image_pdfimage_print

Juvenile Offenders that Work Long Hours and Skip School More Likely to Engage in Antisocial Behavior

A new study published in the journal Child Development finds that adolescents that eschew school for employment are more likely to be associated with antisocial behaviors than peers that either work less hours or focus solely on schooling.

Researchers, over a five year window, examined the relationship between work hours and school attendance in a sample of almost 1,300 juvenile offenders. The study, conducted by researchers from Temple University, the University of Pittsburgh and the University of California, Irvine states that teens that work long hours while simultaneously attending high school classes were more likely to engage in antisocial behavior than classmates that had less work hours or did not work at all.

In particular, researchers noted an apparent connection between high-intensity employment - categorized as more than 20 hours per week—and greater likelihoods of teens fostering antisocial behavior, such as bullying and vandalism.

Teens that attended school regularly, without working, were found to demonstrate the least amount of antisocial behavior, while teens that worked long hours and did not attend classes regularly were found to be the likeliest adolescents to engage in antisocial activities.

“The combinations of high-intensity employment and irregular school attendance, unemployment and irregular school attendance and unemployment and not being enrolled in school are associated with significantly greater antisocial behavior, particularly during early adolescence,”  the report reads. “High-intensity employment diminishes antisocial behavior only when accompanied by attending school.”

Success in Juvenile Justice Diversions May Influence Treatment of Adult Offenders in Florida

In October, officials in one Florida community announced that its local police force would now have the ability to issue civil citations in lieu of formal arrests for certain crimes. The Leon County, Fla., measure targeting a largely adult-offender base takes many cues from the state’s juvenile justice system, which has seen vast improvements to juvenile crime rates due to lock-up alternatives.

According to the News Service of Florida  proponents of a statewide movement issue more citations to and arrest fewer adult offenders – if the individual has committed a non-violent crime and has no previous arrest record -- claim that such a policy would save the state tens of millions of dollars in annual incarceration expenses.

Tentative plans would require adult offenders in Leon County - which contains the state capital of Tallahassee - to undergo an assessment within three days of a citation, in addition to performing community service or receiving substance abuse treatment if it may have been a contributing factor to the crime.

Leon County officials began issuing civil citations for non-violent juvenile offenders in 1995. A Florida Department of Juvenile Justice report states that in 2009 and 2010, approximately 7,000 juveniles throughout the state were given civil citations, with only 7 percent re-offending. A 2011 report issued by the Associated Industries of Florida Foundation suggests that through diversion programs the state’s juvenile detention population could be reduced by as much as 40 percent.

“It worked so well with the juveniles that we think it’ll work really well with adults,” Smart Justice Alliance CEO and President Mark Flynn told ABC-affiliate WZVN.

Photo from the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice website. 

Juvenile Offenders in Limbo under Outdated State Laws

More than two years after U.S. Supreme Court decisions started throwing out mandatory death and life sentences for minors, judges in Washington, Illinois and dozens of other states still lack guidance on what to do with juveniles past and present convicted of murder and some other serious felonies.

“Courts are uncomfortable in trying to figure out what ‘life’ means in terms of years,” said Kimberly Ambrose, senior law lecturer at the University of Washington School of Law. She represented Guadalupe Solis-Diaz at the state’s Court of Appeals, arguing against a 92-year sentence he’s serving for six counts of first-degree assault and other charges for his role in a drive-by shooting. The then 16-year-old Solis-Diaz fired into a crowd in Centralia, Wash., in 2007, though did not injure his target or anyone else.

It’s not clear in Washington if those 92 years are equivalent to what the U.S. Supreme Court calls “life” sentences. The federal high court has definitively thrown out state sentencing laws that mandate life without parole for juveniles. Beginning with the 2005 Roper v. Simmons case and more recently with Graham v. Florida in 2010 and Miller v. Alabama in 2012, the court says that juveniles are not yet fully mentally developed, are less culpable and more capable of reform. Therefore, lower court judges must consider those and other mitigating factors when sentencing juveniles for both homicide and non-homicide offenses.

Solis-Diaz’ counsel at his original sentencing failed to mention that U.S. Supreme Court trend. That omission, said the state appeals court, was one of several mistakes that contributed to their decision this month to throw out Solis-Diaz’ 92 years, on grounds of ineffective counsel.

“This is the first life-equivalent case to come before a Washington appellate court,” said Ambrose, speaking of non-homicide offenses.

