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Attorney General Sessions Would Return Youth to the Harmful, Ineffective Dark Ages

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.

Childhood Trauma Threatens National Well-Being: DOJ Task Force

Acting Assistant Attorney General Mary Lou Leary, Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Acting Administrator of the OJJDP, Melodee Hanes, at a federal interagency meeting on juvenile justice Wednesday. Photo by Kaukab Jhumra Smith.

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Two out of three children in the United States experience or witness violence, crime or abuse while growing up, a public health crisis that harms their emotional, physical and intellectual development and makes them more likely to perpetrate the same trauma upon their own children, a national task force appointed by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said this week.

The long-term well-being of the country is at stake unless federal and local governments and their communities act to reduce the incidence and impact of such trauma upon young Americans, the National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence concluded in its final report.

The report detailed 56 policy recommendations for reducing such exposure to trauma and treating its fallout. Such exposure could occur anywhere, the report said: at home, at school, in the community and on the Internet.

“There is a moral component to this question,” Holder said at a public meeting of the federal interagency Coordinating Council for Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, which approved the report’s release. “This is about what kind of America do you want to have. This is a question of who we are as a nation.”

The imperative to act on the epidemic was not simply moral, it was economic, Holder said. A person impacted by childhood trauma who went “down a criminal path” would cost the country $3 million over his or her lifetime, Holder said. “By contrast, the cost of effective prevention is typically only a few hundred or a few thousand per person.”

The task force’s report emphasized that argument. “The financial costs of children’s exposure to violence are astronomical. The financial burden on other public systems, including child welfare, social services, law enforcement, juvenile justice, and, in particular, education, is staggering when combined with the loss of productivity over children’s lifetimes,” it read.

The outcomes are worst for children whose exposure to trauma goes unnoticed and who don’t receive support from parents, caregivers or their communities, said Dr. Steven Marans, a member of the task force and a professor of psychiatry at Yale University’s Child Study Center and School of Medicine.

Co-chaired by baseball legend Joe Torre, who grew up aware of his mother’s abuse at the hands of his father and who now heads a foundation against domestic violence, the task force based its recommendations upon the latest available research and testimonials from public hearings attended by community residents, researchers, child welfare workers and advocates from 27 states and the District of Columbia.

The task force examined different programs, strategies and services to help young people develop and thrive, said task force member Georgina Mendoza, the director for community safety in Salinas, Calif. It found that the most promising programs are those that take a multidisciplinary and multi-jurisdictional approach and coordinate responses between agencies and organizations serving the same populations, she said.

“There are so many different aspects of people’s lives. They don’t live in a silo’ed world. We do,” Mendoza said of child welfare practitioners.

Agencies that serve children and families should also develop their understanding of the cultural origins of members of their community and incorporate within their programming the challenges faced by children of immigrants, rural communities, tribal communities, inner cities and other marginalized groups, Mendoza said.

Young people who break the law should be screened for their exposure to violence and trauma as part of the standard of care at juvenile justice facilities, and should be prosecuted within the juvenile system and not in the adult criminal justice system, said Robert Listenbee Jr., the co-chair of the task force and the chief of the juvenile unit at the Defender Association of Philadelphia.

Young people must be included in community efforts to address their exposure to violence and crime and allowed to develop leadership within them, Mendoza said. If young people are not consulted, she said, they will not feel ownership or accountability over those efforts and the efforts will fail.

Holder upheld participation by young people as a key part of the solution. “I do think that involving our young people in this effort and reaching out other young people will make this much more effective,” Holder said.

The findings of the task force will play a critical role in guiding federal and local efforts for years to come, Holder said.

“We have to keep pushing to raise the consciousness of the American people about the nature, the depth and breadth of this problem,” Holder said. “This is not going to be shelved. This will be a priority for the Justice Department and for this administration.”

Juvenile Justice Aid Faces More Cuts in New Federal Spending Plans

the Capitol Building in Washington DCFederal 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.

Juvenile Justice Information Exchange is proud to feature content from The Crime Report (TCR), the nation’s only comprehensive news service covering the diverse challenges and issues of  criminal justice in the U.S. and abroad. TCR is dedicated to providing an independent, non-partisan marketplace of news and ideas for those who want more than the daily diet of crime headlines and political rhetoric.

Photo by C.E. Kent, via Flickr

Justice Department Expands Youth Violence Prevention Program

Attorney General Eric Holder

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.

