For Not Shackling Kids to Work, Adults Must Behave

Judge Steven TeskeTo shackle, or not to shackle — that is the question seldom asked in many juvenile courts.

The indiscriminate shackling of kids during courtroom proceedings begs the question: Why are we hostile toward our children?

What does it say about us as a nation that we are inclined toward slapping cold, hard, metallic handcuffs, leg irons and waist chains on children without asking one simple question: Is the child a serious risk of fight or flight?

How can we arbitrarily dispense with asking this simple question while simultaneously preaching the virtues of due process that are so imbedded in our values and beliefs?

We swore to protect the constitutional right to presumption of innocence — yet we parade children into our courtrooms shackled like animals.

There is something contradictory in the courtroom scenario where a kid is standing before me with shackles about his wrists and ankles, or chains around his waist, and I am advising him that he is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

If that kid were me, and given my smart-aleck disposition when a teenager, I know I would have thought, maybe out loud with my handcuffed hands raised up for dramatic effect, “Really, are you a dumbass?”

Once this scenario finally resonated with me, especially looking like a dumbass, I decided to do something about it — I declared it unconstitutional.

Before publishing it, I spoke to my sheriff, who is responsible for courtroom security.

Before I could explain my reasons, the sheriff interrupted me, saying, “Your honor, it doesn’t matter what you order, I will obey it even if I disagree with it.

“That also means I will not speak against it if I disagree with your order,” he said.

I thanked him for his consideration of my judicial authority, but I wanted the opportunity to show him he merits the thinking behind my decision.

hub_arrow_2-01Sometimes we need to see to believe, and so he accepted my offer to go with me to Miami-Dade County Juvenile Court to observe how they implement their no-shackling policy.

Judge Orlando Prescott is an energetic, interactive and charismatic person who brings these qualities to the juvenile court bench in Miami-Dade. He set aside an entire day to accommodate our needs.

The day began meeting with his court security to go over the no-shackle policy and how it is operationalized. We observed them prepping the kids on courtroom behavior, followed them to the courtroom and watched the unshackling ritual leading to their unshackled appearance in court.

Nothing exciting, but that is a good thing in a no-shackling courtroom.

Judge Prescott convened a debriefing after court for questions. The sheriff asked very pointed questions about safety in which courtroom behavior was the common thread through every answer, but not so much the behavior of the kids.

[Related: What We’re Here For: The Role and Purpose of Juvenile Detention in the 21st Century]

The key to courtroom security is the behavior of the judge and staff.

Kids respond to what they see and hear. If it’s perceived as hurtful, they will respond from the hurt reverberating inside them. The unshackling of kids demands that judges must act with the judicial temperament becoming of a person who must exude fairness at all times, even when that kid makes us mad.

Trauma assessments have informed us that most kids come to us angry due to what adults have done to them — neglect, abuse, domestic violence, drugs and a host of other things associated with poverty.

Some may say I am an oversensitive white Southerner, but the picture of a white judge shackling every kid in a system disproportionately represented by kids of color conjures up notions of antebellum plantations, white slave masters and the shackling associated with this demoralizing and inhumane institution. If it bothers me, I know it must be traumatic for parents of black children.

Even in a jurisdiction that shackles indiscriminately, judges should still be careful not to incite the emotional demons residing inside our kids’ heads, or they create a security risk during transport or at the detention center.

The no-shackling policy helps to hone our judicial temperament of fairness by being mindful not to use inciting or inflammable words that will risk an angry response in the courtroom.

On the flight home, the sheriff turned to me and said, “I’ve drank your Kool-Aid.”

I signed the order: Only upon a motion and showing of serious risk of fight or flight is a kid shackled. This is few and far between.

Before each hearing, the kids are handed a “Courtroom Behavior Contract” and given the opportunity to agree to behave in return for unshackling. Signage is posted in the holding area outside the courtroom reminding them of their contractual obligations.

To no one’s surprise, there has been no incidents.

When it comes to helping kids improve their situation, the adults must ask themselves why they do what they do to kids. Do we do it for convenience, to teach a lesson or because of some subconscious pleasure to see a child shackled?

Pick your poison because it doesn't matter why. Indiscriminate shackling for whatever reason is harmful.

One thing is for sure — we certainly don’t do it to help them.

Steven Teske is chief judge of the Juvenile Court of Clayton County, Ga., and vice chairman of the Governor's Office For Children and Families. He is a past president of the Council of Juvenile Court Judges and has been appointed by the governor to the Children & Youth Coordinating Council, DJJ Judicial Advisory Council, Commission on Family Violence, and the Governor's Office for Children and Families.

More related articles:

Juvenile Hall is Often No Place for Kids

JJIE Presents: The Juvenile Justice Documentary Project, in Partnership with Calamari Productions

Juvenile Justice on Appeal: Making our System of Justice More Accountable

Richard Ross Brings Photographs, Message to NYC’s Vera Institute of Justice

Richard Ross speaking at the Vera Institute of Justice.
Richard Ross speaking at the Vera Institute of Justice.

NEW YORK - Photographer Richard Ross can’t pin down the moment he found his calling.

It could have been on the concrete floor of the Harrison County Juvenile Detention Center in Biloxi, Miss., where he sat photographing a 12-year-old inmate in a yellow prison jumpsuit as he gazed at graffiti of spaceships and aliens scribbled on the wall of his tiny, decrepit cell.

Maybe it was the young inmates trying to sleep on the floor of the intake room of a Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Los Angeles. Or the facility for young female offenders in California where the administrator told him all 88 residents were victims of sexual abuse.

It could have been his visit with Ronald Franklin, who ran away from home at 13 after his mother tried to kill him, got involved in an armed carjacking and ended up in a Miami juvenile detention center where he waited four years without a trial.

