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The Beat Within: This Is a Poem About What Causes Poems Like This to Be Written

Before I begin this poem ...
I'd like to ask you to join me in a moment of silence …
In honor of those who died in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon
On September 11th 2001 ...

I'd also like to ask you to offer up a moment of silence …

For all those who’ve been harassed, imprisoned, disappeared, tortured, raped or killed in retaliation for those strikes ... for the victims in Afghanistan, Iraq, in the U.S. and throughout the world ...

And if I could add just one more thing ...

A day of silence.

For the tens of thousands of Palestinians who died at the hands of U.S.-backed Israeli forces over decades of occupation.

Six months of silence ...

For the million and a half Iraqi people … mostly children ... who died of malnourishment or starvation as a result of a twelve-year U.S. embargo against that country … before the war ever began … and now … the drums of war beat again ...

Before I begin this poem ...

Nine months of silence
For the dead in Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Where death rained down and peeled back every layer
Of concrete, steel, earth and skin
And the survivors
Well they went on as if they were alive ...

One year of silence …

For the millions dead in Vietnam ... a people ... not a war ... for those who know a thing or two about the scent of burning fuel — their relatives’ bones buried in it — their babies born of it ...

Two months of silence ...

For the decade of dead in Colombia ... whose names … like the corpses they once represented … have piled up and slipped off our tongues ...

Before I begin this poem ...

Seven days of silence ... for El Salvador
A day of silence … for Nicaragua
Five days of silence … for the Guatemalans
None of whom ever knew a moment of peace in their living years …

1,955 miles of silence …
For every desperate body that burns in the desert sun
Drowned in swollen rivers at the pearly gates to the empire’s underbelly
A gaping wound sutured shut by razor and corrugated steel ...

Twenty-five years of silence …
For the millions of Africans who found their graves far deeper in the ocean than any building could poke into the sky
For those who were strung and swung from the height of sycamore trees
In the South
The North
The East
The West
There will no DNA testing or dental records to identify their remains ...

100 years of silence …
For the hundreds of millions of indigenous people from this half of right now
Whose land and lives were stolen
In postcard-perfect plots like
Pine Ridge
Wounded Knee
Sand Creek
Fallen Timbers
Or the Trail of Tears
Names now reduced to innocuous magnetic poetry
On the refrigerator of our consciousness ...

From the somewhere within the pillars of power …
You open your mouth to invoke a moment of silence …
And we are all left speechless
Our tongues snatched from our mouths
Our eyes stapled shut

A moment of silence …
And the poets are laid to rest
The drums disintegrated to dust ...

Before I begin this poem.

You want a moment of silence …
You mourn now as if the world will never be the same
While the rest of us hope to hell that it won't be
Not like it always has been
Because you see
This isn't a 9/11 poem
This is a 9/10 poem!
A 9/9 poem!
A 9/8 poem!
A 9/7 poem!
This is a 1619 poem!
A 1492 poem!
This is a poem about what causes poems like this to be written
But if it is a 9/11 poem
It's a September 11, 1973 poem for the people of Chile
It's a September 12, 1977 poem for the Steven Biko of South Africa
It's a September 13, 1971 poem for the brothers at Attica prison in New York
It's a September 14, 1992 poem for the people of Somalia
This is a poem for every date that falls to the ground
Amidst the ashes of amnesia
This is a poem for the 110 stories that were never told
The 110 stories that history uprooted from its textbooks
The 100 stories that CNN, ABC, The New York Times and Newsweek ignored
This is a poem to interrupt their programs
This is not a peace poem
Not some poem of forgiveness
This is a justice poem
A poem for never forgetting
This is a poem to remind us
That all that glitters
Might just be
Broken glass
And still you want a moment of silence for the dead?
We could give you lifetimes of empties;
The unmarked graves
Lost languages
The uprooted trees and histories
The dead stares on the faces of nameless children.

Before I begin this poem …

We could be silent forever ...
Or just long enough to hunger for the dust to bury us
And would you still ask us for more of our silence ...

Well if you want a moment of silence ...
Then stop the oil pumps
Turn off the engines
The televisions
Sink the cruise ships
Crash the stock markets
Unplug the marquee lights
Delete the emails and instant messages
Derail the trains and ground the planes

If you want a moment of silence …
Put a brick through the window of Taco Bell
And pay the workers for wages lost …

Tear down the Liquor stores
The Townhouses
The Penthouses
The Jail houses
And the White Houses

If you want a moment of silence ...
Then take it now!
Before this poem begins
Here’s your silence
Take it!
Take it all!
But don't cut in line
Let your silence begin
At the beginning of crime …

Jesse Jackson, 52, is currently in the San Francisco County Jail for a probation violation. He has spent the better part of the last 35 years in and out of the criminal justice system.

