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States, Advocates Urge Caution as Federal Officials Consider New JJDPA Regulations

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WASHINGTON — State officials, advocates and researchers are urging federal officials to tread carefully as they consider changes to how states demonstrate they are protecting juveniles in custody.

They say that if the rules become too strict, cash-strapped states that find themselves out of compliance could abandon the federal program designed to help juveniles entirely.

“This would inevitably lead to wider variances between and within states in terms of the efficacy, equity and efficiency of juvenile justice systems; and would ultimately lead to poorer outcomes for youth,” said the Coalition of Juvenile Justice (CJJ), a trade group that represents juvenile justice state advisory groups, in a comment letter responding to proposed changes.

CJJ’s comments are similar to scores of others submitted to the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) about a proposed rule officials issued in August.

The proposal would change how states meet the core requirements of the Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Act, regulations that haven’t been updated since the mid-1990s. The JJDPA is the key federal law that sets standards for juvenile justice that states must follow in order to receive federal grants.

Specifically, states would have to clear new formula-based thresholds to show they keep juveniles out of adult facilities; ensure that when juveniles must be in such facilities, they are separated from adult inmates; and do not lock up status offenders.

In addition, the proposal calls for states to do more to root out racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system, known as disproportionate minority contact under the law.

Under the new rules, 48 states would be out of compliance with at least one of the three formula-based requirements, according to OJP.  States are already dealing with a sharp decrease in federal funding for juvenile justice; add the costs of compliance and they may find it is no longer worth participating in JJDPA, the commenters said.

“While the push to hold states to an even higher standard is a worthy goal, the bar cannot be so divorced from practice that it has the unintended consequence of driving states out of the program and putting more children and youth at risk,” said the National Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition in another representative comment letter. The coalition represents nearly 300 youth- and family-serving social justice, law enforcement, corrections and faith-based groups.

In the comments, one group had a different opinion on the burden to states of increased compliance costs coupled with decreased funding. Strategies for Youth, a national nonprofit that seeks to improve interactions between police and youth, said the proposal is an appropriate floor for state compliance, especially when it comes to reducing disproportionate minority contact.

“The federal government should not succumb to the perceived threat that states will crumble under the weight of regulations that simply ensure that the youth for whom they are responsible are treated fairly,” the group wrote.

In their comments, state officials and organizations delved into the specifics of how the proposal would affect the states. Among their concerns are:

  • the scope of the baseline data used to develop the compliance thresholds;
  • how much flexibility states have to respond before being declared out of compliance;
  • whether OJJDP technical assistance will be sufficient to help states improve; and
  • the timeline for implementation.

The next step in the rulemaking process is for federal officials to review the comments and decide if and how to modify the original proposal before putting out a final regulation.

House Passes Reauthorization of JJDPA; Focus Returns to Senate

bac5a9ce-7a70-49bb-9eef-adc8ae3c4873WASHINGTON — The House voted today to update the key federal law that aims to prevent delinquency and protect juveniles in state and local custody.

The House passed the Supporting Youth Opportunity and Preventing Delinquency Act (HR 5963) by 382-29, just two weeks after the long-sought bipartisan bill was introduced.

The legislation is a reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, a law that sets standards for the treatment of juveniles that states follow to qualify for federal funding.

The bill would update core protections in the law, give states new tools to prevent delinquency and gang involvement, and provide guidance on curbing racial and ethnic disparities in the system.

This “is about more than improving the juvenile justice system. It’s about helping vulnerable kids realize they have an opportunity to succeed in life and giving them the support they need to seize that opportunity,” said Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Florida, a lead sponsor of the bill.

“This act … is a major step in the right direction towards reforming our juvenile justice system,” said Rep. Tony Cárdenas, D-California. “I am particularly grateful that the bill includes my community-based gang intervention bill, to help gang-involved youth.”

The swift passage of the House legislation means all eyes will be back on the Senate, where lawmakers have limited days left on the legislative calendar to act on the House bill or find a way forward for a Senate version of the bill (S 1169), which is very similar to the House version.

A spokeswoman for Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, a lead sponsor in the Senate, said he is seeking input from lawmakers on the differences between the two pieces of legislation. Since the bills are so similar, Grassley is optimistic the House bill can pass in the Senate, she said.

