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In US, a Youth is Killed by a Gun Every Three Hours

The Children's Defense Fund has launched a new campaign in favor of new gun laws: http://www.childrensdefense.org/programs-campaigns/protect-children-not-guns/
The Children's Defense Fund has launched a new campaign in favor of new gun laws.

More than 18,000 young people were killed or injured by a gun in 2010, according to a new report released by the Children’s Defense Fund, “Protect Children Not Guns 2013.”

Children’s Defense Fund Founder and President, Marian Wright Edelman, writes in the report’s foreword that the report “provides a roadmap of where we are today and the actions we must take to protect all children and make America safer. All children have a right to live and to dream and to strive for a future that is not destroyed in a second because we cowered before a special interest lobby and refused to protect them.”

According to the report, approximately 2,700 young people, up to 19 years old, lost their lives in 2010 to gun violence, the equivalent of one death every three hours and fifteen minutes, averaging 51 deaths every week.

Using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers found that gun violence was the second leading cause of death for young people, only automobile accidents claimed the lives of more children and teens. The report’s authors also found that African-American youths were twice as likely to be killed by a gun than killed in a traffic accident.

Despite representing just 15 percent of all children and teens, the report said black youths made up 45 percent of all young people killed by firearms in 2010. Not only are African-American youths 4.7 times more likely to be killed with a firearm than white young people, black children and teens were approximately 17 times more likely to be the victims of a firearm-related homicide than white youths.

Older teens represent an overwhelming majority of firearm-death victims. Researchers said nearly nine out of 10 firearm-related injuries or deaths among young people in 2010 occurred among youths ages 15-19, according to the authors of the report. Black males in their mid- to late-teens were found to be the most at-risk group overall, and individuals in the demographic were 30 times more likely to be the victims of gun-related homicides than white males in the same age range.

In 2010, nearly three times as many young people in the U.S. were wounded by firearms than the number of U.S. soldiers injured in Afghanistan during the same year. Since 1963, the report stated, more than 160,000 young people have been killed by firearms in the United States -- triple the total number of U.S. soldiers killed in action in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq combined.

Edelman was highly critical of the National Rifle Association, which she said has “blocked the truth” and prevented the passage and enforcement of gun control legislation.

“We also need policies that support consumer product safety standards for all guns, public funding for gun violence prevention research, and resources and authority for law enforcement agencies to properly enforce gun safety laws,” she concluded. “We can -- and must -- raise our individual and collective voices and demand our political leaders do better right now to protect children, not guns.”

 

Gun Rights, Gun Control and a Local Push to Tax Guns and Their Ammo

Ambitious and certain to draw criticism, President Barack Obama’s plan to rid the nation of the most powerful weapons on the market and attempt to arrest mass and everyday shootings was expected by Congress Wednesday, marking a sharp turn in a decades-long fight to curb America’s gun violence.

As the debate was playing out in Washington, several local and national leaders gathered at the University of Chicago Tuesday evening to discuss guns and policy, with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whose city holds the dubious “murder capital” title, among the group and pushing sweeping gun control legislation that cracks down on assault weapons. Also on the panel was Democratic political consultant David Axelrod, who this week said that the National Rifle Association’s recent assertion that Congress would not enact the sort of change that Obama and others were pressing, was off base. In fact, he said, real legislation will squeeze through the legislative process and signal real change in the nation’s laws and gun dialogue. Also in attendance was the head of the University of Chicago CrimeLab, who noted that while the United States has managed to improve its count of more common crime – property theft, etc. – we are dubiously at the top in terms of violence.

While this played out, the NRA issued statements condemning the actions of New York lawmakers over a sweeping move late Monday-early Tuesday to ban assault and other high-powered weapons while also addressing the difficult, more open issue of mental illness. This comes after media reports over the past week showing that mental illness is, seemingly, not often considered by gun dealers when selling weapons in this nation.

So even as Washington remains center stage this week in the fight to curb gun violence, increase purchase-point background checks, better mind the mental health of buyers and put tighter limits on the legal gun market - a rights and safety battle that has gone on for decades but whose profile was fast raised by last month’s Newtown school massacre – the ramifications were fast cascading through the country.