UPDATE: Trayvon Martin’s Parents Want Their Son’s Killer Arrested for Murder, Dismiss Self-Defense Claims

Trayvon Martin (left) and George Zimmerman (right)

[UPDATE, March 23, 2012:] President Obama today waded into the growing national controversy surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin, commenting, "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," the The New York Times reported. Obama dodged questions about whether George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot Martin, should be arrested for the killing, saying he didn't want to impede any possible investigation by the U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder.

At a rally Thursday in Sanford, Fl., the orlando suburb where Martin lived, Rev. Al Sharpton, with Martin's parents at his side, called the case a civil rights issue, according to an Associated Press report.

"We cannot allow a precedent when a man can just kill one of us ... and then walk out with the murder weapon," Sharpton said. "We don't want good enough. We want George Zimmerman in court with handcuffs behind his back."

In response to the controversy, beleaguered Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee announced Thursday he would temporarily step down, CNN reports.

"I am aware that my role as a leader of this agency has become a distraction from the investigation," he told reporters. "It is apparent that my involvement in this matter is overshadowing the process. Therefore, I have come to the decision that I must temporarily remove myself from the position."

[Original story] The parents of a slain Florida teen are calling for the arrest of the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed their son, claiming he is getting away with murder. During an interview Wednesday on NBC’s “Today” show, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton said George Zimmerman followed their son because he was black and dismissed his claims to have shot in self-defense.

“I strongly feel he needs to be arrested, because a crime was committed," Tracy Martin told Matt Lauer. "My son is murdered, my son is not with us no more. Nothing can bring him back."

The family’s attorney, Benjamin Crump, who also appeared on “Today,” suggested Zimmerman, a 28-year-old white Hispanic, had not been arrested because of his race.

“It's crazy that this family has to wait for grand juries and stuff when, if it was the other way around, they would have arrested their son on the spot," Crump said.

The Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Monday announced they were opening an investigation into Martin’s death. On Tuesday, local authorities said a grand jury would hear evidence in the case next month.

Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense has brought a seven-year-old Florida law called Stand Your Ground, and 20 similar laws around the country, back to the spotlight, The New York Times reports. The Florida law gives the benefit of the doubt to a person who claims self-defense, even if the killing takes place away from their home. It also allows someone who feels they are in imminent danger to “stand their ground” and not retreat to protect themselves, even if it would seem reasonable to do so. The National Rifle Association lobbied heavily for passage of the law despite opposition from law enforcement.

At a news conference Tuesday, Crump, the attorney representing Martin’s parents, said Trayvon Martin was speaking to his girlfriend on his cellphone in the moments before he was shot, The Times reports. According to Crump, as Martin walked home from a convenience store, he told his girlfriend he was being followed. Martin then asked, “Why are you following me?” Crump said. Martin’s girlfriend told Crump she heard another voice asking, “What are you doing around here?”

According to Crump, the conversation rules out Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense.

After calling 911 to report a suspicious black male, Zimmerman confronted Martin, despite warnings from the 911 dispatcher to remain in his car. Zimmerman says Martin attacked him and that he fired in self-defense.

May 06, 2011


Read up:

Governor Deal (GA) signs Human Trafficking bill into law:
http://bit.ly/k5dzBP

OJJDP census of kids on probation:
http://bit.ly/kidsonprobi

CDC teen pregnancy stats 1991-2009 [infographic]:
http://bit.ly/preginfo

Justice Department report sheds light on human trafficking stats:
http://bit.ly/traffstats

Youth Justice Barbecue celebrates year of progress:
http://bit.ly/voxbbq

Host: Ryan Schill
Video: Clay Duda

Census of Kids on Probation

The latest census by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention offers insight into the number of kids nationwide and in the south who are on probation for various crimes. The number of kids in the southern states make up more than a fourth of the crimes. The southern states include: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia as well as the District of Columbia.

Cutting the Federal Budget Could have Broad Impact on Georgia Police and Sheriffs

With Congress in deficit reduction mode, large crime fighting grants that Georgia depends on could be on the chopping block.  The National Criminal Justice Association is following the proposals, and one plan with dramatic implications comes from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C.  This prominent group recommends eliminating  “all Justice Department grants except those from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Institute of Justice, thereby empowering states to finance their own justice programs” for an annual savings of $7.3 billion.”