The Beat Within, a publication of writing and art from incarcerated youth, was founded by David Inocencio in San Francisco in 1996. Weekly writing and conversation workshops are held in California, six other states and Washington, D.C. Submissions and new partners are welcomed. Write to him at inocencio@thebeatwithin.org.

This Pro-justice Reform Candidate in Brooklyn, NY, Started Activism at Age 12

NEW YORK — Twenty-three years ago, New York City Council candidate Anthony Beckford faced long odds when he spoke out as a precocious preteen against a school redistricting plan in central Brooklyn.

From what he understood at age 12, the plan would split the district into two — one for the rich, the other for the poor. He gave an impassioned speech at a school board meeting and members voted against the plan. The message he took from that experience was simple: If he just spoke passionately and eloquently enough, he could accomplish anything.

New York Bureau“I’ve always had this strength within me but it was from the things that I was taught as a child and from the power that I realized that even as a child I had,” he said in an interview. “With me being older, I’m bigger. I’m louder now.”

The longtime activist is hoping he can prevail against Democratic incumbent Jumaane Williams, a rising star in local politics who won election four years ago with nearly 100 percent of the vote. But these facts haven’t kept Beckford from waging a $1,500 electoral insurgency as passionately as he can against an opponent with almost 20 times more money.

Beckford shares stories on social media about his work leading the Copwatch Patrol Unit in Brooklyn. The group is known for its aggressive monitoring of police officers. “Complacency is the slave mentality of those who choose to be slaves,” reads its recent recruitment, an approach Beckford has deployed in his campaign.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has steered the Justice Department away from Obama-era reforms to criminal justice. But in central Brooklyn, these ideas are seen as not far-reaching enough to many activists at the grassroots level. These are the people who pack the courts when police go on trial for shooting civilians. Or they are the activists who challenge the authority of police officers to curtail protests. Sometimes they run for elected office with popular ideas that eventually can gain the support of more centrist politicians.

City Council candidate Anthony Beckford hangs a campaign poster at Flatbush Junction on Oct. 27, 2017.

Beckford wants to fire police officers who kill civilians, legalize marijuana rather than decriminalize it and end “broken windows” style policing. His lack of money and name recognition and his sometimes radical views may not win him a city council seat, but the message appealed to passersby as he canvassed alongside a busy intersection in the district on a Saturday afternoon in October.

An elderly woman stopped to hear Beckford describe his platform. Another woman turned back to the curb from the crosswalk to grab a leaflet. A 30-something man appeared surprised moments later to see the brochure’s photo matched the barreled-bodied man in front of him.

The dangers of policing were nothing new to one man who talked to Beckford about the school-to-prison pipeline.

“It’s a setup since Creation,” the man said.

“Mass incarceration is the new slavery. Broken windows is the new Jim Crow era laws,” Beckford replied.

His opponent Williams is not militant enough, Beckford said.

Williams, who did not respond to a request for comment, embodies a more pragmatic style of politics that has resulted in reforms to the city’s criminal justice system.

One bill he sponsored would eventually divert tens of thousands of people away from the criminal justice system; another was “ban the box” legislation that now prohibits city employers from asking job applicants about their criminal histories until after they’ve been offered a job.

City Council candidate Anthony Beckford campaigns at Flatbush Junction in Brooklyn on Oct. 27, 2017.

These are still radical ideas in many cities within Middle America, but in Brooklyn they are the mainstream. A city council where only three out of 51 seats are Republican leaves plenty of space for incumbents to face challenges from the far left.

And that’s where Beckford continues to operate. He lives in the same apartment he did when he began his activism long ago. A degree from “Grunt University” — earned through his completion of Marine Corps basic training — hangs on the wall a few feet away from a 23-year-old letter.

That came from a school administrator who heard Beckford speak out against that rezoning plan 23 years ago. A single voice had stopped an unjust plan, wrote Harvey Garner, the community superintendent.

Beckford said in an interview that the recognition he received from this authority figure inspired him throughout the years that followed.

“It meant a lot to me,” he said.


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So this would be an especially good time to donate to the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. Any money you give us up to $1,000 will be doubled.

