Within the scope of juvenile justice literature, studies highlight the need for both immediate and long-term reform measures. This is clearly pertinent given the existence of racial disparity in terms of treatment and confinement among youth in the United States. In fact, federal and state-level funding has been provided to address this dilemma during the past 10 to 15 years.
There are a variety of programs and policies that facilitate juvenile justice reform efforts. For instance, the Annie E. Casey Foundation has instituted a number of effective measures designed to reduce the use of detention among youth. One example is the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative, which has demonstrated promising results in a number of states.
Congress is currently reviewing the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2017, which passed the House in May and was sent to the Senate. Certain components of this act will address either directly or indirectly the need for and evaluation of juvenile justice reform measures.
North Carolina finally increased the age at which a juvenile may be certified as an adult. Despite this needed change, implementation of this law may not take effect until 2019. After reviewing the 2016 Juvenile Justice Report as provided by the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, I noticed the following reform findings:
Between 2010-16, there was a 56 percent decrease in youth sent to detention centers and 48 percent reduction of youth sent to development centers. A 28 percent reduction in school-based complaints and a 37 percent reduction in gang affiliation among youth were also identified.
The report said that compared to their counterparts, youth of color are more than 2.5 times more likely to have complaints filed against them and 1.5 times more likely to experience secure detention.
To this end, racial disparity levels (or the ratio of blacks to whites in terms of treatment in the juvenile justice system) have either remained the same or in some cases actually increased. This begs the question: Are juvenile justice reform measures exclusively beneficial for youth who are not considered “youth of color”? If so, this is equivalent to the “whites only” segregation-based ideology of the Jim Crow era.
Ultimately, let’s not assume that progress in relation to juvenile justice reform efforts is applied in an equitable manner. Just as there is a racially disproportionate number of youth confined in the juvenile justice system, there is also a similar relationship with regard to those who avoid such treatment. From this standpoint, the abstract and practical concepts of juvenile justice reform must be re-examined.
Patrick Webb, Ph.D., is associate professor of criminal justice at St. Augustine’s University. He is the author of numerous peer-reviewed journal articles, editorials and books including “Incapacitating the Innocent: An Examination of Legal and Extralegal Factors associated with the Preadjudicatory Detention of Juveniles.”
WASHINGTON — James Bell, founder and president of the W. Haywood Burns Institute, told a gathering of juvenile justice reformers earlier this month that it was time to begin “an uncomfortable” conversation about racial disparities in the youth justice system.
He made the comments to Models for Change stakeholders gathered here to discuss the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s final evaluations of the $121 million juvenile justice reform initiative, which began in 2004. It ended as MacArthur changed its emphasis from reforming youth justice to jail reform.
The daylong meeting centered around the many success Models for Change helped bring about, from reducing incarceration sentences to influencing states to stop shackling youth in courts to raising the age at which teens are treated as adults in court.
Bobbe Bridge, founder and president of Center for Children & Youth Justice in Washington state, said, “Models for Change was certainly the catalyst in accelerating reform. We have certainly changed the conversation.”
Yet, thanks in part to Models for Change support for data collection, it is apparent that racial disparities in the youth justice system, if anything, have gotten worse, not better.
A MacArthur-commissioned evaluation of Models for Change by Mathematica Policy Research found that disparity “persists, mostly at pre-Models for Change levels.” The Sentencing Project recently reported that in 2015 black male youth were five times more likely to be locked up than white youth.
Speaking of the reforms, Bell said, “What we now know after 10 years of informed analysis is that all of those things have benefitted white kids and the racial disparities persist.”
In the past, he said, the reformers wanted “to get something rather than nothing” so the discussions that might have made decision-makers uncomfortable didn’t happen. Now, he says, “As we go into 2.0 of reform policy we are going to make people very uncomfortable to examine why the disparities still persist.”
Laurie Garduque, who led the Models for Change initiative at the MacArthur Foundation, said although the disparities rate has not improved, the harm done to youth in the system has been reduced for kids of color. “Fewer of them are being swept up in the system, more of them are being diverted and remain in the community, fewer are incarcerated; the incarceration rate has dropped dramatically, somewhere between 40 and 60 percent depending on the state,” she said.
She added, “You are dealing with a host of economic, structural and political issues … you can’t expect the justice system to overcome. So there has to be an acknowledgement that we can make the system fairer and more just, but the deck is stacked against certain groups in such a way that it is very hard to make it equitable.”
The Mathematica evaluation reports that in states where Models for Change concentrated its effort:
“Significant paradigm shifts not only continued during Models for Change, they were propelled by it ...
“State and local stakeholders became more aware of the harms of detaining youth, particularly low risk youth, in out-of-home placements.
“The poor conditions that characterized confinement drew attention and litigation.
“Evidence mounted about the ill effects of formal involvement in the justice system.
“As these perspectives took shape, so did intentions to divert youth from pretrial detention and secure confinement and from the justice system entirely.
“As interest in diversion and serving youth in the community grew, evidence-based programs emerged as desirable alternatives to secure confinement and formal processing.“
Donald K. Ross of Malkin & Ross said his public policy firm, which worked for Models for Change, hired 56 different lobbying firms to work with states to help bring about reforms. For example, at the beginning of Models for Change in 2004 only 10 states forbade shackling of youth in courtrooms. Today there are 31 such states.
Marsha Levick, deputy director and chief counsel of the Juvenile Law Center, said that when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that kids are different, it gave everyone the freedom to use the youth developmental language. Yet, “what we haven’t eliminated is a persistently punitive response to offending in this country that still infiltrates and drives our criminal justice system.”
Garduque said the research the MacArthur Foundation helped underwrite established the legally relevant ways that kids are different from adults, which was made concrete by Supreme Court decisions. Now there is a reluctance to think of young people as the worst thing they have done and focus instead on the individual young person.
The field was forced to ask, she said, “How can we hold young people accountable for their transgressions in ways that recognize that they are not adults and doesn’t jeopardize their future life chances and gives them the skills and competencies to become successful adults?”
What’s most gratifying for her is that “Those principles have been adopted and now seem to be secure and are the basis for another generation of law and policy reform where we are rolling back those harsh and punitive sanctions.”
Leonard Witt is executive director of the Center for Sustainable Journalism, the publisher of the JJIE. The JJIE was a MacArthur Foundation Models for Change grantee.
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WASHINGTON — The children of immigrants make up less than one-fourth of the nation’s youth population yet account for 30 percent of children living in poverty, a new report finds.
More than that, young black and brown Americans were worse off compared to white and Asian-American children, the Annie E. Casey Foundation said.
The foundation analyzed youth welfare along several axes, including education, health and economic indicators, to come up with an index of how well young people in various racial and ethnic groups were faring. Its findings are scheduled to be released today in areport called “Race for Results.”
“African-American children face some of the biggest barriers to success” in nearly every state, although the children of American Indians fared the worst in several states, the report said. American Indian youth in South Dakota had the worst welfare index score — 220 — of any ethnic group, the report found.
The welfare disparities stand in stark contrast to how minor the differences are between the family lives of immigrant children and native-born American youth:
Eighty percent of immigrant youth live in two-parent households, compared to 65 percent of their American-born peers.
About the same percentage (84) of foreign-born young adults were in school or working as native-born American young adults (85 percent).
