you see drug violations,” Ryan said. “We’re overusing the most expensive option for kids when we really don’t need to be doing that. It’s a waste. It’s a waste of money; it’s also harming children: The human cost is huge, and when we look at the fact that kids being sent through the juvenile justice system are far more likely to be incarcerated in the adult criminal justice system, we really have to ask why are we putting so many kids in locked facilities?”
The latest statistics on youths incarcerated in state facilities show about one in four had committed violent offenses. The remainder had been incarcerated for nonviolent offenses, according to the figures for 2011 from OJJDP.
Ryan said the $30 million initiative also reflects research on adolescents showing, among other things, that most kids engage in delinquent behavior at some point but almost all outgrow it.
“We really have to accelerate their success and help young people become successful adults,” Ryan said. “At times, the system is punitive and harsh and doesn’t in fact recognize that kids are capable of rehabilitation, kids are amenable to treatment and kids will age out of delinquency. We shouldn’t be doing anything that’s going to impede that progress.”
Like other juvenile justice advocates, Ryan pointed to the nonprofit Youth Advocate Programs Inc. as a model of community-based alternatives to incarceration.
YAP, based in Harrisburg, Pa., relies on “advocates” — paid, trained and supervised adults recruited from the same communities as the youth and families they serve.
The advocates work with many youths who have committed serious offenses and provide a broad array of 24/7 services, including intensive supervision, mentoring and working with judges, probation officers and case managers.
Advocates work closely with families of the offenders, who live at home during treatment, and help the offenders find part-time employment and community service projects while helping them set and achieve goals.
“It is critical that we redirect dollars from cages to the community; the dollars should follow the kids home,” said Shaena Fazal, national policy director for YAP, which provides its intensive community-based services in 17 states.
“Our biggest investment should be in building a neighborhood-based continuum of care to keep families together, not separate them,” Fazal said.
“To be smart on juvenile justice, we must invest in supporting and empowering communities to build a robust continuum of care for young people with complex needs,” she said. “Right now, the dollars communities need to build this continuum are tied up in youth prison cells and residential centers.”
Rep. Tony Cárdenas, D-Calif., known for his work on juvenile justice, agreed.
“We need to focus on how we reduce crime in America rather than the solely punitive solution of locking people up,” Cardenas said in an email.
“Locking up nonviolent offenders creates a cycle of incarceration that causes more children to end up in single-parent homes and an increased likelihood of re-offending. There are effective alternatives to incarceration that reduce recidivism and save taxpayer dollars.”
Like Ryan, Cardenas also noted increasing bipartisan support for juvenile justice reform, which could improve the chances the national Smart on Juvenile Justice provision is enacted.
Fazal applauded that growing support: “We still need more leaders in Congress to step up, and supporting efforts to ‘decarcerate’ youth and redirect dollars to the community to help the young people who need it most is an ideal place to start.”
Ryan also cited a recent study, Closer to Home: An Analysis of the State and Local Impact of the Texas Juvenile Justice Reforms, that scrutinized results of sweeping juvenile justice reforms in the state.[module type="aside" align="right"]
Learn more about community-based alternatives at the Juvenile Justice Resource Hub.[/module]
The study found that Texas cut by 66 percent the average daily population of youths incarcerated in state facilities from 2007 to 2012. During the same period, the study found, juvenile arrests declined nearly 33 percent, and eight of 10 youths were not arrested after completing community-based programs.
On the flip side, the Texas study also found those who were incarcerated in state facilities were 21 percent more likely to be arrested again and three times more likely to commit a felony than a youth under community supervision.
Savings from a fundamental shift away from incarceration for nonviolent offenses could be substantial, considering it costs upwards of $100,000 a year in some states — and much more in others — to incarcerate a child.
In contrast, it costs only about a fourth of that amount for community-based alternatives, which produce better results for all but the most serious offenders. This is no small matter at a time of shrinking state budgets.
There has been progress: Youth incarceration has been reduced by almost half over the past decade. And states including New York, Ohio, Illinois and Texas as well as Washington, D.C., have limited offenses for which youth can be incarcerated and expanded alternatives.
Still, considerable obstacles to reforms remain:
- Opposition to closing facilities comes from powerful prison unions, leaders and staff at juvenile correctional agencies, law enforcement officers and prosecutors, private prison leaders, crime victims’ groups and towns where juvenile facilities are located because of the prospect of the loss of jobs, advocates say.
- Reforms have resulted in closures of some state facilities, but merely moved youth to incarceration at the local level — in California and Ohio, for example. This suggests the need for stronger requirements on use of incentive funding to states for closing facilities, lest state incarceration be replaced by local incarceration.
- Savings from reduced incarceration, especially youth prison closures, often have not gone toward community-based, nonresidential alternatives to incarceration. In some cases, the savings go to probation departments, for example, not alternatives to incarceration run by community-based organizations.
- Even with the huge drop in youth incarceration, only about 50 state juvenile prisons have closed in the past decade, while about 200 continue to operate, advocates say, prompting some to call for razing many of these facilities.
- Some advocates suggest that based on documents they have reviewed, states are likely spending roughly the same amount on juvenile justice as before the decline in youth incarceration, meaning the cost per incarcerating each child has climbed.
- At least another 50 percent reduction in youth incarceration could be made based on Justice Department data showing two-thirds of incarcerated youths pose no risk to public safety, juvenile justice advocates maintain.
- States have largely overlooked reducing length of offenders’ stay, assuming more time imprisoned would improve outcomes for youths. Research, however, shows few benefits after six months of incarceration. Some youths also remain locked up because of a lack of appropriate placement in the community.
