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State Trends Show Fewer Young People Tried As Adults, New Report Says

WASHINGTON — The number of young people locked into adult jails and prisons has plummeted nearly two-thirds since 2009 and the number automatically sent to adult courts for criminal trials has fallen by nearly half from 2007 to 2014, a new report says.

The numbers of youth tried as adults will likely fall even further by 2020, when four states — Louisiana, South Carolina, North Carolina and New York — fully implement reform laws passed over the last few years, said the new report from the Campaign for Youth Justice, a Washington-based nonprofit group.

The statistics are unalloyed victory for juvenile justice reform advocates, said Marcy Mistrett, CEO of the Campaign. “We have a lot to celebrate,” she said. “We have the majority of states not only changing one law but changing a lot of laws that treat kids like kids. That is something to celebrate.”

Once New York and North Carolina implement their laws, it will mark the first time since juvenile courts were created more than a century ago that no state will automatically try 16-year-olds as adults.

Nine states and the District of Columbia all passed laws limited or barring youthful offenders from being put in adult jails. New York and Oregon banned the practice outright this year.

Mistrett’s group will release the report formally this  morning in Washington. She’ll be joined by Olivia Brown, a teenager who was charged as an adult for a school fight, and senators from two states that have recently begun ambitious reform efforts of their own — Vermont’s Dick Sears, a Democrat, and South Carolina’s Gerald Malloy, a Democrat. Brown became for many the face of the campaign to “raise the age” of adult prosecution in North Carolina.

“The science we’re familiar with now tells us we continue to grow and age beyond childhood,” Malloy said. Quoting Frederick Douglass that “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men,” Malloy led efforts to pass state legislation to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction for most crimes from 17 to 18 years old. The legislation passed unanimously but must still be properly funded, by 2019, to take effect.

“There are a mountain of things we can do. They say we save children one child at a time,” Malloy said. The reform “also tells us a little bit about who we are as a people. The idea is to try to keep children from behind the fence.”

Sears’ Vermont was hailed by the Campaign for “a number of juvenile justice reforms over the last two years,” the report says. Children under 11 will be subject to juvenile court no matter what and only those older than 16 and charged with “the Big 12” felonies, such as murder, rape, etc., will face the prospect of an adult prosecution.

“Many of these kids, they carry around the collateral consequences of crime for the rest of their lives,” Sears said. “Now they’ll be given a second chance.”

For all the good news, Mistrett said she hopes no one thinks advocates can — or will — rest on their laurels. “We still have a lot of work to do,” she said.

Among the challenges remaining are the often opaque rules about who gets to determine which children will be prosecuted as adults — and the often-shocking racial disparities that result from that opacity, Mistrett said. And the backlash politics of the Trump administration shows “just how easy it is to get back to the ‘get tough’ messaging,” she said.

Still, she is hopeful that the years of work by reform advocates has helped Americans reach a different level of consciousness about crime, punishment and young people.

“I think the general public is finally realizing that we can’t incarcerate ourselves out of the problem of crime,” Mistrett said.

Untrained Police Officers in Schools Focus on Girls of Color, Report Says

WASHINGTON — Black girls are nearly four times more likely to be arrested at school than their white counterparts and Latina girls are almost three times more likely to be arrested in elementary school than white girls, a new report says.

Researchers at the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality and the National Black Women’s Justice Institute found that the explosion of police in the nation’s schools is forcing increasing numbers of black and brown girls into the school-to-prison pipeline.

There are police officers in nearly half the nation’s high schools — a list that grows with each new school shooting or move to zero tolerance disciplinary policies. Police find themselves being asked to intervene in routine disciplinary matters or end up haranguing young black and brown girls to be “more ladylike,” said the report, released Tuesday.

Officers are thrust into school systems with little training and even less structure: Fewer than half the states that allow police to patrol their schools require formal memoranda of understanding between police departments and school officials. Plus, many of the girls told researchers that the police in their schools were prejudiced against them and they couldn’t get a fair break.    

In some cases, the school-to-prison pipeline followed a direct line, the researchers found. Broadly or vaguely worded laws making it a criminal offense to “disrupt school” landed some 29,000 South Carolina students in the juvenile justice system in the first decades of the century, the report said.

It recommends better and more thorough training for school police and a shift away from heavy-handed law enforcement and toward counseling and early interventions. The report is intended as a toolkit for school systems and police departments. But it also makes clear that its authors hope this is the beginning of a conversation, not the end of one.

It’s a discussion that’s long overdue, juvenile justice reform advocates agreed.

“It brings a really important perspective to the work and I think that the focus on girls of color in the school-to-prison pipeline isn’t nearly engaged in enough,” said Sarah Bryer, executive director of the National Juvenile Justice Network. “It’s critical to the whole debate and will provide really concrete ideas and actions going forward.” This report complements her organization’s work on implicit bias, she said.

Marcy Mistrett, the chief executive officer of the Campaign for Youth Justice, said she wasn’t entirely surprised by the report’s findings — she and her allies have been warning about the school-to-prison pipeline for years — but was frustrated by the complexity of a problem that didn’t have to exist in the first place.

“To me, the thing that just continues to befuddle me is why there are such loose guidelines around this,” she said. “There’s no mandatory training for these guys on youth development, on cultural competence, on appropriate responses to regular, adolescent behavior. These arrests — it’s kids talking back, it’s kids being too loud, it’s kids being late to class — that’s all typical, adolescent behavior.”

What’s especially frustrating, Mistrett said, is that the solutions are so easy. “If they took the money they paid those officers and actually trained the teachers and principals in de-escalation and conflict resolution, they wouldn’t need the police in these schools,” she said.