The children of immigrant families were nearly as likely to enroll in early-childhood education programs (59 percent) as native-born Americans (60 percent).
The report suggests that at least part of the welfare gap may be attributable to yawning education gaps among the youth population:
Just 18 percent of American Indians, 22 percent of Latino and 27 percent of African-American young adults have completed an associate’s degree or higher, compared to 48 percent of young white adults and 68 percent of ethnic Asian-Americans.
Only 8 percent of fourth-graders in immigrant families scored at or above “proficient” in reading in 2015, compared to 38 percent of American-born peers.
By eighth grade, only 5 percent of youths in immigrant families were scoring at or above “proficient” in math, compared to 34 percent of American-born youths.
Only 70 percent of children in immigrant families lived in households with at least one adult who had completed high school or higher, compared to 91 percent of children in American-born families.
“The data make it clear: for children of color, a person’s race is a leading barrier to success in the United States,” said Nonet Sykes, the foundation's director of racial and ethnic equity and inclusion. “With children of immigrants and immigrant children comprising such a significant portion of the youth population and our future workforce, it is critically urgent that we ensure they grow up with access to the support and resources needed to thrive.”
The report calls on policymakers to focus on “keeping families together,” a robust financial and emotional investment in community education and health to “help children meet key developmental milestones” and to “increase opportunity for parents,” including paid family leave for the working poor.
In these challenging economic times when the value of every governmental entity and its budgetary support is under serious consideration, the efficacy of the services provided by juvenile probation departments is included in that scope of examination. We must recognize that statistics alone cannot adequately portray the positive impact effective probation officers can have upon reforming delinquent behaviors. It is through the positive interactions probation officers establish with juvenile probationers that the greatest pathway to comprehensive reform is forged.
The following story was written several years ago. It is only one of thousands more that need to be told to properly “season” those spreadsheet and balance sheet portrayals of juvenile probation departments’ value to the juvenile justice system.
Probation is a derivative of the Latin word “probare” meaning “to prove.” It is defined today in its simplest form as personal freedom based upon the promise of reform. Juveniles granted probation by a juvenile court judge for having committed delinquent acts are assigned a probation officer to help them keep their promise. That probation officer is responsible for ensuring the public’s safety in the short term through the close monitoring of the youth’s whereabouts and activities and for ensuring the public’s safety in the long term by engaging the youth with programs designed to elevate social competencies leading to productive lifestyles.
Often maligned as an ineffective remedy with undetectable success, stories evidencing the prudent use of this sentencing option are seldom told. Instead the public’s default opinion of probation is formed by mirages of lightly slapped wrists and unchecked behaviors. As a rebuttal to this outdated misconception, I offer an eyewitness account of a past event organized by the San Francisco Juvenile Probation Department that helped a group of 60-plus juvenile probationers fulfill their promise of reform.
At a time when all too many broken promises are revealed daily through the subsequent crimes committed by recidivists, the public’s attention is easily diverted away from those youth who are sincere in their resolve and efforts to maintain good faith. On a Wednesday one August, the eyes of the San Francisco Juvenile Probation Department were fixed upon a group of its model probationers in an unprecedented way that celebrated the youths’ completion of the Mayor’s Safe Summer ’06 Program and affirmed their steady course toward productive citizenship.
Anchored by the gracious generosity of the Zellerbach Family Foundation, the Deputy Probation Officers Association, City Youth Now and Muni, a core group of juvenile probation officers strategically planned and organized a day trip for probation youth that involved a chartered boat ride and lunch at the San Francisco Bay.
The hidden agenda for the trip, however, was a heavy dose of positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement of the juveniles’ behavioral adjustment. Positive reinforcement of the probation officers’ enriched professional relationships with their probationers.
From the very outset the officers and juveniles had fun both dispensing and consuming the obligatory words of caution and behavioral admonishments that preceded the boarding of the busses and the boat. Each group clearly understood that such warnings were customary for any event of this kind. During the entire cruise they were openly solicitous of each other’s attention. Conversations flowed freely about music, school, sports, clothes and career plans.
Life after probation was a popular theme. The youth seemed relaxed, comforted and secure in this setting, wide open to casual discussion with each other and the adults in their midst, which included roving youth employment recruiters. The probation officers portrayed similar satisfaction with the venue, most comfortable with their new portable roles as cruise directors, program emcees, raffle announcers, deck attendants and pursers.
During the entire flawless event, staged under sunny skies, my eyes were fixed upon the eyes of the youth and their probation officers. Each set reflected the true excitement of a new experience and a new vision. Both groups were noticeably content with the prospect of a temporary escape from neighborhood unrest and office routine. Originally linked by statutory duty and court order, the two groups were now united on a more personal and pro-social plane than ever before. It was evident. They thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company.
Official certificates of successful achievement that had been carefully designed and prepared by the planning committee were presented to each youth in a sealed manila envelope to ensure the likelihood it would safely reach a place of honor at home. A few lucky winners of gift cards and Giants tickets had those prizes already tucked in their jeans. And finally, an orange rubberized wrist band inscribed with “JPD Safe Summer Event ’06” was given to every tour member as an added souvenir of the day.
The most significant souvenir that everybody walked the plank with upon their return to shore was the shared memory of renewed hope and strengthened commitment. Hope and commitment to satisfying a promise of reform. Hope and commitment to facilitating the promise of reform. These memories would leave indelible impressions.
The event I witnessed on this bright, sunny San Francisco day could have involved any number of well-behaved adolescents ringed by a complementary cohort of attentive mentors. Such is the case for the more traditional groups that visit the Bay and that any number of sponsors would line up to finance such an excursion for based solely on the entertainment value.
But none of these other groups would have benefited as significantly as the two groups I was privileged to accompany that particular day. It was our day. It was a day reserved for our well-behaved probationers and for our attentive juvenile probation officers and staff. It was our unusually bright day in the midst of many dark days of late. It was our day to celebrate the successes attached to fulfilling the promise of reform, the purpose of probation. It truly was our day. It was the SFJPD’s Day in the Sun with our probationers.
Bill Siffermann is a retired chief juvenile probation officer from San Francisco. His career as a juvenile probation officer began in 1970 in Cook County (Chicago), where he spent 34 years in progressively responsible positions overseeing delinquency caseloads, preadjudicatory diversion, intensive supervision programs and, as deputy director, co-led Cook County’s Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI), which was later selected as one of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s National Model Sites. In 2005 he was selected as San Francisco’s chief juvenile probation officer, where he continued to advance the principles of detention reform. Retiring in 2013, his work in juvenile justice continues as a consultant.
In the early fall, I will complete my 11th year at Jobs for the Future and my 46th year working in the youth-serving field. It’s fair to say I’ve played a lot of roles and worn many hats.
I’ve directed projects, written grants, managed complex partnerships, worked with foundation partners, facilitated professional development for teachers and youth program staff, and mediated conflict-ridden meetings. I’ve received some coaching — perhaps more of which might have benefitted me — and have coached and supported many colleagues and partners.