Somewhere in Ross’ travels chronicling the conditions of boys and girls in prison it happened.

new york logo 01“I can’t remember an ‘ah-ha’ moment, but at some point you find something that means more to you than a lot of other things you’ve done in the past and you know you can’t go back,” Ross said in an interview this week as he visited New York to mark the opening of an exhibit of his photographs at the Ronald Feldman Galleryin SoHo and to give a talk on his work at the Vera Institute of Justice in lower Manhattan.

Over five years, Ross, a longtime art professor at UC Santa Barbara, photographed and interviewed more than 1,000 juveniles incarcerated across the country as part of his “Juvenile In Justice” project. Each story has it own grim details, and for Ross it adds up to a stinging indictment of this country’s juvenile justice system.

Each night some 70,000 juveniles, a disproportionate number of them minorities, are incarcerated in America, where the rate of juvenile incarceration far outstrips that of other developed nations. To Ross and other advocates, the far majority of these kids, often the victims of abuse and violence, were in the wrong place at the wrong time and have no business in facilities that resemble the jails for hardened criminals.

Ross, 65, hopes his photos, which he calls a “visual data bank,” will get policymakers to reform the juvenile justice system away from punishment, isolation and detention and toward the type of rehabilitation and education he thinks could help these youths get their lives on track.

Ross called the work physically and emotionally “punishing,” but said he has no plans to stop.

“It’s a threshold you’ve passed and you’re not going to retreat from it,” he said. “I can’t just close the book and say I’m done, there’s too many lives at stake.”

An acclaimed artist who made his reputation shooting for major publications and the Getty Museum, Ross said he understands the power of images to shape public opinion and drive policy. He said the iconic 1972 photo of a 9-year-old Vietnamese girls running down the street naked and screaming after a napalm attack changed his life, and that’s where he’s the set bar for his photos of incarcerated youth.

Ross, who grew up in Brooklyn the son of a New York City cop, visited more than 200 juvenile detention facilities in 31 states for the project that became Juvenile In Justice. He published a book of his photographs, with an essay by Ira Glass and excerpts of interviews he did with the subjects. An exhibit of his work opened in Paris last June and landed in New York this month after stops around the country.

Although some artists avoid connecting their work to overt political statements, leaving any hard and fast conclusions to the audience, Ross takes a different tact.

“I’m trying to have a viewer look at that and basically realize this is not a place for kids,” Ross said. “Teenagers are by definition dysfunctional. They make mistakes. Then they’re put in rooms that are 8x10 concrete? How is that going to change them or help society?”

About 100 people turned up Wednesday night to hear Ross speak at the Vera Institute, which has its office on the 12th floor of the Woolworth Building. Fit at 65, with an angular face and gray hair going white at the edges, there’s still a little bit of Flatbush in Ross’ voice, despite more than three decades in California.

Ross’ father was a cop in the 70th precinct for several years, but was forced to leave the force because of a gambling and bribery scandal involving Harry Gross, a major bookmaker based in Brooklyn. Ross, whose father took him to museums around the city and often dropped him at the Brooklyn Museum on Saturday mornings, recalls those days as a time when “Brooklyn was truly hip” and said growing up as the son of a police officer influenced his work.

“We’re still doing things to please our parents,” Ross said. “That never changes.”

Ross said that of the 70,000 or so juveniles in custody across the country on any given night, only about 12 percent are there for violent offenses. He said that some kids are “sociopaths who you should be scared of,” but that the number of children caught up in bad circumstances, or who don’t belong in a prison, far outweighs the truly hard cases.

“Mostly they’re just people you’re pissed off at,” Ross said during his Vera talk. “You have to look at these kids as being victims, for the most part.”

Despite the draining toll of constantly interacting with incarcerated young people, Ross plans to push ahead with his project, saying he feels a bit like Al Pacino’s character Michael Corleone in Godfather III, referencing his notorious line from that movie: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”

He’ll shoot in California next week, and has plans to visit juvenile facilities in Kansas and New Mexico in coming months.

Many of Ross’ images, projected on a screen in the front of nearly a packed conference room as he described his work, elicited gasps from the crowd Wednesday night. The strongest reaction came from the startling juxtaposition of two jail cells, both concrete and unadorned. One picture was taken at a youth facility in El Paso, Texas, and another at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay.

The rooms were strikingly similar, with a key difference: there was a window in the room at the jail in Cuba.

This story was produced by JJIE’s New York City Bureau.

Photo by Richard Ross. 

What We’re Here For: The Role and Purpose of Juvenile Detention in the 21st Century

Across the nation, perspectives on juvenile detention are changing. Several experts share how they believe modern juvenile justice is implementing more rehabilitative models and what the ultimate dividends may be for both young people and U.S. society as a whole

Mike Rollins, executive director of Coosa Valley Youth Services (CVYS) in Anniston, Ala., has been at the facility for more than 30 years. His experiences, however, aren’t just limited to working there.

At 17, Rollins walked into CVYS for the first time. “I was engaged in drug use,” Rollins said. “I was a teenager, and my parents, really, became aware of my activities and turned me into the police department.”

After being released by the Department of Youth Services, he returned to the facility looking for part-time employment. Starting off in a maintenance position, he eventually rose to the position of executive director after working at the facility for more than three decades.

He notes the smell of fresh paint outside one of the detention center’s visitation rooms. For a building built in 1974, he said, the facility is in very good condition.

Rollins’ facility is divided into three primary buildings: a detention center, home to an all-male juvenile population; the Lewis Academy, a barracks-style center for non-delinquent young males; and the Attention Home, which contains an exclusively female population.