Here, in Illinois – and, more narrowly, high-crime Cook County and Chicago – most of the political bigs have joined in a loud call to end the bloodshed that claimed upwards of 500 lives last year. In fact, Cook County, even before the Connecticut shooting rampage that killed 20 children and six school employees at Sandy Hook Elementary, as well as the gunman and his mother, was on to a somewhat different and unique idea: Tax bullets and filter that money into hospitals to care for those wounded by gunfire. The slayings also counted some 100 minors among the victims – and many teenagers are also counted among the suspects or those arrested in the slayings.

Also in Illinois, the battle over concealed-carry permits or licenses has restarted after a state ban was recently declared unconstitutional. Before Illinois lifted the ban, 49 states had already allowed people to carry firearms with a permit.

According to Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, the decision to allow people to carry concealed weapons would actually decrease violence, noting most mass shootings such as the Newtown shooting and the theater shooting in Aurora, CO earlier last year occurred in gun-free zones, where citizens were not allowed to have guns.

“So these gun-free zones become magnets for thugs and crazy people to attack other people because they know they can’t defend themselves,” Pearson said.

Although it is too early to see the impact of the lift, Illinois’ youth is deeply affected by firearms and, according to the Children’s Defense Fund, the state ranks among the top 10 in per capita gun-related homicide rates among children and teens.

And, as with other cities and states, policymakers here – as well as academics, editorialists, grassroots organizations and established institutions – Newtown was the impetus for upping the volume and speed of the political and everyday conversation on guns.

But while big names like Emanuel and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, also a Democrat, drew much of the attention here – there is more focus growing up around Preckwinkle’s gun and bullet taxes. Preckwinkle, who also wants to ban assault weapons and joins Emanuel and Quinn at events on the issue, has been pushing twin taxes since October. The tax on gun purchases has passed and new restrictions take effect in April, with a planned $25 tax on firearm purchases to help pay for the sharp costs of public health and public safety. With the money raised, the county plans to shift $2 million toward violence prevention, intervention and reduction.

What remains an open question is whether the other proposal – to tax bullets and ammunition for these guns – will also get the nod and take effect to offset medical costs even more.

According to Cook County spokesman Owen Kilmer, the expected funds derived from the gun tax will primarily go to non-profit organizations that have known experience in violence prevention. At least $100,000 of the total will go towards education, enforcement, and straw purchases, or firearms purchased legally but then used for criminal activity.

Also, a seven-member advisory board at the county level will not only oversee the $2 million but also seek out effective models of gun control, and study the possible addition of a youth component.

But violence has always been a problem in Chicago with 2,051 shootings occurring in 2011 and about 700 more last year.

Chicago and Cook County residents met news of the tax and violence prevention pushes with as much skepticism as hope.

Those interviewed for the story, and polled by local media, apparently see the problem as less to do with the availability of guns, and more to do with youth falling through the cracks in the justice and child welfare systems, with broken families that, perhaps unintentionally, spin youth into the open arms of gangs through neglect, violence, and the chaos of troubled households.

With the tax still a couple of months off, there is no good way go gauge it’s potential. Yet, there are those like Briceson William, 28, a graduate of Austin High School on Chicago’s troubled West Side, who said the real problem lies with unemployment, deep poverty, poorly planned housing – and law enforcement, who, according to some crime and academic studies, are quick to throw minors in jail, crippling their opportunity to earn a decent living.

Mark Iris, a professor of political science at Northwestern University, attributes the high number of youth in jail to zero-tolerance policies here and elsewhere in the nation that criminalize ordinary classroom misbehavior. Taken with the high number of police in schools after the high-crime 1980s and 1990s – an issue given greater profile after Newtown – the zero-tolerance policies have, according to many of the same studies, created an atmosphere in schools where police interactions and quick responses to students and disciplinary problems have raised the number of police-juvenile interactions and, consequently, trips to police stations, courts, and even juvenile detention.

In fact, juvenile detention in Chicago has been a topic for debate. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has said the high rate of incarceration of minors should be wholly eliminated, that juvenile detention under her watch should be “blown up,” and, ultimately, that “we shouldn’t have a jail for kids. Period.”

According to the Chicago Youth Justice Data Project, in 2009 alone, the number of youth detained in Cook County juvenile detention centers was 5,608 – and roughly 84 percent of that population was African American, 12 percent Hispanic and 3 percent white. Overall population statistics for Chicago, which is in Cook County, show a split of about one-third black, one-third Hispanic and one-third white.