Nearing the end of my career, I enjoy coaching above all. Currently, I coach West Coast sites that are creating education-to-career pathways for opportunity youth (including those who are or have been in the foster care or juvenile justice systems) through receipt of Social Innovation Fund grants. I work primarily with intermediary organization leaders who are responsible for system work — bringing together multiple institutional partners (K-12, postsecondary, community-based agencies, local state agency offices and employers) to build richer and more connected pathways and address policies that pose barriers.
I also work with community-based agency leads who are designing new programs. They often want help with provision of on-the-ground technical assistance (program design, instructional support, advice on recruitment and so on). At Jobs for the Future, our team of coaches works closely to support and learn from each other, and ensure we deliver just-in-time assistance and resources to our communities, whether they are changing systems or launching programs.
An old article from the Harvard Business Review always comes to mind when thinking about the value of coaching. The article, “A Survival Guide for Leaders” by Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky, talks about the tumult involved in managing complex change efforts.
In our field, so many leaders at the system or program level are involved in this difficult work. Partners must adopt different attitudes and beliefs, be willing to work together in new ways, change outdated practices and challenge long-standing policies. The leaders I see are often ensnarled in hostile, resistant or seemingly immovable environments in which change happens slowly, and many setbacks are encountered along the way.
At the heart of “A Survival Guide for Leaders” is the notion that effective leaders need to operate both “in and above the fray,” keeping their heads as they move between action and objective reflection. The metaphor from the article that most strikes home is one in which leaders need a kitchen table (a safe haven to plan and adjust tasks) and a balcony (a perch to dispassionately view the action) in order to stay grounded and effective.
That is where the value of a coach comes in. In a nutshell, a good coach helps leaders carve out dedicated time and space for both kitchen table conversations (learning, action planning and task priorities) and balcony discussions (reflection and strategic planning). What I hear most from Jobs for the Future’s clients is that without coaching, this kind of reflection time is lost in the midst of pressing day-to-day action. Too often leaders get lost in the fray.
What makes a good coach?
Of course, for coaching to be valuable, the coach must be skilled. In my experience, a coach must have expertise and knowledge in the field, yet be willing to take the time necessary to understand local conditions. Without this, advice lacks context and nuance. Above all, a coach must be good at establishing trust and should have unconditional positive regard for the client(s).
The coach needs to have good communication and facilitation skills, along with the ability to deeply listen without judgment. Good coaches are usually skilled strategic thinkers, and know when to provide support as well as when to push and challenge. Coaches with a sense of humor delight me.
Personally, I love coaches who tell stories, as they help me see situations differently. I also love metaphors that help me constructively (re)frame or normalize difficult situations. Further, I always feel blessed when an interaction with a coach helps me validate that the work is truly hard, that I’m not alone and that despite my limitations, I am capable and up to the task at hand.
Effective use of the coach
As a coach, I notice the difference between leaders who use coaches well and those who don’t. Those who do are willing to be vulnerable and are eager to learn. They are confident in their abilities but grounded enough to know that they can and want to grow and learn. Leaders who use coaches well are curious, honest and transparent. They are always looking for ways to use the coach as an ally to whom they can admit that they don’t have all the answers — or, alternatively, announce that everything is going swimmingly.
Leaders who benefit from coaching use the coach’s on-site time effectively by bringing the expertise and knowledge of the coach to partners who need to come into the fold in terms of influencing, technical knowledge or in ramping up their commitments to the project. Leaders who value coaching make good decisions about when they need the kitchen table or the balcony, and use the coach to keep focused and refreshed. And, of course, when the relationship really hums, both local leaders and coaches grow professionally from their interactions.
Lifelong learning/Lifelong coaching
Perhaps by now I’ve sold you on the value of coaching (or confirmed what you already knew). The problem is that coaches come and go. They usually show up at your doorstep when you receive a grant, supporting you in achieving the aims of that specific project.
Once the project is finished, so is the coach. He or she moves on and you do too. If you have been in this field long, however, you know that championing change is lifelong work. The work doesn’t stop because a grant ends. You will still be doing the work even if you change jobs, just from a different vantage point. Wherever you find yourself, you will encounter issues and still have need for that kitchen table … and a balcony.
Good coaches are out there and ready to be summoned. The key is not to let coaching languish in the press of day-to-day tasks or troubles. Once a leader has experienced the value of coaching, he or she must decide if it’s worth the effort to ensure that this function is a continued priority. If it is, the leader might seek a single coach who plays the roles of both confidant and strategic thinker.
Or one might try to identify multiple coaches who address differing needs across time — champion, strategic thinker, constructive critic or knowledgeable, good-humored jester. A leader may gravitate toward trusted friends, work colleagues, senior or retired professionals, or even wise acquaintances in unrelated fields. If asked, they are likely to be glad to contribute, give back or share in this way. It’s important to be clear about the assistance, time commitment and specific goals you want help to achieve.
In the youth-serving field — dynamic and complex, yet fragmented and underfunded — we all need reminders that our work is both vital and difficult, and that change can feel like a long and lonely road. We need to know and feel connected to a national community with history and movement; one that has been, and continues to be, committed to the health and wellbeing of some of our most vulnerable, yet promising young people.
We need to celebrate our successes and not allow them to be obscured by all that is broken and needs to be fixed. To make a difference as leaders, it is important to stay healthy, awake and grounded. And while our commitments and our assets buoy us, good coaching can really help.
Terry Grobe is the director of youth pathways at Jobs for the Future’s Oakland, California, office. The focus of her long career has been devoted to improving education and career outcomes for low-income youth and youth of color. She has worked on or led many state and national initiatives. Currently, she coaches West Coast sites that have received Social Innovation Fund grants through Jobs for the Future/Aspen Forum for Community Solutions and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
This is part one of a two-part series. Read part two here.
In April, a 15-year-old boy housed at the Arkansas Juvenile Assessment and Treatment Center spent the entire day alone in a small cell. Michael (the names of juveniles in this story have been changed to protect their anonymity) was put in a hold by a guard and taken out of his classroom at the facility's school. As he repeatedly said, "I am not resisting" and "no aggression" — a phrase used at AJATC to indicate compliance — Michael was brought across campus to Building 19.
Once used as a maximum-security facility to house a program for serious juvenile offenders, part of Building 19 is now used to temporarily segregate youths from the regular population at AJATC, in some cases confining them in single-cell units. Michael was immediately locked in one of these units, empty other than a metal bed with a mat on it and a wool comforter. Typically, he said, youths confined to a cell in Building 19 may only be let out to use the bathroom. This time, he was not let out at all from around noon until nighttime, when he was taken back to his regular living quarters.
"I was in my cell the whole time," he said. "I was calling the staff's name and they wouldn't let me out. I had to pee in my dinner tray after I got done eating."
Rite of Passage, the Nevada-based, for-profit company that contracts with the state to run the facility, declined to respond to specific stories like Michael's, citing privacy concerns.
AJATC, located near Alexander, houses more than 100 youths. It is the largest of eight juvenile lockup facilities in the state overseen by the Division of Youth Services, part of the Arkansas Department of Human Services. These facilities, known as treatment centers, are intended to provide therapy and rehabilitation rather than being punitive, and are required to provide education that meets state standards. AJATC has a long history of trouble, including mistreatment of children in its care. When Rite of Passage was brought in as a new contractor in 2016, it promised a fresh start, telling the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, "We're not interested in running jailhouses. We're interested in running schoolhouses."
