Day Two: John Jay Juvenile Justice Conference

NEW YORK – The John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Center on Media, Crime and Justice is holding a two-day conference for journalists on its campus in New York Monday and Tuesday.

While the conference, Kids Behind Bars, Where’s the Justice in America’s Juvenile Justice System?, is primarily meant for journalists, many of the topics will be of interest not only to those in the field, but the general public as well.

JJIE/Youth Today’s John Fleming and Clay Duda are attending the conference and continue their reporting today. For Day One coverage head over to our post here.


Panel One:

Mike Bocain

Mike Bocian, provided the keynote address Tuesday morning. Bocian, is a founding partner at GBA Strategies, a public opinion research firm.

Bocian discussed recent findings showing that most of those polled accepted that young offenders could change and that there was widespread support among those polled for prevention and rehabilitation. He also pointed out that those polled seem to be much more willing to favor rehabilitation and prevention when it was clear the subject of the poll was juveniles.

The overwhelming majority of those polled felt that youth who committed both violent and non-violent crimes should be housed with other youth, not adults.

The public, Bocian said, cited public safety and reducing recidivism as the best reasons for juvenile justice reform. For the most part, however, they did not mention budgetary concerns as reasons for change. He noted, however, that many reform measures currently being undertaken are being driven by budgetary concerns.

More than 50 percent of those polled said they found former youth offenders one of the most trustworthy experts on juvenile justice issues. They were found to be more trustworthy than experts such as juvenile judges and prosecutors.

Bocian also spoke about the importance of language. He pointed out, for example, that 42 percent of those polled saw “juvenile” as a negative term, while 37 percent saw the word “youth” as a positive term.

Liz Ryan, the president of the Campaign for Youth Justice and R. Dwayne Betts, an author, commentator and former youth offender, discussed Bocian’s findings.

Liz Ryan

Ryan stressed to the journalists and policy experts assembled the importance of understanding how many young people are brought into the criminal justice system each year.

Some 250,000 children are prosecuted in adult criminal court each year, she said. She also pointed out that not just a handful of states, but every state tries kids as adults. “It is wrong when you hear that not many kids are tried as adults each year,” she said.

Ryan said that many people will say that kids are locked up for a reason and that they must have done something wrong. Yet, she insists, this is often wrong; often kids are tried for relatively minor offenses and there are many instances when young people are locked up and have not even been charged.

Ryan also pointed out that juvenile crime is actually going down, not up, but that juvenile violent crime is not going down because more people are being locked up.

Dwayne Betts spoke of his time in prison and his journey through life since his release.

Dwayne Betts

Referring to the poll’s findings, Betts said while he found it encouraging, it still reminds him that young people in the system are invisible.

Youth in prison have been ignored for decades, he said.

He pointed out that he was locked up for car jacking when he was 16 and is 31 today. He was tried as an adult and served eight years in prison.

One of his cellmates was serving a 63-year-sentence for a non-homcidal offense he committed at age 16.

Betts said that his first 10 days in detention were spent in solitary confinement. He had no mattress, he said, no pillow and no sheets. A brutal introduction, he said, to confinement.

Betts reminded the audience that people who go to prison are more than the statistics they represent.

“I was treated as a number from the beginning,” he said. “I was an honors student, but the prosecutor never saw that. The judge admitted to me, in front of my mother and my family, that he was under no illusion that prison would help me.”

Betts went on to obtain undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Maryland, authored A Question of Freedom, a memoir, was awarded a Soros Fellowship and is currently a Radcliffe Fellow at Harvard.

Panel Two:

Judge Steve Teske, a juvenile court judge from Clayton County, Ga., and a frequent contributor to the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, moderated a panel on the so-called school-to-prison pipeline.

Others on the panel included: Nancy Heitzeg, a professor of sociology & co-director of Critical Studies of Race/Ethnicity at St. Catherine University; Elton Anglada of the Juvenile Defender’s Association of Pennsylvania and Joseph Gaudett, the chief of police of Bridgeport, Conn.