Michelle C. Thomas is a veteran family court lawyer in Washington and former chair of the National Bar Association Young Lawyers Division. For her, the report’s lessons are pretty straightforward.

“It matters a lot that young black girls feel safe at schools — like they matter, and not like a target,” she said.

Matt Fraidin, a professor at the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law who has been a longtime advocate for child welfare reform, believes the report points to larger racial problems.

“More than 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education, many of us live in segregated neighborhoods, which feed into segregated schools,” he said. “That’s the broader context in which these findings arise — a setting which makes it tragically unsurprising that girls of color experience disparate, harsh treatment in institutions that should be safe and welcoming.”

Remembering Michael Brown: Policing Alone Doesn’t Create Safety in Our Communities

Today we reflect on the memory of Mike Brown, the 18-year-old unarmed black youth fatally shot six times, twice in the head, by Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson. The 2014 shooting prompted protests across the nation for weeks. The gripping images of a blood-covered white sheet lying over his motionless body for hours will forever be etched in our memories. As will the image of another black mother with tears streaming down her face, grieving the loss of her son to this senseless yet all too common scenario.

Three years and many more police-involved shootings later, we ask ourselves, is this what public safety looks like in our communities?

Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Akiel Denkins, Tamir Rice and Freddie Gray are just some of the names of unarmed black boys and men who have lost their lives since Mike Brown’s death. Over and over, we are confronted by the horrifying images of black men killed by the police.

According to The Guardian’s “The Counted" initiative, in 2016 black males aged 15-34 were nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by law enforcement officers. They were killed at four times the rate of young white men. This trend should have us all on edge given the call for more “tough on crime” responses from national and local policymakers.

Just two weeks ago, President Donald Trump encouraged a room of law enforcement authorities to not be “too nice” while transporting suspects. This quip drew laughter and cheers from officers in attendance. However, the International Association of Chiefs of Police and several local police departments quickly rebuked the statement. The Campaign For Youth Justice and 25 other organizations released a joint statement calling on police to commit to clear protocols and policies against the use of force in our communities.

Additionally, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been an ardent defender of “get tough” practices from the 1990s. Sessions recently ordered federal prosecutors to seek the harshest possible penalty in all cases, no matter how minor, a practice that will send more Americans to prison without good reason.

These rollbacks are occurring on the state level as well, including in Michael Brown’s home state of Missouri.

In the same week that the NAACP issued a travel advisory, warning people of color that their civil rights could be violated in the state of Missouri, Republican Gov. Eric Greitens implemented a new anti-violence plan. The plan calls on highway patrol troopers to ramp up policing to combat urban crime, reopening historical tensions.

“We are looking for anything,” a Missouri state trooper recently told a Washington Post reporter, before pulling over a motorist for an expired license plate near downtown. “I don’t see how it can be detrimental having more law enforcement in an area that really needs more policing.”

As we reflect on the anniversary of Mike Brown's death and the subsequent deaths, the current climate in our country toward crime signals that we are headed in the wrong direction. Young men of color are much more likely to be profiled — and then subsequently, prosecuted, sentenced and incarcerated as adults in their communities than their white counterparts. Federal, state and local officials are calling on the police, those entrusted to protect and serve, to lead the charge against crime.

But is policing alone what public safety looks like in our communities? Many chiefs of police are calling for evidence-based practices, which include community policing strategies, a focus on prevention and referrals to other agencies and community organizations that are experts in mental health, substance abuse and defusing crises. Our caution is against embracing law enforcement as the only solution to crime; and in adopting a more militarized police force, particularly focused on low-income communities and communities of color.

We don’t want police in schools, driving our children to the courts for typical adolescent behavior. We don’t want police threatening to deport and separate immigrant families trying to live their lives in the United States. We don’t want all our resources poured into enforcement of the law at the cost of access to quality schools, career opportunities and access to public and mental health.

We recognize that law enforcement agencies are among the largest and most powerful bureaucracies in most localities. They intersect daily with our lives, especially in low-income communities and communities of color. They may be who we call first when trouble arises, but they are also armed and evoke fear in many communities across the country. At some point, we must question whether all this law enforcement is necessary. There is a significant imbalance in our current policing model, with far too much emphasis on law enforcement and not nearly enough on crime prevention.

We remember Mike Brown because his death should serve as a daily reminder of the very real work left undone. His memory serves as our invitation to help fix a broken system.

Aprill O. Turner is communications director for the Campaign for Youth Justice, a national initiative focused entirely on ending the practice of prosecuting, sentencing and incarcerating youth under the age of 18 in the adult criminal justice system.

As Prisons Prepare for PREA, Impact on Youthful Inmates May Be Major

In 2003, the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) -- a federal legislative proposal that sought to curb incidents of sexual assault in both adult prisons and juvenile detention facilities -- was signed into law by President George W. Bush.

The newly formed National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC) was then tasked with establishing PREA standards; ultimately, nine years would pass before the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) approved the final standards set forth by the NPREC.

An infographic from the Campaign for Youth Justice regarding youth in the adult criminal justice system.
An infographic from the Campaign for Youth Justice regarding youth in the adult criminal justice system.

Regarding juvenile offenders, PREA Standard 115.14, also known as the “Youthful Inmate Standard,” is perhaps the most significant aspect of the federal legislation. Under PREA, adult facilities holding inmates under the age of 18 are required to implement policies that guarantee the segregation of minors from older prisoners -- a practice commonly referred to as “sight and sound separation.” Among other provisions, PREA prevents facilities from placing minors in cells with adult inmates, calls for constant supervision of juveniles in adult correctional facilities and limits the use of isolation as a penalty for young inmates.