According to multiple youths, former staffers and others, confining a youth alone in a cell in Building 19 or in another room on campus has been regularly used at AJATC as a disciplinary response to nonviolent misbehavior in class, as well as for more serious misconduct, with the youth sometimes staying there for much of the day. If a youth is deemed to be a danger, the practice is sometimes used for a period of multiple days. According to Rite of Passage, the facility ended the practice of room confinement as a response to classroom misbehavior in June. Under current policy, the company's attorneys said, room confinement is only used for certain major infractions, for a maximum of 72 hours. They said that youths in room confinement still have access to services such as education and therapy.
In a letter in August to Division of Youth Services director Betty Guhman, Scott Tanner, the state juvenile ombudsman at the Arkansas Public Defender Commission, raised alarms about the practice and oversight of isolation in the state's juvenile lockup facilities. "These practices must be governed by strong policy and effective monitoring," Tanner wrote. "We, as a state, are failing at both." Tanner cited research that for juveniles, "isolation ... actually has negative public safety consequences, does not reduce violence and likely increases recidivism."
"It's a very risky, dangerous practice," said Jennifer Lutz, an attorney for the Center for Children's Law and Policy in Washington, D.C., and the campaign manager for Stop Solitary for Kids, a partnership between four national juvenile justice reform organizations. The research, Lutz said, shows that putting youths in such situations can cause serious psychological and emotional harm, exacerbate mental illness or post-traumatic stress responses and increase risk of self-harm. She pointed to federal data published by the U.S. Department of Justice that found that more than half of suicides in juvenile facilities occur while youths are isolated alone in a room, and more than 60 percent of youths who commit suicide in custody had a history of being subjected to the practice. There is no evidence, Lutz said, that isolation improves the safety and security of juvenile lockup institutions, and may actually increase violent behavior.
Tanner's letter follows months of communication with the DYS and Rite of Passage staff in which he expressed concerns about the use of room confinement at AJATC. In emails, Tanner described the practice as "essentially social isolation." The communications were acquired from the Public Defender Commission by a Freedom of Information Act request; Tanner declined to comment for this story.
Referencing one youth with severe behavioral problems, Tanner wrote, "Finding a way to effectively engage him is key. Keeping him locked in a room is only adding fuel to his rage." Tanner repeatedly expressed the concern that Rite of Passage's internal policies were not addressing the practices he had witnessed. "There is nothing in this policy that adequately describes what I have observed of youth being placed in a locked unit, in a single room cell behind a locked door away from the general milieu," he wrote.
An email Tanner sent in August shows that he attempted to access individual records of youths he had seen confined in Building 19 during recent visits to the facility — two of them for longer than 72 hours — to assess how Building 19 was functioning in practice, including whether youths sent there were being provided appropriate education and therapy.
Tanner found few answers, the correspondence indicates. The records were months out of date or nonexistent. (Tanner wrote that these gaps in the records "caused concern beyond my initial scope of inquiry.") There was no information about what caused youths to be sent to Building 19, the amount of time they spent in room confinement or what services were provided to them. In some cases, despite the fact that these youths were assigned disciplinary room confinement in July, the most recent incident report on file was in May; in other cases, there was no incident report at all. One appeared to have therapist progress notes before and after the period of confinement, but none during. Another, identified as a student with special education needs, only had a note indicating that the student was not present in group therapy due to being placed in Building 19.
Although Rite of Passage operates AJATC, the DYS is ultimately responsible for the youths at the facility. DYS facilities abide by a protocol in accordance with the American Correctional Association, but the division itself does not currently have an official policy on room confinement; a policy was drafted more than two years ago, but it has never been promulgated.
In his letter to Guhman, Tanner called for data tracking of room confinement — in line with national standards for juvenile justice — to ensure best practices around the use of isolation and enable more intensive monitoring and review. Currently, DYS does not track aggregate data on room confinement and was unable to provide information about how often the practice is used at AJATC or other locations. Any situation that results in room confinement should be noted narratively on an incident report sent to the DYS, but the practice itself is not tracked in the agency's data system.
"The lack of data collected by DYS has been an ongoing issue," said Tom Masseau, executive director of Disability Rights Arkansas, an advocacy group that does regular observations at the juvenile lockups.
"We are having a number of conversations about changes that should happen within the Division of Youth Services and reviewing all policies, and that may be among changes we make," said Amy Webb, chief communications officer at the Department of Human Services. "But because there is not a separate tracking report, that does not mean that we don't monitor this. All incident reports are reviewed by our staff."
Thus far in 2017, DYS staff have yet to identify a single improper use of room confinement requiring further investigation or review.
The practice of confining someone alone to a cell or room has many names — isolation, room confinement, segregation, seclusion, restrictive housing, solitary confinement — and each term can have varying definitions.
"One of the major problems with advocacy in this area is there isn't one single nationally accepted definition of solitary confinement," Lutz said. "In the juvenile justice system, that term sets off alarm bells for the folks who work in facilities and run those agencies because they're concerned that it's associated with harsher adult practices." Stop Solitary for Kids defines solitary confinement as "involuntary placement of a youth alone in a cell, room, or other area for any reason other than as a temporary response to behavior that threatens immediate physical harm."
Rite of Passage objected to terms such as "isolation," preferring the phrase "room time." The company also objected to referring to a cell in which a youth is confined alone as a "solitary" room. By email, Rite of Passage's legal counsel wrote, "solitary confinement and isolation are not practices used by RoP in its operations at AJATC. ... There are serious and negative connotations attached to both of those terms, none of which apply to RoP's treatment of the youth in its care." While youth are sometimes locked alone in a cell in Building 19, Rite of Passage noted that staffers and other youths would be present in the building. A youth confined in Building 19 would still have access to normal programing, such as education, recreation and therapy, the company said. Asked specifically what that programming would entail in the context of room confinement, Rite of Passage did not respond.
"The purpose of the removal and placement of the youth in Building 19 is not to isolate them, but to change their environment based upon clinical or behavioral program needs," Rite of Passage attorneys wrote in an email. They described Building 19 as "a dorm-like setting but with enhanced staffing."
Some youths housed at AJATC have a different view. "It's like the prison," said Jason, another 15-year-old resident. Both Jason and Michael, the teenager put in a cell in April, said they had been confined in a cell that had blood and urine clearly visible on the floor and wall.
"It's everywhere," Jason said. "It was just disgusting in there." When the boys complained, they were moved to another cell, but they said that nothing was immediately done to clean up the problem cell. Jason said that if he winds up in a cell in Building 19, he just tries to sleep. "There ain't nothing else to do," he said.
Michael said that in March, over a period of two weeks, he spent at least five hours a day confined to a cell in Building 19 as punishment for refusing to have his hair cut. He was exploring Islam and associated letting his hair grow out with his interest in the faith. On school days, he said, he would be brought to the cell after classes, from 4:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.; on weekends, he would be confined to the cell all day. Although Rite of Passage declined to comment on specific stories, it disputed that a youth would ever have been subjected to room confinement for refusing a haircut.
