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Youth Today Speaks with Young Voters at Polls Across US

On Election Day, in the final hours of a historic presidential race, Youth Today reporters spread out to polling stations across the nation and asked young voters what issues mattered most to them. To find out how they voted, check out the continuing updates to this real-time story at youthtoday.jjie3.wpengine.com.

Frequent Marijuana Use Among Teens is Up

A joint. JJIE file photo. Ryan Schill / JJIE.orgHeavy marijuana use among teens has increased drastically in recent years, with nearly one in 10 sparking up 20 times or more each month, according to a new survey of young Americans released this morning.

The findings represent nearly an 80 percent increase in past-month heavy marijuana use among high school aged youth since 2008.

Overall, the rate of marijuana use among teens has increased. Past month marijuana users, or teens that have used marijuana in the month prior to the survey, increased 42 percent, to 27 percent of teens, compared to 2008 findings. Past-year and lifetime use also increased, but not as drastically, at 26 percent and 21 percent respectively.

Marijuana use has not been this widespread among American teens since 1998, when the past-month usage rate hovered around 27 percent, according the survey conducted by The Partnership at Drugfree.org and the MetLife Foundation.

“Heavy use of marijuana – particularly beginning in adolescence – brings the risk of serious problems and our data show it is linked to involvement with alcohol and other drugs as well,” Steve Pasierb, President and CEO of The Partnership at Drugfree.org, said in a press release. “Kids who begin using drugs or alcohol as teenagers are more likely to struggle with substance use disorders when compared to those who start using after the teenage years.”

The use of marijuana is becoming normalized among teens, too, according to the survey of 3,322 teen-aged students in grades 9-12 and 821 parents. Seventy-one percent of teens said they have friends who use the drug, up 64 percent from 2008, and only 26 percent agreed with the statement, “in my school, most teens don’t smoke marijuana.”

Still, while the number of teens who have used marijuana in their lifetime is on the rise, less than half of high school aged students have actually used the drug. The rate of teens who disapproved of their peer’s use of the drug remained unchanged since 2008, with more than 60 percent disapproving of the practice – and 41 percent who said they “strongly disapprove.”

Heavy users  are drastically more likely to use other drugs such as cocaine, Ecstasy and prescription drugs, compared to their peers who reported not using marijuana in the past year, the report found.

Teen boys, especially Hispanic males, have led the increase in the past year. Heavy usage by teen boys usage increased at nearly twice the rate of their female counterparts. Hispanic high school males are more likely to have used marijuana in the past year compared to their peers. Fifty percent reported using the drug in the past year, compared to 40 percent of black and 35 percent of white teens.

“The latest findings showing an increase in marijuana use among teens is unsettling and should serve as a wake-up call to everyone in a position to prevent unhealthy behavior,” said Dennis White, President and CEO of MetLife Foundation, who contributed to the report. “While it may be difficult to clearly understand just how dangerous marijuana use can be for teens, it is imperative that we all pay attention to the warning signs and intervene anyway we can.”

The findings are part of the 23rd annual Partnership Attitude Tracking Study, a yearly gauge of teens’ and parents’ attitudes toward issues that affect their lives.

 

Photo credit: Ryan Schill/JJIE

Students, Community Members Gather in Atlanta to Protest Trayvon Martin Shooting

Trayvon Martin Rally Atlanta March 26 2012

ATLANTA -- Hundreds of Trayvon Martin supporters gathered to chants of “I am Trayvon” in Downtown Atlanta on Monday, exactly one month after the Florida teen was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in an Orlando suburb.

Bands of student demonstrators, mainly organized by student groups from nearby universities, joined activists, community members and a long list of organizers on the steps of the state capital to call for the arrest of George Zimmerman – the self-appointed neighborhood watch captain who claimed to have shot the 17-year-old in self-defense.

“It’s a general issue of justice,” said Richard Hunter, 42, who attended the rally with his nine-year-old son, Matt.

“I think we’ve seen that when we get involved things can change,” Hunter said about the importance of getting young people involved in justice issues. “A lot of people sit back and act like nothing is going to happen instead of showing up. So I decided to show up.”

The hodge-podge of protestors also challenged Georgia’s own “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows the use of deadly-force if you fear your life is in danger.