But the court also noted it would not opine on any other sentence for Solis-Diaz.

“The legislature is the appropriate body to define crimes and fix punishments. To the extent that Graham suggests that an opportunity for parole must be available for juvenile offenders convicted of non-homicide offenses, only the Legislature has the authority to amend the SRA [Sentencing Reform Act] to allow for such remedy,” the opinion reads.

They remanded the case for resentencing.

Many judges are grappling with how to amend their current laws to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court rulings on juvenile sentences. Some state legislatures have yet to update laws to comply with the two-year-old Graham case. And most state legislatures have been closed since the June, 2012 Miller decision, so have had no chance to start thinking about it. Thus judges dealing with juveniles convicted of murder must figure out if it would apply to juvenile offenders sentenced before it, and how to handle appeals, all without legislative guidelines.

“There’s lot of people trying to figure out what to do and how to proceed, and if it [Miller] would apply retroactively,” said Randolph Stone, a law professor at the University of Chicago.

The answers so far vary by state.

More than 100 people have been sentenced to life without chance of parole in Illinois for crimes committed as minors, according to a 2010 report by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Nationally, there are more than 2,500 juvenile offenders who have received this sentence in the states that did or do allow it, according to The Campaign for Fair Sentencing of Youth, an advocacy group.

“Does each of those people get a new hearing? If so, what sort of sentence will they be facing?” Stone asked.

He argued that because the Miller decision was bundled with one out of Arkansas, which relieved a defendant convicted for a crime he committed in 1999, juvenile offenders nationwide who had already been sentenced before the decision should have a chance for a new trial and sentencing.

“It’s a question of whether it will be decided on a case-by-case basis or a broad remedy that can be fashioned to deal with them all at the same time” he said.” I think it’s pretty clear that it does [apply retroactively], although the prosecutors are saying that it doesn’t.”

Michigan’s Supreme Court declined to settle retroactivity in its state this month. Attorney General Bill Schuette asked the Court to rule out retroactivity on the life sentence of a man convicted of participating in an armed robbery as a 16-year-old. Instead, the court remanded the case for resentencing.

One prosecutor who’s agreed to applying Miller to one existing conviction is New Hampshire’s Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeffery Strelzin.  Steven Spader was 17 when he hacked to death a woman in her home. In 2010, he was given his state’s mandatory sentence: life in prison. The court also added 76 years on other charges.

“Spader is the only defendant who has filed anything in court. We have agreed that he will be resentenced in light of the Miller decision,” said Strelzin.

“Four other defendants have indicated they may contest the applicability of Miller to their cases. However, none have filed any motions in court yet asking for a new sentencing hearing,” he said.

Spader’s case was still on appeal when Miller was published. Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court is hearing a similar case.

If the definition of “life” sentences varies by state, so does the definition of “juvenile.”  In Illinois, 17-year-olds facing felony charges are tried as adults, and children ages 15 and older charged with first- degree murder and other felonies, such as robbery at gun-point, are automatically transferred to adult court.

And an accountability statue in Illinois often leads courts to treat accomplices with the same degree of culpability as the shooter.

Illinois has to wrangle with a decade-old ruling by its state Supreme Court that foretold the later U.S. ruling, but may also preclude it being retroactive.

The court shot down a mandatory life sentence for a 15-year-old who had served as a lookout for two people convicted of homicide. The court wrote that under the state’s automatic transfer, accountability, and sentencing statutes, “a court never considers the actual facts of the crime, including the defendant's age at the time of the crime or his or her individual level of culpability.”

Matt Jones, of the state’s Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor’s office, said that mandatory sentencing for juveniles was already shot down in Illinois with this decision, and that courts had abstained from the practice since then, except in the case of 17-year-olds, who were still tried as adults.

But he also said the ruling made it clear that it shouldn’t be applied retroactively, and that he doesn’t think the Supreme Court’s decision in June will be applied retroactively either.

Stone argues the opposite, that the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision only applied to that specific case, and that courts throughout Illinois still maintained mandatory sentencing for minors convicted of homicide. He said that a new bill or amendment to the Illinois Code of Corrections must be made to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling.

The U.S. Supreme Court rulings do not talk about such details. But juvenile rights advocates hail the principle.

“These [mandatory sentencing] laws make it difficult for judges,” said Shobha Mahadev, a Northwestern University law professor. “The decision is taken out of the judge’s hand.  We have to change the way we treat children and change these laws.”