The boys said that over the past year, the most common use of room confinement came in response to classroom misbehavior (unless a more serious infraction is involved, that practice has now been discontinued after a policy change in June, according to Rite of Passage). Students who were seriously disruptive in class might be sent to an in-school suspension classroom. If they continued to misbehave in ISS, they could be sent to Building 19, where they could be confined to a cell. Rite of Passage said that aggregate data on the number of times room confinement was used in response to such scenarios was not available.
In a telephone interview in May, Michael Cantrell, executive director of the southeastern region for Rite of Passage, acknowledged this practice, which he described as a last resort, but denied that the purpose was punitive. He described it as an effort to remove kids from an audience. "I wouldn't call it punishment. That's draconian," he said. "It's a space that kids can go for an hour, two hours, chill out, relax, get themselves together and get back to class."
However, a pair of therapists who left their positions at AJATC earlier this year (before the June policy change), said that room confinement was used as a standard punishment for acting up in class, and that once a student was taken to Building 19, he would generally not return for the rest of the school day.
"They absolutely used it as a punitive measure," one therapist said. "If you piss off staff members or act a fool in school, you go to Building 19. If you get kicked out of class, out of ISS, you go directly to Building 19 and you sit in a cell all day. You don't really come out except to go to the bathroom. Then whenever school is over, group [therapy] is over, everything is done, then you go back to your cottage [the regular living quarters] and you would typically have early bedtime. They'll bring you dinner to your room but you'll stay in your room the rest of the night."
Sometimes, the former AJATC therapists said, guards would pull the bed mat out of the cell in Building 19 so that youths only have the metal frame of the cot to sit or lie on. The therapists said that, during their time working for Rite of Passage, Building 19 was overused. "If you have a kid who is being extremely aggressive and violent, then to calm down is not necessarily a bad thing," one said. "I think that is excessive when you don't allow the kid to recover, when they can't go back to school for the rest of the day. If this happens at 8 o'clock in the morning, you're SOL."
As with the statements made by the youths above, Rite of Passage, through its legal counsel, declined to respond directly to any specific allegations. "Those who work from the standpoint of misinformation, rumors and inadequate information harm the process and ability to keep all safe," the company's attorneys wrote.
Removing a youth from the classroom to confine him in Building 19 or elsewhere could create a federal legal issue under the Individuals with Disabilities Act if he has a disability, Masseau said. "If [the misbehavior] is a manifestation of disabilities, you can't just change his placement because he's acting up. You need to put in behavior supports or modify his programming in whatever way allows the child to obtain their free and appropriate public education."
"If a youth has a disability the Special Ed department will ensure his or her needs are met, and may include the use of services within Building 19," Rite of Passage attorneys stated.
Whatever name it goes by, youth advocates argue that room confinement should be strictly limited in juvenile facilities, and even short periods of confinement can be counterproductive and harmful for children. "It has a detrimental effect on a youth's treatment, education, physical health and mental health," Masseau said. "Every national standard I've read says that it should never be used as a punitive measure, that it should only be used when the kid's actively a danger to himself or others, and even then calls for frequent review. It's all geared toward minimizing the amount of time a kid is removed from the normal environment."
"It's not helping kids emerge from facilities better equipped than when they entered," Lutz said. "Unfortunately, it's been the tool that's been used for so long that staff and facilities can no longer see how ineffective it is."
Regulation on the issue of room confinement for juveniles in the state has long been murky. DHS administrative code, which has the force of law, contains more stringent limits than what has been the practice at some facilities ("it's unclear who, if anyone, actually enforces this code," Masseau said).
While the DYS has no official policy on the use of room confinement, the division did develop a policy in 2015 at the prompting of Disability Rights Arkansas. Although it was never promulgated, Marq Golden, the DYS assistant director for residential programs, said the draft policy nonetheless served as a baseline set of expectations for both outside vendors and state staff.
Golden also said that the DYS requires facilities to comply with American Correctional Association (ACA) standards. Those standards limit room confinement for juveniles to five days, stating that "the time a juvenile spends in disciplinary confinement is proportionate to the offense committed," and establish parameters for administrative review. "They have to be accredited by ACA so that kind of secures us in that aspect," Golden said. Although the contract requires it within one year of the start date, Rite of Passage, which took over in August 2016, has not yet secured ACA accreditation for its management of AJATC; it is expected to be accredited by April 2018.
The DYS draft policy notes the five-day maximum on room confinement for juveniles set by ACA standards, but states that even emergency isolations (a term that is not defined) should generally be limited to four hours. It leaves open the possibility of disciplinary room confinement, but suggests it should be brief, without specifying precisely what that means.
"Our bottom line is this: Room confinement should not be done out of anger or simple irritation," Webb said. "It should be done out of necessity."
However, Rite of Passage policy on the duration of room confinement is markedly different than the DYS' recommendation that room confinement typically shouldn't exceed four hours. The company's current policy is that room confinement will last a minimum of four hours and a maximum of 72 hours, Rite of Passage counsel said. The company could not provide any information about the average duration of such room confinements or how often they lasted more than 24 hours.
Golden said that the DYS draft policy was "written broadly to address a wide variety of scenarios, and those vendors such as RoP have to address the protocols beneath that to address those types of scenarios. When you write a policy like this, it is written more as a general guideline and then those who abide within that have to create the specific rules."
Masseau said it was necessary for the DYS to promulgate an official policy on room confinement and isolation. "The failure of the Division to do so has resulted in confusion and inconsistent practice throughout the facilities," he wrote in an email. "Staff are untrained in the appropriate response methods in the event a youth needs a time out, often triggering further incident. Without an official policy, there is no requirement that the staff and facility officials follow generally accepted guidelines to protect the health and safety of the youth. And in turn, there is no method for enforcement of or accountability for those staff who deviate from those generally accepted guidelines, because that is all that they are — guidelines."
Webb said that the DYS "recognizes that it needs to be promulgated and we are in the process of getting that going." Asked about a timeline, Golden said, "I don't know a specific timeline within a year."
National standards are generally moving away from punitive isolation practices. "In very rare situations, a juvenile may be separated from others as a temporary response to behavior that poses a serious and immediate risk of physical harm to any person," a 2016 U.S. Department of Justice report recommended. "Even in such cases, the placement should be brief, designed as a 'cool down' period, and done only in consultation with a mental health professional." The Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, which is supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, states that even in an emergency situation, isolation should never exceed four hours; at that point, a youth should be transferred to a mental health facility or medical unit. A 2015 report developed by the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators (CJCA) advised that "isolating youths ... as a consequence for negative behavior undermines the rehabilitative goals of youth corrections."
Ron Angel, who served as director of the DYS from 2007 to 2013, said he should have discontinued the use of Building 19 (at that time used to house sex offenders) altogether. "I should have gone ahead and done away with that concept, because it was prison," Angel said. "You can quote me on that — if I could go back in time, I would shut that building down. Or remodel it into something that was more of a therapeutic setting." Angel said that he tried to minimize the use of room confinement as anything more than a cool-down period of less than an hour. "I don't think a prison cell is right for young kids, and I never did," he said.
Asked in May whether Rite of Passage had any internal policies or protocols governing under what circumstances room confinement is used as a response, Cantrell said, "There's not really a policy that spells that out, because every kid is so different. You start trying to put XYZ [triggers room confinement], then what happens is I have a reporter saying, 'Well, the kid didn't do XYZ.'"