WASHINGTON — A bipartisan juvenile justice bill introduced today would significantly strengthen requirements meant to protect youths while putting teeth into regulations to prevent widespread waste, abuse, fraud and retaliation against whistleblowers in the U.S. Justice Department.
The bill, introduced by Sens. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., would also add stricter rules for reducing racial and ethnic disparities in juvenile justice and phase out the detention of “status offenders.” These are children whose offenses — such as truancy or possession of alcohol — are considered crimes only because they are minors.
The provisions come as part of the proposed reauthorization of the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), which lapsed in 2007 and has not undergone a major overhaul in two decades.
“Our bill provides a long-overdue policy refresh to improve opportunities for our nation’s most vulnerable children and strengthen safeguards for youth who encounter the juvenile justice system,” Grassley and Whitehouse said in a joint statement.
“Our bill also creates measures to tackle fraud and waste so that our youth can benefit from the programs’ full potential.”
Whitehouse said the bill would enable kids in the juvenile justice system to “have appropriate opportunities to get back on track rather than being marginalized and falling further behind.”
In the statement, he also said the legislation would ensure protection of juveniles in custody and keep them out of adult prison while reducing racial and ethnic disparities.
Longtime juvenile justice advocates praised the measure.
“It is crucial to reauthorize and update the JJDPA so that it addresses the most pressing issues in juvenile justice today such as reducing racial and ethnic disparities, keeping kids out of adult jails and reducing detention and incarceration of children in the justice system,” said Liz Ryan, president and CEO of the Washington-based Youth First! Initiative, which seeks to reduce incarceration and increase alternatives to it.
The bill would strengthen one of JJDPA’s four core requirements by removing youth charged in adult court from placement in adult jails.
Ryan also noted the bill would shift the emphasis on reducing racial and ethnic disparities from mainly “addressing” them to taking concrete steps to reduce them.
And after an eight-month inquiry into juvenile justice grants, waste, abuse, fraud and accountability, the statement from Grassley and Whitehouse said: “A number of whistleblowers alleged that many states fall short of core requirements to receive the taxpayer-funded grants, and the Justice Department office responsible for overseeing the program has admitted it has had an unlawful policy in place since 1997 that allowed states to receive these grants despite violations of funding requirements.
“This prompted Grassley and Whitehouse to craft new accountability requirements to ensure that taxpayer dollars are being used appropriately, and youth are being adequately served,” the joint statement said.
The bill also incorporates recent research into adolescent behavior and brain research, which has shown the brain can continue developing until the mid-20s and that adolescents are prone to peer pressure, can be reckless and disregard long-term consequences of their behavior. At the same time, however, the research has found almost all children at some point engage in delinquent behavior but most outgrow it and that youths are especially amenable to rehabilitation.
Such research has led to calls for a more rehabilitative approach to juvenile justice that relies more on community-based alternatives and less on incarceration, especially for nonviolent offenders. They comprise about two-thirds of the children in some form of locked “residential placement” at any given time.
Marie Williams, executive director of the nonprofit, Washington-based Coalition for Juvenile Justice, said she was heartened by the measure’s emphasis on such research.
“We now have much more information about adolescent brain development, which tells us that kids are different, and the Supreme Court has weighed in even more definitively on this issue,” Williams said in an email.
“We have more data about the harms of secure detention for most young people, and about the benefits of community-based interventions; and we have lots more information on how specific sub-groups like girls and kids of color fare in the juvenile justice system, and what interventions may work to help them.”
The bill also would:
- Require the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to identify “best practices” to serve and protect at-risk youth.
- Place a greater focus on helping juvenile offenders who need mental health and substance abuse treatment.
- Expand training to support judges who work on juvenile cases.
- Improve transparency and accountability in juvenile justice programs.
- Improve re-entry services for those coming out of the juvenile justice system.
- Scrutinize cases of juveniles whose offenses originated on school grounds, during off-campus activities or due to referral by any school official. The Obama administration has made reducing the “school-to-prison” pipeline a priority.
Rep. Tony Cardenas, D-Calif., known for his juvenile justice advocacy, welcomed the bill.
“Reauthorizing this important legislation is long overdue and necessary to strengthen youth protections to reflect the contemporary needs of our most vulnerable children,” Cardenas said in an email.
“I am particularly thrilled to see the bill prohibit the exemption that allowed youth to be detained for ‘status’ offenses — offenses that would not be a crime if committed by an adult — like truancy, smoking or running away from home.”
Marcy Mistrett, CEO for the Washington-based nonprofit Campaign for Youth Justice, said in an email the bill “brings the JJDPA in line with what research tells us and states know — that incarcerating kids, particularly status offenders, and locking kids up with adults causes harm and does not reduce crime and delinquency.
“This bill reaffirms a national commitment to the rehabilitative purpose of the juvenile justice system; one that supports developmentally appropriate practices that treat as many youth as possible in their communities. It is both cost-effective and the morally right thing to do.”
In a statement released by the Justice Department, Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason said: “We are pleased that the Senate has introduced legislation reauthorizing the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, which will go a long way toward building a fairer and more effective juvenile justice system and ensuring opportunity for all of America’s young people.”
Mason, who leads the Office of Justice Programs, which oversees OJJDP, had come under fire from Grassley in letters in the past eight months and at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week based on findings from his inquiry.
Responding to questioning from Grassley, Mason said at the hearing, “We have been reviewing OJJDP’s compliance monitoring program, which has revealed a number of errors and systemic flaws in the program’s operation.”
Ryan of the Youth First! Initiative said she’s “very hopeful” the bill will pass both houses and be signed by President Obama.