“I would say, typically, we’re going to have a male youth, more often than not, [a] Caucasian,” he said. “Multiple theft or assault, or maybe a little more serious, possibly. We get a fair number of domestic violence type cases.”

Rollins said that the typical CVYS resident is between the ages of 15 and 17, with the average juvenile staying at the facility for “a couple of weeks” while their cases are being processed. If specific needs are required, like a psychiatric evaluation or specialized treatment placement, he said their stays are generally a little longer.

The facility, deemed by Rollins as a “publicly-funded, non-profit corporation,” serves 11 combined counties in the northern and central Alabama region. Geographically, the facility serves a population consisting of more than 700,000 people.

In such a vast area, Rollins said that it’s difficult to make generalized statements about the backgrounds of the facility’s residents. “There’s a lot of variation in some of those counties,” he said. Most of his residents typically come from single parent homes, are behind in school and generally have multiple offenses, mostly, “minor stuff,” he says like truancy and running away from home.

“But we also get first time offenders,” he said. “We also get professional families’ children. We’ve had law enforcements’ children, physicians’ and attorneys’ children, we’ve had politicians’ children. We’ve had children from non-broken families.”

While CVYS doesn’t track parental and guardian abuse as a statistic, Rollins said that it’s likely a “fairly common” piece of what the juveniles have experienced prior to arriving at his facility.

“Whether it’s physical, whether it’s mental, emotional or whether it’s sexual,” he said, “it would be hard to guesstimate, but it’s probably more than most people would imagine or realize.”

The Importance of Personnel

Over the last decade, numerous juvenile justice reform initiatives have come to pass, with major implications for juvenile detention facilities. With many states turning towards community-based alternatives and other diversion programs, the core “function” of juvenile detention in the 21st century has undergone sweeping changes, with many advocates and system-involved personnel adopting policies and procedures that emphasize rehabilitative and therapeutic services in lieu of strict “punitive” measures.

Reclaiming Futures Justice Fellow Eric Shafer was the Chief Probation Officer for the Montgomery County Juvenile Court in Dayton, Ohio for eight years. While he believes the fundamental purpose of juvenile detention is to protect the public from young people that have committed very serious crimes, he also thinks that juvenile detention serves a greater purpose for both youth and society.

“I think you can do a lot of fantastic things in detention as long as you are serving the correct kids,” Shafer said. He ultimately believes that many organizations, however, are over-using detention for status offenses and low-level first-time offenders.

“There are a number of very positive communities that are really moving forward to reform use of detention,“ he said, “but if I had to make a judgment, we still have a long way to go in the country.”

Due to budget cuts, he believes many facilities are incapable of bringing in the best rehabilitative programs. But if detention centers “invest” in qualified and devoted personnel, he stated, there’s still an opportunity for facilities to provide excellent therapeutic services for residents. “I think the key to making a detention center a positive experience lies in staff,” he said. “Although a number of courts have had to cut back on staff, training and development of staff, I think, is the key in being successful when youth are detained.”

Staff shouldn’t just be there to “hold them down,” he believes. If personnel are able to provide high-quality therapeutic services with young people in detention, Shafer said that even budget-strapped facilities have the capability to provide excellent rehabilitation services for juveniles.

Similarly, Rollins believes successful youth rehabilitative services hinge on supportive and impassioned personnel.

“You can have a structure, you can have a best practices program, anywhere in the country,” he said. “You can try to replicate what people do successfully, but if you don’t have the right people running or operating it, it’s going to fall on its face.”

Rollins said that most of his staff have been working at CVYS for years, some of them even decades. “We try to keep people, we try to train them to be better at what they do.”

He believes that it is more important to “inundate” juveniles with services during detention stays than simply provide short-term housing. “We all know that a lot of these kids don’t see themselves in the greatest of lights,” he said. “We’re not going to boast them up to feeling like celebrities, but we want them to feel like they’ve got a valid, strong place in the world.”

New Perspectives on Treatment and Rehabilitation

“Juvenile detention in the 21st century should be about keeping kids and communities safe,” Rollins believes. “The kids that go to detention need to be the kids that, if they’re not in detention, somebody’s at risk - either that child, or somebody in the community.”

He believes that juvenile detention shouldn’t be thought of as a punishment, but as an opportunity to get juveniles on the path to becoming better students and citizens.

“We understand that these teen years are really, really tough times for a lot of people,” Rollins said. “If we can give them as many tools as they get, holistically, [we] stand a lot better chance of success when they leave us.”

Rollins believes that, in addition to counseling and academic services, physical activity serves as an important component in rehabilitating juvenile offenders. Boys at the detention center shoot hoops at a carpeted basketball court, and residents at the Lewis Academy regularly engage in rappel tower training exercises. Many of the female residents are involved in yoga programs and participate in equine therapy sessions. Rollins is a strong proponent of horticultural therapy for adolescents - he said that the process of raising and nurturing a plant builds many of the same empathetic tendencies required to rear a child.

His facility uses a Polycom videoconferencing system - the very device used in some of his residents’ court proceedings - to take students on “virtual field trips.” He believes that involvement with the community is essential, but realizes there are certain challenges - primarily, confidentiality issues - that make outside interaction problematic. Even so, he notes that positive feedback from outside the facility often motivates his residents.

“We don’t want to be ostracized from the community,” he said.

In Montgomery County, Shafer said that juvenile rehabilitation begins before youth even enter detention facilities, as every young person that enters the juvenile justice system is processed through an intervention center, which is open 24 hours a day.

“A kid comes to us, and we do an initial screening on that young person to determine what kind of needs they may have,” he said. “If they indicate they do have some need, they’re going to move on to a standardized assessment that’s going to tell us ‘hey, does this young person have a substance abuse problem and do they have some mental health needs?’”