However, the same standard is not applicable to juvenile detention centers -- even though most states allow for the housing of adults in such facilities. “The PREA standards do not provide for any sight and sound separation of residents in juvenile facilities either because of age or court of conviction,” the PREA Resource Center (PRC) states. “The Youthful Inmate standard requiring separation of those under age 18 from those over 18 is ‘setting specific,’ applicable only in prisons, jails, and lockups.”

The National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD), that operates the PREA Resource Center (PRC) alongside the Bureau of Justice Assistance, referred the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange to the PRC for official comment.

With PREA finally becoming effective on Aug. 20, 2012, the first cycle of prison audits are scheduled to begin this month. To comply with PREA, jurisdictions must complete audits of at least a third of facilities before Aug 20, 2014. States that fail to comply by next year’s deadline are subject to a penalty that would see 5 percent of their DOJ grant funds revoked. And according to the PREA Resource Center, the brunt of punitive cutbacks may be centered on state juvenile justice departments, with both the Juvenile Accountability Block Grant program and the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act formula grant program cited as likely targets for de-funding.

Liz Ryan, Founder and of Campaign for Youth Justice.
Liz Ryan, founder, president and CEO of the Campaign for Youth Justice." credit=" 

Liz Ryan, founder, president and CEO of the Campaign for Youth Justice, said that while the regulatory processes behind PREA took longer than anticipated, she approves of the final standards that were authorized by the DOJ last year.

“Typically, regulations are issued within a year or two of a law passing,” she said. “This process took longer because it established a commission to really work with the field, to develop standards, and I think what they did was really good work.”

However, Ryan said she has concerns about how PREA may be implemented in some jurisdictions.

“I’m concerned about two sets of things,” she said. “One is that governors really don’t have this on their radar screens … the second set of concerns is the Justice Department’s implementation, oversight and enforcement of this law.”

While Ryan praised the Obama administration for pressing forward with PREA, she said that she does not believe the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) should be in charge of handling enforcement.

“If you were to call over there right now and ask how many states were in compliance with PREA, they couldn’t tell you,” Ryan said. “They can’t tell you, because they don’t know themselves.”

A much “higher” agency, she said, should be tasked with PREA enforcement instead.

“The proactive work with governors and other officials in the states has been lacking,“ she said. “I think there should be a special unit created within the [U.S.] attorney general’s office that includes experts from the Civil Rights division and other juvenile criminal experts to ensure and actually proactively work with states on enforcement.”

[module align="right" width="half" type="pull-quote"]“If you were to ask most jailors, sheriffs and corrections officials in the adult system, they would say, ‘yeah, I don’t want kids in this facility.’”[/module]The Youthful Inmate Standard, Ryan said, was an admirable attempt by the DOJ to ensure the protection of juveniles held in adult facilities, but she questions whether some facilities have enough staffers to supervise juveniles among adult general populations. And while Ryan believes that the Standard has good intentions, she believes the best way to prevent juveniles from being assaulted by adult inmates is to keep them out of adult facilities altogether.

“A lot of the correctional detention experts in the field believe the way to comply is to not have kids in those facilities at all,” she said. “If you were to ask most jailors, sheriffs and corrections officials in the adult system, they would say, ‘yeah, I don’t want kids in this facility.’”

Ryan praised Colorado for recently enacting legislation that bars juveniles from being held in pre-trial detention at adult facilities. Previously, states such as Ohio and Virginia had also passed bills barring the placement of juveniles in adult facilities while awaiting trial. Ultimately, Ryan said she hopes PREA enforcement, in particular the Youthful Inmate Standard, may encourage more states to pass legislation keeping juveniles out of jails and prisons housing adult inmates.

“A number of states have moved in this direction, not just removing them from adult facilities, but removing them from prosecution, automatically,” she said. “We think that is a positive step forward, and that it’s very consistent with what juvenile justice experts would say about this.”

Map showing the age of jurisdiction (age at which a youth can be tried as an adult) in all states. (Click image to see larger)
Map showing the age of jurisdiction (age at which a youth can be tried as an adult) in all states. (Click image to see larger)

Naoka Carey, executive director of the Boston-based Citizens for Juvenile Justice, also said that PREA enforcement might serve as a catalyst for future state-level policy changes.

“Based on the research that we’ve done and the numbers that we have, we believe that there are probably a few hundred 17-year-olds who are held in adult facilities, over the course of the year in Massachusetts,” Carey said. Under current Massachusetts law, 17-year-olds charged with offenses are placed under the jurisdiction of criminal courts. Carey believes that PREA could provide a segue for the state to raise the age of criminality, and put young offenders under the jurisdiction of juvenile courts instead.

“We’re in the process, essentially, of changing our law,” Carey said. “And by changing our law, we will allow the 17-year-olds to come out of the adult system, and that would alleviate the Youthful Inmate issue.”

PREA, she said, adds a sense of urgency to a statewide movement to raise the age of criminality. “There are both the detention facilities, such as the court-holding facilities, and the police lock-ups that are affected, and there are the counties, the correctional facilities, that are affected,” Carey said. “So there’s a number of different players impacted by PREA.”

[module align="right" width="half" type="pull-quote"]“We don’t want people raped or assaulted or harmed in our facilities, and our people who run our facilities, I think, take that pretty seriously.”[/module]While Carey believes loss of federal funding may provide an incentive for some jurisdictions to comply with PREA, she also believes the potential for civil liabilities -- stemming from facilities that fail to meet minimum standards of care -- could goad some states into fully adhering to standards.

“Certainly, I think that here in Massachusetts, there’s also the moral incentive,” she added. “We don’t want people raped or assaulted or harmed in our facilities, and our people who run our facilities, I think, take that pretty seriously.”