“I think there is a growing consensus that too many youth are locked up, that persistent disparities in the juvenile justice system need to be reduced, and that kids should not be placed in adult facilities,” she said.
BALTIMORE — On the night Ralph Moore Jr.’s hometown burned, his mind flashed back to 1968.
The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. The race riots. The legacy of huge burned-out and largely abandoned swaths of this city that have never recovered.
Moore is a towering presence among community activists, equally comfortable being hugged by President Barack Obama and engaging mayors, governors and members of Congress in debate. He’s worked alongside (and sometimes against) police and gang members alike.
On Monday night, he said a prayer for his beloved Baltimore amid the blazes and looting and youths hurling rocks at city police and Maryland State Police in riot gear.
In his day job, Moore, 62, serves as program manager for Restoration Gardens, a sparkling, $6 million transitional housing complex for recently homeless youths, a few blocks from the site of rioting at Mondawmin Mall in west Baltimore.
For decades now, Moore has devoted many of his waking hours and much of his passion to kids in this city, where he says one in three children live beneath the official federal poverty line ($23,850 per year for a family of four).
He's a tall glass of water with a balding dome and a frost-colored mustache. He has been a teacher, a counselor, a mentor and is a man with a mission: to do everything possible to spare children from what can be the maw of inner-city Baltimore.
On a small blackboard in his office, the words “Young Lives Matter” are written in white chalk. He quotes Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi, Malcolm X, Mother Theresa and Nelson Mandela. And he has a dream today: that summer “peace camps” (funded largely by Jesuits and foundations like the Baltimore-based Abell Foundation) that teach nonviolence to young kids will spread beyond their two locations in the city.
What his city desperately needs now, Moore says, is not name-calling. To his chagrin, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and President Obama labeled rioters and protesters “thugs” (though the mayor later backpedaled on that description). What the city needs now, he says, is hope borne of opportunity, so elusive to so many.
That takes Moore back to the 1968 riots and his prayer that this time the city will learn from past mistakes and rebound. He recalls passing National Guardsmen and militarized vehicles beneath whirring helicopters as he took three buses to high school in 1968.
In the wee hours of Tuesday morning the presence of the guardsmen — 2,000 are in the city now — recalled those ugly days long since past, but whose ravages and wounds remain in the psyche of generations of a city.
To begin to heal them will require a radical shift in priorities, Moore says. It’s time for the developers of glitzy, largely publicly financed downtown projects to step up, pay up and help provide jobs to locals, invest in community resources like recreation centers and public swimming pools, and revive a largely broken city school system.
But perhaps most of all, Ralph Moore says, it’s long past time to end the war on drugs.
“It’s not a war on drugs. It’s a war on the poor that they call the war on drugs,” he said.
“We got the highest incarceration rate in the world because Richard Nixon declared in 1971 a war on drugs and since that time, we have arrested a million people and spent a trillion dollars,” Moore said. “And that’s busted up families, so you wonder where the men are; well, they’re in jail. That’s for anything from marijuana to crack cocaine.”
The drug war — Baltimore author and screenwriter David Simon has called it the “war on the underclass” — breeds poverty, violence and despair and shuts too many out of any legitimate careers because they choose the easy drug money over minimum-wage jobs they can barely subsist on.
Some cops, Moore says, take on the drug war mentality, a battle of good and evil with clear heroes and villains.
“Some police are of a mind and of a behavior pattern so that they go to these neighborhoods, they’re reckless and they can do anything they want,” he said. “And they’re fighting the war and they’re the good guys and they’re killing the enemy in their mind. They’re certainly beating up people and killing people and so we have to end that.”
Which brings us to Freddie Gray. The 25-year-old African-American man died a week after being arrested, manhandled by police and put into a paddy wagon, wearing handcuffs but not the required seat belts, and bounced around in the steel cage. His spine was 80 percent severed.
Police have released few details of Gray’s death, and the U.S. Department of Justice is looking into it.
Monday’s riots resulted in 235 arrests, 144 vehicle and 15 structural fires, with one person in critical condition after one of those fires, according to The Baltimore Sun. At least 15 officers were hurt during the protest.
Moore says mealy-mouthed politicians should have taken a stronger stand by insisting on immediately installing police body cameras throughout the force in the wake of Gray’s death — in paddy wagons as well.
He says every child in Baltimore should have free access to city pools during the sweltering days of summer, and more money should be pumped into recreation centers to keep kids off the streets. For older youths, he says, every one of them should be guaranteed a job.
Maybe some of the money could come from selling off projects like the city-owned, $300 million-plus Hilton convention center hotel that opened in 2008 behind Oriole Park at Camden Yards. It’s been a dismal failure, and yet, now the city is considering helping bankroll another $1 billion project called Harbor Point, the latest in a series of failed partially publicly financed projects.
Maybe, Ralph Moore tells me, these corporations profiting from the city should give back more of their riches for the common good.
“Well, that’s what we’ve kind of accepted: We’re creating Harborplace and Harbor East and Harbor Point for other people, conventioneers, tourists and people who can afford to come down from the suburbs and shop at the Whole Foods or maybe they manage to live down at Harbor East,” Moore said. “But it’s not for everyday citizens. It’s separate and unequal.”
And that’s been in plain view for the world to see, in a city that is overwhelmingly African-American and impoverished. Late Monday night, Rawlings-Blake and Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan abruptly walked off the outdoor set of CNN when correspondent Don Lemon asked some tough questions.
But even amid the chaos and continuing protests, there have been signs of hope. Thousands of volunteers gathered Tuesday to help with cleanup. Clergy members and gang members alike joined in calling for peace. And on Saturday night, ministers, the mayor and other prayed for the city in a vigil that left many in tears.