Asked whether there were policies or protocols governing how long a youth would be confined in isolation, Cantrell said, "It really depends on their behaviors and when they're calm and ready to rejoin the program. ... Generally, our goal is that the kid is not there more than 24 hours. I mean, that's our goal. Has there been an instance or two where that's been longer? Yes."
When the Arkansas Nonprofit News Network reached out to Cantrell again in July, he declined to speak by telephone, and Rite of Passage's attorneys provided written responses to further questions.
It was in the intervening month that Tanner, the juvenile ombudsman, began to express concern about Building 19 and room confinement at AJATC.
Golden, the DYS official, soon arranged a meeting with Rite of Passage, on July 10. "I provided them the [draft policy] and informed them that they would have to follow that," he said. "I told them that they could not use that facility in that manner if they were using it improperly. They were in agreement."
On July 25, Tanner wrote in an email, "Rite of Passage has yet to furnish adequate policy supporting these practices ... This practice, as we discussed, exposes the state and your program to risk. ... I will continue to broad stroke this intervention as social isolation and an unacceptable practice until it is demonstrated to me to be supported by adequate policy, practice and monitoring." Golden responded to Tanner, "I am in agreement that they should be drafting an internal policy."
On Aug. 5, Rite of Passage provided Tanner with a June-dated policy on in-school interventions that contains the following language in bold text: "Being removed from school and placed in the cottage/building 19 DOES NOT warrant a student being locked in his or her room all day." However, the newer policy does not appear to otherwise provide clear parameters for the use of room confinement; Tanner later wrote that none of the policies provided address some of the practices he has observed at AJATC.
Attorneys for the company told the Arkansas Nonprofit News Network that as of June 20, Rite of Passage no longer used room confinement in response to misbehavior in class and ISS and described that practice as a holdover from G4S, the for-profit company that previously ran AJATC. Rite of Passage, which took over in August 2016, eventually determined that the practice "lacked the consistency and disciplinary value RoP sought to provide its youth." Company policy, according to Rite of Passage counsel, now dictates that room confinement at AJATC can only be used as a response in four situations: when the youth is a danger to self or others (including fights), destruction of property, committing a class A felony, or possession of harmful contraband. It could also be used if a youth requests room confinement "due to emotional stressors."
Although Rite of Passage does not keep aggregate data, it estimated that over the course of a typical month in the past year, less than 6 percent of the AJATC population — around half a dozen youths — were sent to room confinement in response to an emergency situation. The current policy described by Rite of Passage could allow for the use of room confinement in certain situations that do not involve immediate risk of harm to self or others; Rite of Passage did not provide an estimate of how often it has been used in such situations.
"We know that when young people are in isolation, there's lots of needs that aren't being met," Lutz said. "They're sent to facilities by judges to receive rehabilitation and treatment. Maybe they're there for drug and alcohol treatment, or mental health counseling. Every minute in solitary is a minute they're not getting that treatment.
“Many of these kids have serious educational deficits, and they have a constitutional right to an appropriate education. They're not getting it when they're in solitary confinement. What we often see — in a best-case scenario — assignments are slid under the door, and it's come and collected later."
Rite of Passage did not respond to specific questions about how the daily schedule or programing would operate for youths in room confinement. (For example: Would a student work on schoolwork alone in the cell, or interact with his regular teacher?) "Youth in reassessment adhere to the same daily schedule as the rest of the youth on campus," Rite of Passage counsel said. "Building 19 has a schedule that supports school, meals and programs."
It's time for facilities to develop alternative approaches to locking kids in a cell, Lutz said. "Imagine you heard about a neighbor who locked their 15-year-old with mental health issues in a small linen closet for six hours and then removed them," she said. "No. 1, would you think that would solve anything? And No. 2, that would be child abuse. Why is it any different for these kids? It's harmful, it's damaging, it's abusive, and it doesn't solve anything."
This reporting is courtesy of the Arkansas Nonprofit News Network, an independent, nonpartisan news project dedicated to producing journalism that matters to Arkansans. Find out more at arknews.org.
My young parents didn’t have the skill sets to properly raise me, which at a young age caused me to search for acceptance in other places. I began running away at the age of 13 and quickly got heavily involved in drug use.
Nearly two years later I was a victim of sex trafficking. My trafficker was arrested and later sent to prison for the remainder of his life and I was sent to jail, where I received no healing and was sent back home nine months later. I once again found myself on the streets, and for the second time became a victim of sex trafficking not even a year later. This time, I decided to stand up against my trafficker. I didn’t go to the police because I didn’t want to relive the traumatic process of the court system.
On Aug. 31, 2011 I was arrested and jailed for six serious felonies against the man who brutally raped and trafficked me. Not even a month after sitting in the Juvenile Detention Center at age 16, I was charged as an adult and placed in the adult jail. The day I was sent to adult jail would change my life forever. Because I was under 18, I had to be separated from all adult prisoners by sight and sound to comply with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act.
Based on my developmental age, I should have been placed in a dorm with juveniles where we were treated differently and received proper services. In reality, I was placed in a mental health dorm even though I didn’t have a mental health diagnosis because there was no space in the jail to place me anywhere else. I was on lockdown 23 hours a day and was deprived of regular programming including access to education, recreation and mental health services that I didn’t qualify for.
I was in a dorm with legally insane people. They yelled and screamed at night about things that made no sense to me. I heard inmates banging, kicking and slamming heads on doors and walls, people throwing their feces out the flap of their blue metal door and much, much more. I saw people pepper-sprayed, tased, hog-tied and strapped down to a black restraint chair because they were being “too loud” or banging on the doors for “too long.”
As a child you can imagine the effect this had on me. Stuck in a cell for 23 hours a day forced me to relive the many traumatic experiences I had experienced years prior to my incarceration. Some days I blamed myself for the trauma, abuse and neglect. I convinced myself I deserved to be separated from the world because I only caused harm. On other days, I felt ostracized. All I wanted was to feel like I was a part of the human race — not like some caged animal. I felt alone, like no one cared and sometimes even asked myself, why am I even living?
It was almost impossible for me to process the feelings of being alone in a cell for 23 hours a day with no positive human contact. After being in a mental health dorm for some time, I saw quite a few people try to commit suicide so that question of why am I living turned into an action and I attempted suicide on a few different occasions. I remember one incident of me rolling off of the top bunk several times, trying to land on my head, hoping I would just die.
After attempting suicide didn’t work, I mentally tried to escape from confinement; I eventually started using a variety of mechanisms to dissociate from my experience. I felt like I was going mad. I started to play games with the walls in my room. I would count the bricks over and over again. I would play Tetris with the bricks, rearranging them in my mind. I even convinced myself that every time I went to sleep and woke up, a brick from the wall would be missing and the cell got smaller and smaller.
I was really lonely. I started arguments with myself and pretended like I was two different people arguing. I played out scenes from movies that I saw in the past. I remember one instance where I banged my head on the wall several times until I started bleeding, just to use the blood to enact a scene from a movie. The games of dissociation only lasted so long and eventually I began struggling to cope with confinement and I faced a losing battle with myself.