Not only is juvenile detention heavily skewed towards the black population today, but go back 10 years to a 2002 study by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union, which showed that, very often, youth in solitary confinement do not receive any kind of educational training. Without such training, black and other minority youth are, by definition, ill-equipped to make a decent living once released and actually contribute to society instead of dragging it down with the high medical costs associated with violence, the steep costs of incarceration and courts and the high number of police. Studies show that turning schools into a sort of “police state,” as some legislators at the local and national level have put it, actually retards progress by halting a minor’s potential before it has a chance to be realized.

For example, once a youth enters the juvenile system – especially through the justice side but also through agencies like the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services or the county’s Public Guardian’s office – and have their records marred with a felony, the chances of them earning a job quickly diminish. Additionally, without proper education, the window of opportunity gets smaller.

“[When] in a juvenile center of some sort, or juvenile detention setting, it’s certainly going to disrupt [the youth’s] school progress, and realistically for many of these youths, they would have been at risk, [in a] disadvantaged position anyway,” Iris said.

“We can put the guns down if we get money, jobs,” William said. “[The government] gives us nothing to do. We’re sitting around twiddling our fingers all day long with nothing to do, looking at each other, walking down the street daily. I mean, something’s bound to happen.”

Angela Reavers, 36, an accountant from the South Side of Chicago, agreed that violence spins from a vicious cycle – one that often begins with the justice system or the child welfare system. And once a child is caught up in that system, the crossover between child welfare and justice is frequent and it becomes increasingly difficult to break free to a kind of normal life.

For her part, Reavers said, many times when young men and women are released from jail, they aren’t rehabilitated or given the proper tools to find a job. According to a 2006 report released by the Justice Policy Institute, the system is weighted heavily against blacks and Hispanics as white youth tend to have better access to programs and services.

Locked into this cycle, they many times ask themselves, “What do I do to live, to eat?” and in search of money, head out to the streets to find a way to provide for themselves. According to William, this plight was not only his, but many other’s as well.

After winning back his freedom, William said he has had to “hustle,” or sell whatever items he can find: clothes, socks, and shoes. “I gotta eat,” he said.

And so the lure of community in gangs becomes all the more appealing. Reavers said much of the violence and feeling of separation that feeds the gang network stems from a lack of a father figure. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2011 report, 51.2 percent of African American children in one-parent families lived with their mothers, whereas 3.5 percent of children in single-parent families lived with their fathers.

“Young men go to gangs because their fathers are not at home,” said Reavers, explaining the youth’s need for a sense of family. “And to a certain extent, gangs care; that’s what [youth] are looking for.”

But despite his conviction that Chicago has failed its youth and his belief that gun violence will only increase, William acknowledges that improvements have been made to better the lives of the neighborhood’s youth.

“I see they’re starting to [do] a lot of after school programs and stuff like that,” William said. “That’s good.”

Just across the street from where William and his friends spent the afternoon, East Garfield’s Richard T. Crane Technical Preparatory High School offers after-school work-study programs for its students to learn basic job-finding skills. Students like Marcus Hallam, 18, a senior, leave class early in order to attend a program where students are taught skills such as interviewing techniques. He is preparing to apply to colleges and possibly seek a sports scholarship.

Despite the acceleration of laws and talk and promises after such a violent year in Chicago, and the Sandy Hook tragedy, finding a solution to gun violence remains daunting. Small steps might be the answer, according to some observers, and Cook County’s proposals to tax weapons to raise funds for uninsured victims of shootings, which make up about 70 percent of victims, could prove a concrete start.

But, this too was met with some hesitancy, as William said he sees no clear purpose to the tax. “People [are] still going to get shot. [The politicians] [are] only taxing them for money [purposes], for their purpose, for their pockets. They aren’t taxing them for our pockets, [there isn’t any] money coming out here for us. The politicians in Illinois are untruthful, can’t be trusted.”

What many say is most important is that violence – chiefly that committed with firearms – needs to be stopped for upcoming generations. Termaine Johnson, 16, is a sophomore at Crane Tech. While he sees the county’s tax push as a “nice” way to raise revenues for gunshot victims, ultimately what he wants is an end to the violence that so bloodies Chicago and hurts the reputation of a city that is otherwise so prominent in business and culture.

“People…dying left and right…for nothing,” he said. “I just wish it could stop.”