The Illinois Legislature may take the question up when it reconvenes in November. Ambrose expects it to be an issue in Washington as well. Pennsylvania legislators have already held hearings on a rewrite.

Mississippi Joins 38 Other States, Raises Juvenile Age to Eighteen

The Mississippi state sealAn amended law that took effect July 1 made Mississippi the latest state to rethink how youth under the age of 18 are handled in criminal court. The new measure prevents most 17-year-old misdemeanor and nonviolent felony offenders from being tried as adults. Certain felonies including rape, murder and armed robbery may still warrant charges in the adult court system.

Two other states, Connecticut and Illinois, passed similar reforms earlier this year bringing the national total to 39 states that view juveniles as any individual below the age of 18, according to a report issued last week by the Campaign for Youth Justice.

“This is a good news report.” Liz Ryan, director of the Campaign for Youth Justice, -- a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit focused on the issue -- told USA Today. “This really shows that there is a turning tide in the way states are treating kids in the juvenile justice system.”

Some juvenile advocates consider the amendment a positive change in the treatment of youthful offenders, but Mississippi law enforcement and juvenile officials worry it could adversely impact an already over-burdened Youth Court system.

“It’s going to create a tremendous pressure on our juvenile justice system with no increase in resource,” Harrison County Youth Court Judge Margaret Alfonso told the (Biloxi-Gulfport) Sun Herald. “So, it’s creating pressure on a system that’s already pressed.”

Legislators in Mississippi amended the law following state budget cuts that reduced bed space and maximum detention times, among other things, in juvenile facilities. But officials failed to allocate additional funds to the Youth Court system to deal with added expenses and growing number of offenders.

It costs states more to incarcerate offenders in juvenile than adult facilities due to health, counseling and other obligations, but juvenile inmates tend to have a lower recidivism rate than their counterparts in the adult system, according to the same Campaign for Youth Justice report.

Nationally, the United States has witnessed a five-year trend of states rethinking how juveniles are handled in the criminal justice system in large part due to research in adolescent brain development.

Crimes committed by minors aren’t always done with malice because they can’t fully distinguish right from wrong, Gina Vincent, assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, told JJIE at a brain development conference in early May.

Only 11 states, including Georgia, still try offenders younger than 18 in adult courts for nonviolent offenses. Roughly 250,000 offenders under the age of 18 are prosecuted in adult courts annually, according to the Campaign for Youth Justice report.

Boys of Color in Harm's Way

"Negative health outcomes for African-American and Latino boys and young men are a result of growing up in neighborhoods of concentrated disadvantage, places that are more likely to put boys and young men directly in harm’s way and reinforce harmful behavior." That's the key finding from the report entitled: "Healthy Communities Matter: The Importance of Place to the Health of Boys of Color."

The report, which is filled with facts and figures and underwritten by The California Endowment, finds:

  • When it comes to health and other outcomes, the odds for boys and men of color are more than two times worse than they are for white boys and men in California.
  • African-American and Latino children are 3.5 times more likely to grow up in poverty than their white counterparts. In fact, nearly half of the nation’s African-American and Latino fourth graders attend schools that are characterized by extreme poverty.
  • Nationally, the risk of contracting HIV or AIDS is 6.9 times higher for African-American male adults and adolescents than for whites. Latinos are 3.1 times more likely.
  • Young African-American men (15-24) have a homicide death rate at least 16 times greater than that of young white men, and young Latino men have homicide death rate 5 times greater than that of young white men.

The report's conclusion holds:

As a society, we place great emphasis on the personal responsibility of the individual, and our families and institutions should do everything they can to instill in all of our boys and young men a strong sense of self-worth, hope and accountability. But if we expect our children to climb over poverty’s great barriers without help from the rest of us, then we are the ones who are being irresponsible. Because the problems facing African-American and Latino boys and young men are so complex and interwoven, we must put a premium on solutions that establish and strengthen a web of support for them.

Improving the places where our boys and young men of color live, learn, work and play is no easy undertaking. But it is doable. And that makes it the right thing to do.

House Passes Time-Served Bill for Juvenile Offenders

Children who are locked up in detention centers while waiting for court dates may get credit for time served under a bill that has passed in the Georgia House.  HB 1144 would require the state to treat juvenile offenders the same way it treats adults.

Sponsors call it a "fairness issue as well as a budget issue".  If it passes in the Senate, the plan will free up beds in the juvenile justice system, and allow the state to cut some costs.