Soon, I fell into a deep, deep depression and had my first anxiety attack followed by uncontrollable rage. To cope with the depression, anxiety and rage I began daydreaming and sleeping. If I wasn’t sleeping, I was in bed trying to sleep. Get up, eat and back to sleep. This cycle of suicide attempts, dissociation, mind games, depression, anxiety, rage and sleeping my life away continued until I turned 18 and was moved in an adult dorm.
I can’t speak for all young people that have spent time or are currently spending time in confinement in an adult jail. I can only speak from my personal experiences. Duval County jail’s mission is “To operate facilities for secure, humane, corrective, and productive detention of those awaiting trial as well as those already sentenced.” But where was the productiveness in my incarceration? Where was the correction? Where is accountability for the jails to make sure arrested youth have the right space and services to avoid deeper damage?
Prior to ever ending up in the justice system, I had already experienced severe trauma. Being placed in confinement made the trauma experiences more exacerbated. The justice system is supposed to rehabilitate individuals but you can only do this if you understand what the people entering the system need.
Because of the lack of adequate mental health services and no one ever taking the time to ask me what happened to me, suffering was worse than it may otherwise have been. I was forced to relive the trauma over and over again, and eventually I detached myself from the trauma, further delaying my healing.
It wasn’t until four years later that I began receiving services. Not because the jail allowed me to, not because anyone recommended that I receive help, but because I was tired of living in misery, pain and suffering. I was tired of being bound to my past mistakes. I think of all the other children like me who are still stuck in solitary confinement and wonder if they will make it out as lucky as I did. I wonder if they get out, will they just go back because of all the damage that has been done to them.
Statistics suggest a higher recidivism rate for juveniles in the adult system, and especially for the juveniles stuck in solitary confinement. Our children deserve better. It is by luck that I’m able to write this. We need to eliminate luck from the equation. I am no longer bound, but other children are and will continue to be as long as we keep looking the other way.
Alyssa Beck is a survivor advocate who helps develop laws and practices that will support survivors of sex trafficking and youth involved in the justice justice system. Connected to the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center, she is also a member of the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Juvenile Justice Youth Advisory Council.
“The 2017 JDAI National Intersite conference was so inspirational!” “It was awesome to be in the company of so many reform champions,” “The conversations about advancing equity were just what our delegation needed to hear,” “I can’t wait to take these lessons back home to my colleagues.”
These statements reflect all the passion and energy that the National Intersite Conference invokes in us all. Then the conference is over, and it’s time to get to work.
Once back home, work begins, as do the challenges of implementing the lessons learned. Other reflections emerge, like “I wish they could have been at the conference. Then they’d understand why we have to do more,” “There’s no more ‘low-hanging fruit.’ But there’s still disparity at multiple contact points,” “We have a responsibility to protect public safety. How are we holding these children ‘accountable’?”
These impressions represent the realities of doing good reform work, once we’ve left the “container.” In the safe, supportive learning environment that is the container, reform results show us what we are capable of accomplishing when committed to the challenge. Before we see the results, however, we are typically confronted by the obstacles.
What gets in the way of achieving the best results on the projects, ideas and commitments that mean the most to your organization? Has your passion been challenged once too often? Has organizational commitment to the change waned? Has the idea lost its value? Maybe the collaborators aren’t ready for the change you believe is needed.
These potentialities may exist. The fact is, as the leader, you are responsible for mitigating all these possibilities. This may seem unreasonable or unattainable. Well, don’t be so fast to change course or stop altogether. There are tools and techniques that help leaders achieve the results that can make a difference. These tools and techniques are part of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Results Count, or results based leadership (RBL) framework.
The most meaningful ideas generally come from a place of passion, like detention reduction. Who in their right mind would challenge a nation of juvenile justice systems with an idea to shrink institutions’ admission numbers? This idea came from a place of passion; for children to live a good life. The thing is though, passion is aspiration. Truly helping children live the good life requires transferring the aspiration to operation. And, that’s how we get to the results that have meaning.
Let’s dig into the transfer of aspiration to operation, using the RBL framework — the 5-2-2: five core competencies, two foundational frameworks and two foundational skills. For now, we’ll consider one of the core skills (facilitation) in the context of a practice issue. Results-based facilitation (RBF) helps leaders design, lead and contribute in meetings that effectively move groups from talk to action and hold participants accountable for advancing the work.
Here’s a challenge: The stakeholder group has completed a strategic plan for further system enhancement initiatives. There are three stakeholders who want to address sentencing to juvenile probation as the first priority. There are three stakeholders who want to address commitments to adult corrections as the first priority. And you represent the 10th stakeholder, the committee chair. How will this virtual deadlock be resolved?
Here’s the result: The facilitator, applying the RBF skill of “holding a neutral position,” uses a prepared data walk exercise to inform the stakeholder group with a visual representation of the population at each decision point, highlighting the most over-represented population. The stakeholder group, presented with evidence, will make an informed decision, moving them to action.
Here’s how we got here: The facilitator planned for the meeting result (a decided target), brought the data to inform the decision and affirmed commitment from all stakeholders of the determined starting point. Each step is a practice in one of the foundational skills of RBL and in leading for results.
There is not always a direct, clear path to the results we set as our target. Still, the tools and techniques of RBL help us mitigate the obstacles and lead with confidence.
For more on results-based facilitation, the 5-2-2 framework of results-based leadership and the JDAI Applied Leadership Network, visit us on JDAIConnect@jdaiconnect.org
Miquel A. Lewis is a deputy chief probation officer at the Cook County Juvenile Probation Department. He is also the president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s JDAI Applied Leadership Network. Connect with him at JDAIConnect@jdaiconnect.org.
During my testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on The Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights last month, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), chairman and majority whip, asked me if I am in favor of police on school campuses. To the dismay of some of my friends who stand by my side in this fight to dismantle the "school-to-prison pipeline," I answered a qualified yes. Police on campus, I explained, must be specially trained in adolescent development, crisis intervention and fostering positive relationships with students.
Now, the aftermath debate includes placing police on every campus. This issue is reserved for my friends in the other branches of government, but as a judge I am concerned. If police are placed on campus without written protocols defining their role, the results will be disastrous -- just as removing existing police from campus can have unintended consequences.
These friends are adamant that the "simple" solution to dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline is the removal of police from campus. This "simple" solution assumes that police are the cancerous cause of the significant spike in the number of low-level offenses.
At first blush my friends seem to have a valid point—the greater the police presence, the greater the risk for arrest. This greater risk does not bode well for most kids because they are wired to do stupid things. Kids are under neurological construction and require the time for maturation.
This logic assumes that it's the police who have interest in arresting students for school fights, disorderly conduct, and disrupting public school. I have visited, along with my technical assistance team supported by the Annie E. Casey FoundationJuvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI), many localities from California to Massachusetts to Florida and as far north as Montana and North Dakota, and can positively state that the vast majority of campus police are frustrated with their role. They desire a mission statement with clear objectives, the first being that they are not disciplinarians to be used and abused by school administrators.
I have many police testimonies but will share a recent visit to Broward County, Fla. that is typical of my encounters with school police across the nation. The presiding juvenile judge in Broward County, Judge Elijah Williams, read my articles on school-justice partnerships and developed a stakeholders’ group to develop an agreement to reduce low risk school arrests.