The Senate reauthorization has wide bipartisan support but stalled earlier this year when Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, objected to a provision that would end what’s known as the valid court order exception for status offenders.

The JJDPA prohibits the detention of minors for status offenses, behaviors such as truancy or running away that are only considered offenses when committed by minors, unless a judge issues a court order.

The House bill has won the support of juvenile justice reform advocates who have long sought a reauthorization of the bill, which hasn’t been updated since 2002.

“Premised on research-based understandings of juvenile justice and delinquency prevention, H.R. 5963 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,” said the ACT4JJ Campaign, a coalition of youth advocates, in a letter voicing the organization’s support for the bill.

The advocates did draw attention to one of the more significant policy differences between the House and the Senate bills: the way each end the valid court exception. Both would phase out the exception over three years, but the House bill allows states to apply for one-year hardship extensions, which would be approved or denied by the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

“Though we prefer the Senate’s approach to the phase out, which does not include an annual hardship exception, the House bill is an improvement over current law that sends a clear message to states and will help keep greater numbers of youth from being unnecessarily detained,” the letter said.

The bill also has the support of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a national law enforcement organization.

“This bipartisan reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) supports evidence-based programs that can prevent youth from engaging in criminal activity or rehabilitate youth who are starting to offend. These proven programs provide a critical support for law enforcement, as well as an investment in those young people,” the group said in a letter to lawmakers.

National Campaign Calls for Schools to Remove All Law Enforcement Officers

A national coalition of groups dedicated to ending the school-to-prison pipeline wants all law enforcement officers out of schools for good.

The Dignity in Schools Campaign released a new policy platform today that says officers should not be a regular presence in schools and emphasizes the need for trained staff such as behavior interventionists and restorative justice coordinators to promote safe and healthy schools.

When law enforcement must respond to an incident at a school, schools and police departments should have agreements that stress the importance of limited intervention and safeguards for students’ rights to education, counsel and due process, according to the new policy.

Dignity in Schools, which includes more than 100 groups from 27 states, long has advocated for limiting the role of law enforcement in schools but said more drastic action is now needed to protect students.

“Over time, we have seen that even with restricted roles and more training, police in schools can still criminalize students and their families. Recent recorded incidents of violence against students by police in schools have made clear the dire consequences of their continued presence in the school environment,” the campaign said in a resource guide that accompanied the policy platform.

The number of officers in schools has grown in recent decades. In 1999, 54 percent of students reported a security guard or police officer was present at school, a figure that grew to 70 percent in 2013, according to federal data.

Supporters of limiting the use of law enforcement in schools say the presence of officers can mean students are harshly punished for typical child and adolescent behavior in ways that can push them out of school and into the justice system, a fate that disproportionately affects students of color and those with disabilities.

Kimberely Jones, from the Gwinnett Parent Coalition to Dismantle the School to Prison Pipeline in Georgia, applauded the platform. She said her son’s involvement with law enforcement at his high school has been difficult to move past, as he deals with probation and trouble pursuing his education further because of his record.

“He’s paying the price for something that happened when he was a child that should have been handled by the school,” she said.

The campaign’s position comes after the federal departments of Education and Justice released resources earlier this month designed to help states and local jurisdictions responsibly incorporate school resource officers (SROs) into schools. The resources call for ensuring educators were responsible for discipline, officers receive specialized training and schools and law enforcement agencies have written agreements about their roles.

“Let me be clear, properly trained educators must be in charge of not only the development of discipline policies but also the administration of such policies,” Education Secretary John B. King Jr. said when the resources were released. The administration also stressed that the decision to use SROs was a local one.

At the time, Dignity in Schools said it supported the recommendations but urged officials to redirect funding from law enforcement to other positions.

The National Association of School Resource Officers welcomed the administration’s recommendations.

“Like Education Secretary King, we believe that administering formal school discipline belongs solely in the hands of educators, and that educators should be well trained to address behavioral issues through a variety of interventions that do not involve law enforcement officers,” said Executive Director Mo Canady in a statement.

House Panel Clears JJDPA Reauthorization Bill

If the Senate passes the JJDP Reauthorization Act (S 1169), other juvenile justice legislation could gather momentum in JJDPA’s wake.