After being screened, administrators help young people coordinate services, either in detention or elsewhere in the community. “We’re able to link that person to substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, issues with treatment in school, whatever, they need,” Shafer said.

“A lot of times, we will make phone calls, set up an appointment for them, maybe even give them a ride to get that relationship started,” he said. “We lose a lot of young people in this phase, because we leave it up to them to make sure they get their next appointment.”

By coordinating services, Shafer said that the model prevents many young people from “falling through the cracks” en route to obtaining treatment. Statistically, he said that young offenders have greater likelihoods of sticking with intervention services if they attend the first three meetings.

“When they complete treatment,” he said, “we’re able to move them on to bigger and better things, getting them into their community, moving them into all kinds of opportunities.”

Building Better Futures

“I think that, from a community perspective, and particularly, the schools’ perspectives, a lot of people look down on the kids that come here,” Rollins said. “When they come in, there may be fear, trepidation, those kinds of things, or there could be bravado, feeling like a tough guy.” He said that it’s his job to help these young people come “back to reality,” to show them that their stay at CYVS could be a strong and progressive experience.

“We need, as a unit, to make an impact on those kids right away,” he said. “Our goal is to make sure it’s not dead time, and that it’s truly productive time, that we clean them out, clean them up, help them get healthier, help them get their mind stronger and help them understand their place as a juvenile in this world is to be a student.”

Shafer said that therapeutic services allow young people in detention the opportunity to develop relational and social skills that will ultimately help them better interact in society. “A lot of times, young people don’t have skills to just communicate,” Shafer said. “As a result, they result to violence or they treat people the way they really don’t want to treat them.”

Methods-based practices like Multi-Systemic Therapy (MST) and Functional Family Therapy (FFT), he said, have been proven to have positive outcomes for those involved in the juvenile justice system. “The payoff is that you’re going to have young people that are better prepared,” he believes. “I don’t mean that they have a new degree or training in this or that, but I think they’re better individuals. They know better how to think before they act, they know better how to run back into their peers and solve problems themselves.”

Rollins also said that the juvenile population is in dire need of “life management skills.”

“I think it’s important that we as a culture - a country, a people - help kids see themselves differently,” he said. “We need to help them visualize themselves as successful, as people with opportunities for a future, as being able to learn, as being employable.”

Rollins’ summarized his philosophy on the purpose of juvenile detention as, ultimately, a character-building process.

“What we do here is to try and teach kids that you are capable, you can be a good person, you can be as good as you want to be, you’re going to get the respect that you give [and] we’re going to support you if we can,” he concluded.

“If there’s any way we can help you become a better person, that’s what we’re here for.”

Photos by Ryan Schill. 

Juvenile Hall is Often No Place for Kids

DURHAM, N.C. -- The local detention center where my juvenile clients are held while their cases are pending is called the “Youth Home.” The irony of the label is never lost on me, as the contrast between the name and the reality could hardly be starker.

The rundown building is surrounded by barbed wire. Inside, kids sleep in narrow locked cells, no different from what you’d find in an adult jail. They are subjected to strip searches and attend an hour or two of “school” in a crowded room filled with a random selection of books.

Juveniles are detained here for a variety of reasons. Some have been deemed dangerous to the community as a result of past or current criminal charges. Others are runaways or throwaways whose parents say they have no other options. A good number are drug addicted or mentally ill children who are awaiting placement in treatment centers. Many are caught up in both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, without family to support their release.

In speaking with kids over the years about their detention experiences, I mostly am told how boring it is and how lonely and sad they become. Some talk about having to learn to fight – or at least act like they could win a fight – in order to get by. And these are the good days.

Yet, in the scheme of things, conditions here are relatively benign.

Across the United States, juvenile detention facilities have come under increasing scrutiny. In Polk County, Fla., where youth are held in a wing of the county jail, allegations of mistreatment include the use of pepper spray and other chemical agents by guards. The Southern Poverty Law Center has initiated a class action lawsuit against Polk, with a trial set for May. At other facilities, there are reports of overcrowding, inadequate medical care and sexual predators.

According to the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), more than 30,000 young people are confined in short-term detention facilities annually. Of the approximately 730 facilities, county, city, or municipal employees staff the vast majority. In 2008, 42 percent reported using mechanical restraints (i.e., handcuffs, leg cuffs, waist bands, leather straps, restraining chairs, strait jackets, or other mechanical devices) in the previous month, and 45 percent locked youth alone in some type of seclusion. While the overall population of juveniles in custody is declining each year, the numbers and the conditions of confinement are sobering.

Repeated studies have demonstrated that locking up young people has little impact on recidivism rates and that ultimately it is harmful to the individual as well as the community. Research has shown that neither the type of offense nor the length of the sentence is an accurate predictor of whether a juvenile will reoffend. In fact, there is no significant difference between the rearrest rate for offenders who served probation versus those who were committed.

So, what is the alternative? Suspend the practice of reflexively placing young offenders in detention settings for both the short and long-term, whether for punitive or treatment-related purposes. In most cases, use community-based services, wraparound therapy for families, and outpatient treatment instead of removing adolescents from their homes and families. For those young people with no other options, turn our juvenile detention facilities and "training schools" into centers of rehabilitation that offer psychological treatment, vocational training and quality education.

We don't have to look far to find examples that work. Consider the Regional Youth Center in Waverly, Mo., or the New Beginnings Youth Development Center in Washington, D.C. These facilities have colorful dormitories and counselors who give hugs instead of concrete cellblocks and armed guards. They provide daily group therapy and a full day of academics instead of boot camps and solitary confinement. And they cost less to operate than traditional models, ultimately saving taxpayer dollars.