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Young People a Focus for Anti‑Fascism, Anti-Trump Movement

NEW YORK — It was a school night and well past Joshua Vega’s bedtime when most of the world learned that Donald Trump had won the 2016 election and would become the 45th president of the United States. The then-third grader said he didn’t get the news until the next morning when he asked his grandmother for permission to use her phone to look up the election results.

A year later, between chants of “No Trump, No KKK, No Fascist USA” and while holding a sign that read, “The Nightmare Must End: The Trump/Pence Regime Must Go!” the 9-year-old from Queens spoke as passionately as any adult in the crowd.

“I don’t want Donald Trump to keep making the bad decisions he’s making now,” said Vega, who attended the rally with his mother, Madison, and his two younger siblings. “I hope he can become a better president — or we’ll get someone better,” he added.

Vega was one of what organizers estimated to be about 1,500 (New York police estimated 300, according to Newsweek) who attended a rally and march on Saturday in New York City to call for an end to the Trump presidency. Protesters rallied in Times Square, then marched through the streets of Manhattan before ending with a second rally in Washington Square Park. Similar events were held across the country. Refuse Fascism, the group that organized the event, vowed protests will continue across the country until Trump is ousted.

Nine-year-old Joshua Vega (center), marching with his mother and younger siblings at the Refuse Fascism protest on Nov. 4, 2017.

“If this can work, we need millions of people in the streets, we need to awaken the people who are angry at the president and turn it into a movement,” said Jack, a 25-year-old student organizer with Refuse Fascism, as he welcomed young participants to the rally.

Jack, who prefered not to use his last name, said he hasn’t personally felt targeted by the Trump administration’s policies, but blames President Trump for letting his friends in Puerto Rico suffer after Hurricane Maria. He said other friends — even those who are in the country legally — are afraid to go home to other countries for Christmas because they don’t know if they’ll be able to return to the United States due to Trump’s attempts to implement and enforce a travel ban.

[Related: Scenes From A New York Protest]

“I’m seeing my friends and family and people getting hurt — I can’t stand by on the sidelines,” he said.

Queens resident Brianna Hoobraj, 15, attended the rally on behalf of her 26-year-old brother, who couldn’t come.

Nine-year-old Demiana Doss riding on the shoulders of her father, Peter Doss, as they march from Times Square to Washington Square Park on Nov. 4, 2017.

“My brother has a disability and he [Trump] doesn’t like people with disabilities,” said Hoobraj, at the rally with a friend. In November 2015, then-candidate Trump mocked New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski, who has arthrogryposis, a congenital joint condition.

Dismayed by attempts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, Peter Doss, a physician from Warren, New Jersey, brought his two children to the rally and march.

“It really pains me, what’s happening to health care in this country simply out of spite for a program that Obama wanted to put in place — there’s absolutely no policy justification for what’s happening,” said Doss as he helped his 9-year-old daughter Demiana make a sign to carry during the march.

Most, but not all, of those at the rally and march were there to protest the Trump presidency.

Brianna Hoobraj (center left) marching with a friend at the Refuse Fascism march in New York City on Nov. 4, 2017. Hoobraj said she was protesting the Trump administration’s attitude toward the disabled.

Fifteen-year-old Jonathan, a Queens resident who preferred his last name not be used, was one of about 20 loosely organized counter-protesters who paced around the perimeter of the Times Square rally and followed protesters through the streets of Manhattan to Washington Square Park.

In the days before the march, rumors of an upcoming civil war swirled online, but with the exception of a few minor shouting matches, the New York event was nonviolent.

“I’m pretty sure people have heard about the rumors of an antifa [anti-fascist] civil war — that’s not what’s really going on, at least not here in New York. Left-wing liberals, or however they want to call themselves, are more civilized here than in other areas,” Jonathan said. “Charlottesville isn’t going to happen here.

“Before the election people thought he’d never be able to win,” Jonathan said, adding that he supports Trump because of his never-give-up attitude.

Refuse Fascism organizers say they won’t give up either and plan to continue protesting until the Trump administration is ousted. Organizers like Jack say young people are crucial to their success.

Fifteen-year-old Jonathan, a Trump supporter from Queens, discussing politics at the Refuse Fascism march in New York City on Nov. 4, 2017.

“We need students involved — no mass protest movement can go without the students,” Jack said. Young adults will be affected the most by Trump’s policies, and he hopes to soon have young people organize high school and college walkouts, he said.

Like Jack, Doss is looking toward the future. Along with health care, he said he worries about what the Trump administration’s policies are doing to the environment.