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan bill to update the primary federal law that protects juveniles in state and local custody sailed through a key committee on Wednesday.

The House Education and Workforce Committee approved by voice vote the Supporting Youth Opportunity and Preventing Delinquency Act (HR 5963).

The bill updates core protections in the law and gives states new flexibility to address delinquency and gang involvement prevention in local communities. It also includes guidance on preventing racial and ethnic disparities in the system and increased reporting requirements to track how juveniles fare during and after their time in the system.

“These reforms will help more children acquire the skills and the knowledge to hold themselves accountable for their actions, grow into productive members of society and seize opportunities to work toward a brighter future,” said Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Florida, a lead co-sponsor of the bill, before the vote.

The legislation is a long-sought reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, a law that sets standards for the treatment of juveniles that states must follow to receive federal funding.

Curbelo and co-sponsor Bobby Scott, D-Virginia, ranking member of the committee, introduced the legislation on Friday. Scott, a long-time champion of juvenile justice reform, stressed that the bill will require states to take into account the latest science on adolescent development and behavior and the importance of prevention in juvenile justice policy.

“We shouldn’t have to legislate this, but unfortunately too often slogans and sound bites have dictated our nation’s approach to crime policy, particularly juvenile crime,” he said.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, introduced a similar reauthorization bill (S 1169) last year that moved easily through committee but stalled on the Senate floor because of objections by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas.

It isn’t clear if or when that bill will move in the Senate, especially given the limited legislative days left in this session of Congress. Scott said he’s hopeful the House bill will give momentum to the effort.

“I’m optimistic that with the strong bipartisan support we have for this bill, we’ll be able to work with the Senate and get a bill to the president’s desk,” he said.

The committee passed the bill without any major amendments. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colorado, introduced but withdrew an amendment that would have prohibited corporal punishment in schools that receive federal funding.

Researchers Say Metaphors Can Help Public Better Understand Juvenile Justice

Thinkstock
Thinkstock

Juvenile justice reform advocates can spread their message further if they carefully guide their audience to an understanding of adolescent development and the justice system, researchers say.

The key is to reframe the issue of reform so that the public does not leap to conclusions about a broken system but instead thinks about how it can be improved.

Julie Sweetland
Julie Sweetland

“If advocates can make that subtle shift, they’ll build a much bigger constituency,” said Julie Sweetland, vice president for strategy and innovation at the FrameWorks Institute, a nonprofit think tank that researches and develops communications strategies on public issues.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation recently released a report by FrameWorks that rounds up the organization’s research into juvenile justice communications, along with a messaging toolkit.

The report walks juvenile justice advocates through how the public thinks about juvenile justice and how those ideas interact with the messages reformers tend to rely on. The researchers then present alternatives that may work better.

Ultimately, they make the case for using metaphors that help the public understand adolescent development and the structural inequities in the juvenile justice system.

Neurological development can be compared to building a house, or cognitive skills such as executive function and self-regulation can be compared to air traffic control, they said. The justice system may be best explained as a maze.

Similarly, saying the justice system is like a bicycle that uses just one gear — the prison gear — can help the public see the need for alternative programs.

“Unless and until people can see the systems that are at work, they cannot overcome their fixation on individual-level choices and solutions. But this dominant explanation can be dislodged; people also possess an incipient understanding that childhood is a formative period, and that context matters,” the report says.

Benjamin Chambers
Benjamin Chambers

Benjamin Chambers, communications director for the National Juvenile Justice Network, a coalition of advocates, said the research holds potential for the field. Groups are getting a handle now on how to make the strategies part of their work.

“I see opportunities. We all have opportunities to do better,” he said.

The messaging does not have to be a heavy lift; even small organizations can find ways to incorporate it, he said. The big work is mental — getting comfortable with the metaphors and making them a natural part of a group’s communications.

Advocates also are working through how to make the strategies work in different settings. A broad public outreach campaign may require different levers than a one-on-one conversation with a lawmaker, where a relationship is paramount, Chambers said.

Aprill O. Turner
Aprill O. Turner

Aprill O. Turner, communications and media relations director for the Campaign for Youth Justice, said the group is integrating the message into some of its new materials — with the hope of reaching beyond the usual players.