And there’s hope in recent research into adolescent behavior and brain development: Yes, youths are impulsive, vulnerable to peer pressure, can be reckless and fail to consider long-term consequences of their behavior. But brain development continues up to around age 25; most youths become involved in delinquent behavior but the overwhelming majority of them outgrow it.
On a flawless, sundrenched day Tuesday, Ralph Moore and I walked through Park Heights, which in some ways provides a microcosm of this city. On one block, newly renovated houses, on the next boarded-up shells and a cut-rate liquor/minigrocery with bulletproof glass inside. This in an urban food desert where healthy, fresh food is hard to find.
On a rowhouse stoop, a few doors down from an abandoned house where the graffiti “Love Kindly” is just below “No Trespassing Keep Out,” 11-year-old Keron Perry sat with friends eating vanilla ice cream from a paper plate with a plastic fork.
He had heard all about Freddie Gray and wondered aloud why rioters did not heed the slain man’s family’s pleas for peace on the day he was laid to rest.
“The rioters are destroying our town, and we have to clean this up after they leave all this,” Keron said. “I just didn’t think it would get this bad. Freddie Gray’s sister asked can they please not riot, but they did it anyway. His parents wanted a day of peacefulness, and I’m just asking: couldn’t they have a day like that for their son?”
WASHINGTON — The primary U.S. juvenile justice law, the 1974 Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), would undergo its first major overhaul in two decades under a bill to be introduced this week.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, announced the impending introduction of the bipartisan measure, co-sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., at a news conference at the National Press Club today.
The JJDPA had originally been designed to protect youths in trouble with the law, preventing them from being housed with adult criminals, for instance. It was also meant to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in juvenile justice and bar detention of children for “status offenses” like skipping school. Status offenses are so named because they’re crimes only by virtue of the offender’s status of being a juvenile.
Not coincidentally, the reauthorization bill comes after a Senate Judiciary hearing last week in which whistleblowers testified that the Justice Department had for years continued to give millions of dollars in federal juvenile justice grants to states that put vulnerable children in adult jails and prisons in violation of federal law.
Witnesses also pointed to lax enforcement of four “core requirements” of the JJDPA and the nearly 400 pages of cumbersome federal regulations that enforce them.
“Let’s start with the youngest of those facing the criminal justice system,” Grassley said Monday. “This is a program that not only helps prevent at-risk youth from entering the criminal justice system, but also one that helps rehabilitate minors already in the system.”
And on the day that Loretta Lynch was sworn in here as the new U.S. attorney general, Grassley criticized the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs under Eric Holder.
“The whistleblowers [at the Judiciary hearing] testified to widespread mismanagement and failures in the grant program,” Grassley said. “They cited instances of fraud and neglect of core grant requirements for these taxpayer-funded grants. The Justice Department’s negligence relates to implementation of the four criteria states must meet to receive funds.”
He said a “few states” meet all grant eligibility criteria. “But,” he added, “the Office of Justice Programs, which administers the program, turns its head the other way when states aren’t in compliance. Worse yet, states know about this blanket amnesty, so apparently they don’t even try to follow the law.”
After an exchange of letters among Grassley, OJP Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason and Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Administrator Robert Listenbee, Grassley said today, “The Justice Department finally owned up to some of these problems. They admitted to having a policy in place since 1997 that allowed states to obtain federal funds in violation of the law, and they have assured me that they will end this practice. However, other issues remain.
“So, we’re going to start righting those wrongs this week.”
The reauthorization bill, he said, would strengthen core requirements to protect youths while also responding to issues raised by whistleblowers by increasing accountability in the OJP and OJJDP’s administration of the law.
The legislation has not been drafted, Grassley spokeswoman Beth Levine said.
However, sources said it is expected to closely resemble a measure Grassley and Whitehouse introduced in December, perhaps with more stringent oversight following the Grassley-led inquiry.
That December bill called for out detention of status offenders. A recent study by the Washington-based nonprofit Coalition for Juvenile Justice found more than half of U.S. states allow children to be detained for repeated status offenses.
The new bill also is expected to give states financial incentives to provide alternatives to lockup for nonviolent offenders. Reams of research shows that jailing nonviolent youths typically does more harm than good and can lead to more delinquency and even to incarceration as adults.
Underlying many of the changes to the bill would be recent research on adolescent behavior and brain development, Grassley’s office said. The research has found adolescent brain development can continue until age 25. Youths can be impulsive, reckless, prone to peer pressure and tend to not take into account long-term consequences of their actions. But the research also shows almost all youths participate in delinquent behavior but most of them outgrow it.
The bill also would:
- Give teeth to the core requirement on dramatically reducing racial and ethnic disparities. The current law requires states that receive juvenile justice grants to address “disproportionate minority contact” with the justice system and take steps to reduce it, but has been criticized for not being tough enough.
- Significantly reduce the number of youngsters placed in adult jails.
- Promote alternatives to incarceration.
- Improve conditions and educational services for incarcerated youth.
Juvenile justice advocates hailed the upcoming bill.
"The introduction of a bipartisan JJDPA bill is the first step towards updating the law,” said Liz Ryan, president and CEO of the Washington-based nonprofit Youth First! Initiative, which seeks to reduce youth incarceration and provide community alternatives. “It is very important, as it provides the vehicle to address the most pressing issues in juvenile justice today, including reducing racial and ethnic disparities, reducing detention and incarceration, and keeping kids out of adult jails.”
Ryan said she believed last week’s Judiciary hearing “provided a much-needed sense of urgency in moving the JJDPA reauthorization forward.”