Additional incentives for meeting PREA standards, Carey said, may further increase the likelihood that jurisdictions will meet compliance. These incentives, she said, do not necessarily have to be punitive.

“You could remove eligibility for future grants, which I think is still potentially a possibility,” she said. “The more things we do to both underscore the importance of these provisions and to create sort-of incentives and support to make sure they happen, the better.”

 

OP-ED: Everyday Assaults of Young Offenders in Adult Prisons

David_ChuraThe panel, sponsored by Boston College, was titled “Youth in Prison: The Reality of the System.” I was there to share my experiences as a teacher who worked with teenagers, some as young as fifteen, serving time in an adult county jail. I was scheduled to speak after T.J.Parsell who, when he was seventeen, served several years in an adult prison and was raped by inmates a number of times. He survived that horrific time and now as an adult shares his experiences to advocate for changes in the way the criminal justice system treats minors.

As T.J. recounted the sexual assaults he lived through I kept wondering what I could add. His experiences were so shocking, so deplorable that I wondered what more could be said.

[module align="right" width="half" type="pull-quote"]Yet all teenagers in adult prison live with an endless series of violations on a daily basis, violations that I could only think to describe as “everyday rapes.”[/module]However, as I listened, I realized there was a lot I could add. According to the Campaign for Youth Justice, inmates under eighteen make up only one percent of the prison population yet are victims in 21 percent of prison rapes. Although those statistics are high, not all young offenders are subjected to the sexual abuse that T.J. went through and that many other kids continue to endure. Yet all teenagers in adult prison live with an endless series of violations on a daily basis, violations that I could only think to describe as “everyday rapes.” I saw that my contribution to the panel was to be a witness to those everyday degradations, assaults and violations that I learned about over the ten years that I taught in prison.

There was the everyday rape of random body searches—on the block, coming back from court, before seeing family on a visit. As Marcus, a seventeen-year-old who never shied away from speaking his mind, put it, “Being searched by police makes you feel dirty. They make you strip down, bend over, and…you know. They call it cavity search. I call it rape.”

My students lived with the everyday violation of never having any privacy when they showered, used the toilet, “went to New York” (one of their many jailhouse slang phrases for masturbating). All teenagers, whoever and wherever they are, work hard to hide their vulnerabilities especially when it comes to their bodies. In prison those vulnerabilities are even more pronounced and covered up by tough guy bravado because these boys know that their bodies—along with so much more—are no longer their own. As they put it, they were “state’s property.”

There was the everyday abuse of having their cells sacked by the emergency response team (ERT) on one of their random searches. I understood the need for such surprise searches. Even my students did, although they were loath to admit it. But none of us understood why a team of men in SWAT uniforms had to scream at you, throw you out of your bed, flip your mattress onto the floor, toss around the few clothes you had, then dump in a trash barrel family photos, letters -- even school books that you never saw again -- only to be threatened as the ERT left your cell, “We’ll get you next time.”

[module align="right" width="half" type="pull-quote"]And...the everyday assault of being thrown into solitary confinement because you finally couldn’t hold in your rage anymore at such arbitrary, senseless humiliation.[/module]And “next time” might mean the everyday assault of being thrown into solitary confinement because you finally couldn’t hold in your rage anymore at such arbitrary, senseless humiliation and started to mouth off the way only angry, hurt teenage boys can. There, in total isolation, was the endless everyday rape of losing contact with humanity until you lost contact with your own humanity and found yourself participating in your own everyday rape—not showering or brushing your teeth for weeks; sleeping twelve, fifteen hours a day; and when you were awake, screaming, shouting, howling just to let the world—and yourself—know that you’re still there (sort of), doing anything to fight off that final everyday rape of extinction, of disappearing.

Even if a kid can hold it all in, follow the rules, keep his head down, there was the everyday indignity of eating food that poisoned a growing body; of living in an overcrowded, noisy and smelly block, with the constant threat of violence, intimidation and extortion; of being forced to pay extortionist prices for food sold in the prison commissary; of not getting decent health care, or any health care at all, because the gold standard was to save the county money.

The “reality of the system” is a brutal one. The Federal government has finally acknowledged that young offenders must be protected from prison sexual violence. The “Youthful Inmate Standard” regulations established by the Prison Rape Elimination Act require all prisons, jails, lock ups, and detention facilities to provide “sight and sound separation between youth and adults while restricting the use of solitary confinement and isolation practices.”

But these regulations are only a first step in solving how young people are treated in the criminal justice system. If we really want to protect them from the full assault of prison culture—the everyday rapes that have devastating effects long into adulthood—then we must get these children out of the penal system altogether, a system that was never intended to handle young offenders, and place them in environments that are designed to rebuild and to create new lives.

No More Delays Mr. President: Appoint the Nation’s Next Juvenile Justice Chief

Four years ago, President Obama was inaugurated, and we expected that within a few months the President would nominate a permanent administrator for the Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). But this past week, as President Obama renewed the oath of office, we are still waiting. Each administration since the office was created in 1974 has made the appointment except President Obama’s.

The President should end this delay and here's why:

The OJJDP is the leading federal agency responsible for juvenile justice and delinquency prevention issues. Created under the landmark Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) of 1974, the OJJDP plays a vital role in assisting state and local governments in addressing juvenile delinquency through federal grants, research and guidance. For nearly 40 years, the OJJDP has helped states to create and sustain effective approaches to reduce juvenile delinquency, and develop programs that are cost-effective, improve public safety and treat court-involved youth appropriately.

The OJJDP administrator articulates a national juvenile justice agenda that is based on research on what works and what doesn’t, as well as on adolescent development, and helps states use the research, and implement best practices in reforming their juvenile justice systems.