Professor Heitzeg explained that the school-to-prison pipeline is essentially a growing trend that involves tracking kids out of school and into the criminal justice system. There are, she argues, several reasons for this growing trend, including the re-segregation of schools, growing poverty rates, the over representation of kids of color in special education classes, the underrepresentation of kids in advanced classes and zero tolerance policies.

She said that zero tolerance policies being implemented in schools have increased, while at the same time, violence in schools has fallen across the nation.

Zero tolerance policies have resulted in some three million suspensions and 100,000 expulsions per year.

Heitzeg said there is a blurring of the lines between the educational and judicial systems. With police in the school and drug-sniffing dogs in the hallways, she asked, “how likely is it that you are going to go to school if school continually resembles jail?”

She also pointed out that racial disparity is the biggest issue in the school-to-prison pipeline. Endless studies, she said, show that African-American students are punished at much higher rates than non-minority students, though studies also show that white youth engage in the same kind of disruptive behavior at a similar rate.

She cautioned the assembled journalists that while the individual story may be compelling, that it is important to explain the larger context of the school-to-prison pipeline. It does not exist in a vacuum, she said. It is complicated, and it is about deeply entrenched racial stereotypes.

In a question and answer session, Chief Gaudett, talked about his department’s philosophy in dealing with children. He said his officers are trained to engage with children in an attempt to humanize the officer and to build trust with the kids.

After a lively discussion with Teske, almost a courtroom exchange, Anglada spoke about the lack of due process in public schools.

He pointed out that when a child is arrested in school, the kid is expelled or suspended without legal representation, that he or she is already thrown out of the school without due process.

He also spoke of the reality of family court. It is a place that is seen by many as “kiddy court,” it is not, he said, “taken seriously. It is where many attorneys cut their teeth. It’s not a bad idea, it is good experience, but it is not good for juveniles.”

He added that juvenile court is incentivized to plea kids out. It pays low-paid attorneys more, he said, to plea than to carry the case forward.

Anglada spoke at length about a recent scandal in Luzerne County, Pa., that involved kickbacks paid to juvenile judges in exchange for sending juveniles to detention.

It was, he said, a big and important story. But it only became a story after the judges in the case were indicted. When it became “Kids for Cash,” Anglada said, it was a big story. But few though it was a story when his organization was trying to get anyone’s attention, including the state’s Supreme Court, to the fact that some 7,000 kids had gone through juvenile court in Luzerne County without legal representation.

“Why wasn’t ‘7,000 kids without an attorney’ not a story?” he asked.

For Day One coverage head over to our post here.

Photos by Clay Duda |

A Juvenile Justice System in Flux: Updates from John Jay Symposium

NEW YORK – The John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Center on Media, Crime and Justice is holding a two-day conference for journalists on its campus in New York Monday and Tuesday.

JJIE/Youth Today’s John Fleming and Clay Duda are attending the conference and will be reporting some highlights throughout.

While the conference, Kids Behind Bars, Where’s the Justice in America’s Juvenile Justice System?, is primarily meant for journalists, many of the topics will be of interest not only to those in the field, but the general public as well.

Speakers on Monday include: Mark Soler, executive director of the Center for Children’s Law & Policy; Vincent Schiraldi, commissioner of New York City’s Department of Probation; Ricardo Martinez, co-director, Padres & Jovenes Unidos and David Utter, director of policy, the Florida office of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Gail Garinger, a former juvenile court judge, who is now the Child Advocate of Massachusetts’ Office of the Child Advocate, will deliver the keynote address.

The Tow Foundation is sponsoring the conference.

For coverage of Day Two head to our post here.


Panel One:

Mark Soler

In her keynote address Gail Garinger spoke about the now discounted superpredator theory from the 1990s and role of the press in giving life to the myth through screaming headlines and sensational stories. The theory was posited by John DiIulio of Princeton, James Fox of Northeastern and others in the early 1990s.

