NEW YORK - On Monday, the first day of the Harry Frank Guggenheim Symposium on Crime in America, held at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a standing-room-only crowd of criminal justice experts, academics, advocates and journalists spilled out of the small conference room and into the large, modern glass and metal entry hall.
They were there to discuss how to fix the United States’ rapidly growing prison population, among other problems.
The conference, titled “The Problem That Won’t Go Away: How drugs, race and mass incarceration have distorted American justice (and what to do about it)," featured six panels over two days tackling areas of the criminal justice system that, the panelists say, are ripe for reform and critically important. But the two subjects discussed most were drugs and prisons.
Panels Monday included “America’s Addictions,” "Gangs, Drugs and Urban Violence” and “Crime and Criminal Justice Trends 2011-2012.”
Within the juvenile justice field, Dr. Jeffrey Butts, Director of the John Jay Center on Research and Evaluation said there was some good news.
“National trends in youth crime show that juvenile arrests are down since the 90s,” he said. “They are actually at a 30-year-low.”
Sitting on the panels were experts on crime and drugs from across the United States such as Charlie Beck, chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, and Benjamin Tucker, deputy director of the White House Office on National Drug Policy. Other panelists included Phillip J. Cook, professor of economics at Duke University and Matt Cate, secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Community.
Gov. Dannel Malloy of Connecticut gave the keynote address.
At least one person at the symposium had direct experience with the gang violence and drugs the panels were discussing. Donyee Bradley grew up poor in Washington, D.C., the son of parents both addicted to crack cocaine. It wasn’t long before he joined a gang.
But, he says, “My violence was a symptom of the problem.”
He appeared to be heading down the same path his parents took until he was recruited into YouthBuild, a program that helps low-income youth earn their GED or high school diploma while employing them to build affordable housing in their community.
Today, Bradley is a Gang Outreach Worker, looking to help other kids the same way he was helped.
The seventh annual symposium was organized by John Jay College’s Center on Media, Crime and Justice. The Center brings together the criminal justice community and the media for information sharing and networking.
Since the 1980’s, nearly every state has passed or expanded juvenile transfer laws that allow kids to be tried as adults in some cases. But a recent report from the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) found that only 13 states publicly report how many kids are transferred each year and even fewer report any details of those transfers.
According to the report, in the states that publicly reported, 14,000 youth were transferred to criminal courts in 2007, the last year data was available. However, that number has declined sharply since 1994.
Writing in the report, OJJDP Acting Administrator Jeff Slowikowski said, “To obtain the critical information that policymakers, planners, and other concerned citizens need to assess the impact of expanded transfer laws, we must extend our knowledge of the prosecution of juveniles in criminal courts.”
Young people accused of a crime are sent to juvenile or criminal court, in part, based on their age — 18 in most states, but as young as 16 in others, the report says. Those under that age fall under the juvenile court’s jurisdiction. But youth can be transferred to criminal courts in some situations, and each state has its own procedure. Some states allow the juvenile court to waive jurisdiction. Although some standards are in place, the judge often has final discretion. In other states, the transfer is solely at the discretion of the prosecutor. Many states have statutory exclusion laws that mandate certain classes of crimes automatically be transferred to criminal court.
Some states have a wide variety of ways for juveniles to be transferred to criminal court. Georgia, for example, allows for statutory exclusion and prosecutorial discretion, as well as discretionary and mandatory judicial waiver, according to the OJJDP report. There is no minimum age to enter Georgia’s juvenile court system, but children as young as 12 may be transferred to criminal court. However, Georgia also allows for reverse waiver in which a youth is transferred back to juvenile court.
OJJDP also reports that many juveniles are housed in state prisons. A survey in 2009 found that 2,778 inmates under the age of 18 were held in state prisons. Nearly half of those, 46 percent, were in southern states. Florida and Texas led the pack with 393 and 156 respectively. Georgia had 99 youth in state prisons.
Juvenile justice system experts and reform advocates were among those who converged upon Miami last week for an annual conference hosted by the Open Society Institute (OSI). The, New York City-based private operating and grantmaking foundation focuses on criminal justice system reform.