In particular, the administrator’s role is to ensure the relevance and effectiveness of the main federal piece of juvenile justice legislation, the JJDPA, which has provided critical federal funding to states to comply with a set of core requirements designed to protect children and meet their unique needs.

While successful, the JJDPA could be substantially strengthened to address more of the pressing needs in the juvenile justice field, such as reducing the overuse of incarceration, reducing racial and ethnic disparities and closing the loopholes that allow some status offenders to be detained and some youth to be placed in adult jails, despite the original intentions of the law.

Further, the administrator advocates for juvenile justice funding appropriations from Congress. Unfortunately, for more than a decade, federal juvenile justice funding has steadily declined -- down 83 percent from 1999 to 2010 -- and the appropriations caps contained in the Budget Control Act of 2011 have only accelerated the pace of cuts.

The JJDPA has been sorely underfunded, and has not been updated in more than a decade; it continues to languish. Neither the House nor the Senate has introduced reauthorization bills this past session, and the Obama administration has been surprisingly silent on the matter.

Given the importance of this appointment, why the delay?

It's not clear to this advocate.

There's been no shortage of good candidates willing to take on this job. The White House has received names and resumes on numerous occasions, and now that the Senate confirmation requirement has been removed the administration can make this appointment without approval from the Senate.

Juvenile justice stakeholders have made hundreds of calls, written letters and contacted key White House officials. Still, there has been no response.

Members of Congress have also asked about the delay, including some House members who wrote to the President.

And several news outlets have editorialized on this, including The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, whose editorial declares "It's well past time for Obama to name a leader for the office." The Washington Post editorial states, "A lengthy vacancy at the top in the federal office charged with combating juvenile delinquency and improving conditions of youth incarceration requires President Obama's swift attention."

No more delays Mr. President. It's been long enough. We need a juvenile justice expert and a leader as the nation's next OJJDP administrator. And we need one now.

Looking Back and Casting Forward: An Emerging Shift for Juvenile Justice in America

This story produced by the Chicago Bureau.

The close of 2012 focused so narrowly on terrible events and startling numbers - the Newtown massacre, for example, or Chicago’s sharp rise in homicides - some major criminal justice developments were nearly squeezed out of the national conversation.

Take the statements made just over a week ago by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who vowed to take on the tricky issue of the skewed racial picture in the county’s corrections and justice system, including within the juvenile justice system.

Speaking to a group of reporters, the news – including a statement that she will “work with the actors in the public safety arena” to lessen the overall corrections population and push alternatives to locking up non-violent offenders – the story got little more than a day’s play on the airwaves and in other media. Always outspoken, the board president served many years as an alderman fighting for various social justice causes, including race and drug issues (she at one point challenged the validity of any national “war on drugs”).

So in saying she would lasso the needed parties to lessen the numbers entering the corrections populations, and continuing the pitch to rid Cook of the juvenile system as currently set up, Preckwinkle made news. The numbers, so often repeated, were underscored in her talk: “The last time I checked,” she said, “68 percent of the people in our jail were African American - or double their proportion in the overall county population. Translated, she is attempting to answer a criminal justice and societal problem that has stymied policymakers, academics and law enforcement, among others, for decades.

And yet, like so much news at the turn of the year, it was swallowed by national news of tragedy, the fiscal crisis and President Barack Obama’s cabinet changes, and the play didn’t last long.

Also struggling to gain traction was a push by advocates, politicians and the courts to tip the balance of juvenile justice away from harsh punishment to rehabilitation. But to do so, Preckwinkle’s promise to fix local correction’s racial imbalance, weighted so heavily against blacks and Hispanics, would have to be addressed.

Graphic courtesy of The Burns Institute

In Shelby County, Tenn., the problem was so profound it recently invited a federal settlement to remedy it. Still, the problem of Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) continues to plague minority populations.

DMC, the racial tilt of the criminal justice system, is a long-running issue for many civil rights and advocacy organizations who have put out conflicting studies over the years that compete over the reasons, including low educational achievement and high unemployment among minorities, and urban environments with more open-air criminal conduct where the crime is more easily spotted by police (unlike in suburban and rural areas).

“For so long we’ve invested in building up these institutions (jails, juvenile courts, detention centers) at the detriment of investing in communities and social services, especially in the neighborhoods where [detained] folks are coming from,” said Tshaka Barrows, deputy director of the San Francisco-based Burns Institute, a national non-profit aiming, with law enforcement and community leaders, to erase racial disparity. “And that’s not a productive way of engaging your citizenry. We as a society really need to invest in education, housing infrastructure, etc., because that investment matters, as we see on the justice side.”

The trick is to speed the process and, perhaps, start to eradicate a stain on the system – one that has drawn an increasing volume of suits, legislation, and community pushes to inject balance in a system that too often spins out black and Hispanic minors who are further traumatized by prison, highly unemployable, and lacking a decent education to break the school-to-prison pipeline.

Cycle of Poverty, Incarceration Systemically Tied

Black youth make up 17 percent of the overall youth population in the United States, but they make up 30 percent of arrested juveniles and 62 percent of minors prosecuted in the adult criminal system, according to the D.C.-based Campaign for Youth Justice.

A look at Illinois shows black youth represent 85 percent of the juvenile justice population, according to the Cook County Circuit Court, even though they only represent one-fifth of the state’s youth population.

The problem was accelerated by the high-crime decades of the 1980s and 1990s that introduced severe laws targeting minors to stem a suspected “superpredator” generation that never came to pass. Youth prisons were built. Now they’re empty. Schools placed more and more police officers or guards in schools, something that is now on the map again following Newtown. Now there are studies claiming the presence of more security in the schools has only worsened the problem.