And Marcy Mistrett, CEO at the Washington-based nonprofit Campaign for Youth Justice, exclaimed, “This is great news! The JJDPA is an important law that improves the lives of children who come in contact with the justice system.”
WASHINGTON — Some states routinely violate a 1974 federal law designed to protect youths accused of juvenile offenses because of U.S. Department of Justice lack of oversight and enforcement, Sen. Charles E. Grassley said today.
“Last year, multiple whistleblowers contacted me about the Justice Department’s failure to follow the law,” said Grassley, R-Iowa, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. “The whistleblowers allege that it is common knowledge among the states that the Justice Department did not take the four core requirements [of the law] seriously.”
Moreover, Grassley said, whistleblowers also claimed they faced retribution from the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). Whistleblowers “claimed the states know the Justice Department does not even check if they are submitting accurate reports in their annual application for grants,” he said.
The grants go to states in exchange for their complying with the requirements.
“So many states allegedly report whatever figures they want in order to keep the money flowing,” Grassley said. He is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The eight-month inquiry, led by Grassley, at first focused on allegations that DOJ had paid millions of dollars in grant money to Wisconsin and four other states and territories that jailed vulnerable children with adults in violation of federal law.
Since then, the investigation has widened both in scope and geographically, with whistleblowers asserting that oversight failures may have led to unlawful OJJDP grants to Alabama, Idaho, Illinois, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
Witnesses today testified about compliance (and noncompliance) with the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), as well as about the Office of Justice Programs and OJJDP’s oversight and enforcement (or lack thereof), reprisal against whistleblowers and OJP’s response.
Andrea Coleman, who retains the title of disproportionate minority contact coordinator but says she’s been stripped of that duty for calling out OJJDP supervisors on their orders not to comply with DMC, said OJJDP has turned a blind eye to her DMC compliance complaints since 2009.
More troubling, however, Coleman said, OJJDP Administrator Robert Listenbee has “overturned” her recommendations of states’ DMC noncompliance.
“Mr. Listenbee and his leadership team announced that all states would get ‘a pass’ for their compliance with the DMC requirement with respect to their funding for fiscal year 2014,” Coleman said.
“As recently as last week, OJJDP staff was told that this ‘blanket pass’ would be issued again for fiscal year 2016 funds.”
Responding to questioning from Grassley, Karol Mason, the assistant attorney general for OJP, said, “We have been reviewing OJJDP’s compliance monitoring program, which has revealed a number of errors and systemic flaws in the program’s operation. …
“The three overarching problems with OJJDP’s compliance monitoring program are: 1. the regulations governing the program are old, outdated and inconsistent with the JJDPA, as amended; 2. the standards used to make compliance determinations are vague, thus injecting substantial subjectivity into the monitoring process, and 3. the extended timeline between a state’s filing of a compliance report and OJJDP’s compliance determination is inconsistent with the statute.”
Asked about the “blanket pass” on the DMC requirement, Mason said OJJDP is developing a new compliance monitoring “tool,” as the existing one is inadequate.
Mason did note significant progress in juvenile justice the past 35 years, saying violent crime arrest rates for youth are at their lowest point since at least 1980 and that the number of youths in locked residential placement had declined by 42 percent. Between 1997 and 2011, the population of youth in residential placement declined by 42 percent, while status offense detentions had also fallen.
Dean Hill Rivkin, a Knox County, Tenn., law school professor who operates a clinic that represents status offenders, also testified.
He said that when he failed to get help from a state agency in dealing with an exorbitant number of kids being locked up for status offenses, his clinic turned to OJJDP.
In July 2013, months after Listenbee took over, Rivkin said he got a call from an OJJDP official, who pledged to follow up with the Tennessee state agency. He was told OJJDP would conduct an audit.
But when Rivkin offered to share the Tennessee data, OJJDP declined — and the agency had looked at only four months’ data, the audit revealed. Listenbee also told Rivkin to file a Freedom of Information Act request to get the audit.
Elissa Rumsey, compliance monitoring coordinator at OJJDP, gave a long view of alleged noncompliance in her testimony.
In Wisconsin, she said, “there is significant evidence that [OJJDP grant] funding persists despite practices of regularly mixing foster children — caught after running away from domestic violence or sexual abuse — in jails with adult prisoners. The purpose of funding with controls is so that these type abuses will not occur. Serious enforcement must be restored.”
Then, she said, “Without warning, I was stripped of many of my professional responsibilities, especially my compliance-monitoring duties, and prohibited from conducting a compliance audit in the state of Wisconsin, which was scheduled for the spring of 2008.”
Her performance evaluation suffered, and her telecommuting agreement was canceled. However, the Merit Systems Protection Board found that both violated the Whistleblower Protection Act. The federal government did not reimbursed her for $750,000 in legal fees, however, though required to do so under the act.
U.S. Inspector General Jill Semmerling stepped into the investigation of the Rumsey case. However, she was abruptly removed from the case in October 2009 after working on it for 1½ years.
Under the JJDPA, OJJDP is required to reduce a state’s juvenile justice grant funding for a given year by 20 percent for each core requirement violated in the previous fiscal year. A state is to receive no JJDPA funds for the year following a violation unless it meets one of two criteria, which include showing “subsequent, substantial compliance with the requirement(s) it was violating.”
The act’s four core requirements vastly improved treatment of accused juveniles since 1974, keeping them from being detained for juvenile “status offenses” (crimes for kids, but not adults); preventing them from being detained in adult facilities and, if they are under exceptions, keeping them away from adult inmates; and requiring states to address disproportionate minority contact with the juvenile justice system.