Just imagine if the Durham Youth Home were transformed. The razor wire would be removed, the cell walls taken down, and at-risk children and teens would be provided with support, services and education in a positive, affirming environment. Now that would be a place worthy of its name.

Professor Birckhead’s commentary is also posted at the Huffington Post

JJIE Presents: The Juvenile Justice Documentary Project, in Partnership with Calamari Productions

Aaron, 18 years old and dressed in an oversized, light grey sweatshirt, sits blankly across from Intake Officer Clayton in an Indiana detention center while she asks him questions, his face betraying little emotion and his voice barely above a whisper.

“I can’t hear you,” Clayton says, and Aaron repeats his answer, just loud enough for her to hear.

As Clayton tells Aaron of an impending charge, shock flickers across his otherwise still face – this was the first he’d heard anything about it.

Scenes such as this are common in the work of Calamari Productions. In an effort to continue bringing innovative, accurate insights on juvenile justice, The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange has formed a partnership with this award-winning production. Dubbed The Juvenile Justice Documentary Project, the partnership showcases documentary clips that give first-person accounts from teens and employees of the system on JJIE’s sister site, Bokeh.

Calamari, an independent digital media and television production company, is unique for its sole focus on juvenile justice and child welfare programming. With shows that have been featured on several major networks including MSNBC, A&E, Dateline NBC and MTV, Calamari goes beyond providing inside access to juvenile detention centers and court hearings and succeeds in showing the human side of the juvenile justice system.

“When you’re making films or projects about youth and especially youth who are at a crossroads in their life or in a state different place, it’s easy to get their stories wrong. So, there’s a heightened responsibility for filmmakers in this area,” said fellow documentarian Bernardo Ruiz of Quiet Pictures.

Founded in the spare bedroom of President and Executive Producer Karen Grau in 1995, Grau felt the push to focus on these issues when, for an unrelated matter, she sat in on an abuse and neglect hearing.

“And without any intent on altering her life course, she was so affected by what she saw in that courtroom and she just felt people had to know what goes on…she felt very strongly that the public needed to know,” said Chip Warren, Vice President of Production and New Media Development at Calamari.

Warren, who began working with Calamari on a part-time basis in 2005 and fully made the transition in 2008, also never intended to commit his life to this work. With extensive production and development experience, it was also Warren’s time spent around kids in crisis that lead him to commit to this cause.

“The really powerful experience is walking into a detention center or prison for the first time --- those kids are scary,” said Warren. “Going from that to talking to them about their past and opening up to them and them opening up to me -- that human connection, and feeling like you could make a real connection if you just treat them like normal,” said Warren.

As a teen, Warren also spent some time in a juvenile detention center, which he feels gave him a marginally better chance at being prepared to enter into this field of work.

“Coming from a well-to-do middle- to upper-class background, spending a weekend in juvie really impacted me,” said Warren. “It better equipment me to step outside my comfort zone and embrace that human connection in these environments.”

And, showcasing that human connection is just one of the things that has helped Calamari grow and bring these stories to life. In just over a decade, the company has flourished from a small bedroom office to headquarters in Indianapolis, Ind. with satellite offices in New York City and Austin, Texas.

Grau’s commitment to staying true to the topic as well as her hands-on, holds-no-barred attitude pushed her to petition the Indiana Supreme Court for camera access in the courts, a request to venues that – by law – are close to the media. Grau, along with Calamari Productions, made history by becoming the first director/producer and production company to have the state law waived and gain unrestricted access to Supreme Court hearings. And although others have been granted temporary access, Calamari’s remain the only cameras allowed inside several juvenile and child welfare courts and juvenile prisons with unrestricted access.

This access couple with Calamari’s commitment to educating the public on the inner workings of the juvenile justice and child welfare system has resulted in numerous award-winning network television series and documentary films.

Through growth and innovation, Calamari has managed to stick to its main goal: Sharing the stories of children, teens and officials who deal with the juvenile justice and child welfare systems.

“We want to de-stigmatize these families and courts, because they don’t get their story told,” said Warren. “And to help people realize what brings kids into trouble in the first place. And, that there’s a reason to care,” Warren explains. “And it’s not about being lenient. We’re showing that they are challenging cases. [There is] more of an opportunity to rehabilitate a 15-year-old than a 25-year-old.”

JJIE’s Bokeh will begin with an exclusive look at one teen’s process in the juvenile justice system. In a three-part series entitled “Aaron’s Story,” this young man shares his story on how he landed in the system, and what’s in store for his future. For the full feature, follow this link: The Juvenile Justice Documentary Project

Juvenile Justice on Appeal: Making our System of Justice More Accountable

When a young person is sent to a detention facility away from his or her family, it is a drastic intervention and most would agree that our system of justice should approach it with great care. Even if the child is not removed from the community and sent to live in juvenile detention, a delinquency case can now follow the child throughout her life in an increasing number of ways, such as DNA registration, housing access, and sentencing enhancements, and sex offender registration. As a result, on paper, our system of justice purports to provide this child with most of the same procedural checks that we provide to adults and sometimes, in theory, even more. But in reality, our system falls short. Too often, this entire process is left to one overburdened judge with no jury, little public access, sometimes no defender, and, as it turns out, little appellate oversight.

