WASHINGTON — Juvenile justice reform advocates are turning their attention to a House and Senate conference committee after a key bill, a decade-plus in the making, passed yet another legislative hurdle.
The Senate passed a reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Act (S 860) on Tuesday by a voice vote. The act hadn't been reauthorized since 2002 and was badly in need of an update, juvenile justice advocates have long argued.
The bill now heads to a conference committee to be reconciled with its House version, HR 1809. The main difference is that the House version completely phases out 1984 provisions that allow minors to be locked up for status offenses — running away from home, skipping school, etc. The Senate kept language that would allow a minor to be locked up if his or her status offense violated a valid court order. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, a longtime obstacle to Senate passage, had insisted on the court order provisions.
Still, with nearly 60,000 young people in juvenile facilities, many reform advocates seemed grateful just to get this far and were cautiously optimistic about final passage. "We are glad to see Congress coming together to take this important action," said Naomi Smoot, executive director of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, in a statement. "It is our hope that the final legislation will include a phase-out of the valid court order exception, and bring an end to the incarceration of children who are in need of services, not jail time."
The Senate bill's main sponsors were Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island. Both hailed the legislation as "a significant step" toward reform.
"Youngsters who encounter the juvenile justice system should be treated safely, fairly and in a manner that encourages greater respect for the law," Grassley said in a statement. "The federal juvenile justice program helps states achieve these fundamental goals, but the program hasn’t been updated in more than a decade."
In his own statement, Whitehouse said the bill "will help kids in the system to turn things around, return home, and stay out of trouble."
"It helps to stop practices that do more harm than good, like confining young people with adults or putting them in solitary confinement," Whitehouse added.
Among other things, the Senate bill:
- Requires states that receive federal grants to commit to "core principles," including segregation of young detainees from adults and the identification and reduction of racial disparities in juvenile detention;
- "Encourages" authorities to be more vigilant at screening children who might have been sexually trafficked or who suffer from mental illness or drug or alcohol abuse; and
- Encourages grantees to phase out the shackling of pregnant girls, support continuing education for detainees and "promote greater separation of juvenile offenders" from adult detainees.
The legislation would set aside $159 million in federal funds for fiscal 2017, followed by a 1.5 percent increase per year through 2021.
Senate passage has stalled for years, mostly over concerns about the court order exception to juvenile lockup. Cotton has long stood in the way of reauthorizations over the issue. This year, when he convinced Grassley and Whitehouse not to remove the court order exception, Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul put a hold on the bill. In the end, Rand agreed to drop his objections and the legislation passed.
Some juvenile justice advocates are hopeful that the court order language will be removed in conference. The House bill would require states to phase out the exception in three years.
As it stands, half the states have either banned the practice or not made use of it. Nonetheless, more than 7,000 young people were locked up for status offenses against a valid court order in a year.
Cotton has increasingly become isolated in his opposition to waiving the court order exception. In July, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, which successfully lobbied for the exception in the 1980s, reversed itself, saying that it now "supports the development of consultation resources for those courts that have been using the valid court order exception to guide them in reforming their policies, programs, and practices regarding youth engaged in status offense behaviors."
“Building the next generation of juvenile justice leaders” will be the focus of a two-day summit in Washington co-hosted by the nonprofit Coalition for Juvenile Justice and the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
The second annual Juvenile Justice Youth Summit, which begins Thursday, will bring together 130 youth advocates from throughout the nation and will feature remarks by CJJ Executive Director Marie Williams and OJJDP Administrator Robert Listenbee, who will also moderate a panel.
The summit is geared toward younger advocates who are involved in or aspire to become involved in juvenile justice-related work, Lisa Pilnik, deputy executive director of CJJ, told JJIE from her Washington office.
“We look at it as a way to cultivate youth engagement, youth leadership in juvenile justice,” Pilnik said. “Whether or not someone wants to make this a career, we think it’s always wonderful if youth are engaged in trying to change the [juvenile justice] system for the better.