"The Campaign for Youth Justice is very committed to communicating in the most effective way possible, not just to those in the field, but we are also interested in reaching new audiences and building awareness around youth in the adult criminal justice system. This new messaging research allows us to do that,” Turner wrote in an email.

Developing the research

FrameWorks recommendations build on years of research that brings together anthropologists, linguists and other analysts. They study how the field communicates, explore how the public thinks about those messages and test new models.

Ultimately, FrameWorks tries to tease out the common themes that resonate across groups — and help advocates knock them down or build them up.

“If you can predict the similarities, you can prepare,” Sweetland said.

The researchers use the metaphor of a swamp to describe how the public thinks about juvenile justice now, explaining there is danger but also potential in the ideas people already hold.

For example, people tend to think about people as “tots or teens” — either too young to know right from wrong or fully responsible young adults — which leaves little room for a discussion of how a young person develops.

Or people blame parents for providing insufficient moral instruction — but that offers some promise by suggesting people see childhood as a formative period and may be open to understanding new science around child and adolescent development.

The report then walks through the values advocates can use to frame the conversation about juvenile reform given how the public thinks now. The researchers found the public is more responsive to messages of pragmatism than messages of fairness or cost efficiency.

The message should be that a practical, common-sense approach can work to better communities, the researchers said. That’s where the metaphors come in, to help explain how the system could work better in practical ways.

Sweetland said using the research makes sense. Many in the field have accepted the need to build programs based on evidence; the same should be true of communications.

“We should be way past the point where we’re using our guts to make communications decisions,” she said.

FrameWorks expects to release their latest research on school discipline messaging by the end of this year.

The juvenile justice report was co-authored by Johanna Wald, the director of strategic planning & development at the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice at Harvard Law School.

Correctional Staff Must Pay Attention to Needs of Girls in Adult Facilities, Researchers Say

Correctional administrators should focus on staff training, appropriate programming and facility conditions to ensure the safety and healthy development of girls locked up in adult jails and prisons, a new report says.

While policymakers should do all they can to keep girls out of adult jails and prisons, some girls do end up in adult facilities and their needs must be met, said researchers from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Correctional staff play a key role in making sure that happens — and many want to do it well, said Caroline Glesmann, a researcher at the NCCD who co-wrote the new report released by the National Institute of Corrections.

“They’re thinking about the issue and working to address needs in terms of training and staffing in the adult system as it relates to young people in general and girls in particular,” she said.

The report provides an overview of the current research on how girls end up in the adult system and their needs and experiences once there. It also draws on a survey of and listening sessions with correctional administrators.

Girls who end up in the adult system share many of the characteristics of girls in the juvenile justice system, according to the report. They are likely to have experienced disproportionately high rates of physical or sexual abuse or trauma, more likely to be pregnant or parenting and to need services including mental health counseling and substance use treatment.

When they do enter adult facilities, girls need programing and services that recognize the importance to adolescents of forming strong relationships and to be kept safe from physical or sexual violence and self-harm. But the staff ratios and limited training opportunities for correctional officers can make it harder to guarantee those needs are met.

In the survey of 22 correctional administrators, 68 percent strongly agreed or agreed they have the institutional culture needed to support girls, 59 percent said they had appropriate staff-to-inmate ratios and 41 percent said their physical plant was adequate.

The report lays out the steps correctional staffs and policymakers can take to protect girls, including to:

  • avoid the use of isolation,
  • provide youth-specific programming,
  • use gender-specific and age-appropriate risk assessment tools,
  • allow opportunities for relationship-building,
  • provide educational and vocational opportunities to support reentry, and
  • consider girls the experts on their own lives and listen to their needs and ideas.

In addition, keeping girls out of the adult system in the first place is a critical step, the researchers said. Reforms should emphasize community-based alternatives to incarceration and keeping youth in the juvenile system.

“We have this big opportunity as it relates to juvenile justice reform to move kids out of the system altogether,” Glesmann said.

This story has been updated.

Court Costs Can Push Kids Deeper Into Justice System, Report Says

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Fines and fees imposed in juvenile court can drive youth deeper into the system and their families deeper into poverty, a new report says.