It was, Garinger said, an unfortunate time that led to changes in laws in most states that resulted in many more juveniles being tried as adults.

The wolf pack of the superpredatory youth, however, never materialized she said, causing the very social scientists who brought up this theory to discount it.

But the highly punitive laws are still on the books in most states. Though change is coming, it is slow.

One big problem, Garinger told the more than 100 journalists and policy-makers assembled, is a disconnect that exists between lawmakers and good law. Garinger mentioned instances when she would urge lawmakers in Massachusetts to consider existing laws before implementing often-counterproductive laws because of press and public pressure.

Garinger spoke a bit from her own experience, telling the audience that she had three kids come into their teenage years within 17 months.

“I can’t believe the stupid things kids do”, she said. Sometimes, she added, they even film themselves on videotape, smoking pot in the basement and so on.

That towering stupidity, she stressed, is just another reason why we need to pay attention to the importance of brain science.

In recent years scientists have determined the human brain does not reach full maturity until well past the teen years.

She added this is one of the key issues of juvenile justice today. Other include coordination of the players involved in kids lives; risk assessment tools including evidence-based practices; diversion; what programs work for special populations; sex offenders; mental health needs; racial disparities; confidentiality of court records and the availability of data.

In response to a question about mentoring, Garinger said if a kid has a meaningful involvement with a caring adult, it could make a world of difference, that one significant person can make a difference, she said.

She also stood up for those seeking more aggregate data on juvenile offenders from state agencies.

Journalists have often battled state departments of juvenile justice for such data. State DJJs often site privacy as a reason for withholding data even when only aggregate data is asked for.

Mark Solar chaired a panel following Garinger’s talk that focused on lessons learned from the superpredator years and the falling crime rates the nation has witnessed in recent years.

David Utter, left, and Ricardo Martinez, right, speaking at the John Jay conference

Ricardo Martinez, the co-director of Padres & Jovenes, spoke about teen stupidity as well.

Authorities, he said, take simple stupid behavior and find a law to fit it. Martinez, who is based in Denver, said the current policies used by many schools, including some in Denver, are part of a factory to create a nation with the highest incarceration of youth on the planet.

All of this starts with discipline in the schools, he said. Existing policies, he said, push the students out of the schools onto the streets and into trouble.

The thought by many school administrators, he said, is to throw out the bad kids so the good kids can learn. But, he said, his organization has yet to find a school that is throwing kids out and doing well academically.

Martinez also spent some time on what he sees as a concerted effort by the system to disenfranchise entire segments of society.

It is no accident, he explained, that zero tolerance has coincided with a change in demographics in the United States. “It is not an accident, it is a question of changing demographics,” he said.

David Utter, of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), spoke of the important role the media can play in exposing problems in the system. He referred to reports that have been done by Human Rights Watch and the SPLC in past years documenting abuses in youth detention centers that eventually got the notice of public and the Justice Department, in part, because of the work of the media.

Utter also spoke about racial disparity in the juvenile and adult correctional systems. It is across the board, Utter said, in every facility minority kids are overrepresented and the deeper you get into the system the more disparity you see.

Conference attendees, including JJIE editor John Fleming, center

Mark Soler closed by asking all the attendees to go visit the youth detention center in their area and meet the kids and “you will see that most of them have dark skin.

Vincent Schiraldi, commissioner of New York City’s Department of Probation, talked about the history of juvenile incarceration, saying that it has from the beginning been a disaster.

We should ask what’s wrong with the model we are using, he said.

He talked about New York City’s effort to take its incarcerated youth out of the state’s mechanism. This is a big deal, Schiraldi said, when the biggest city in the nation chooses to do this. And he added, New York is not alone, referring to realignment in California and experiments in Texas, Detroit and Chicago.