“What’s happening at the EPA is absolutely disgraceful,” said Doss, referring to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s recent appointment of a scientific advisor who once said the air is “too clean for optimal health” and is reported to have said that children need to breath irritants in order to build up their immunity.

“I believe this is just absolute kleptocracy — it’s rule by corporations and rule for profit and with absolutely no consideration for the world that we’re leaving for our children,” said Doss, referring to the close relationship between the petrochemical industry and some of President Trump’s science appointees.

Pausing for a moment, he glanced down at a sad red face his daughter was drawing on her sign, at his son standing nearby and then out into the crowd.

“These are my children, this is the world they are going to inherit,” he said.

This story has been updated.


Hello. The national Knight Foundation and the Democracy Fund like our work so much that they have agreed to match donations of up to $1,000 per person. They will spend up to $28,000 through the end of December.

So this would be an especially good time to donate to the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. Any money you give us up to $1,000 will be doubled.

Our independent journalism on the juvenile justice system takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce. But we believe it’s crucial — and we think you agree.

Thanks for listening.

Contribute Now

More States Need to Halt Prosecution of Youth as Adults

This month marks one year since the passage of Proposition 57, a California ballot measure that prohibited district attorneys from filing charges against youth as young as 14 directly in adult criminal court through a practice known as “direct file.” The initiative passed with 64 percent of the vote, signaling strong popular support for curtailing prosecutorial authority and expanding access to the rehabilitative benefits of the juvenile justice system.

While juvenile courts are premised on rehabilitation and required to provide young people with education, mental health and other age-appropriate services, the adult criminal justice system offers no such guarantee. Youth placed in adult courtrooms are exposed to the trauma of stigmatizing, high-stakes proceedings and may face lengthy adult sentences devoid of rehabilitative opportunities. Furthermore, youth prosecuted and convicted as adults are saddled with lifelong criminal records, severely limiting access to education, housing and employment, and potentially impacting their right to vote or their immigration status.

Research supports the notion that adult court prosecution is fundamentally inappropriate for young people. Studies comparing youth tried in juvenile courts to those processed as adults find that criminal prosecution is associated with poorer mental health outcomes, including higher rates of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and elevated risk of rearrest after release. Though proponents of these policies claim they are necessary to deter serious crime, research has linked direct file, transfer and waiver policies to increased levels of youth violence.

Though the burden of these laws falls most heavily on youth relegated to criminal courts, the effects also filter into the juvenile justice system, disadvantaging young people who retain their status as juveniles. In states that permit prosecutors to exercise discretion over transfer petitions or the filing of adult charges, the very threat of criminal prosecution can be used to exact unfavorable plea agreements, exposing young people, unnecessarily, to additional juvenile justice system contact.

Fortunately, decadeslong reductions in youth crime have allowed the pendulum of juvenile justice policymaking to swing towards common-sense reforms that honor youthfulness and emphasize treatment over punishment. In California, Proposition 57 ensures that youth are no longer subject to unchecked prosecutorial authority and cannot be criminally prosecuted without first receiving a transfer hearing in juvenile court.

All California youth are now presumed suitable for the treatment and care of the juvenile court, and prosecutors carry the burden of proving otherwise. By law, California juvenile court judges must look beyond the seriousness of a young person’s offense and consider the “totality of the circumstances,” including their social history, mental health, level of participation in the offense and success with prior interventions, when determining whether they can be transferred to adult criminal court. By abolishing direct file and establishing a higher standard of proof for transferring youth to the adult criminal justice system, California is expected to prosecute many fewer youth as adults in the coming years.  

Several other states have introduced reforms aimed at correcting longstanding overreliance on punitive, criminal sanctions for young people. Recently, New York and North Carolina used their budget processes to expand the age bounds of their juvenile justice systems to ensure that 16- and 17-year-old youth can no longer be automatically placed in adult courtrooms.

In Indiana, state law now permits youth to be processed in juvenile court for any remaining lesser charges if they are tried and acquitted for a more serious offense in adult criminal court. This prevents prosecutors from gaining unfettered access to criminal prosecution through overcharging. In 2016, the Vermont Legislature granted original jurisdiction to the court’s Family Division in all youth misdemeanor cases and in select youth felony cases, ensuring that most young people are processed in juvenile rather than adult criminal court.

Though incremental, these reforms have the potential to lessen criminal justice system involvement for thousands of youth, bringing the U.S. one step closer to ending the unjust prosecution of youth as adults and delivering on the full rehabilitative promise of the juvenile justice system.