Grassley and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., also a member of the Judiciary Committee, have said they plan to introduce a measure calling for a much more stringent JDDPA, which has not been reauthorized since 2002 and hasn’t undergone major overhaul in two decades.
The new reauthorization bill is expected to call for changes to core requirements, including phasing out the exception allowing detention of status offenders; significantly strengthening a requirement to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system; reducing the number of youths placed in adult facilities; offering states incentives for relying less on incarceration; and improving education for incarcerated youths.
WASHINGTON — Whistleblowers’ allegations that millions of dollars in federal juvenile justice grants went to states that jailed vulnerable youths with adults in violation of federal law will be scrutinized at a congressional hearing Tuesday.
The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee’s oversight hearing will focus on a monthslong inquiry led by committee chairman Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa.
At least three whistleblowers — two of them employees of the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and a law school professor — are expected to testify, according to sources very close to the investigation who did not want to be identified because they feared retaliation. The OJJDP employees have been identified as Elissa Rumsey and Andrea Coleman, both compliance monitoring coordinators who investigate whether states meet federal requirements under the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, the main federal juvenile justice law.
Coleman, sources said, will dispute claims of people who back OJJDP Administrator Robert Listenbee that Grassley is dredging up old allegations that predated his tenure, which began in March 2013.
“She’ll say this isn’t old news,” one source said. “This is all the way up to and including today. ... She’s giving examples about how she’s tried to hold states out of compliance and no one [in OJJDP] allowed her to do it.”
In retaliation for her whistleblowing, Coleman, who also oversaw states’ compliance with other “core requirements” of the 1974 JJDPA, lost her role as compliance monitoring for disproportionate minority contact (DMC), though she retains her title, sources said.
In a seven-page Feb. 27 letter to Karol Mason, the assistant attorney general for the Office of Justice Programs, Grassley outlined allegations by whistleblowers that oversight failures may have led to unlawful OJJDP grants to Alabama, Idaho, Illinois, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
That came after a January letter in which the Judiciary Committee chairman ordered Mason to respond to whistleblowers’ claims OJJDP had knowingly violated federal law by giving millions of dollars in grant money to Wisconsin and four other states or territories that jailed runaway youth, foster children and other “vulnerable minors” in violation of the JJDPA.
The law contains four core requirements states and territories must comply with to earn OJJDP grant money: “deinstitutionalization” of status offenders, those who commit acts that are offenses only because of their status as juveniles, such as skipping school or possession of alcohol; addressing DMC within the juvenile justice system through detailed plans aimed at reducing it; removal of juveniles from adult jails within prescribed time limits; and separation of juveniles from adult inmates when the juveniles are in adult facilities.
Whistleblowers said at least two states, Illinois and Rhode Island, improperly received full grant funding despite failing to comply with the DMC requirement, according to Grassley’s office.
Coleman is expected to testify that she was ordered by Listenbee and others at OJJDP not to investigate failure to comply with the DMC requirement in any state, sources said.
Also expected to testify is Dean Hill Rivkin, a Knox County, Tenn., law school professor who operates a clinic that represents status offenders. In 2012 alone, more than 26,000 petitions for “status/unruly offenses” were filed in Tennessee, more than 9,600 of them for truancy, Rivkin said in a Nov. 6, 2013, letter to Listenbee. His clinic had taken documentation of these detentions to the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, which the clinic concluded did not understand its monitoring responsibilities, Rivkin wrote. The clinic, the Education Law Practicum, then turned to OJJDP.
“OJJDP was unwilling to receive documentation of these alleged violations” by Rivkin, Grassley wrote in the Feb. 27 letter to Mason. More than a year after he wrote to Listenbee, Rivkin received a reply: a Feb. 28, 2014, letter from Listenbee saying “all of the facilities visited and participating agencies were reported to be fully compliant” with an OJJDP audit.
Listenbee suggested Rivkin file a Freedom of Information Act request if he wanted to see the full compliance monitoring audit.
Tom Devine, an attorney with the watchdog Washington-based Government Accountability Project, who represents whistleblower Jill Semmerling, also said he would attend Tuesday’s hearing. Semmerling, a former criminal investigator for the Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General, alleged that in 2008 Wisconsin had failed to separate vulnerable children from adults in detention facilities but has continued receiving federal grants based on claiming compliance.
Starr Stepp, a Justice Department spokeswoman, confirmed in an email that Mason, the boss of Listenbee, also will testify.
Stepp declined to comment on specific questions about the inquiry, including whistleblowers’ claims of fraud and mismanagement in the continuing awarding of OJJDP grants to nine states and territories.
Whistleblowers who made the allegations faced retribution, Grassley has said in correspondence.
That included being reassigned, in two cases from OJJDP to the Bureau of Prisons; losing key job functions; and being stripped of the right to telecommute part of their workweek, he wrote.
In response to the Grassley probe, juvenile justice advocates have lined up in support of Listenbee, characterizing the widening investigation as a witch hunt.
Some blamed disgruntled longtime employees who resisted change and tough leadership in an agency that had lacked a permanent administrator for six years. Some cited a lack of funding to enable the administrator to effectively carry out OJJDP’s compliance with core requirements of the JJDPA. Some said Listenbee had no control or oversight during some of the alleged violations. Others said the White House had hand-picked top Listenbee aides, leading to friction and difficulty carrying out the agency’s mission.
Taylor Foy, a spokesman for Grassley, said none of these factors motivated the senator’s investigation.
“We’ve had whistleblowers talk about flaws in the grant program, and Chairman Grassley committed to providing the oversight that the programs function the way they were intended to function and that taxpayer dollars are being used appropriately and that the people who are supposed to be served by these programs are being adequately served,” Foy said.