“It’s really for just anyone who’s interested in learning more about the field and interested in helping to improve the juvenile justice field in their own community or nationally.”[module type="aside" align="right"]
Learn more about juvenile justice issues and reform trends at the Juvenile Justice Resource Hub.[/module]
Pilnik said that could include those working in mental health and child welfare as well as in after-school or sports programs. She noted some of the children served by these specialists are or may become entangled with the juvenile justice system.
“In any youth-serving field, understanding the way the juvenile justice system works and working to improve it is really a useful thing,” Pilnik said.
Jennifer Rodriguez — executive director of the Youth Law Center, a San Francisco-based public interest law firm that works to protect children in the nation’s foster care and juvenile justice systems from neglect — will deliver a keynote address Thursday. Rodriguez will talk about her unlikely path from a former foster youth who also spent time in juvenile justice institutions to becoming an attorney and youth advocate.
Also Thursday, those attending the summit will see a screening of a new PBS documentary, “15 to Life: Kenneth’s Story,” focusing on Kenneth Young, who was sentenced in Florida at age 15 to four consecutive life sentences for a series of armed robberies. The film, directed by Nadine Pequeneza, will be followed by a discussion. The film premiered Monday evening on the PBS television series “POV.”
Delivering a second keynote address Friday, on improving the juvenile justice system, will be the U.S. Education Department’s Jonathan Brice, deputy assistant secretary for policy in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education.
The summit, which Pilnik said organizers hope to continue each year, also will feature:
- “Justice for All: Juvenile Justice 101,” a workshop exploring basics of the juvenile justice system and the core requirements of the 1974 Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA): deinstitutionalization of status offenders, or those who commit offenses that wouldn’t be crimes for adults (like truancy or alcohol possession); limits on placing youths in adult jails and lockups; separation of juveniles from adults in secure adult facilities; and a reduction of disproportionate minority contact with the juvenile justice system.
- A workshop focusing on youth involvement in State Advisory Groups (SAGs), which are appointed by governors in all 50 states and chief executives in U.S. territories and are charged with monitoring state compliance with the core requirements of the JJDPA. Formula grants from OJJDP are tied to compliance with the requirements.
- “Tools for Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline” will introduce the phenomenon and provide strategies for reform, presented by youth organizers.
- A “speed networking” session will enable conference participants to meet in rotating small groups with professionals in juvenile justice and related fields.
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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Thirteen advocates and professionals from around the country who serve as advisors to the federal office for juvenile justice met for two days last week in Washington, D.C., to share information on reforms and funding at the state and federal levels.
The Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice, which normally meets online every few months, gathered face-to-face for the first time in a year. Its last online meeting occurred Aug. 10.
Some of the reforms the committee discussed lie within the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention itself. Melodee Hanes, the acting office administrator, told committee members on the opening day of the meeting that a structural reorganization of her office, which has been in the works for months, would be announced soon. The office is also close to releasing its program plan for next year, she said.
The associate administrator for budget and planning, Janet Chiancone, described to the committee a “mixed” outlook for federal funding for juvenile justice in the 2013 fiscal year. Federal money for programs administered by the federal juvenile justice office has steadily fallen from $461.5 million in fiscal year 2009 to $277 million in fiscal year 2012, a 41 percent decline, she said.
Although the 2013 fiscal year began Oct. 1, a gridlocked Congress has yet to reach a budget deal. The proposed House budget for 2013 further slashes funds for OJJDP programs to $214 million, while the Senate version increases funding from last year’s level for the OJJDP to $299.5 million, she said. Both chambers are in recess until after the presidential election.
On Friday, committee members were briefed on changes in federal and state legislation on juvenile justice in recent years, trends that speakers said were driven by falling rates of juvenile crime, declining youth incarceration rates, the availability of better research and a shift away from treating children like adults under the law.
Friday’s speakers included Nancy Gannon Hornberger, executive director of the Washington-D.C.-
based Coalition for Juvenile Justice – a network of citizens, advocates and professionals from every state who advise their local governments on juvenile justice issues and monitor their adherence to federal guidelines -- and Bart Lubow, director of the juvenile justice strategy group for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a Baltimore-based nonprofit that has played a key role in funding reform initiatives around the country.