In order to inform the discussion about justice and accuracy in the juvenile system, I recently conducted a study by surveying states to determine the appellate rate in juvenile delinquency cases. While commentators agree that appeals are rare for juveniles, the extent of the defect was somewhat unknown. Nearly all of the states responded to the survey and though many do not track delinquency appeals, fourteen states were able to provide information for the survey. The results are startling: Only 1 in 200 cases where a youth is found delinquent will ever be appealed. Even in Florida which had the highest appellate rate for juveniles in the study, only two percent of the juvenile delinquency cases included appeals. Without Florida, the state average drops to less than one appeal for every 300 cases. This means that only one set of eyes, those of a judge—who in most instances has a docket larger than most of us would like to consider—will ever determine the accuracy or consider the weight of the evidence and other critical issues in a case.

To put this in perspective, consider the results from Texas. Texas has the second highest number of children living in detention each year: according to U.S. Census data, there are 8,247 youth in confinement in the state. This study found that on average each year, 20,000 children were found delinquent in Texas; yet, only 52 of those cases were reviewed by anyone other than the trial court in a given year. In New Jersey, over 25,000 children were found delinquent each year and only 43 cases were ever reviewed by another judge on appeal. With these results, how confident are we that these youth received justice and that their cases were free of error?

What kinds of errors are we talking about? This can be any number of legal and factual issues, including germane pre-trial questions that will comprise the evidence in the case. For example, was a confession actually voluntary or was a young person subjected to coercion, risking a false confession? We know that young people are more vulnerable in this setting and many wrongful convictions of young people include false confessions. It could also include the validity of identification procedures, just as it would when a person is tried as an adult. And what about the validity of a plea or of a child’s waiver of other constitutional rights, such as the right to an attorney? When young people waive rights, there are serious constitutional questions about whether they did it voluntarily.

There are other important questions that are developed when young people have more access to file appeals in their cases. For example, the way that age influences the ability of a young person to knowingly waive her Miranda rights is developed through appeals. The Supreme Court has also said that courts must consider age–among many other factors–to determine whether a confession or an accused person’s consent to a search by police is voluntary. Lower courts dealing with juvenile cases each day look to appellate rulings to decide how the age of a child should and does matter in these common settings. Appellate rulings also provide guidance to police officers as they are called upon to make quick decisions, as well as set policies to train officers when they interact with young people. In the confession setting, unfortunately, the courts have charted a course where age has typically “mattered” very little, despite the science and common sense that it does. And there is little case law addressing questions about young people consenting to searches, which means there is little guidance for law enforcement and courts.

Many commentators and attorneys who work with young people are hopeful that recent Supreme Court cases analyzing the role of age in criminal justice matters will create a shift such that age will be considered in a more meaningful way. When and how that will happen depends very much on the ability of lower courts to hash out and develop these issues--case by case, day by day, child by child. Too often, states do not provide enough resources so that the representation of a young person will be adequate and include appeals or young people are pressured to waive the right to an attorney in the first place. Both the law’s development and the integrity of the system that is defined by age—yet often ignores it—depends upon the access that young people have to appeal rulings that will affect the rest of their lives.

Megan Annitto is an Assistant Professor of Law at Charlotte School of Law where she teaches and researches in the areas of criminal procedure and juvenile justice.

Experts Say New Federal Rule Brings Hope for LGBTQ Youth in Custody

Given the high rate of torment suffered by LGBT youth in custody, activists applauded last week’s finalizing of a landmark law that took nine years to get from adoption to implementation.

Last Monday, the federal Department of Justice finalized a set of guidelines under the Prison Rape Elimination Act that could help stem the risks of the already at-risk LGBT population that is incarcerated, including minors.

“We were already working on this issue while PREA was being passed, but this raises awareness,” said Sarah Schriber, senior policy analyst with the Chicago-based Health and Medicine Policy Research group and community convener for the Illinois Court Involved LGBTQ Youth Task Force.

According to Schriber, few juvenile detention center personnel even knew what the existing anti-harassment rules were. “A much harder part is making those policies meaningful on the ground,” she said. “We’re really lagging in education.”

Along with anti-harassment policy, the new regulations create federal requirements for employee training and place limits on cross-gender searches and screenings, ensuring they only happen behind closed doors with a licensed medical practitioner.

Much of this work was already underway in Illinois, due in part to a coalition of researchers, lawyers and justice department personnel. In 2010, the Illinois Court Involved LGBTQ Youth Task Force was established to draft better policy for the Illinois juvenile justice system and lead employee trainings.

Two years later, the task force has led trainings for nearly every Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center employee who works directly with youth, educating personnel on policy and broader issues and on definitions related to sexual orientation and gender identity.

Similar workshops are being held for juvenile prisons, run by the State of Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, as well as Cook County juvenile probation employees.

The issues facing LGBTQ youth in custody are often invisible to juvenile justice personnel and policy makers, because many young people choose not to self-identify, said Mykel Selph, director of the Office of Girls and Gender at Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center.

But a 2010 study by Angela Irvine, director of research at the Oakland-based National Council on Crime and Delinquency, found 13 percent to 15 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system consider themselves gay or gender non-conforming. In the overall population, 5 percent to 7 percent of youth identify this way.

According to a recent report by the Center for American Progress, LGBTQ youth are more likely to end up in the juvenile justice system, likely due to higher rates of bullying and harassment and lower social support at home.

Once in custody, research suggests gay and transgender youth may be more likely to experience sexual assault and harassment.

Research from 2007 by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation found 67 percent of gay or gender non-conforming men reported sexual assault by other inmates, a rate 15 times higher than among heterosexual, non-transgender male inmates.

Some sexual abuse and harassment stems from housing gender non-conforming youth with members of their biological sex. In the nation’s juvenile justice centers, a young transgender woman must still live among young men.

“People assume if you put a transgender female in a female unit, that person will assault others,” Schriber said. “Often it is the other way around.”

In Chicago, Cook County Jail has begun housing transgender women with other women, but Schriber said the policy is harder to change for youth facilities.