“So oversight’s an important role of Congress and that’s what this hearing’s about. So it’s not directed at any one person. It’s to get at what we’ve been told is a problem in some states and to figure out what a problem it is and how it can be resolved.”
Foy noted Grassley has long supported whistleblowers and is chairman and a founding member of the Senate Whistleblower Protection Caucus.
In addition to the states and territories named in the inquiry so far, Grassley’s office has said in a news release, “The alleged mismanagement may extend to many more states and could date as far back as 1986.”
His office asserts the states continued receiving millions of dollars in federal grant money despite violations of JJDPA provisions.
Under the JJDPA, OJJDP is required to reduce a state’s JJDPA grant funding for a given year by 20 percent for each core requirement violated in the previous fiscal year. A state is to receive no JJDPA funds for the year following a violation unless it meets one of two criteria, which include showing “subsequent, substantial compliance with the requirement(s) it was violating.”
Grassley’s office said he plans to offer reforms to the OJJDP grant program in a JJDPA reauthorization bill in response to the whistleblowers’ allegations. He and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., had introduced a bipartisan bill in December to reauthorize the JJDPA.
The main federal juvenile justice law has not been reauthorized since 2002 and has not undergone major changes for more than two decades.
A new reauthorization bill is expected to call for changes to core requirements, including phasing out the exception allowing detention of status offenders; significantly strengthening a requirement to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system; reducing the number of youths placed in adult facilities; offering states incentives for relying less on incarceration; and improving education for incarcerated youths.
For years, many juvenile offenders in New York City had been exiled to upstate facilities — hundreds of miles from families, schools and communities.
This continued despite mounting evidence that keeping such youth closer to home improves the odds of reducing recidivism, continuing their progress in school through their local school systems and helping them successfully re-enter the community.
Now, a report by the Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City shows promising early results of a city-state program called “Close to Home.”
The report found that the program, which began in 2012, has helped youths maintain closer ties with families, schools and communities — all viewed as vital to successful rehabilitation. It has drawn strong support from state and city officials as well as juvenile justice experts and advocates.
The report — by the Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City — comes at a time of growing recognition that keeping juvenile offenders closer to home improves the odds of reducing recidivism, continuing their progress in school through their local school systems and helping them successfully re-enter the community.
“The things we do know are you accomplish nothing by putting a kid in a faraway facility,” said Jeffrey A. Butts, director of the center and the report’s lead author. “There’s no benefit to having them there. So you don’t get anything from that.
“It doesn’t take a real stretch to say if you’re working with a kid in a residential bed, if the family can visit a lot, that’s good. Also, if that young person can stay in touch with their local school and continue to get credits from their local school and not lose educational progress during a time of residential placement, then that’s a good thing,” he said. “And those things are now possible, and they were not before.”
However, Butts said it will take further research to determine whether Close to Home has reduced crime, as juvenile delinquency in the New York City area had been declining years before the program began.
“When justice-involved youth are supervised by local agencies and placed with locally operated programs rather than being sent away to state facilities, they are better able to maintain community ties,” the 44-page report stated. “They stay connected with their families and they are more likely to remain in local schools.
“Increasingly, public officials are reforming youth justice systems by relocating the bulk of their intervention resources at the local level. Many states are investing in community-based alternatives and some are closing down traditionally rural, state-operated youth correctional facilities.”
Close to Home provides a prominent example of what juvenile justice experts call “realignment” in placing youths, which the report called the “latest chapter in a decade-long commitment by New York State and New York City to improve the justice system for young offenders by investing in programs and interventions that allow youth to stay close to their homes and families.”
More evaluation will come after the start this spring of the second phase of the program, which will increase the number of youths and include more serious offenders while expanding the program’s focus. The first phase involved about 200 offenders.
Researchers, led by Butts, interviewed numerous experts involved in planning Close to Home and found the program “successfully changed the youth justice system in New York City, and in the way intended by the designers of the reform.”
The report found out-of-home New York City delinquency placements declined from 544 in 2011 to 415 in April 2014, but again stressed those numbers had been dropping before the program began.
The number of youths in state-run facilities that are the report’s focus dropped precipitously, from 87 in 2011 to six in 2014.
Mishi Faruqee, who served on planning committees for Close to Home, said its vision “wasn’t about a bed transfer; it wasn’t about just taking all the beds that were upstate and then building beds in New York City. It was really about expanding community-based options for people after adjudication. It focused on what types of community-based options we should be looking at.”
Faruqee, juvenile justice policy strategist with the American Civil Liberties Union, noted that before Close to Home, upstate facilities did not provide transferable credit for New York City youths. “Education was really about looking at how we could have seamless education for young people who were part of the Close to Home system,” she said.
Before 2010, many youthful offenders in New York had been referred to “evidence-based” family therapy programs when in some cases such therapy might not be what they needed at all, she said. A kid might be dealing drugs to help support his family, for instance, while a youth caught shoplifting may need an apprenticeship or job training, she said.
The best outcome, of course, is not just to keep kids close to home but in their family homes with treatment or monitoring, as necessary, Faruqee said.
Butts said some advocates and officials had expressed concerns that Close to Home could lead to an overall expansion of the system — or “net-widening” — as opposed to merely replacing state placements with local placements, as courts and police became more aware of the local options.
That has not happened, however, Butts said.
The report also said that while the initiative was not designed to reduce costs, “many officials believe it will eventually make youth justice more cost-effective by generating better outcomes and lowering crime.”
Butts said perhaps the only downside of Close to Home is for upstate communities that lose jobs from juvenile facilities.