Sarah Brown, a senior researcher at the National Conference of State Legislatures, a bipartisan group of state legislators and their staff, described her recent report on trends in state legislation on juvenile justice in the last 10 years.
Speaking from Colorado via videoconference, Brown pointed to three separate rulings since 2005 by the U.S. Supreme Court that have adjusted federal standards for juvenile sentencing by abolishing the death penalty, life sentences without parole for non-homicides, and mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles. These rulings reflect the impact of new research on adolescent development and highlight how many states are shifting toward treating juvenile offenders differently than adults, she said.
Between 2001 and 2011, 20 states passed laws to expand the jurisdiction of juvenile courts, such as by raising the age limit for juvenile offenses, she said. Other state trends include the passage of legislation improving young people’s access to sound legal defense, reallocating funds from correctional facilities to community-based alternatives, and focusing on young people’s mental health needs.
At least 10 states have passed laws to address racial disparities in the detention and incarceration of youth in the last 10 years, Brown said. And more than half of all states have passed laws aimed at supporting young people once they are released from detention or confinement.
Hornberger, who has lobbied Congress for system reform for 25 years, provided historical perspective on the trends affecting federal policy changes and provided recommendations for future legislation, including the long-overdue reauthorization of a sweeping federal bill on juvenile justice that was first passed by Congress in 1974.
“Generally, Congress has regarded juvenile justice and delinquency prevention to be a limited role,” Hornberger said. However, the 1970s brought a significant shift in the way people thought about the detention and incarceration of youth, their treatment as status offenders, their placement in adult jails, and their separation from adult offenders by sight and sound, she said.
The resulting federal legislation, the sweeping Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, marked “a sea change” that forced states to meet federal standards on how to treat youth within the justice system, Hornberger said. Subsequent reauthorizations of the Act in the 1980s and 1990s added more requirements for states, including new rules asking states to explore racial disparities in their confinement of youth.
Last reauthorized 10 years ago, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act was due for reauthorization again in 2007 but has languished in Congress. Although a U.S. Senate committee has twice approved the reauthorization in recent years, the bills did not make it to the Senate floor. The House of Representatives has not acted on a reauthorization bill nor any legislation to do with juvenile justice in the last six years, Hornberger said.
Hornberger remains stoic. The 2002 reauthorization took six years to push through, she said. “It’s always been a long haul to get this Act reauthorized.”
In general, federal policy on juvenile justice has traditionally swung like a pendulum, with equilibrium rarely in the middle, she said. “Members of Congress are consistently going back and forth between punitive and rehabilitative approaches.”
Policy swings are frequently affected by changes in leadership, whether in the White House, on congressional committees, or within the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention itself, she said.
Congressional legislation still demonstrates a trend toward criminalizing normal adolescent behavior, such as underage drinking or sexting, Hornberger said. And federal legislators are still wrestling with the choices of institutionalized care versus family and community-based solutions, she said.
“There have been trends in time where national policy has really spurred state reforms,” like in the 1970s, Hornberger said. But these days, national policy is playing catch-up with reforms initiated by national foundations and some states, she added.
While federal trends in legislation and policy so far appear promising, the legislative progress is fragile, she warned -- especially in critical areas like the consideration of adolescent development and racial and ethnic disparities.
Speaking after Hornberger, Lubow gave a spirited presentation that made clear he too thought there was lots of room for improvement.
For every 100,000 young people in the United States, 336 are locked up, the highest rate in the developed world, he said. South Africa is in second place, at nearly one-fifth the rate of the United States. This could not be explained by disparities in juvenile crime, he said.
“We lock kids up in this country for a lot of minor stuff. In fact, we lock them up for things that we do not lock adults up for,” Lubow said. “We do that, frankly, because adults are bullies. When we get frustrated with kids who do not follow our rules, we throw them into detention centers.”
What would happen, he asked, if judges and law enforcement could not fall back upon incarcerating kids when they were angered and frustrated by their behavior? “What positions, what creativity, what alternatives would we come up with?” he asked.