This story appears in The Chicago Bureau. Bureau Editor Eric Ferkenhoff contributed to this story.

Photo by Natalie Krebs. 

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.

Q&A With New Jim Crow Author Michelle Alexander

Michelle Alexander (center)

JJIE and Youth Today Washington, D.C. correspondent Kaukab Jhumra Smith is in Cincinnati this week covering a conference sponsored by the Children’s Defense Fund. Among the more than 3,000 people in attendance is legal scholar Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

Smith managed to catch up with her to ask a few questions.

JJIE: What do you think is the civil rights issue of our day?

Alexander: I think the disposal of people who are viewed as “other,” defined along lines of race and class is a civil rights issue of the day. That expresses itself as mass incarceration, it expresses itself as mass deportations, it expresses itself through the caste-like system that has become our schools.

And so I think really the defining issue of our times is viewing people -- poor people -- as disposable. They can be locked up, locked out, thrown out of the country, relegated to inferior education, denied jobs. It’s really viewing people defined largely by race and class, largely as disposable and unworthy of our care and concern.

JJIE: If you had a 30-second version of what people can do to counter what you have described as the spread of disenfranchisement laws, what would it be?

Alexander: I think there are a number of things we can do. The first in my view and the most important is consciousness-raising and truth-telling. I think as a nation we have been lulled to sleep, to imagine that we have made great racial progress, that we’re on the road to the Promised Land when in fact we’ve taken a tragic wrong turn.

So I think telling the truth, about how the system actually works, the harm it causes, who suffers, allowing those stories to be told, individual stories as well as the larger collective story. Consciousness-raising is critically important.

And then I think we have to build an underground railroad for people, people returning home from prison, people who are undocumented and struggling to find work and survive in this country, people who are struggling to survive in this era of mass incarceration, during this time when disposal of people has become commonplace.

And then we’ve also got to organize. We’ve got to organize for abolition of these systems, the system of mass incarceration, the war on drugs, calling for an end, once and for all, to the war on drugs. And so, in my view, it’s a combination of consciousness-raising, helping individuals in this time through underground-railroad activities and then really becoming serious about movement-building through organizing, at the community-based level as well as the national level.

JJIE: Why is it necessary to keep drawing upon analogies and parallels of the anti-slavery movement?

Alexander: I think it’s critically important because people think that that’s old news, that it’s ancient history, and I think we have to be conscious of the ways in which the same kinds of attitudes that justified slavery, and that justified Jim Crow, are alive and well today.

The arguments that were made in support of slavery were that African-Americans were not just genetically inferior but were prone to violence, had to be made to work, were lazy. Those are the kinds of arguments that were made to support slavery. The same arguments were trotted out to support Jim Crow and today we have versions of those same arguments being made to support mass incarceration.

So when we demonize the other and imagine that there is something inherently inferior about them, it makes it easy for us to believe that “those people” aren’t worthy of our care or concern. So I think we have to be conscious of the way that dynamic repeats itself. It repeats itself politically, it repeats itself socially, and if we become blind to the dynamic, or in denial about it, the chances are great that it will continue to repeat itself for a long time in the future.

 

 

 

Child Advocates Prepare to Rally in Cincinnati

Chaplain Daniel Rodriguez, a member of the New York Child Action Team, is ready for #CDFcon2012

CINCINNATI - Marian Wright Edelman sees this as a “do or die” moment for American democracy.

The first black woman to join the Mississippi bar, Edelman led the NAACP’s legal defense fund in Jackson in the 1960s. She’s seen her share of social injustice. But rising incarceration, poverty and social disparity in the United States is increasingly harming children and poor people, she says – the country’s most vulnerable groups -- while special interests and money control the political system.

It’s time for citizens to roll up their sleeves, she says.

Starting Sunday, about 3,000 researchers, educators, lawyers, community leaders and young people from around the country will congregate for four days in Cincinnati for the first conference in nine years organized by Edelman and the advocacy organization she founded in 1973, the Children’s Defense Fund. Edelman and her staff have spent the last year planning the gathering, with the hope of galvanizing grassroots action when participants return to their communities.