We asked a few of them “what single change would you make to the juvenile justice system?” Here’s what they had to say.
Tarsha Jackson, an organizer with the Texas Reconciliation Project, the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition and the Houston chapter of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.
“I think there needs to be more focus on prevention programs, but the biggest change I would make is to train all of the system stakeholders – the district attorneys, judges, court personnel – and train them on the definition of family involvement. There needs to be more emphasis on treating the juveniles as kids, not just as a case file. The courts need to involve the family more in the process. They should allow the family to make recommendations, for example, on the type of community service the child should do. Instead of having them just picking up trash or something meaningless, maybe they could have the family suggest some kind of community service that could have some impact. The family knows the child best and can suggest options that would allow the child to learn from their mistakes and grow; have them doing things that will help strengthen their character.”
Jessica Turall, Founder and Executive Director of Hand-In-Hand, a non-profit that provides mental health services, case management and academic services for young men tried as adults in Baltimore.
“We need to stop charging youth as adults. Once a young person gets an adult charge without the proper guidance, this has a long-term impact. In the future they will not be able to get financial aid for school or receive federal housing assistance or qualify for certain jobs. Putting a child in adult prison doesn’t deter crime or promote rehabilitation. All it does is create very angry youth that no one can work with. More people need to work with what I like to call ‘the young people behind the gate.’ It’s such a great opportunity to do this when they’re incarcerated. This is a captive group of young people who have nothing better to do for hours on end. We should create opportunities for them to learn and grow during that time so that they won’t return.”
Jonathan Rapping, Associate Professor at Atlanta's John Marshall Law School and Founder and CEO of the Southern Public Defender Training Center, which trains public defenders across the southeaster United States.
“We need to make sure that we create a campaign to view juvenile defenders as part of the larger public defender community; they’re just as important as their counterparts in the adult system. We need to stop viewing them as the stepchild of the public defender community; a marginalized group. With this shift, the juvenile judges, legislative community and people with money will more likely understand the issues and begin funding opportunities to address them. Juvenile defenders need to be treated as an integral part of the process and should be provided with the support and resources that they deserve.”
Sonia Kumar, Director of the ACLU of Maryland's Girls in Juvenile Justice Project, which provides services and programs incarcerated girls
“I’d force people in the system to get to know the kids that they have contact with. They need to ask them more questions about themselves; just talk to the kids more and listen to what they have to say in an authentic way. This should apply to every adult whose work touches kids in the system. It’s more a matter of a culture change. We need to stop checking boxes and forms and get to know the kids; ask them to tell you what they’re good at and what they like. We could all learn a lot from listening to them.”
At first glance, flogging appears to be an archaic, cruel punishment too reminiscent of the Dark Ages. But former police officer and current criminal justice professor Peter Moskos thinks flogging could be one solution to many of the problems facing the criminal justice system — problems such as overcrowding. Moskos’ new book, In Defense of Flogging, lays out his argument.
In an interview with Salon.com, Moskos said he thinks when compared to prison, flogging is “the lesser of two evils.”
“Taking away a significant chunk of someone’s life is far worse than any punishment that is virtually instantaneous,” he told Salon. “We should be honest about prison and recognize that we’re sentencing people to years of confinement and torture.”
Moskos admits that flogging isn’t a likely alternative to incarceration, but hopes his book will get people thinking outside the box.
“I wanted to throw a hand grenade into this debate because I don’t really see it going anywhere,” he said.
A new master’s degree program in Criminal Justice begins in the fall at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Ga.
The Master’s of Science in Criminal Justice features eight experienced faculty members and an expanded curriculum that includes courses such as “Critical Issues in Criminal Justice” and “Criminal Justice Policy and Analysis.”
A summer study abroad program gives students a chance to participate in experiential education in another country.
The current undergraduate program in Criminal Justice includes 650 students. Kennesaw State University is the third largest university in Georgia and faculty and students will be provided a number of research opportunities in collaboration with several centers in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.