He closed by pointing out that there is a lot of evidence to show that kids sent into big facilities are more prone to reoffend, to have poor education and employment outcomes and for their mental health condition to worsen and in some instances be the reason for an onset of mental illness.

Panel Two:

Elizabeth Scott

Elizabeth Scott, a professor of law at Columbia University Law School, moderated a panel on juvenile justice reforms and politics. The main question she and other panelists asked was: Will deinstitutionalization and other reforms last?

The other panelists included: Gladys Carrion, the Commissioner of New York State’s Office of Children and Family Services; Marc Levin, director of Center for Effective Justice, Texas Policy Foundation and Daniel Chaney, director of the Juvenile Services Division of the Department of Children and Family Services in Wayne County, Mich.

Scott said knowledge of adolescent behavior tends to make for better policy, adding that there is little question that detention is a potentially toxic environment for juveniles. Alternatives to detention, she said, have been shown to be more effective in many instances.

Progress is being made, changes are being implemented, but the next time we see a high profile crime, a school shooting or something similar, will we see another wave of moral panic, she asked.

If a moral panic sets in, then those reforms are likely to be rolled back. What distinguishes a moral panic from a rational response, she said, is not that the threat is not real, but through a dynamic process among politicians and media and the public, the perception of how serious the threat is will become exaggerated. This is what unfolded in the 1990s. Crime is not a hot button issue now, but if it is something the politicians see as a hot button, they will reengage with the issue.

Scott went onto say that the media helped sustain the moral panic in the 1990s. What happens, the shooting, the teen crime, might be rare, but it is elevated in the public’s mind. These vivid stories contributed to a distorted image of what the larger picture is.

School violence, for example, was vastly blown out of proportion.  The media can be faulted for not covering the issue but for also not providing context.

But, the media has been very influential in recent years in pointing out the need for reforms.

Gladys Carrion

Gladys Carrion spoke about reform efforts in New York. There was a realization in the state several years ago, she said, that the system “was broken.”

It hasn’t been easy, Carrion said. There have been many challenges in closing 18 detention facilities. Many of these facilities are in small, up state communities. Their closure has had negative economic impacts on those communities. Unions have also been opposed to the closings.

There were, however, many practical reasons for closing the facilities, including costs which including more than $200,000 a year per child per year. More closings will be announced in the future.

If you want change, she said, you must have a lot of people on board, including parents, the media, the judges, young people, politicians and the public.

She also pointed out that the Department of Justice was of help too. The DOJ issued a report that found New York was not providing key support to detained youth and that the facilities were in poor condition.

This DOJ report and the order that followed served to move many decision-makers in the direction of reform.

Daniel Chaney, of Wayne County, Mich., spoke about how Detroit youth offenders were integrated into the county’s system. Before this was undertaken at the invitation of the city, however, one of the basic questions asked was, are the right kids coming into this system?

Administrators in Wayne County discovered that most kids could be put into non-detention programs.

Daniel Chaney

Cheney spoke of how of the changes were driven by budget challenges. Detroit was in financial trouble, but Wayne County was also in jeopardy of having its bond ratings lowered. So changes had to be made and because of those changes, better ways of doing things were discovered.

Marc Levin, from the Texas Policy Foundation, said the media played a role in bringing about reform in Texas because of a series of scandals in the youth detention facilities.

To the question, will reforms be sustainable, both in Texas and elsewhere, Levin said he believes the public is in front of the politicians on many of he key issues and that this provides an advantage. “The public is more lenient than the prosecutors and the politicians in some instances,” he said.

He also said that there is a role for media in demanding transparency, in looking at missing data such as adults who were on juvenile probation. However, he said, there is a bigger lack of transparency in the public school system and in the child welfare system.

Levin stressed that the issue of solitary confinement has not been covered adequately by the media. He noted documented instances in the adult system when adults had been released directory from solitary confinement into the community. He added that there is very little emphasis on reentry of juveniles back into society.

For coverage of Day Two head to our post here.