Misguided and reactionary policymaking eroded the core values and protections of the juvenile justice system throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Yet relics of these policies remain, contrasting starkly with current realities. State lawmakers must heed contemporary research, record-low rates of youth crime and increasing public support for progressive justice reforms, and act now to halt the inhumane treatment of youth as adults.

Maureen Washburn is a member of the policy and communications team at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.

Parents of the Young Killed by Police Support Each Other, Keep on Showing Up

NEW YORK — The parents who gathered on the steps of Brooklyn Borough Hall on a recent balmy Sunday morning came from different boroughs and ranged in age but all had one thing in common — all of them had buried a child who had been killed by the police.

Some at the rally laid the blame for increased police aggression on Donald Trump’s administration and Jeff Sessions’s Department of Justice. But state Assemblyman Charles Barron, a Democrat and former City Council member for Brooklyn, warned the crowd not to focus too much on Trump and his supporters. This is a fight that has been going on before the last presidential election, he said.

See rest of the story and slideshow at Bokeh.

From Detention to Graduation: Examining Role of Education in U.S. Juvenile Justice System

At 7 a.m., teenagers are scurrying to dress and head to class. There are no parents or older siblings nearby to push them out of bed and out the door. And the commute isn’t long — just a short walk from prison bed to classroom.

But these young men at the MacLaren Juvenile Detention Facility in Woodburn, Oregon, are going someplace — and that’s a start, state educators and justice officials say.

The students meander from four different buildings, depending on their status — some as young as 15 and others who were sentenced as adults but placed in juvenile facilities — down long corridors to a central school.

“MacLaren is a regular school, and if you were to walk in you’d think you’re in a high school hallway,” said Deborah Martin, senior policy advisor for community services at the Oregon Youth Authority.

The students get the usual array of math, English and science. But MacLaren and most of Oregon’s other youth detention facilities also offer the chance to learn a vocation. An advanced auto mechanics class ties to a partnership with a local community college. Classes teach latticework and woodworking. Some students learn wildlife preservation and take advanced classes in fighting wildfires common to the Pacific Northwest.

The most advanced students, usually in their late teens or early 20s who have spent years in the facility and are ready to transition into the public sector, are allowed to work with local firefighters out in the fields.

“As a state, we’ve made a conscious decision that we can’t just give them a high school education, but give them a vocation and a chance to succeed in the work world,” Martin said. “For most of these kids, something wasn’t quite right about their life — that’s why they came to us. We want to help them get back on track.”

Oregon is considered at the forefront of efforts to improve the transition from juvenile detention back to public schools or into the workforce, according to education and juvenile justice experts.

In addition to schoolwork, the state has set up a system in which each teenager entering the juvenile justice system is assigned a parole officer who will stick with them until they exit the system.

The officers serve as case managers, arranging counseling, mental and substance abuse treatment if needed and, working with the teens, teachers and their families, devise an education and support plan as soon as they enter the system.

Transition officers

Additionally, Oregon provides some juveniles with transitional parole officers whose job is helping the teens and young adults in their first reentry months. What began as a pilot program four years ago with a single officer has developed into a statewide assistance program that has put about 100 teens into the workforce and helped many more return to the classroom.

Jim Kramer, chief of parole and probation for the Oregon Youth Authority, said transition officers stay in specific regions so they know about job opportunities and can build contacts in local school systems. They mostly support youth 17 and older.

All students leaving detention facilities in the state must be admitted into local schools. But “let’s face it, in some of these schools our students are going back to places in class with some of their victims, so there is some pushback,” Kramer said. “Our transition POs work to soften that landing and work with the school and student to come up with a transition plan.”

National trend to reduce recidivism

Oregon’s attempt to ease the transition from lockdown to society is part of a larger national trend that experts say is tied to a steep drop in juvenile crime and recidivism.

In the past two decades, the population of young people held in juvenile facilities or other forms of detention has been cut in half nationwide, according to a study by Child Trends, a nonprofit research organization focusing solely on youth and their families.

The figures are encouraging, juvenile justice experts say, and show that more states are using data and lessons learned from comprehensive studies (such as one from the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice in 2016) as blueprints for diversion and treatment programs that keep teens in school and ultimately make them far less likely to reoffend.

But the success of diversion programs has created a new reality for educators and justice professionals: Those who are locked up now are sometimes more hardened, more difficult to reach and present a challenge to educate and treat before and after they reenter society.