Zimmerman admitted to shooting the teen, but claimed self-defense under a similar Florida law and has not been arrested.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Morehouse student Jonathon Howard said to a cheering crowd, delivering a still powerful quote more than half a century after it was first penned by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Trayvon Martin Rally Atlanta March 26 2012 KIPP Atlanta Collegiate
Students from KIPP Atlanta Collegiate, a local school, join the protests at the Ga. State Capital. March 26, 2012.

Many protestors carried bags of Skittles and wore hooded sweatshirts adorned with the “I am Trayvon” slogan despite temperatures in the 80s. Martin was wearing a hoody and carrying a bag of Skittles when he was shot and killed returning from a local 7-Eleven in Sanford, Fla. He was unarmed.

Demonstrations in more than half a dozen major cities around the country marked the anniversary. Seventy-three percent of Americans said they felt Zimmerman should be arrested and face charges for the death, according to a recent CNN poll.

In Florida, a special prosecutor has been assigned to investigate the case. A grand jury is scheduled to begin deliberation on the case April 10.

Earlier in the day, Sanford officials confirmed an altercation ensued between Martin and Zimmerman prior to the fatal shot. Signs of the scuffle appeared in the original police reports, but had not been confirmed by law enforcement. City officials also announced a replacement for the Sanford Police Chief who stepped down, at least temporarily, last week amid community outrage over the department’s handling of the case.

Longtime civil rights activists Rev Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson joined Martin’s parents and supporters for a rally in Sanford.

“It’s justice for someone who hasn’t gotten any,” Joanna Carter, 23, said back in Atlanta. “If you let it continue this just ain’t right, no matter the color.”

Photo credit: Clay Duda/JJIE

Trayvon Martin Rally Georgia State Capital March 26 2012

Commissioner Announces New Chairman to Head Georgia’s DJJ Board

Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice logo. Clay Duda/JJIEGeorgia Department of Juvenile Justice Commissioner Gale Buckner confirmed the Board’s election of Avery Niles to head the state’s DJJ Board. Niles fills the Chairman post formerly held by long-time Board member Ed Risler, who stepped down earlier this week following the expiration of his term last summer.

Niles, a 23-year veteran of the Hall County Sheriff’s Department and current warden of the Hall County Correctional Institution, was appointed to the Board by Gov. Deal in July 2011. As Chairman, Niles will “help guide Board Members as they serve in their advisory capacity to DJJ, providing leadership and counsel to the Commissioner to help improve Georgia’s juvenile justice system,” according to a DJJ release.

“I am honored to serve in this capacity,” Niles said. “I want to thank the Board for their confidence and I will work diligently to maintain their trust.”

Representing the 9th Congressional district, Niles will hold the position for at least the next two years, at which time he will be eligible for re-election by the Board.

The Board is made up of 15 members representing each of the Congressional districts around the state. Appointments are made by the governor and confirmed by the State Senate.

“The Georgia Juvenile Justice mission is to protect and serve the citizens of Georgia by holding young offenders accountable for their actions so they can become contributing members of society,” DJJ Commissioner Buckner said, congratulating Niles on the appointment. “We look forward to making real changes in the lives of our young offenders with help from a smooth transition of Board leadership ahead.”

A resident of Clermont, Ga., Niles is a graduate of Leadership Hall County, the Georgia Police Academy and the FBI National Academy. He serves as a deacon at Antioch Baptist Church and is currently pursuing a Bachelors degree in mortuary science while attending the Georgia law enforcement Command College in Columbus, Ga.

During the routine Board meeting on Thursday, Buckner also confirmed Gov. Deal’s appointments of two new members to the Board: Willie Bolton, representing the 10th Congressional District, and Frank Rozier from the 1st Congressional District.

Bolton fills the seat of former Chairman Ed Risler.

“We admire the professionalism Chairman Risler brought to this task,” Buckner said at the meeting, expressing appreciation for Risler’s more than 10-years of service on the Board. “And we wish all the best for our new appointees who are about to face the many challenges that lie ahead for the Department of Juvenile Justice.”

The Board seat for the 1st Congressional District was vacant before Rozier’s appointment.

Photo credit: Clay Duda/JJIE

Whole Foods Funds School-to-Garden Pipeline

Whole Kids FoundationThe Whole Kids Foundation (WKF), a non-profit created by Whole Foods Market to support schools and improve children’s nutritional wellbeing, is accepting grant applications from eligible schools and non-profits.

The School Garden Grant Program, WKF’s first major grant initiative, is designed to help schools grow students’ relationship with and understanding of food through the practice of gardening.