Necessary innovations include limiting the types of young offenders who get incarcerated, increasing non-residential community alternatives to incarceration, and changing the financial incentives for local governments to keep their children within their own system and not the state’s, Lubow said.
Sometimes reforms only happen after someone takes off a shoe and bangs it on the table, Lubow told the committee.
Photos by Kaukab Jhumra Smith
Youth advocates are ringing the alarm bells at Congress’s proposed levels of funding for state programs that would prevent young people from being locked up for skipping school, keep young offenders from being held in adult prisons and reduce the disproportionate numbers of minority youth in jail.
Since 2002, the funds available for states to implement Title II of the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act have been slashed by more than half from $88.8 million, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Coalition for Juvenile Justice, which brings together citizens and public officials who work on juvenile justice issues in every state.
Current funding levels for Title II -- whose four core requirements aim to protect young people from being unfairly confined in prison -- are at $40 million, according to figures released by the Coalition for Juvenile Justice in April. The White House requested $70 million for the 2013 budgetary year, an amount unlikely to pass Congress.
If federal funds shrink further, states will have little incentive to meet federal guidelines for keeping juveniles out of the adult prison system, said Liz Ryan, president of the D.C.-based advocacy organization Campaign for Youth Justice.
“The less resources there are, the harder it is to implement the federal law,” Ryan said. “Eventually they may decide not to participate. And that’s what we’re afraid of, that states may walk away from this.”
The U.S. House of Representatives has proposed $33 million for Title II funding under the JJDPA, and the Senate $55 million – “a wholly insufficient appropriation,” according to Nancy Gannon Hornberger, executive director of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice. Both figures are far below the $80 million that the Campaign for Youth Justice and the Coalition for Juvenile Justice want Congress to appropriate for 56 states and territories for the 2013 fiscal year, which technically begins Oct. 1, 2012.
“I do think we haven’t done as good a job at demonstrating the results and marketing the results of these problems, particularly how the (law’s) core requirements have been met,” Ryan said. “But I don’t think that’s why the funding has gone down.”
The funds represent “a relatively small federal investment,” so they don’t get the kind of Congressional attention they should, Ryan said.
Budgetary woes underlay much of the discussions at the annual conference held by Coalition for Juvenile Justice in Washington, D.C., last month. Melodee Hanes, the acting administrator of the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, told a roomful of juvenile justice workers during her keynote address that her office’s budget had been halved in just the three years she had worked there.
“As unpleasant as some of these things are to talk about, I don’t have to tell you that these are very challenging times,” Hanes told her audience. “By all indications, funding is not going to come roaring out.”
But, Hanes said, state workers should not abandon hope. “We are going to stand with you as partners regardless of what the final funding bill is,” Hanes said. “If we need to learn new ways of doing business, we’ll do it and we’ll do it together.”
It’s unclear when Congress will finally pass a budget for this fiscal year. Hanes tried to turn that uncertainty into a cause for hope.
“A lot is going to happen between now and then,” Hanes said. “Anything can happen, trust me.”
Photo from the University of Minnesota.
Federal funding for state and local juvenile justice programs seems likely to take another big hit as Congress continues to slash federal "discretionary" spending.
The Republican-controlled House committee that appropriates money for the Justice Department today issued its proposal for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1. It would cut juvenile justice funding to $209 million--a figure that stood at $424 million in fiscal year 2010.
Federal aid for juvenile justice already had fallen more than 50 percent to its lowest level in more than a decade, says the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, which represents state advisory committees in Washington, D.C. The coalition is asking Congress for $80 million for "formula grants" that helps states comply with mandates in a key 1974 juvenile crime law, such as separating juvenile and adult defendants in jail and keeping minor offenders out of custody.
House appropriators, rather than adding funds for those purposes, would cut them to $33 million.
Continuing such cuts may raise questions about whether states will continue to abide by the federal requirements, with relatively little money at stake, as some states have done regarding the federal sex offender registration law.