“This is not a problem-wallowing or hand-wringing conference. It is a strategic, problem-solving conference,” Edelman said in a video inviting people to attend. “It is a conference for those who will stay the course until our children are set on a trajectory toward a hopeful future and are rescued from the pervasive poverty and illiteracy, racial disparities and incarceration that is destroying their futures. It is a conference for sharing and learning about effective community-building models, and steps you can take to implement them in your community, and your schools and congregations, and your cities and states.”

Half the participants will be young people aged 18 to 30, handpicked for their engagement in their communities, their commitment to leadership and social change, and for their diverse perspectives, said Wendy Shenefelt, head of CDF’s national youth leadership and development outreach. They’ll follow a special training track in nonviolent direct action, voter empowerment and community organizing skills, and attend daily wrap-up sessions to discuss what they have learned. In some sessions, youth will meet with civil-rights-era icons to directly learn strategies to implement change, Shenefelt said.

“We’ve tried to invite people of different viewpoints,” Shenefelt said, “We look for people who are already out there doing amazing work and who are seen as leaders in the young advocate world, but then we also look for young people who have gone through challenges, challenges that would have knocked anyone else off their feet but they have worked through them: children of incarcerated parents, young parents, teen parents, who have different opinions of how to fix the problem as well as what the problem really is.”

Youth Today and JJIE.org will be covering the conference with photos, video and stories on Twitter, Facebook  and on this home page. Follow us @youthtoday or @JJIEga or search for tweets from the conference with the hashtag “CDFcon2012.”

Speakers  include poet Maya Angelou, who will deliver the keynote, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who will present a video keynote on the economic importance of a quality early childhood education, and lawyer Bryan Stevenson of the Montgomery-Ala.,-based Equal Justice Initiative, who successfully argued the case against sentencing juveniles to mandatory life without parole before the U.S. Supreme Court this spring.

The Children’s Defense Fund, on Twitter as @childdefender, is already anticipating a lot of Twitter activity by attendees.

“Dear Twitter: Get ready for next week. We're gonna blow you up...,” it tweeted on Thursday.

Photo from @CDFNewYork.

Assessing the Cradle-To-School-To-Prison Pipeline

John LashFor some time I have read about the “school to prison pipeline,” an idea that links zero tolerance policies, school policing, disproportionate minority contact with disciplinary processes, and other factors to the increased incarceration of minority youth. The basic idea is that the system formed by these practices and structures contributes to putting more kids in prison.

Lately, I have come across a similar term, the cradle to prison pipeline. This is the phrase trademarked by the Children's Defense Fund (CDF).

It is daunting to consider that societal structures and policies can have such an affect on a newborn. We can reasonably predict the chances of an infant growing up and being incarcerated based on its race. I find this very disturbing. Consider these highlights of their 2009 report:

A Black boy born in 2001 has a 1 in 3 chance of going to prison in his lifetime; a Latino boy a 1 in 6 chance; and a White boy a 1 in 17 chance. A Black girl born in 2001 has a 1 in 17 chance of going to prison in her lifetime; a Latino girl a 1 in 45 chance; and a White girl a 1 in 111 chance.

Identified factors besides race include: pervasive poverty, inadequate access to health care, gaps in early development, unequal educational opportunities, abuse and neglect, untreated mental health issues, and an overburdened juvenile justice system that includes the school to prison pipeline.

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Learn more about school discipline reform trends at the Juvenile Justice Resource Hub HERE.

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Reports like these are discouraging to read, and many of us turn away from such evidence. One go-to position for many is that life is about personal responsibility. By the time these people are old enough to commit crimes it is easy to say that they deserve what they get. Few people though have the heart to look at a little baby and say that he deserves to have a one in three chance of going to prison because he is black. Even the staunchest law–and–order proponent can see the inherent injustice of the situation.

Our problem is that issues like these involve a type of justice that is usually unaddressed by laws and courts: social justice. Social justice is difficult to solve through legislation. There are clear victims of injustice, but no clear perpetrators. There is no one to take to trial when kids in areas of high poverty don’t have as many experienced teachers as kids who live in richer areas. Nobody goes to prison, except the kids themselves, when children grow up in less stable homes.

schoolppipe_seriesWhat can we do about problems with such deep roots? The CDF proposes some approaches. Some particular solutions may be debatable, but I think most of us can agree that the underlying goals are worth pursuing.