Every state imposes monetary penalties or costs on juveniles, a burden that hits families who are already struggling especially hard, both emotionally and financially, according to the report by the Juvenile Law Center of Philadelphia.

The costs can include fees to attend programs that are alternatives to incarceration or to have a mental health evaluation, charges for record expungement and restitution payments to victims.

When families can’t pay, the consequences may include sending a youth to a juvenile placement rather than an alternative community-based program, keeping a youth on probation longer than they otherwise would be or having their driver’s license revoked.

“This is a glaring example of justice by income,” said Jessica Feierman, associate director at the center and the report’s lead author.

The financial burdens of adult court have drawn increasing attention in recent years, but the juvenile system has gone largely unexamined, prompting the center’s researchers to wonder about the experiences of young people and their families. For the report, they examined state statutes and surveyed families and practitioners in most states.

“We got a resounding answer that young people all across the country are facing court debt. It’s harming them and their families,” Feierman said.

In a companion report, criminologists also zeroed in on how costs or fees affected recidivism in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.

The study, one of the first to look at the connection, found that financial penalties increased recidivism instead of deterring further offenses.

In addition, the report found a link between court-ordered financial obligations and racial disparities. Youth of color were more likely to still owe money after their cases were over, leading to further charges, longer probation or other punishments.

Feierman said the findings point to one way to curb racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system — by moving away from fines and fees that disproportionately affect some communities.

State experiences

Gary Blume, a partner at Blume & Blume Law in Alabama, said he often sees families struggling with the financial problems the report highlights. One common scenario is that a juvenile on probation is hit with a fee that they can’t pay and has to remain on probation until they can.

During that time, they can be sucked further into the system because of curfew violations or other technical violations — which often comes with a new round of costs.

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“It just creates a vicious cycle,” he said.

The consequences also aren’t uniform, Blume added. While some judges are mindful of the burdens families face, others are less so. And even when judges would like to waive fees or fines, some costs are mandatory.

Feierman said some of the fines and fees are set up as a punishment or a way to right a wrong, such as restitution payments. Others are a funding mechanism, a way to fill gaps in juvenile justice budgets that have been slashed.

All of them can be overwhelming to a family, even in small amounts, said lawyers and advocates across the country. And there are hidden costs, too.

A family may need to find the money for a class that’s an alternative to formal prosecution, but they’ll also need to come up with the money for transportation, said Mae C. Quinn, director of the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center at St. Louis.

“The cost of just doing business needs to be taken into account as well,” she said.

One fee that differs somewhat from the others are restitution payments that go directly to victims, Feierman said. Helping to make a victim whole may make sense, but even then, states should be aware of how much money juveniles and their families have and whether alternatives such as community service may be more fruitful.

“If a young person doesn’t have the money, it’s not going to help the victim and it’s not going to help the young person get back on track,” she said.

Financial obligations vary

The report looks at eight categories of financial obligations that states use: probation or supervision, informal adjustment or diversion, evaluation and testing, cost of care, court costs and fees, fines, expungement and sealing, and restitution.

All states impose restitution costs of some kind, but they vary in their use of costs across the other categories. Under state law, New York only uses restitution fees; Alaska and Vermont use restitution and cost of care fees. Others though, including Texas, Arkansas, Oregon, Kansas and Michigan, have fees or fines that fall into seven of the categories.

Most states and localities haven’t made any major moves to change their practices, but some examples exist, according to the report. In Alameda County, California, officials put a moratorium on fees and costs after a report showed the harm to families and a minimal financial benefit to the county.  And Washington state lawmakers eliminated a variety of fees, allowed youth to petition the court for relief and gave judges discretion to consider a juvenile’s ability to pay restitution.

“Counties and states across the country should consider a similar approach — eliminating harmful costs, fines, and fees, and ensuring that any orders of restitution are reasonable and effectively balance the victim’s need to be made whole with the financial reality of youth and their families,” the report said.

Matt Conklin, a juvenile justice reform advocate at Kansas Appleseed, said he was struck by how many fines and fees Kansas applies. The group will be encouraging families to tell their stories and sharing the information with legislators to encourage reforms, he said.

“This is the signal for us, the wake-up call that can hopefully inspire us,” he said.

This story has been updated.