As it is, about 250 youth are locked up in the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. Roughly 80

Graphic courtesy of The Burns Institute.

percent of that population is black - and year-to-year stats put the black population in juvenile dentition at roughly 75 percent of the total, which includes about 15 percent to 18 percent Hispanics and 7 percent white.

"Why,” asked the board president in Cook County, which covers Chicago, “is there a disproportionate number of black children in the JTDC and what does it say about the way we police our communities?"

Very often, police, called out to crime dens on Chicago’s South and West Sides, sweep streets or target large areas to clear them of crime and blunt the prospects of violent gang reprisals. In doing so, they snatch up a large percentage of black and Hispanic youth, who are most likely to be stuck in the cycle of poverty and poor education that so feeds the criminal justice system.

"It's not necessarily true," she said, "that the more people you arrest, the safer the community you have. And you're more likely to end up in secure juvenile detention if you are African American and display the same behaviors as someone of another race."

Balancing Justice

Since the mid-1970s, the U.S. Department of Justice has recognized the disparity, and taken measures to address it, be it for drugs or other felonies that could land youngsters in adult court. But it’s been a tough, often losing fight.

For example, take drug arrests of minors – a push to tackle a problem that quickly drove incarceration rates up dramatically. But recent studies show states’ recent decriminalization of some use of marijuana – including in California – has already resulted in a downward spiral in youth crime rates.

Already, pot bars are starting to grow up in that state, while others consider following its lead, and still others, including Illinois, are working on laws to ease restrictions on medical marijuana. Also, cops in Chicago have started focusing on greater stashes to justify arrests – meaning fewer people are arrested, and therefore jailed.

Indeed, in California, 2011 saw a 61 percent drop since 2010 of youth arrests for marijuana possession, according to a recent report by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. The new state law reducing that offense from a misdemeanor to an infraction directly affects juvenile detention numbers, as drug arrests are the leading cause of youth confinement.

What remains to be seen is whether the racial and ethnic disparities of those arrests will also drop. Experts hesitate to be too optimistic considering the institutionalized disparities in America’s juvenile justice system. As with most crimes, minorities aren’t more prone to drug use or drug possession than whites. Nevertheless, minorities count for a disproportionate number of drug arrests.

In 2009, the rate for drug violation arrests for black juveniles was twice the white rate, according to the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Black youth are also much more likely (48 times more likely in 2001, and the numbers haven’t budged much since) than white youth to be incarcerated in an adult prison after a first-time drug arrest.

Laws such as California's are attempting to hit this issue from the policy level. But many of the ground-level factors contributing to DMC are not adequately addressed, according to experts in the field.

New York City police statistics show that between 2005 and 2010, police made 2.5 million stops. Of those, 90 percent were people of color and 90 percent did not result in legal action.

“The police are a critical part of the juvenile justice decision-making system and are afforded far more discretion than any other formal agent of social control, but researchers have paid surprisingly little attention to contacts between police and citizens, especially juveniles,” according to criminal justice professor Alex Piquero of the University of Maryland-College Park.

Piquero, in research dating to 2008, said police act as the “gatekeepers” to juvenile courts, and if their decisions are somehow race-based, minorities will continue to be overrepresented in the corrections system.

“The first step is to really address the use of data within jurisdictions … to look at [the numbers] regularly enough to help drive the way people make decisions,” Barrows said.

For example, jurisdictions look at how many kids in juvenile detention centers are from a particular geographic area. In Chicago, the concentration is on the heavily minority neighborhoods on the South and West Sides.

Other standards include the study of race, ethnicity, gender and offense. After assessing it, the idea is to monitor the data and reform the responses and thinking practices that have contributed to systematic disparity.

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention was created by – and is directed by – the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974. Providing a federal grant program, it requires participant states to address DMC through a data-driven approach. This calls for states and communities to assess their DMC levels and develop mitigation initiatives.

However, many in the system, including experts, the affected minors, teachers and law enforcement, say the nearly 40-year-old law has little teeth. As a result, communities nationwide are using increasingly innovative measures to tackle DMC.

Recent models use community interveners or mentors to talk to kids directly, attempting to de-escalate a situation through an adult rather than automatically resorting to detention.

In the New York City neighborhoods of Harlem, Jamaica and South Bronx, the New York Department of Probation is collaborating with residents, businesses and organizations in what is called the Neighborhood Opportunity Network.

This model attempts to connect probation clients to community-based resources and services to avoid recidivism usually caused by ineffective, cyclical, punitive measures. Such initiatives are examples of what Barrows calls a “renaissance” of community engagement and partnership approaches in dealing with racial and ethnic disparities.

However, with today’s Congressional push for spending cuts – as well as ongoing budget deficits at the state level, especially in Illinois – juvenile justice funding has taken a back seat to other, more popular or welcome projects.

"Our big concern right now has to do with the cuts to juvenile justice funding, part of which gets used to make sure [states] comply with JJDPA,” said Benjamin Chambers, National Juvenile Justice Network spokesman. “Without those resources, they don’t have to comply. And that’s a slippery slope.”

Bureau editor Eric Ferkenhoff contributed to this report.

White House Taps Juvenile Justice Advocates for Expertise on Gun Violence

Vice President Joe Biden leads the first meeting to develop policy proposals as part of the Administration’s response to the Newtown shootings and other tragedies. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

Representatives from a group of more than 300 juvenile justice and delinquency prevention organizations at the national, state and local level have met with White House staff and Congressional minority leaders at their invitation in recent weeks to provide evidence-based expertise on ways to reduce gun violence in the country, a coalition leader said.

