As I watched Attorney General Jeff Sessions announce the termination of DACA, I was reminded how President Donald Trump had duped Democrats into actually supporting Sessions and arguing that he should not be removed as the head of the Justice Department. Sessions’ announcement meant the end of protections provided to nearly one million Dreamers under President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.
A few months before the DACA press conference, when Sessions erroneously claimed that children brought to the United States by their parents were taking jobs away from Americans, Trump publicly criticized Sessions and signaled that he might be one of several administration officials on the chopping block. But fearing that Sessions’ ouster might lead to the firing of special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Trump’s ties to Russia, Democrats caved and called for the attorney general to keep his job. Just a few months earlier, in his confirmation hearings, these same Democrats were trying to stop Sessions from becoming the nation’s top cop while reading the words of Coretta Scott King, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow, warning that Session was a racist.
There has been debate about whether Trump is crazy or crazy like a fox. Though clearly showing signs of mental instability at times, Trump seemed to outfox Democrats with this move. Democratic and Republican congressmen called on Trump to keep his attorney general in place, and the president, who usually shuns such pressure, either complied or enacted his ploy to deceive the Democrats. Either way, Sessions remains, more secure than ever.
Sessions leads the Department of Justice, which encompasses the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). The OJJDP distributes hundreds of millions of dollars to states for prevention, diversion and rehabilitation programs, including those that aim to reduce racial and ethnic disparities. Yet his regressive policy agenda may dismantle the very reforms OJJDP has sought to achieve.
While the attorney general for Alabama, Sessions suggested that youth in the juvenile justice system be sent to “work camps” and argued for more funds to be spent on expanding youth incarceration. When he was on a youth violence subcommittee in the U.S. Senate, Sessions doubled down on his out-of-touch stance on juvenile justice, opposing prevention programs. In 2009, he also put forth an amendment to the reauthorization of juvenile justice funding to expand the number of children being charged and incarcerated as adults in the federal system.
Early on in Trump’s presidency, Sessions announced that the Department of Justice would no longer pursue federal orders to reform police agencies that abuse their powers and have a pattern and practice of discrimination. Then while speaking to officers in New York, Trump encouraged police to violate the Constitution by intentionally roughing up suspects.
Sessions has also rescinded Obama administration policy aimed at reducing the number of people imprisoned for drug crimes. The Justice Department’s “Smart on Crime” initiative implemented by former Attorney General Eric Holder encouraged federal prosecutors to not go after long sentences for those charged with nonviolent drug offenses, a policy that has become a universally accepted, nonpartisan issue.
Sessions is instead looking to revive the war on drugs that led America to excessive levels of mass incarceration. After several decades of over-reliance on ineffective, harmful and excessively expensive incarceration, the United States has finally seen a significant reduction in youth detention rates and the beginning of a decline in the number of adults in prison.
Jeff Sessions would like to take us back to the dark ages, and Trump duped Democrats into supporting him.
David Muhammad is the executive director of the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform. He is the former chief probation officer of Alameda County in California and the former deputy commission of probation in New York City.
U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. condemned “excessive” use of solitary confinement of children with mental illness in juvenile facilities.
“This practice is particularly detrimental to young people with disabilities, who are at increased risk under these circumstances of negative effects, including self-harm and even suicide,” the attorney general said. “In fact, one national study found that half of the victims of suicides in juvenile facilities were in isolation at the time they took their own lives, and 62 percent of victims had a history of solitary confinement.”
As JJIE reported in March, thousands of juveniles endure solitary confinement each year in the United States, often in tiny cells for 22 to 24 hours a day with little human contact, even though a growing number of experts say the practice causes irreparable psychological and developmental harm to youths.
Holder noted that in some cases, children were held in small rooms with windows barely the width of their hands.
“This is, to say the least, excessive, and these episodes are all too common,” he said.
“Across the country,” Holder said, “far too many juvenile detention centers see isolation and solitary confinement as an appropriate way to handle challenging youth, in particular, youth with disabilities. But solitary confinement can be dangerous and a serious impediment to the ability of juveniles to succeed once released.”
He pointed to a study released last year by the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) showing 47 percent of juvenile detention centers reported locking youth up in some form of isolation for more than four hours at a time.
Holder said it may sometimes be necessary to separate a youth from others to protect staff, other inmates or the juvenile from harm.
“However,” he added, “this action should be taken only in a limited way where there is a valid reason to do so – and for a limited amount of time.”
Holder also said juveniles placed in isolation must be closely monitored and detention facilities must make “every attempt” to continue educational and mental health programming while a youth is in isolation.
“We must ensure in all circumstances, and particularly when it comes to our young people, that incarceration is used to rehabilitate and not merely to warehouse and to forget,” Holder said.
Amy Fettig, senior staff counsel with the ACLU's National Prison Project, praised Holder’s statement.[module type="aside" align="right"]
Learn more about juvenile justice issues and reform trends at the Juvenile Justice Resource Hub.[/module]
“The ACLU commends Attorney General Holder for speaking out against the harmful practice of placing vulnerable youth in solitary confinement,” Fettig said in an e-mail to JJIE. “This action clearly signals that such practices should not be tolerated in our society and that jurisdictions across the country must stop placing children in solitary confinement.