The Coalition for Juvenile Justice had sought $65 million for a longstanding federal "Title V Delinquency Prevention Program," but the House subcommittee voted to provide only $20 million.
The panel also proposed to eliminate "Juvenile Accountability Block Grants" that the coalition wanted $30 million for, saying they are "used by states and localities to provide judges and other juvenile justice officials with a range of age/developmentally appropriate options to both hold youth accountable and get them back on track so they are less likely to re-offend."
The Obama administration asked Congress for $140 million for the three programs overall; the House panel would cut them to $53 million total.
Senate appropriators, led by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), will be more supportive.
A press release from her appropriations subcommittee this week said the panel would support a total of $278 million for juvenile justice. The final number is likely to be somewhere in between the House and Senate figures, but that would represent a cut from the $263 million that juvenile justice programs are getting now.
The pending Congressional action represents something of retreat by Washington on the juvenile justice issue.
With reported juvenile crime down and legislators facing demands to pare federal spending across a wide range of areas, juvenile justice seemed like a likely target. It does not enjoy support comparable, for example, to federal programs on sex offenders and analysis of DNA evidence.
Even the COPS hiring program, never favored by House Republicans, got $40 million in the new budget proposal.
The Senate is likely to increase the total, but the plan indicates that at least some Republicans are willing to support a program that is identified with former President Bill Clinton, who created it in 1994.
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More than two years after taking office, President Obama has yet to appoint a permanent administrator to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), a federal agency that funds some state-level juvenile programs and ensures federal standards are being met. The delay has been caused, in part, by a bill removing the Senate confirmation requirement for this and hundreds of other executive branch appointments. The bill has passed the Senate, but has yet to go in front of the House of Representatives for a vote.
The measure, S. 697, also known as the Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act of 2011, received support from both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) before being passed by the Senate in June.
The push to remove Senate confirmation for the OJJDP top position has been strongly opposed in some quarters.
“We have been advocating for a permanent administrator since the first day of the Obama administration,” said Tara Andrews, deputy executive director of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, an advocacy group in Washington. “That office is small in terms of the federal budget, but in terms of its influence, it is huge.”
Andrews went on to say a permanent OJJDP administrator can drive best practices as well as identify those programs that do not work. She added a permanent administrator also has a platform to broadcast to the nation where progress in the area of juvenile justice can be made.
After the Bush administration, Andrews said, there was a sense that the office would garner more support, but the feeling is, that has not come to pass under the Obama administration.
“We are disappointed,” said Andrews.
OJJDP’s Acting Administrator Jeff Slowikowski will likely continue to head the agency at least until the House votes on the measure sometime after returning from recess next month.
“Since they are on recess for a month there will be no movement at the earliest until they return,” Joe Vignati, Director of Justice Programs at the Governor's Office for Children and Families in Atlanta, wrote in an e-mail. “Honestly we are probably going to hit 1000 days [without a permanent administrator] before we get someone new.”
Slowikowski served as associate administrator of OJJDP's Demonstration Programs Division from 2004 until being designated acting administrator by President Obama in January 2009.
“The acting administrator has done a really good job … but he doesn’t have the clout,” said Marion Mattingly, Washington Editor of Juvenile Justice Update.
Mattingly, who also opposes the change, added that, “the office really needs someone who was appointed by the president. [The loss of oversight] is bad because I think it lessens the importance of juvenile justice. I worry what the next step could be.”
That sentiment was echoed earlier this year when Youth Today quoted former OJJDP Administrator Shay Bilchik as saying, “as a candidate for the job, you don’t understand what it means to the field and the constituencies to have that direct oversight [of a] committee in the U.S. Congress, so the field can weigh in, in a very powerful way regarding who gets that position. Once it becomes simply a political appointment you lose that visibility and that transparency.”
Spanning the last two presidencies, the OJJDP has seen a steep decline in funding from a budget of $450 million in 2002, to approximately $180 million in 2011, according to numbers from the Coalition for Juvenile Justice. In a recent survey by the same organization, 89 percent of the 35 states examined reported a reduction in youth and family services due to federal budget reductions.