Funding, Oversight Next Questions for Florida’s Private Youth Prison System

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By the end of the summer, Florida will have cut all ties with youth prison contractor Youth Services International, a company that’s been plagued by allegations of abuse and substandard conditions for decades.

Over the years, state after state abandoned their contracts with YSI until the for-profit company was operating only in Florida. But earlier this year, state officials said the company would end all contracts with YSI as the result of a lawsuit.

As new companies take over the contracts, the change raises the question of whether advocates and lawmakers who have fought hard against YSI will continue to examine the use of private, for-profit contractors in juvenile justice.

In Florida, a mix of for-profit and nonprofit companies run all the state’s 57 long-term juvenile facilities.

The issue isn’t likely to drop off the radar screen entirely. YSI’s problems drew attention from lawmakers, the press and the public — and that’s a good thing, said Deborrah Brodsky, director of the Project on Accountable Justice, a criminal justice think tank based at Florida State University.

“This is a larger signal that the winds have changed more broadly, that we as a society expect better,” she said.

State law requires officials to contract with private companies at residential facilities, so the focus is likely to be on oversight and funding for the system, rather than an overhaul that does away with for-profit contractors, those in the field say.

Ending contracts

State officials announced in March that the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) would end all seven of its remaining multimillion-dollar contracts in the state because of a whistleblower lawsuit alleging YSI failed to provide appropriate and necessary services and falsified documents related to the terms of the company’s contracts.

YSI disputed the charges.

“While Youth Services International believes there is no merit to this lawsuit, it made the decision to settle the case in an effort to put the four-year litigation in the past and avoid the future cost and distraction of a continued legal defense regarding this matter," a company spokesman said at the time, according to news reports.

Of the seven facilities formerly run by YSI, Sequel TSI of Florida was scheduled to begin operating four of the facilities in August and early September: Charles Britt Academy, Pompano Youth Treatment Center, Duval Youth Academy and Marion Youth Academy. Rite of Passage was scheduled to begin operating Joann Bridges Academy and Youth Opportunities International was scheduled to begin operating the Broward Youth Treatment Center, both on Thursday.

The state does not plan to enter into a new contract for the seventh facility, Broward Girls Academy. The remaining girls at the program will either finish their treatment plans or be moved to different programs.

Florida has used private facilities for decades and made the move to privatize its long-term facilities entirely in 2013. The state is one of the heaviest users of private facilities in the country, according to the 2015 federal Juvenile Residential Facility Census, which is based on 2012 data.

Other heavy users of private facilities include Alabama and Pennsylvania, while places like Maine, Hawaii and Vermont have few if any juveniles in private custody.

Nationwide, 49 percent of juvenile facilities — both local and state, short-term and long-term — were privately operated, according to the federal census. Those facilities held 31 percent of juvenile offenders. Though there were more local facilities, state facilities held nearly as many youth.

Some advocates and lawmakers question the wisdom of using for-profit providers at all for the juvenile justice system, saying that a profit motive means companies may cut corners, which can lead to inadequate facilities, services and even abuse.

“YSI is part of a systemic problem that Florida and all states should pay attention to, and that’s when you have private for-profit company there are skewed incentives,” said Mishi Faruqee, national field director at the Youth First Initiative, a campaign to end the use of youth prisons.

One way to move away from the use of such companies is for states to invest aggressively in community-based alternatives to incarceration, she said. A shrinking population of juveniles could discourage companies whose main interests are their own bottom lines, she said.

Cathy Craig-Myers, executive director at the Florida Juvenile Justice Association, a trade group that includes the state’s residential facility contractors, said companies that fail to meet muster should be removed from private systems when necessary.

But private facilities can and do meet the needs of juveniles, she said. And they help the state because they’re specialized, nimble and can save the state money, she said.

Accountability is central to a working system, Craig-Myers said.

“The key to successful privatization is that the person who contracts those dollars out knows what they want and monitors the hell out of it,” she said.

In 2011, the state began a comprehensive review of its funding, contract management and oversight practices that has put in place new ways to ensure safety and quality, a DJJ spokeswoman said.

“As the Department contracts with private providers, as required by state law, we work to strengthen our requirements for services to ensure first and foremost that youth are receiving the services they need but also to negotiate for value-added services to further enhance the rehabilitation and treatment of youth,” she wrote in a statement.