As tasked by President Barack Obama in the wake of mass shootings at an elementary school last month, Vice-President Joe Biden and his staff have spent the last few weeks meeting with gun-control advocates, pro-gun rights groups and dozens of concerned organizations in preparation for the release of the vice-president’s recommendations for the prevention of gun violence.

According to Politico, Biden indicated today that the president could use an executive order to act on some of his recommendations, which are expected to be made public next week.

On Jan. 4, representatives from the National Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition and other advocates met with aides to the president and vice-president, including Tonya Robinson, a special assistant to the President on the White House Domestic Policy Council; Evan Ryan, an assistant to Biden; and Mary Lou Leary, the acting director of the Office of Justice Programs, said Nancy Gannon Hornberger, a coalition leader who was present at the meeting. Hornberger also serves as executive director of the D.C.-based Coalition for Juvenile Justice.

Advocates present included Liz Ryan, founder and CEO of the Campaign for Youth Justice; Mark Soler, founder and CEO of the Center for Children’s Law and Policy; and Rey Banks from the National Juvenile Defender Center, Hornberger said.

The group emphasized actions that Congress and the Obama administration could take to address factors that feed violence in communities and recommended a number of evidence-based strategies to help young people and families who are at risk of becoming involved. Such strategies, which have drawn bipartisan support in the past, include comprehensive prevention and intervention measures addressing youth development, behavioral health, mental health and education policy, Hornberger said.

The White House aides said they were meeting with small groups from the field to gain insights into certain questions, Hornberger said. “They were very interested in the recommendations particularly that had to do with administrative leadership and greater coordination and concentration of federal efforts. They recognized too that the White House could advance legislation with the Congress,” she said.

The White House aides were also interested in coordinating and concentrating resources for school and community safety. “We got into a lot of specific evidence-based practices,” Hornberger said. “We also talked a lot about conflict resolution, restorative justice, positive behavior support and mental health strategies.”

On Jan. 3, the day before the “listening session” with White House staff, the coalition released a list of recommendations aimed at President Obama, Biden and Congress. Effective action on its recommendations would require passing legislation, demonstrating administrative leadership and appropriating adequate resources, the coalition pointed out.

The document called upon the Obama administration and Congress to respond to the 26 lives lost at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., by remembering the many American communities where gun violence remains a common occurrence.

“While the Newtown incident was horrifying and shocking, it represents a small portion of the violence experienced by America’s youth,” the coalition wrote.

Nearly two out of every three children in the United States experience trauma from abuse, crime or violence, the coalition wrote, referring to findings from a report released just two days before the Newtown shootings by a special taskforce appointed by Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate the pervasiveness of violence in children’s lives.

In the wake of the Newtown shootings, some pro-gun rights advocates have called for the government to arm teachers and guards at every public school. Such a response would take entirely the wrong approach, the coalition wrote in its letter to Biden. “It is our view that true safety will not result from having more guns in schools or other places where youth congregate,” they wrote.

Two weeks earlier, on Dec. 19, some of the same advocates were invited to meet with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), along with nine other House representatives and their staff, to discuss comprehensive solutions to preventing gun violence, Hornberger said, who was there.

“I believe that it was one of many meetings being held in response to Newtown tragedy and in response to the president and vice-president stating very publicly and openly that they were looking for solutions and a comprehensive approach,” Hornberger said.

Others at that meeting with House members included Marian Wright Edelman, the founder and CEO of the Children’s Defense Fund; Ryan of the Campaign for Youth Justice; Soler of the Center for Children’s Law and Policy; and Nick Alexander, the senior policy director for Fight Crime Invest in Kids and Council for a Strong America.

The group discussed prevention and intervention strategies that have been proven through research to help those at risk of becoming involved in violence, as well as cross-sector support for vulnerable families and youth, Hornberger said.

As a result of these meetings, Hornberger said, Reps. Pelosi and Scott will hold a youth violence prevention summit on Jan. 22 to discuss ways to improve community safety and youth development. The summit is open to the public.

Official White House Photo by David Lienemann.

Should 24-Year-Old Offenders be Considered Juveniles?

LAS VEGAS -- When the National Partnership for Juvenile Services annual symposium opened, Jason Bowser, a youth service director from Columbus, Ind., told an executive committee that one of the standing committees was focusing on the question of “What is a juvenile?”

It might seem an odd question for a gathering of folks who specialize in working with youth in the juvenile justice system, but really the question, even when not spoken, would be present in training sessions across the three-day symposium held here this week. Nor is it just a hypothetical question because nearly 250,000 young people under the age of 18 end up in the adult criminal justice system every year, according to the National Institute of Corrections report, “You’re an Adult Now: Youth in Adult Criminal Justice Systems.”

Liz Ryan, president and CEO of the Campaign for Youth Justice -- in a session reflecting the “Adult Now” theme -- reminded everyone that New York and North Carolina still consider juveniles to be adults at the ages of 16 or 17 in criminal proceedings, whereas in the rest of the states it’s 18. Ryan said a new report shows that each year 100,000 young people get sent to an adult facility and on any given day approximately 10,000 of them are in an adult facility.

Michael Dempsey

Once there, the correction system managers do have rules that treat the juvenile differently from the mainstream adult population. At times that means putting the kids into isolation. Elissa Rumsey, compliance monitor coordinator for the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), said, “Isolation means that there is no outside time, you are seriously locked down for 24/7. Some get out three hours in a week and are in a cage on the grounds by themselves. Truly no human contact, food through the door, no contact with staff, no services, no other people. That’s isolation.”

Ryan said they might be isolated because of a teenage behavior issue, be a true danger or for their own protection from the adult prisoners.