“But,” Fettig added, “the attorney general needs to go further. He must speak out against using the practice on any child – not just children with disabilities. Thousands of kids in this country are subject to solitary confinement every year, and this practice harms each and every one of them.”
The Justice Department has taken action in recent months in response to what it said was use of solitary confinement of youths with disabilities.
In March, the department said it asked a federal court to prevent the Ohio Department of Youth Services from unlawfully placing boys with mental health disorders in solitary confinement at the state’s juvenile detention facilities. The department alleged in a motion that DYS violated the constitutional rights of boys placed in solitary at all four of the state’s juvenile detention facilities.
In February, the department’s Civil Rights Division filed a statement of interest in response to what it called excessive reliance on solitary confinement of disabled youths in Contra Costa County, Calif. The statement alleged youths were held in solitary confinement up to 22 hours a day, often with no human interaction whatsoever.
And a task force commissioned by Holder, the National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence, concluded in its final report in December 2012: “Nowhere is the damaging impact of incarceration on vulnerable children more obvious than when it involves solitary confinement.” The task force recommended the practice be forbidden. Robert L. Listenbee Jr., now the OJJDP administrator, co-chaired the task force.
In his role as OJJDP administrator, Listenbee stated in a July 5, 2013, letter to an American Civil Liberties Union official that “isolation of children is dangerous and inconsistent with best practices and that excessive isolation can constitute cruel and unusual punishment,” which is banned under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
WASHINGTON - U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced this week that the Justice Department will expand to 10 – from six – the number of cities participating in the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention. The planned expansion comes as the original participants continue to struggle through breaking down walls among government agencies and with community-based groups.
The National Forum, established 18 months ago, is designed to allow the cities involved to fashion their individual crime prevention programs that emphasize more comprehensive approaches across government agencies. An initial evaluation by Temple University and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York found that all six cities showed some “positive indicators” of the initiative but there were no “profound perceptions” among local residents of a reduction in juvenile violence.
Representatives of the six cities – Chicago, Boston, Detroit, Memphis and Salinas and San Jose, Calif. – met in Washington this week to discuss each city’s progress and problems, including difficulties obtaining information from various government agencies and then trying to match data that is reported variously by Census block, political ward, street, congressional district, neighborhood, school district, police district and ZIP code.
David Henry, professor of public health and psychology at the University of Illinois who is involved in Chicago’s youth violence prevention program, said the city’s premier anti-violence program has “lots of information, the problem is trying to match it up.”
One data set, sorted by longitude and latitude in an effort to make it more usable, placed all of Chicago’s criminal incidents in one location – in Missouri. Henry said somehow an extra digit had been added to the geographic coordinates corrupting the data.
Howard Spivak, head of the violence prevention division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, led a session on the centers’ epidemiological approach to crime prevention and the importance of sharing data among various agencies that touch children’s lives. The CDC considers any kind of violence, including gun violence, a public health issue.
Too often, he said, police departments and corrections departments don’t talk to one another and schools and child protective agencies don’t share information. For example, police may release a detained youth without knowing the youth is on probation, Spivak said. “It has been a nightmare getting this kind of data,” he said.
Mallory O’Brien, director of the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission, explained that her group operates using the public health approach, similar to better known Child Fatality Review Committees, except that the homicide commission collects and disseminates its information in real time, not a year or two later, allowing intervention to take place.
Every homicide in Milwaukee is investigated not just to identify a suspect but to look at all events leading up to a shooting, to learn the relatives and associates of the victim, their contacts with various social service agencies and any information community-based agencies might know about the victim and the suspect, such as gang involvement. They look at the location of the incident and other nearby incidents and even cases dismissed before charges are filed, to determine if patterns of problems are emerging in an area.
O’Brien said that community policing and community prosecution means that officers and prosecutors are familiar with repeat offenders and can make connections among seemingly disparate incidents.
The review commission also investigates nonfatal shootings and near-fatal domestic abuse incidents to help identify children who are at-risk.
“Who thought that homicides are preventable?” O’Brien asked, noting that in 2011 homicides were down 52 percent in three targeted areas in Milwaukee, compared with a 9.2 percent decrease in control areas.
The attorney general launched the initiative in September to address what he called “a national crisis”: the exposure of the American children to violence as both victims and witnesses. A Department of Justice-funded study had concluded that most children have been “exposed to violence, crime, or abuse in their homes, schools, and communities. The consequences of this problem are significant and widespread. Children’s exposure to violence, whether as victims or witnesses, is often associated with long-term physical, psychological and emotional harm. Children exposed to violence are also at a higher risk of engaging in criminal behavior later in life and becoming part of a cycle of violence.”
The “Defending Childhood” initiative is designed to “prevent exposure to violence, mitigate the negative impacts of exposure when it does occur and develop knowledge and spread awareness about this issue.” As part of that effort, the Obama administration has sought to increase the amount of funding going going to DOJ efforts to address the children’s exposure to violence.