If the Bureau of Justice Assistance is eliminated, for example, Georgia could lose close to $14 million in federal grants annually, including $4.7 million that goes directly to police and sheriff departments across the state. And that's just one program in jeopardy

Here’s a list of some of the other nationside safety, youth development and education programs the Heritage Foundation wants to cut. The list and the language is from Heritage.org:

  • $298million  Eliminate state grants for Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities.
  • $7.3 billion   Eliminate all Justice Department grants except those from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Institute of Justice, thereby empowering states to finance their own justice programs.
  • $30 million    Eliminate the duplicative Office of National Drug Control Policy.
  • $26 million    Reduce funding for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division by 20 percent because of its policy against race-neutral enforcement of the law.
  • $4 million       Eliminate the State Justice Institute.
  • $4.3 billion    Eliminate failed federal job training programs.
  • $2 billion        Eliminate the ineffective Job Corps.
  • $86 million    Eliminate National Science Foundation spending on elementary and secondary education.
  • $2.3 billion    Eliminate Federal Communications Commission funding for school Internet service.

Feds Force States to Include Child Sex Offenders on National Registry

States have until July to pass legislation that requires juveniles to be included on the sex offender registry database. The Sex Offender Registry Notification Act (SORNA), part of the Adam Walsh Act, requires states to register kids and teens, but gives states control on how many and which juveniles are included, according to Youth Today.

So far, Florida, Ohio, South Dakota and Delaware are the only states currently in compliance with SORNA. If the other 46 do not comply, they will lose a portion of the Justice Department’s Byrne Grant, which supplies criminal justice systems with millions of dollars.

Attorney General Eric Holder has pushed the deadline back twice now, causing frustration among supporters of SORNA. Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), a SORNA supporter, sent a letter to Holder urging him to enforce the July 2011 deadline, according to the Scripps Howard News Service.

Ken Trump: Federal Bullying Police Coming to a School Near You

“We’re the federal government, and we’re here to  help investigate you.”

The Education and Justice Departments are now taking on investigatory and prosecutorial roles against school districts on bullying and harassment cases.  Historically their roles have centered on research, along with funding prevention and intervention programs on these issues.

The U.S. Department of Education and its Office of Civil Rights reaffirmed last week it would be “vigorously” investigating local school districts on complaints against the districts related to bullying and harassment. The Department’s statement followed up on presentations made by Education Department officials at their “bullying summit” two weeks ago where they announced they would be “proactively investigating” schools on bullying complaints.

Last week the Justice Department entered the fray by filing an “amicus curiae” or “friend of the court” motion in a federal discrimination lawsuit against the Indian River Central School District in New York.  The case involves claims of discrimination (based on sex) by the school district in connection with harassment, physical assaults, and threats against a gay former student.  The suit reportedly claims the district refused to help him and refused to allow him to form a Gay-Straight Alliance at the high school.

According to the news report, the lawsuit was brought by Lambda Legal, a national organization that defends the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. The school district filed a motion to dismiss the suit.  The Justice Department stepped in, disagreeing with at least three main reasons for which the district believes the suit should be dismissed.

My Take

The radical policy shift of the federal government from a research and program funder to a proactive investigatory and prosecutorial type function is extremely intriguing.

First, it raises the issue of local control. School boards and administrators have traditionally fought hard to keep the lead in addressing school-based discipline, school climate strategies, school security, school relationships with police and the juvenile justice system, and related issues.  The shift by the federal government to a proactive investigatory role begs questions of whether this shift represents an overreach by the federal government.

Second, this shift also begs a number of questions of the professional education associations. What is the position of the national associations for superintendents, principals, and school boards?  Are they on board with this new policy and philosophy? Are their members willing to open their doors to federal investigators probing their disciplinary actions, climate strategies, and other interests and issues raised by complainants and the feds?  If so, are they putting this “on the record” and if not, are they openly voicing their concerns?

Third, what protections will be built in to prevent frivilous claims and investigations?  What will be put in place to prevent a parent or guardian  with a vendetta or political agenda against their district leaders from filing a civil rights complaint against the principal or superintendent?

What system will be put in place to prevent overloading the feds with frivilous complaints which could detract from investigating fewer, but more credible and substantative, complaints?

Fourth, will school districts get into a position where it is politically easier to cave in when an unwarranted civil rights complaint is filed, leaving the district to follow through with a compliance order issued by the feds to resolve the complaint?

Finally (for now), where will school districts draw additional funds for legal expenses to represent the district during typically long, drawn out civil rights investigations — especially in today’s financial crisis facing schools?

What’s your take?

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Republished with permission from Ken Trump, a national consultant, speaker, author and expert on K-12 school safety and security, emergency preparedness and crisis planning.  He writes regularly at  http://www.schoolsecurityblog.com