“People don’t understand that gender identity is pretty well established early on,” she said. “They think it’s a phase.”

The PREA guidelines mandate that “in deciding whether to assign a transgender or intersex resident to a facility for male or female residents, the agency shall consider on a case-by-case basis whether a placement would ensure the resident’s health and safety.”

But there are smaller changes detention centers can make to create a safer environment, Selph said.

Allowing transgender boys to wear boxers or having every youth in custody wear the same clothing, instead of blue and pink t-shirts, can go a long way in helping a transgender youth’s mental wellbeing, Selph said.

“Homophobia can happen in a very subtle, unintentional way,” Selph said, during a recent gathering of experts and practitioners hosted by the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. “When we talk about safety, emotional safety is implied but not focused on in a deliberate [way.] It is emotional safety that is of the utmost importance.”

Christie Thompson is a reporter with the Chicago Bureau

Photo by Advancing Transgender Equality






The $1 Million TED Talk

Bryan Stevenson didn’t want to go to TED, the genre-defying annual conference full of big thinkers and big ideas. He brushed it off, claimed he was too busy and, besides, he didn’t know anything about it. He was preparing for a big case that was just days away – one that could result in a total ban on juveniles being sentenced to life without parole.

Winning the case is a cornerstone goal of a litigation campaign by Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), the Alabama nonprofit Stevenson founded to fight discrimination and injustice in the legal system.

“Well, I have to say I wasn’t really interested in going,” Stevenson said in a recent interview. “It was March, and I was so busy preparing for the Supreme Court case and frankly I didn’t know what [TED] was.”

Stevenson’s staff, however, knew exactly what TED was and understood how important it could be in raising awareness of just the kind of issues Stevenson has been working on most of his career. They insisted he go. He got on a plane and flew to California.

“And I’m so glad I did,” he said. “It was a great experience. There is so much energy around it. I was really astonished by that.”

Founded in 1984, the four-day TED conference, short for Technology, Entertainment and Design, annually attracts 1,500 diverse audience members to Long Beach, Calif. to listen to big names and top innovators who are challenged to “give the talk of their life” in 18 minutes or less. The results are often powerful monologues that receive hundreds of thousands of views online.

TED’s slogan is “Ideas Worth Spreading,” and the conference prides itself on unearthing creative new concepts and putting them in front of a generous community of forward-thinking individuals eager to pitch in. If presented honestly and with passion, the TED community will rally around the cause, donating money, resources and whatever is necessary to help it succeed. The real stars at TED are the unknown speakers who blast out of nowhere to surprise the audience with inspiring talks about thought-provoking ideas, important issues and ground-breaking advances in science and technology – their talks often enhanced by rich data and creative PowerPoint presentations.

“[I]t was intimidating,” Stevenson said. “There were so many speakers who had charts and slide shows and that’s just not my style.”

“I didn’t prepare any differently than I normally do,” he said. “I knew the material, of course, but I didn’t do anything differently. I worried about being so naked in my presentation….”

On that day in early March, Stevenson, alone at the front of the dark stage, drove home the point that children should not be in adult prisons, they should not be tried as adults and they should never be sentenced to die in prison. He told deeply personal stories of his rural Alabama childhood and his inspiring relationship with his teetotaler grandmother, the daughter of slaves. He spoke about race, poverty and a justice system he says provides little justice for the poor – and even less for children.

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth,” he said. “The opposite of poverty is justice.”

Throughout, Stevenson never moved more than a few paces on the stage’s round, red carpet and his voice remained soft, clear and calm, creating a beautiful, still place from which to speak about ugly, uncomfortable truths. It was a guided meditation through the United States’ troubled history with race, class, poverty and justice and the audience responded with rapt attention.

“We need to find ways to embrace these challenges, these problems, the suffering,” Stevenson said, “because ultimately, our humanity depends on everyone’s humanity.”

As an attorney, Stevenson often represents kids charged with serious crimes such as murder or armed robbery, and sometimes a judge orders the child be tried as an adult. Stevenson recounted a late night contemplating how this could be so, a smile playing on his lips as he described writing a tongue-in-cheek brief about his conclusion.

“How can a judge turn you into something you’re not? [He] must have magic power.”

Stevenson spoke about his work at EJI and the upcoming cases before the Supreme Court involving two juveniles tried as adults and sentenced to die in prison via life without parole.

He left the TED crowd with a final thought, a quote from Theodor Parker, a 19th Century Unitarian minister, that was made famous by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“The moral arc of the universe is long,” he said, “but it bends toward justice.”

And then, while Stevenson stood alone in the stage spotlight looking slightly embarrassed, the audience got to its feet and applauded. And they kept applauding, delivering what TED Curator Chris Anderson said was the longest and loudest standing ovation in TED history.

When the applause eventually died out, Anderson, whose nonprofit organizes TED, took the stage to speak with Stevenson. Audience members wanted to know how they could help and Anderson asked what Stevenson’s funding needs were.

“We are trying to raise $1.5 million for a campaign that ends excessive sentencing of children and stops the practice of putting kids in adult jails and prisons, where they are 10 times more likely than other incarcerated people to be the victims of sexual assault and violence,” Stevenson replied. “We just started this effort, and support from the TED community could be huge.”

According to a blog posted by Anderson the day after Stevenson’s talk, Anderson invited the audience to contribute to Stevenson’s effort. Within moments conference attendees pledged nearly $1 million in support. TED is known as a generous community, but the response to Stevenson’s cause was unprecedented. After the addition of a $100,000 contribution from TED itself, Anderson says he cut Stevenson’s organization a check for $1.12 million.

But Stevenson, speaking later about his TED experience, pushed aside the question of money.