The 30-second PSA is airing on the Investigation Discovery Channel and also can be viewed on YouTube.
According to a DOJ press release:
“A key component of the Defending Childhood initiative is a multi-year demonstration program to develop comprehensive, community-based strategies to prevent and reduce the impact of children’s exposure to violence in their homes, schools and communities. In 2010, eight planning grants were awarded to begin this process to the City of Boston; the City of Portland, Maine; the Chippewa Cree Tribe of Montana; the City of Grand Forks, N.D.; the Cuyahoga County, Ohio, Board of Commissioners; the Multnomah County, Oreg., Department of Human Services; the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, S.D.; and Shelby County, Tenn.
“Defending Childhood involves collaborative efforts across the Department of Justice and other federal agencies including the Departments of Health and Human Services and Education. Critical partners outside the federal government include state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies, national experts, practitioners and advocates.”
The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NRPEC) is about to close a second 60-day public comment period on recommendations to Attorney General Eric Holder. The Commission’s report addresses standards to prevent sexual abuse of prison inmates, including juveniles in both youth detention centers and adult prisons. The Attorney General will make a final decision on the proposed standards.
With the deadline for pubic comments fast approaching, the Campaign for Youth Justice is circulating a letter addressed to Attorney General Holder asking for additional signatures. The letter calls on Holder to ban juveniles from adult prisons.
“Adult facilities housing children and youth face a dangerous dilemma,” the letter said, “forced to choose between housing youth in the general adult population, where they are at substantial risk of both physical and sexual abuse, and housing youth in segregated settings which cause or exacerbate mental health problems.”
The Campaign for Youth Justice is trying to get 500 signatures by Friday morning. You can read the letter here.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said this week the Department of Justice would put a priority on improving the nation’s juvenile justice system. In a speech to the National Association of Counties Legislative Conference, Holder said the Department would place an emphasis on forming community partnerships and using evidence-based research in dealing with the issue.
The attorney general also told the conference that it was time to answer some difficult questions concerning crime and race and the treatment of children.
“Why,” Holder asked, “is it that, although African-American youth make up 16 percent of the overall youth population, they make up more than half of the juvenile population arrested for committing a violent crime? Why is it that abused and neglected children are 11 times more likely than their non-abused and non-neglected peers to be arrested for criminal behavior? And why is that so many of those who enter our juvenile justice system either can’t afford – or do not know to ask for – access to legal guidance?”
Read the full speech at http://www.justice.gov/iso/opa/ag/speeches/2011/ag-speech-110307.html.
Georgia’s child prostitution problem will get some new attention from the Justice Department. Attorney General Eric Holder spells out the first National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention in a 280 page report. The plan focuses on child prostitution, child pornography, sex tourism and child exploitation in Indian Country. It’s a multi-agency effort that includes a national database to allow federal, state, local and international law enforcement to work together better and analyze trends. The Justice Department is adding 38 new Assistant U. S. Attorneys devoted to child exploitation cases. And the U.S. Marshals Service is targeting the top 500 most dangerous sex offenders in the nation.
The extent of Georgia’s child sex trade came to light last spring, when a study done for A Future Not a Past revealed that an estimated 7,200 men are paying for sex with teenage girls every month in the Atlanta area. Child prostitution is also a big problem in Connecticut, Washington, DC, Florida, New York and Texas.
Holder lays out the problem with this stark description:
“Children are being recruited and coerced into the world of prostitution in our own cities. Teen runaways - who are often trying to escape abusive homes – may turn to prostitution as a means of survival. They also frequently fall prey to “pimps” who lure them in with an offer of food, clothes, attention, friendship, love, and a seemingly safe place to sleep. Once the pimps gain this control over the children, they often use acts of violence, intimidation, or psychological manipulation to trap the children in a life of prostitution. Pimps will also cause the children to become addicted to drugs or alcohol (or will increase the severity of a pre-existing addiction) in order to ensure complicity. These children are taught to lie about their age and are given fake ID. They are also trained not to trust law enforcement and to lie to protect their pimps. As a result, these victims are often not recognized as victims, and may be arrested and jailed. The dangers faced by these children– from the pimps, from their associates, and from customers—are severe. These children become hardened by the treacherous street environment in which they must learn to survive. As such, they do not always outwardly present as sympathetic victims. These child victims need specialized services that are not widely available given that they often present with illnesses, drug additions, physical and sexual trauma, lack of viable family and community ties, and total dependence – physical and psychological – on their abusers, the pimps.”
The Justice Department is proposing new standards for preventing and detecting sexual abuse in prisons and youth detention centers. One proposal would require that medical staffers question children about abusive sexual behavior and consensual sex inside detention. Advocacy groups, including Children’s Defense Fund and Equity Project are warning that doctors and nurses should not be forced to investigate or question children about sex offenses because it could interfere with doctor-patient relationships. Youth Today reports on a letter from seven national advocacy groups to Attorney General Eric Holder.