WASHINGTON – More than half of U.S. states allow children to be detained for repeated nonviolent “status offenses” such as skipping school, running away from home or possession of alcohol, a new report says.
The revelation comes more than 40 years after the landmark Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) stipulated that in states receiving federal juvenile justice grants, no child should be locked up for such minor transgressions. They’re called status offenses because they are considered crimes owing only to a youth’s status as a juvenile.
The provision of the 1974 JJDPA calling for “deinstitutionalization” of status offenders had led to a marked decline in detention of these youths.
But the JJDPA, the main federal juvenile justice law, was amended in 1980 to include an exception allowing judges to confine a youth adjudicated guilty for a status offense if the child had violated a “valid court order” not to repeat the offense.
The report, Status Offenses: A National Survey, by the Washington-based Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ), showed most of the cases of children being detained for status offenses occurred in just a handful of states. But judges can still detain repeat status offenders under the exception in 26 states and Washington, D.C.
CJJ’s 64-page report found the names used to describe status offenses and what constitutes a status offense varied widely among states.
In an email, Naomi Smoot, senior policy associate at the nonprofit CJJ, pointed out that some states include catch-all provisions that apply to behaviors that are illegal only for minors, while other states use status offense laws to deal with new and emerging issues uniquely applicable to children such as bullying and sexting.
The findings come amid growing opposition to incarcerating children for such offenses because doing so endangers them, can cause long-term trauma, often leads to further involvement with the justice system and tends to ignore the underlying reasons for the offenses.
“What we’ve seen in the research is that status offender youth who are put in detention run the risk of both physical and sexual assault at the hands of both guards and their fellow youths,” Smoot said in an interview.
“There’s a large number of youths who are put into detention for status offense behaviors in the same living units as children who have engaged in much more serious and much more dangerous behaviors.”
CJJ, along with a wide array of other advocates for juveniles and the Reno, Nev.-based National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ), call for diverting status offenders from the juvenile justice system altogether.
Ironically, the NCJFCJ had lobbied for the 1980 valid court order exception, at a time of clamor for taking action to reduce status offenses, said Melissa Sickmund, director of the Pittsburgh-based National Center for Juvenile Justice (NCJJ), the research division of NCJFCJ.
“They said, ‘We have kids who have not followed rules we set for them. What else do you want us to do?’” Sickmund said. “And so the exception got put into place.”
Now the judges council supports elimination of the exception, she noted.
“If you’re detaining the kid — unless they are really a threat to the community — it may be causing more harm than good, it may be putting them in the presence of other bad actors who are worse than them and they just learn bad stuff,” Sickmund said. “We could be traumatizing them, and it doesn’t help and it’s expensive.”
To understand status offenders, CJJ said in a December report, it’s critical to understand youths’ brain development and adolescent behavior patterns.
Recent research has shown adolescents’ brains are not fully developed until their mid-20s and that youths are more susceptible than adults to peer pressure, more reckless and impulsive, more likely to take risks and less likely to consider long-term consequences. Notably, however, the research also shows juveniles are especially amenable to rehabilitation.
The NCJJ estimates that in 2011, juvenile courts handled 116,200 status offense cases, with 8,800 involving youths being detained at some point between referral to court and case disposition. Youth were adjudicated guilty in 66,400 of those petitioned cases, with 37,200 placed on probation as the most severe consequence.
Some of the youth who were held may not have been detained in violation of the JJDPA, though: Under the act, status offenders may be held under one of several exceptions to the act’s requirements. Youths, for example, can end up being held briefly before initial court appearances. But advocates argue that even these short stays can traumatize youths and subject them to risk of abuse.
On a hopeful note, the new report pointed out that in the overwhelming majority of states, status offenders are rarely detained.
The federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention reports that Washington state led the nation in use of the valid court order exceptions, with 2,705 cases; followed by Kentucky, 1,048; Arkansas, 747, and Colorado, 356. (Most of the data, for a one-year span, was from around 2010-2012.) At the other end of the spectrum, a dozen states that retain the valid court order exception used it less than 100 times in a one-year period.
Alessandra Meyer, senior program associate at the Center on Youth Justice at the nonprofit Vera Institute of Justice in New York City, said in an email more and more states are looking to alternatives to detention of status offenders.
“Many states have changed their approach to youth who commit status offenses, embracing community and school-based responses that reduce reliance on the juvenile justice system,” Meyer said.
“As shown in CJJ’s survey, however, too many states still allow courts to use the valid court order (VCO) exception to lock up youth for non-delinquent behaviors such as running away from home and skipping school.”
Like others, Meyer pointed to a bipartisan measure introduced in December to reauthorize the JJDPA that would, among other things, phase out the valid court order exception over three years.
A new JJDPA reauthorization bill – expected to be introduced in this session of Congress by Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. — also would likely phase out the exception.
“We would love to see the valid court order exception become a thing of the past,” CJJ’s Smoot said. “Our position is that children should never be incarcerated for status offense behaviors because these are behaviors that are a sign of a larger underlying behavior in the child’s life.
“Often, there’s something either going on at home or an undiagnosed disability, for example, that causes a child to fall behind in school. There are better community-based responses, and we say as an organization incarceration is never an appropriate response.”
Often, CJJ points out, LGBTQ youths run away from home because they don’t feel welcome there.
The organization also recommends law enforcement connect possible status offenders and their families to necessary services instead of charging or detaining the youths and says education systems should seek to address underlying causes of truancy and try to avoid court involvement or suspension from school.
And CJJ says children should not be allowed to waive counsel in status offense cases unless the waiver is on the record, the court has weighed the child’s understanding and capacity and the waiver occurs in the presence of and with consultation of an attorney.