Juvenile court judges are integral players in bringing stakeholders together to develop innovative strategies that can benefit children and the community. This convening power of the judge has proven a key factor in the success of replicating protocols similar to my court, now referred to as the "Positive Student Engagement Model for School Policing."
Broward County was no exception. Judge Williams invited me and Clayton County Police Lieutenant Francisco Romero to Ft. Lauderdale in September 2012 to present the model to the stakeholders. Lt. Romero, a veteran school resource officer, helped me implement our model in 2004. His experiences bring examples of positive student engagement, how developing a relationship with students opens the door of communication and, in turn, sharing of information that prevents weapons and drugs from entering the campus -- not to mention solving crimes in the community, including murder. (What kids hear over the weekend they bring to school on Monday!) Gathering police intelligence requires a positive relationship with students.
During the presentation, the audience of law enforcement displayed the typical stoic demeanor -- no expression. They are difficult to read and if I were a poker player I would refrain from playing with my law enforcement friends. When we concluded, Judge Williams took the podium and asked this question: "By a show of hands, how many would agree to a protocol that prohibits you from arresting a student for any non-violent misdemeanor offense, including possession, not sale.”
They all raised their hands!
The stoic looks were replaced by animated hand gestures with frustrated facial expressions. They spewed opposition to the disciplinarian role school administrators demand. A role oftentimes expected of police by virtue of their presence on campus. A role that has led to SRO's referred to as "Sorry Road Officers" or "Kiddie Cops."
These derogatory descriptions are false for the many trained school resource officers who have chosen to work with adolescents. I refer you to Mo Cannady, director of the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO). School policing is a specialized field of police work, no different than SWAT, narcotics, DUI Task Force and other areas requiring specialized training.
Any system that relegates a trained and certified peace officer to the role of student disciplinarian is exercising very poor administrative judgment. The disciplinarian role does not require someone with peace officer certification carrying handcuffs and a firearm. That would make them overqualified for the job. A misuse of police officers on campus will not protect the campus from another massacre. It will likely take the officer off the campus due to the high incident of misdemeanor arrests and allow for many to die in the wake of a deranged gunman's wave of bullets.
God forbid there is another shooting and the media asks this one question: "Where was your SRO when the shooting began?" The answer: "At juvenile court booking a kid for a schoolyard fight."
It's not good enough if the SRO calls a road officer from the street to transport the student--it now cuts down the response time for a robbery, burglary, or serious assault in progress.
SRO's were removed from the middle schools in my county to cut costs after the economic downturn. The arrest of middle school students drastically increased. Administrators simply called 911 and got a road officer, untrained in adolescent development.
Be careful what you ask for. You just might get it.
"What happened in your life that made you a passionate advocate for kids?"
When Jane Hansen, Information Officer for the Georgia Supreme Court, asked me this question last week during an interview, I thought, "Whoa -- the question assumed something happened to me."
Now I am paranoid -- what does she know that I don't? I have known Jane going way back to my days as a parole officer when she was a reporter for the Atlanta Journal Constitution -- she has a keen sense of things.
This "happening" resides in the recesses of my mind, something that rises to the surface from time to time when triggered by an event, song, or a question.
My Dad's work transferred us to a small town in Kansas between my third and fourth grade years. It was the first day of school -- I was nervous more than most on the first day -- I didn’t know anyone.
We started the day with the Pledge of Allegiance. I noticed a boy sitting toward the front who remained seated during the pledge. He didn’t utter a word. The teacher to my amazement didn't admonish him to stand and take part.
As it goes with kids, I had bigger worries on my first day and soon forgot about this act of defiance -- until the next day. Again the boy didn't stand. Now I was getting curiously frustrated in that 10-year-old way. Why does he get to stay seated while the rest of us have to stand? That's not fair I thought to myself. I was getting angry.
Consider what we were going through in those years of the Cold War. It was circa 1966. During school, we would sometimes be paraded out of class and into the hallways when the "attack" bell sounded. Then we would stand face forward to the wall with our hands behind our heads. All this was in hopes of surviving the impact and aftermath of the impact of a nuclear missile bearing the hammer and sickle of the Soviet Union.
In my world at age 10, this boy was a communist sympathizer!
It turns out I wasn’t the only one who thought this.
When school let out that day, I ran into what I thought at first glance was a schoolyard fight. But no, it was three boys beating and kicking the communist sympathizing "he deserves to get his butt kicked" Pledge-of-Allegiance-refusing student.
In my state of confusion, I didn’t know whether to stand there or run away? I certainly wasn't thinking about helping a communist!
In my moment of indecision I hesitated just long enough to look down and see this boy's face, and than his eyes made contact with mine. In what seemed like minutes, he reached out his hand to me with tears flowing from his eyes and said with a screeching cry, "Help me."
I kept running until I reached that one safe place -- my bedroom.
My Mom noticed at dinner that I was quiet and asked me if I was OK. I told her I was fine, but I couldn’t get the boy's plea for help out of my head. I finally spoke up and told her about the boy and how he refused to stand and pledge the flag. I asked her if he was a communist.
"No," she replied. "He is a Jehovah Witness."
Mom explained that the boy wasn't disrespectful, but that his Christian beliefs forbid saluting.
"Jehovah Witnesses are very respectful of government," she explained. "They pay taxes and obey the laws," but what Mom said next pierced my heart.
"In his world of thinking he is placing the flag above God. No person should be forced to suffer that trauma."
I went to bed that night mulling over my Mom's words. The more I looked at it through the boy's eyes, the more I felt guilty and ashamed. Guilty for assuming he was bad, ashamed for running.
He was beaten to a pulp because he was different and it didn't matter even if he was a commie. He didn't deserve to be beaten.
I cried that night and Mom heard it. She came in and I told her the rest of the story of my shame and guilt. She held me in her arms and said she was proud that I felt ashamed and counseled me to do something about it.
I promised myself that night -- alone and crying in the bedroom – that I would never run again. And so, I made friends with that boy.
It was difficult to re-live that moment with Jane -- my voice breaking, cracking, and my fingers pressing against my watery eyes to hold back a complete break-down. But I've always known that it defined my existence to be an advocate.
I chose my path of advocacy at age 15. I knew then I would go to law school. I have traveled a road that has taken me to a place that many think unlikely for an advocate -- the judicial bench. After all, judges wear robes and sit on a bench, hear evidence, respond to objections, decide cases, research the law, and draft orders -- what more is there to judging?
The answer, I think, depends on what that judge decides to do when he or she takes off the robe. The key question is, "What can I do off the bench to become more effective on the bench?" After all, the Judicial Canons encourage us to "engage in activities to improve the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice."
I don’t have to leave my Georgia backyard to find judicial advocates working to improve juvenile justice in their communities through collaboration and innovative programming. But only so much can be done without the resources needed to make a difference in the lives of kids with childhood trauma leading to delinquent behaviors.
Gov. Nathan Deal is cognizant of these limitations and wants change that will tear down the walls that keep us moving forward. So, he created a reform council and gave them the tools to delve keenly into what works and what doesn't -- analysts from the Pew Trust Center and Annie E. Casey Foundation.
No matter how it turns out, I am thankful for my governor's leadership to seek reform, my colleagues on the council for their dedication, and my fellow Georgia judges for their "off the bench" advocacy.
At least I know we are not running from kids in trouble. We are staying to fight!