No matter the reason Rumsey says, “When they are put in isolation that increases the behavioral issues because it tends to drive one crazy when you are locked down for 24/7 without any sunlight. So they would act out with even worse behaviors.”

Michael Dempsey, who works with the Indiana Department of Correction and who has been advocating for juvenile treatment for a 14-year-old who was found guilty of murder as a 12-year-old and given an adult sentence, says, “There are many of us who believe anyone up to the age of

Cindy Thacker

23 or 24 could still be considered a juvenile, it depends on where they are at developmentally. But in the eyes of most laws anyone over the age of 18 is considered an adult.”

New research demonstrates that the brain is not fully developed until about the age of 25, according to experts. Margaret Davis, who co-taught a training seminar on the latest developments in brain research, says, “When you ask a lot of people what is a juvenile, they think it has shifted today to be a later age and it really can be anybody up to the age of 25.”

Furthermore, her co-presenter Cindy Thacker said staff working with young people need tounderstand the ways kids’ brains work, and that extends to staff who work with kids in adult facilities.

Davis said, “They cannot and should not be treating those kids the same way they are treating the adult offenders. They need more programming, they need more structure. These 16-year-olds cannot make the decisions for themselves the way a 30-year-old offender makes those decisions.”

Margaret Davis

Dempsey, from the Indiana Department of Corrections, said unfortunately that is not the case for kids when they end up in the adult system. They have to deal with staff who are trained to work with adults and not trained to be adolescence development specialists, he said.

As we deal with the question: What is a juvenile and how to best treat youth in the juvenile justice system, Dempsey says we must identify the best approaches and piece-by-piece build a best practice model that can be duplicated nationally.

“I think we will get there. It is a slow process,” he said.

Photos by Leonard Witt | JJIE.org

Youth Justice Awareness Month Returns

Four years after a Missouri mother started a homemade campaign about the judicial system that led to her son’s suicide in prison, more than half of the states are hosting events aimed at increasing awareness of the treatment of youth in adult courts, jails and prisons.

“I couldn’t fathom the treatment he received. I mean I was really scared,” said Tracy McClard, originator of Youth Justice Awareness Month, marked every October. She started the awareness campaign in 2008 with a 5k run/walk. It’s in memory of her son Jonathan, who hung himself three days after his 17th birthday rather than face 30 years in prison.

It started with a girl and a love-struck boy. After their breakup, the girl played her old boyfriend off her new boyfriend, McClard said.  Jonathan abused over-the-counter drugs, which dulled his senses. Jonathan believed that the girl was being abused, was pregnant, and that the new boyfriend was going to kill mother and fetus. McClard told her son not to believe the tales.

But Jonathan shot the new boyfriend. In his mind, Jonathan aimed only to scare the other boy, not to kill him, she said. McClard explained: “He confessed to the police because he thought the police would understand why he did what he did, because he was saving two lives, he thought.”

The new boyfriend survived, and Jonathan was charged with first-degree assault with a deadly weapon.

“The day he was certified as an adult, he went straight across the street to the adult county jail,” said McClard. “I was always reassured that while he was in the jail ‘oh, yeah, he’ll be fine,’” she recalled. But on visits he was always beaten and bruised. He got a jail tattoo because the other inmates told him he needed it to survive.

On any given day, there are about 7,500 under-18s in adult jails, according to 2009 federal numbers. Another approximately 2,500 are in adult prisons.

Instead of Jonathan heading to the Missouri Dual Jurisdiction Program, which provides counseling and education to juvenile inmates in a residential dorm-type setting open to family visits, the judge sentenced him to 30 years in prison. He hanged himself rather than face that life.

His mother, a runner, held the first race, knowing she could reach a wider world of people who have no involvement in the juvenile justice system.

Last October, about 1,500 people joined a run or other event in about 15 states where events were held, said Liz Ryan, president and CEO of the Campaign for Youth Justice, a Washington, DC-based group that is helping people organize awareness month events nationwide. CFJY works to keep under-18s out of the adult criminal justice system.

“This year we expect more than double the number of people and close to double the number of activities,” she said, plus reach an untold number of people who see campaigns on Facebook or other social media websites.

Since last year, there have been shifts to funnel juvenile offenders away from adult systems in several states including Colorado, Ohio, Texas and Oregon. Next year, Ryan expects debate in at least four states on reducing child involvement in adult courts, jails or prisons.

The treatment Jonathan received “shouldn’t be happening in Missouri,” said McClard. “Because … A piece of our system is good. It’s just the problem with it, is not all kids that get into trouble get into this system.”

Jonathan passed assessment to get into the Dual Jurisdiction Program, but the prosecutor argued against it and the judge agreed.

“I was so mad that prosecutors and judges have this type of power to just tear families apart and just throw our children away,” McClard recalled.

New federal regulations require that children be separated from adults in adult jails and prisons but also specify that the youth cannot be put in solitary confinement or in their cells all day. “We know that that [long or solitary confinement] is what happens when kids get separated from adults,” said Ryan.

States must comply with the federal rule by next August.

Ryan is optimistic that both Democratic- and Republican-led states, despite tight budgets, will continue reforms. “Recidivism research is having an effect,” she said, pointing to studies that say putting children through adult courts reduces reoffending. Both blue and red states are beginning to channel more youth away from adult incarceration.

In December, McClard and other activists and some state legislators will re-file a bill that proposes to remove barriers to the Dual Jurisdiction program.

McClard said that since her first run, “things are changing, people are becoming more aware … Conversations are starting, people are changing.”

“The way we’re doing it now is so wrong and so horrendous we cannot keep doing it,” she said. Kids are “so amenable to rehabilitation if you give them what they need.”

Photo by Campaign for Justice.