Commitments drop

As in states across the country, the number of juveniles in Florida’s long-term facilities is dropping. During fiscal year 2012-13, judges sent 3,067 juveniles to residential commitment facilities, a 33 percent drop from 4,585 two years earlier, according to state data.

Brodsky also thinks the continued drop in commitments could change the industry, by opening a path for even more oversight by DJJ. Clear, consistent data coupled with smaller numbers invites scrutiny, she said.

More broadly, the data is likely to highlight whether juvenile residential commitment is working at all, or whether the state should be even more aggressive about moving toward community-based alternatives.

“That’s the more fundamental question to ask. If we’re not getting the outcomes we want at tremendous expense to the taxpayer, we should scrutinize if that’s the system we really want,” she said.

As the numbers drop, another factor the state will have to consider is whether funding is adequate to meet the needs of the youth whose problems or offenses are considered serious enough to require long-term commitment, Craig-Myers said.

“That’s the big question that we have to pitch to the Legislature this year: that we have to reinvest,” she said.

Local officials

Dave Kerner, a state representative from Palm Beach, said he expects much of the monitoring in the wake of YSI to come from local officials — with the hope that DJJ will provide needed oversight. He doesn’t expect state lawmakers to pay the issue significant attention anytime soon though.

“It’s a very pro-business, pro-privatization Legislature right now,” said Kerner, who’s skeptical about the use of for-profit providers.

In Kerner’s district, that means local lawmakers will continue to track developments at the Palm Beach Youth Academy, a high-risk residential treatment facility for young men that YSI ran until last year.

The company lost their contract there after allegations of abuse and safety risks, and Sequel took over.

Palm Beach Commissioner Shelley Vana, who spearheaded the effort to document abuses at the facility, said she’s continued her regular tours of the facility since the change and is optimistic about what she sees.

And Kerner, who is running to replace Vana (the election is Tuesday) when she is term-limited out of office this fall, has pledged to continue her work.

Officials must stay vigilant on behalf of a vulnerable constituency, Vana said.
“These are kids who don’t vote. Their parents likely don’t vote. They have no voice,” she said.

Discrimination Lands Many LGBT Youth in the Justice System, New Report Says

LGBTQ Youth Overrepresented Graphic

Stigma and discrimination, unsafe schools and discriminatory policing drive lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer youth into the justice system where they are overrepresented and subject to unfair treatment and abuse, says a new report.

Studies show that while LGBT youth make up about 7 to 9 percent of the population, they account for larger percentages of youth in juvenile justice facilities, according to the report by the Movement Advancement Project and the Center for American Progress.

In a survey by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, 12 percent of youth in juvenile justice facilities self-identified as nonheterosexual.

Another survey by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency of seven facilities found that 20 percent of youth identified as LGBT or gender nonconforming. In the same survey, 40 percent of girls in juvenile justice facilities identified as LGBT, while 85 percent of nongender-conforming youth were youth of color.

“This report confirms once and for all what many of us have known for some time: LGBTQ young people are grossly overrepresented in the juvenile justice system, and it’s no coincidence. We live in a society where discrimination and stigma too often lead to criminalization and mistreatment at the hands of law enforcement,” said Ineke Mushovic, executive director of the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), in a news release.

The report highlights research on the experiences of LGBT youth to create a portrait of what factors help push them into the justice system, what happens once they are there and recommendations for change.

The hope is that a comprehensive round of the research can encourage a conversation about solutions that can make a difference for LGBT youth. The report’s recommendations include reducing homelessness for LGBT youth, reforming policing strategies and improving support for LGBT youth when they are released from facilities.

Naomi Goldberg, MAP policy and research director, said the field has taken an interest in LGBT youth once they are in custody, as part of a broader conversation about conditions of confinement. But conversations about how LGBT youth end up in the system also are beginning, especially at the local level.

“I think there are places where city officials and advocates are recognizing that LGBTQ youth are overrepresented and are particularly vulnerable, but it doesn’t feel like a conversation that is happening systemwide the way conditions of confinement conversations are,” she said.

One opening for a broader conversation could come as cities consider how to improve policing policies, Goldberg said.

“My hope is that LGBT people will be a part of those conversations,” she said.