  • End poverty by creating jobs that offer livable wages, increasing the minimum wage, expanding job training programs, making college affordable for every student, and expanding income supports such as the Child Tax Credit.
  • Ensure all children and pregnant woman have access to affordable comprehensive health and mental health coverage and services.
  • Make early childhood development programs accessible to every child by ensuring such programs are affordable, available and of high quality.
  • Help each child reach his/her full potential and succeed in work and life, by ensuring our schools have adequate resources to provide high quality education to every child.
  • Expand prevention and specialized treatment services for children and their parents, connect children to caring permanent families, improve the quality of the child welfare workforce and increase accountability for results for children.
  • Reduce detention and incarceration by increasing investment in prevention and early intervention strategies, such as access to quality early childhood development and education services and to the health and mental health care children need for healthy development.

End poverty, take care of kids, help people avoid going to prison. These might be outside of the scope of what people think of when we talk about justice, but they are not. If we can focus on these there may be more justice for all of us in the end.

Two Candidates Out of Touch With the Struggles of Ordinary Americans

Back in the fall, a recent college grad named Adam Valdez spoke at a press conference in Atlanta put on by Jobs With Justice, an organization that is part of a larger movement working towards social and economic justice. During his short speech, he talked about a mountain of student loans and a desert of decent paying jobs.  Then he mentioned, “wage slavery.”

He was just one kid, on one block, in one American city. But he was hitting on a reality facing so many young people today. There aren’t many jobs out there and the ones they can find hardly pay a living wage.

I’ve been thinking about Adam Valdez the last few weeks as I’ve watched the leading GOP contenders for the nomination -- Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich –- attack each other. There has been much talk of tax returns, lobbying and which one pulled down the larger pay check. But so far I haven’t heard anything about helping young people get jobs or help for millions of children who live in poverty.

When two candidates engage in this kind of talk -- against a backdrop of an excruciatingly slow economic recovery, job outsourcing, a crumbling infrastructure, unstable gas pump prices, and an already frayed social safety net of food stamps and extended unemployment benefits -- then they are out of touch with the reality many American families face every day.

Here’s some reality for you: Last semester at the community college I was attending there was a table set up for students to educate themselves on how to apply for food stamps. It also had information about which farmer’s markets were offering two-for-one deals.

So, with visions of college students applying for food stamps, I hear about candidate Gingrich’s $500,000 jewelry bill at Tiffany’s. Is it any wonder that a lot of people -- especially those who can’t afford even to think about going to Tiffany’s -- feel there is something of a gap between them and the candidates? And what is this rhetoric (again from Newt Gingrich) about the “Food Stamp President?” I can only conclude that such a comment is intended to inflame anger, divide the nation and divert discussion away from the vast divide between rich and poor in this country.

And yes, there is an income divide in our nation. According to the Children's Defense Fund and the Census Bureau’s 2010 Current Population Survey, in 2009, 15.5 million children -– more than one in five –- were poor. Can Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich identify with 15.5 million poor children, particularly black children who are three times as likely to be poor than white children? Who knows, maybe they can, but they certainly do not give the impression they can, or that they even care.

During one of the CNN debate’s in January, Mr. Romney scolded the other candidates, saying that he was the only one who lived on the “real streets of America.”

I’m sorry, but the man has addresses on at least eight streets. None of them are on mine or on the street of 99 percent of the rest of us.

Sure it’s the political season when candidates say rude and insensitive things. Eventually, when they stop talking only to the base, their tune may change. But in the minds of the people who struggle every day, these two candidates will be remembered as indifferent and be seen as swimming in the sea of entitlement.

Sexual Abuse in Juvenile Facilities

Some alarming numbers about children who are sexually abused while in custody are contained in a letter sent to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on May 10, 2010 from seven national advocacy groups.  The Children’s Defense Fund,  Campaign for Youth Justice,  Youth Law Center  and other groups created a report called Preventing the Sexual Abuse of Youth in Correctional Settings. Some of their recommendations:

  • Training in adolescent development for people who work or volunteer in youth facilities.
  • More direct supervision by trained adults instead of video surveillance.
  • Assessment standards and safety plans to keep vulnerable children safe.
  • Limiting harsh responses to consensual sex between residents, where it may not be abusive

The report contains current federal laws, plus information about the new Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act currently under review in Congress.  It also features research, questionnaires, and resolutions from the PTA, the American Bar Association, the NAACP and other organizations concerned about the risks of placing juveniles under 18 in adult prisons.

See more numbers here.