The initiative will provide a grant of $2,000 to one thousand schools around the country, along with curriculum resources and mentoring.

To qualify, applicants must be a non-profit K-12 school or school district, or a 501(c)(3) non-profit working in partnership with at least one K-12 school. In addition, the related school(s) must be currently maintaining or in the development stage of a school garden program.

Deadline is December 31, 2011.

Like Most Other States, Oklahoma Programs for At-Risk Students Grapple with Budget Cuts

Juveniles programs across the nation deal with cutbacks at the start of fiscal year 2012Like many state-run juvenile programs across the nation Oklahoma’s alternative education and at-risk student initiatives have had to deal with the realities of budget cuts following the start of the fiscal year on July 1.

Times are tough everywhere, and in some states tougher then in others. But a glimpse at the specific cutbacks in the Sooner State can give one a sense of just what kind of pain supporters and participants of some crucial programs are in for.

Gone is 4.7 percent of funding for alternative schools, a combined $385,000 from Tulsa alternative programs, and $1.2 million from the Oklahoma Technical Assistance Center.

For principal Amie Hardy of the Jenks Alternative Center the most devastating blow wasn’t the 4.7 percent budget reduction, she told NewsOK, but rather the loss of the statewide evaluator that pushed the school’s alternative programs to be their best. In Jenks' case, the 4.7 percent budget shortfall is being picked up by the Jenks School District.

The Oklahoma Technical Assistance Center, which reviewed the state’s alternative education programs, has “been kind of overwhelmed” with letters from citizens concerned about the loss of the evaluators. The center also lost funding for other contracts including professional development programs for teachers, Director Kathy KcKean told NewsOK.

Street School Program in Tulsa, Okla.

A truancy program and a 'Street School' program ran by the Tulsa County Juvenile Bureau, two initiatives that served some of Tulsa’s most at-risk students, faced cuts of $200,000 and $185,000 respectively. The 'Check and Connect' truancy program, designed to keep tabs on students at risk of skipping school, was scaled back from serving five schools to just three.

The cuts to Street School, an alternative education program for roughly 90 youth that deal with life issues that distract for education, accounted for about 15 percent of the programs total budget.

Oklahoma's Schools Activity Fund covers alternative programs and accounts for a portion of the state's $2.27 billion education budget. The schools activity budget was reduced from $419.8 million in 2011 t0 $401.2 for fiscal year 2012. A breakdown of all the cutbacks by category is available here.

Senate Committee To Reschedule Code Rewrite Hearing

The clock is ticking for supporters of Georgia’s long-awaited juvenile code rewrite.  Crossover day — the critical mid-point in the legislative session, when Senate bills move over to the House of Representatives and House bills transition to the Senate — is now a little less than a week away. So far Senate Bill 127, also known as the Child Protection and Public Safety Act, has not yet made it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC) and if it does not do so before that critical deadline, it won’t be able to advance any further during this legislative session. That would be a major blow for supporters who have been involved in the rewrite process since 2004.

The committee was scheduled to discuss the measure at a hearing Wednesday. But the panel ran out of time after five hours, though members did manage to have extended discussions of several other bills. Representatives from the many stakeholder groups involved in the code rewrite, including JUST Georgia, the Georgia Appleseed Center for Law and Justice and the Department of Juvenile Justices (DJJ) sat through the marathon meeting, waiting to no avail for the bill to top the agenda. Most of them left at 5 p.m. when it was announced that the bill would not be discussed that day.

Barton Child Law and Policy Center Policy Director Kirsten Widner, who has been leading the legislative effort on the measure, says it is not uncommon for committees to be jam-packed with discussions on several bills as the critical midpoint in the session approaches. She is now working with committee chairman Sen. Bill Hamrick (R- Carrollton) on establishing a time to reschedule the code hearing, ideally for some time later this week. Keep checking www.JJIE.org for updates.

The new code — the first in four decades — was introduced in 2009,  but it failed to make it to the floor for a vote by the end of the two-year legislative term. It was reintroduced on February 23 as SB 127, also known as “the Children’s Code.” If passed, the code rewrite would comprehensively revise Title 15, Chapter 11 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to juvenile courts and the cases they hear. Throughout 2009 and 2010, the SJC and a specially appointed subcommittee reviewed the bill in detail, and a group of stakeholders met to agree on issues that needed refinement in the Act.