The new report is a companion to one the co-authors released earlier this year that looks at the experiences of all LGBT people in the justice system, including youth.

Youth experiences

The report traces some of the reasons LGBT youth are disproportionately likely to end up in the justice system.

For example, family stigma or mistreatment in the child welfare system can mean youth run away and stay on the streets, making it more likely they will encounter law enforcement. Similarly, students who are bullied in school because of their sexual orientation or gender identity may be more likely to miss class or drop out. They then could face charges such as truancy or otherwise come in contact with the justice system.

Once in the system, studies show LGBT youth are more likely to be held while awaiting adjudication, are vulnerable to sexual assault and abuse, and do not receive the services they need for a smooth re-entry into the community.

“Their experiences in these systems are a huge threat to their lives and life chances, and we are doing far too little to prepare them for a healthy and productive life after release,” said Shannon Wilber, youth project director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

CDC Finds LGB Students at Greater Risk of Bullying, Sexual Violence

stressed-teens

Collective action is needed to ensure the safety of lesbian, gay and bisexual students, who experience violence and other health risks at higher rates than their heterosexual peers, a new federal report says.

Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the first nationwide study that tracks the health behaviors of LGB teenagers and found they experience higher rates of bullying, physical and sexual violence and drug use. The study analyzed questionnaires from 15,713 students. It did not ask about students who identify as transgender.

The report found 34 percent of LGB students reported being bullied in school, compared with 19 percent of their heterosexual peers, and 28 percent reported being bullied online, compared with 14 percent of their peers.

LGB students also were more likely to report being physically forced to have sex and experiencing sexual violence and physical violence while dating.

In addition, more than 40 percent of LGB students reported seriously considering suicide and 29 percent reported they had attempted suicide during the past year, the report said.

The report draws from the biennial Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which included questions about students’ sexual identity for the first time in 2015. The report categorized sexual minority youth  as those who identified themselves as such, had had had sexual contact with only persons of the same sex or who had had sexual contact with persons of both sexes.

The report does not assess why LGB youth are more at risk than their peers for certain behaviors.

Minimizing risks

The majority of LGB students “cope with the transition from childhood through adolescence to adulthood successfully and become healthy and productive adults,” but the findings highlight the need for school, community and family support to minimize the risks to students, the report said.

Youth service providers are one group that can put the findings to use, researchers and advocates said.

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Emily Greytak

Emily Greytak, director of research at the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, said the data offer important insights into the experiences of LGB youth, which should encourage youth workers to examine how their programs acknowledge and seek to address disparities.

“Hopefully it will provide them with the motivation to ensure that their work is inclusive and supportive of LGB youth — in order to decrease the experiences of stigmatization, discrimination, and victimization that are prime factors in their elevated risk factors,” she said in an e-mail.

Some of the higher rates of risk, especially around sexual assault, dating violence and substance use, may be because LGB teenagers do not see their experiences reflected in prevention and support services, Greytak said.

“Youth service providers should ensure that their intervention and response services are culturally competent for LGB youth and also explicitly demonstrate that they are welcome and affirming of LGB youth,” she said.

Making programs and services inclusive requires training and reviews of policies, procedures and materials, she added.

Emily Brown
Emily Brown

Youth service workers and others also should be careful not to use the findings to make judgments about LGB youth, which could make them feel distrustful of the adults who say they want to help and compound their health risks, said Emily Halden Brown, an organizer at Georgia Equality who helped form the Atlanta Coalition for LGBTQ Youth.

LGB youth are well aware when a program is not designed to meet their needs, she added.

Brown said youth service providers who want to make their programs inclusive should try:

  • committing to regular staff training on sexual orientation, gender identity and how they intersect with race, ethnicity, age and other factors;
  • making sure relationship curriculum includes same-sex relationships;
  • using safe space insignia, such as rainbows, in common areas;
  • designing intake forms that are open-ended and allow teenagers to identify the way they want to.

Brown said she hopes that in addition to studies of risk, researchers will look at what helps all young people, including LGB teenagers, thrive. Youth-serving organizations and others need to know more about what mitigates risk, not only what the risks are.

“There are a lot of resilient young people who go through hard times who emerge,” she said.

This story has been updated.