Photos by Clay Duda |

Communities are Critical in Aiding Criminal Justice System, Experts Say

NEW YORK – Community was the word on everyone’s lips at the Symposium on Crime in America at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. More police engagement with the community is needed to win the war against gangs, and communities need to be more receptive to those returning from prison, according to experts speaking at the conference.

According to FBI data provided by Jeffrey Butts, Director of the John Jay Center on Research and Evaluation, violent crime arrests are at a 30-year low.

But "as violence has dropped," Butts said, "arrests for other crimes increased since the 1990s."

One reason may be that gangs are still a serious problem across the country and according to Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, gang violence has changed.

“It’s no longer about drugs,” said Beck. Today’s gang violence is territorial, he said, noting that only a small percentage of the 160 gang-related murders in 2011 had to do with drugs. He did say, however, that gangs are spreading out from Los Angeles.

“If you have Bloods and Crips [two prominent LA gangs] in your neighborhood, they came from LA,” he said.

Beck talked about a fundamental shift in how the LAPD approached the issue of gangs. He says police strategies of the last 30 years have been ineffective at curbing the spread of violence and fixing the root problems and what is needed is a better relationship between police and the community.

His wake-up call, he said, came the day he arrested the son of someone he had arrested years before.

As a response, Beck placed 50 specially-trained officers directly into troubled neighborhoods, allowing them to become a part of the community.

Connie Rice, co-director of the Los Angeles-based Advancement Project, echoed Beck’s call for change and community-based approaches to policing, making a comparison to the war on drugs.

“We’ve been stuck on stupid,” she said. “The only thing that was a bigger failure than the war on gangs was the war on drugs.”

Rice says Los Angeles’ new approach is innovative and a model for the rest of the country.

“Mass incarceration doesn’t work,” she added.

Donyee Bradley, a Gang Outreach Worker who grew up a gang member in Washington, D.C., said the most important thing for everyone working to improve communities and stop gang violence is to stay the course.

“An artist gets to see the finished product,” he said. “In what we do, we don’t get to see that.”

Speaking to the crowd, Bradley thanked the researchers at the college.

“Through your research, we are changing lives,” he said. “We are changing the mind sets of families and communities.”

But for many in the criminal justice system, incarceration is only the beginning. For convicted person’s, transition back into society is fraught with challenges, says Ann Jacobs, director of the John Jay Prisoner Re-Entry Institute.

“No one sitting in this room wants to be judged for the rest of our life on the worst decision we ever made,” she said.

But, she says, not enough is understood about re-entry.

“Twelve years ago the term re-entry didn’t exist and there was no body of research,” she said.

In Jacob’s view, every conviction becomes a life sentence because of the stigma society has placed on ex-offenders.

“The words ‘felon’ and ‘convict’ are labels we put on people for the rest of their lives,” she said. “Do we really think someone who is a former convict shouldn’t be a security guard at the Statue of Liberty?”

Most people who are convicted are not a public safety threat, said Margaret Love, a former pardon attorney for the United States Department of Justice.

“We even know how many people have misdemeanor convictions,” she said. “There are upwards of 65 million [people with convictions] and 92 million separate records of criminal convictions.”

She added, “It brings home how pervasive this problem has become. But dealing with the problem on a mass basis can ignore the human story.”

Former convicts are treated differently, said Sheila Rule, founder of the Think Outside the Cell Foundation, an organization providing education and personal development tools to those in prison, the formerly incarcerated and their families.

“This was a population who were demonized, stigmatized, marginalized and ignored,” she said. “It’s not that people oppose these men, women and children; they just don’t think about them.”

According to Love, there are more than 35,000 laws across the United States excluding former convicts from benefits.

“Today, a convicted status is the primary means, other than citizenship, of assigning legal status,” she said. “It is the one permissible basis for discrimination.”

As a response, Rule says Think Outside the Cell is starting an “End the Stigma” campaign.

“We have much work to do and it is not easy,” she said. “But it is critical.”