“If you’re serious about crime you need to concentrate on kids … It’s most important to deal with kids and prevent them from becoming adult criminals,” Mattingly added. “Most people just see it as a simple thing, but juvenile justice is anything but simple.”
WASHINGTON — Mark Levin, a conservative activist for juvenile justice reform, is using a “tough and smart approach” to build coalitions between the Left and Right. Levin is Director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, and his “Right on Crime” initiative brings the two sides together for an effective reform system. Listen in as he speaks with JJIE about juvenile justice reform at the Coalition for Juvenile Justice Annual Spring Conference.
When Andrew Peterman of Idaho first came into the juvenile justice system at age 15, he did not know that schizophrenia was driving his anger, which in turn was resulting in arrests and illicit drug and alcohol usage. In time, thanks to juvenile detention and treatment for his schizophrenia he has been able to straighten out his life.
In fact, he has come so far on his journey that the Coalition for Juvenile Justice awarded him the 2011 National CJJ Spirit of Youth Award to "recognize and celebrate a young adult...who has made great strides through involvement with the juvenile justice system, overcome personal obstacles and is today making significant contributions to society." In the video below by Leonard Witt, Peterman tells of his journey through crime, drugs, schizophrenia and rehabilitation. See the video time splits below.
- Introduction, Spirit of Youth Award: 00:00
- Trouble begins at age 15, no coping skills 00:50
- At 17 tried as an adult 01:20
- Three felonies, classified as "persistent violator" 01:50
- Avoiding automatic five extra years of incarceration 02:23
- Diagnosed with schizophrenia, treatment helped 02:35
- Relapsed into drug and alcohol abuse, quit taking medication 02:50
- Decides against evil methamphetamine world and turns to God 03:28
- Used coping skills learned in juvenile detention 03:55
- Now attends college, will finish in August 2011 04:06
Watch for Andrew Peterman's essay on how juvenile detention is more demanding than adult prison later in the week at JJIE.org.
Are sentences of life without parole for juveniles a death sentence? David Schmidt thinks so. See the short version just below.
For more information on topics on like why a kid convicted of triple murder should still be released by the age of 21 see the full interview at the bottom of this page.
Here are the time splits for the important topics Schmidt covers in the longer version below:
Life without parole - 00:33
Judge still could give 150 years - 1:20
Are we tough enough on kids - 1:38
There are dangerous young people - 2:03
Consider the individuals - 2:20
The New Mexico model and a triple murder - 3:00
Life without parole is a death sentence - 5:00
2,500 kids in jail without parole in 27 states - 5:50
Supreme Court acted cowardly - 7:05
Judge's and prosecutor's power - 8:00
The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges is calling on the A&E network to present the facts about the new show called “Beyond Scared Straight.” The judges are joining a chorus of experts who warn that Scared Straight tactics do not work on at-risk kids, and may actually harm them.
The show debuted on the A&E cable network in January. It is the fourth incarnation of a theatrical film and television series that takes children inside adult prisons in an attempt to scare them away from a life of crime.
JJIE.org has interviewed national experts and reviewed at least ten research studies that say Scared Straight programs are ineffective and a waste of money.
Here’s the full statement from the National Council of Juvenile Court Judges:
The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges is concerned that the A&E program "Beyond Scared Straight" misrepresents the effectiveness of such interventions with youthful offenders. Although advertisements for the show claim Scared Straight! is "an effective juvenile prevention/intervention program," social science research clearly demonstrates the opposite. In fact, research strongly suggests Scared Straight! and similar programs have a harmful impact on youth and are associated with increased risk for continued delinquent/criminal behaviors. Further, it is clear these types of interventions as portrayed are neither developmentally appropriate nor trauma-informed.
The NCJFCJ joins the Coalition for Juvenile Justice and other leaders in juvenile justice and child welfare to call on A&E to provide a meaningful opportunity to present the facts around Scared Straight! and similar programs, and to help inform the public about evidence-based practices and programs for youthful offenders.
Catch up on the controversy, and read what producer Arnold Shapiro says in this full report from JJIE.org.