Yes, he said, it resulted in some money being raised but, “it wasn’t so much about the money; it was about the moment. It was a wonderful experience.”

Anderson, however, was not so quick to brush it off.

“It’s truly thrilling to see what happens,” Anderson wrote, “when someone comes to TED and induces a whole new view of the world in our audience – and does so in such a powerful and inspiring way.”

Alternatives to Youth Detention Conference Opens in Houston

Texas State Senator John Whitmire came to the podium last night at the opening of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) conference in Houston and got right to the core work of the JDAI. Five years ago, he said, 5,000 youth in Texas were incarcerated at any one time. Today the number is down to 1,500. It has happened, he said, without compromising public safety.

John Whitmire, file photo

The JDAI is an initiative backed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and according to its press release, “In 2010, JDAI sites detained 42 percent fewer youth — approximately 2,400 — on an average day than they had prior to implementing approaches that include electronic monitoring, community monitoring, and day or evening reporting centers."

Over the next two days, more than 700 invited judges, prosecutors, probation officers, academic researchers and community activists will attend sessions aimed at keeping even more kids nationwide out of incarceration.

The attendees, who come from among 150 JDAI sites in 34 states, will be offered some 40 panels and workshops with titles such as “Leadership Strategies to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Disparities” and “Making a Difference: Transforming the Lives of Court-Involved Youth.”

This conference follows on the heels of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Kids Behind Bars national symposium for journalists, where a sense of optimism seemed to prevail that this is an era for positive change for the juvenile justice. That’s the prevailing mode at the JDAI conference also.

However, as Whitmire, a conservative Democrat, pointed out, there is plenty of work to be done. His own focus is on decriminalizing truancy in schools and preventing kids from getting charged for disorderly conduct “for behavior that you and I would have had on our resumes.”

Photo by Texas GOP Vote

For Once, Two Brothers Behind Bars Come Home For Christmas, Part One

Robbie and Zach at Christmas, circa 2005

No one is 100 percent sure what Christmas in the Dykes’ house will be like this year.

But Zach Dykes, 17, a senior at metro Atlanta’s Hillgrove High School, is pretty sure it’ll be better than last year’s. It almost has to be.

Zach was in the Cobb County Youth Detention Center on drug charges until Christmas Eve last year. His older brother, Robbie, 23, was in prison, serving an 18-month prison sentence on a drug conviction.

Both are home now. Both are clean. But neither is out of the woods when it comes to possible relapses. And that realization is the best thing going for them.

“I’ve been using weed for a long, long time, but have been clean since April 13,” Zach said. “My resolution is to keep this momentum going so I can get into a college. Being clean is now a habit and that makes it easier. Used to, staying high was my habit. My new habit is doing what I’m supposed to be doing.”

In some aspects, Christmas was just another day to get high, Zach said. Last Christmas though, was perhaps the worst, Zach said.

“I was in jail on Christmas Eve last year,” he said. “It just made me want to cry. Not because it was that hard on me, but because my mom knew where I was. I was letting my parents down, letting a lot of people down.”

Zach had been in jail for violating his probation, stemming from marijuana possession charges.

As bad as that memory is, Christmas still is a time that Zach looks forward to. There are few memories of what he calls a normal, or idyllic Christmas. But Zach thinks this year’s might be one that is worth remembering.

“All the family is going to be there and it’s going to be nothing like last year,” he said. “There’s so much to have cheer about right now.”

But the constant smile on Zach’s face and the quick wit he wields to those who have unquestioned authority over his life -- he’s considered the class clown in juvenile court, in a good way -- belies the reality of the life he’s lived.

Zach said he started smoking marijuana at 7 years old. Robbie was 12 at the time and they’d smoke together. It’s pretty much the only life he remembers.

Those who know Zach’s history – his probation officer, drug counselor and case manager – barely blink an eye when the fact comes up that Zach started smoking pot before most kids know there is such a thing.

“It is unheard of to be using at 7 years old,” said his probation officer, Erin Dale. “But apparently, he was.”

And not just once or twice.

“I used to stay high pretty much 24-7,” Zach said. "I didn’t go to school much. My parents hit a point where they couldn't do anything and I felt like I couldn’t do anything, which was leading to more drugs.”

“Now, I want to be a good role model for my older brother. He was in prison the last 18 months on drug charges and he used to be a role model to me, even if he wasn’t the best role model. Now, I want to be that good role model for him. To have my big brother look up to me would make me feel good by being that leader.”

Zach, 17

Robbie, who was released from prison earlier this month, says he welcomes whatever it takes for Zach to stay motivated and clean.

“Words can’t explain how proud I am of him,” he said. “It is such a relief. He was going through a real hard time when I was sent away. It seemed like I was getting a letter every other week saying he was back in jail.

“I’ve told him plenty of times that I didn’t want him to go through what I’d gone through. I don’t want anyone to, but especially him, as close as we are.”

Robbie sounds as excited about Christmas as Zach.

“I think it’s going to be a storybook one,” he said. “It will be my first Christmas home in three or four years. I haven’t seen any of my out-of-state family in years.

“Used to, we’d always get up and have Christmas morning, then drive up to Tennessee to see family. That’s the plan for this year.”

It doesn’t seem to bother Robbie or Zach that neither could reel off long strings of specific Christmas memories. And Robbie agrees with his younger brother that this might be the one to remember. Robbie feels he’s not only been given the gift of freedom, but the bigger gift of seeing Zach clean and sober.

“I hate that it took what it did take for us both to get our heads on right,” Robbie said. “I’m not sure it could have happened any other way though. We were both going to do what we wanted, how we wanted. I’m glad we’ve got our heads on straight now. I’m glad he could learn from my experience.”