“What the data shows is that as incarceration rates have gone down, the population still incarcerated are higher risk and higher need, and recidivism rates still tend to be pretty high because it’s a challenging group to work with,” said Josh Weber, program director for the Council of State Governments Justice Center in New York City.

“It requires a more nuanced reading of data and a more sophisticated understanding of risk placement and how to tailor education programs to the individual,” Weber said. “The juvenile field has done a good job, much better than the adult system, of keeping kids from coming back into the system. But I think we’re still struggling with developing enough programs for mental health and substance abuse.”

Recidivism and dropping out of school  

Educating teens held in facilities is crucial to helping them return to the classroom when they are released, experts said. But that’s not always easy, in large part because of circumstances students can’t control. Some teens are in locked facilities for only a few days or weeks, making it difficult for teachers to learn the best ways to help them learn. Nearly all students can be pulled from classes for court appearances or other reasons related to their legal issues.

“It used to be that 30 days before release planning programs would begin. Now, from the moment they are placed in facilities, we see families involved, treatment planning with staff, making sure kids get re-enrolled in school as soon as they are released.”

In all, two-thirds of teens released from juvenile facilities never return to school and “find themselves far behind their peers,” according to a study by The Sentencing Project, a nonprofit focusing on disparities in the justice system — adult and juvenile.

“A huge problem, and I’m not sure it’s talked about enough, is the lack of transfer of academic credits when students go from a facility back into a local school system,” said Kate Burdick, a staff attorney for the nonprofit Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia. “When they are going to school in a facility, they think they are getting credit, and they should be. But when they go back to their old school — or sometimes it’s even worse because they are forced to a new school away from where they live — they come to realize the school districts won’t accept those credits.”

That leads to frustration for the students and increases dropout rates, Burdick said.

National guidelines and action plans

Several states and local jurisdictions have implemented new rules to increase the chances that students graduate when leaving detention facilities. For example, New York — pushed into action by a lawsuit and consent decree — has created “credit equivalency charts” that provide uniform standards for integrating students back into the classroom. That includes efforts to make sure students are enrolled in schools in the same district in which they and their family live, increasing the odds they stay in school.

Virginia and Washington state have introduced legislation that speeds up the time between students leaving detention and being enrolled in a local school system.

The federal government has also created guidelines in recent years, aimed at smoothing the transition from detention to graduation. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Education released guidelines for disciplining students, part of an effort to keep teens in school and out of the justice system.

The guidelines stressed the need for strong partnerships among mental health agencies, counseling, law enforcement and school systems — designed to help divert students who might be sent to the juvenile justice system into counseling or specialized school programs. But the guidelines also focus on helping schools and students adapt as they leave lockdown facilities and return to public schools.

In  2016, the Department of Education released a “reentry toolkit” that provided tips and resources for local jurisdictions to provide services for students returning to the classroom.

Another program designed to help both adults and juveniles reenter society, the 2015 federal Second Chance Act, overcame efforts by the Trump administration to slash its budget by 30 percent as of press time. On July 14, the House Appropriations Committee agreed to provide full funding for the project at $68 million with support from both parties, according to committee member Scott Taylor, a Republican representing Virginia. The vote is seen as a key step in the budgeting process.

There is still much work ahead, said Weber of the Council of State Governments. States must do a better job gathering and analyzing case data that will help them craft more effective education programs to help teens graduate high school when they leave detention, he said.

“The good news is that the field is more aware of the need for having a more robust reentry program, and the planning starts much earlier,” Weber said. “It used to be that 30 days before release planning programs would begin. Now, from the moment they are placed in facilities, we see families involved, treatment planning with staff, making sure kids get re-enrolled in school as soon as they are released.”

Despite the difficulties, Weber and others said there are several concrete steps jurisdictions can take to improve the chances teens graduate after incarceration. First and foremost is having mental health and substance abuse treatment programs inside the facilities and in the school systems.

“We’re struck by how few states have a dedicated mental health or substance abuse system,” he said. “The default in many instances is to handle those problems as criminal justice issues, and that’s not where they belong.”

Last year several groups focusing on juvenile justice and education issues combined to create a detailed, 10-point blueprint to aid reentry. The study and guidelines, created by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Bar Association Center of Children and the Law, the Juvenile Law Center and others, provides concrete examples and recommendations for states and local jurisdictions to follow.

Still, the success of any program depends on states dedicating money and time to ensure students have the best chance of graduating once they leave detention facilities, said Marsha Levick, deputy director and chief counsel of the Juvenile Law Center.

“There are software programs available, lots of innovative ways to engage students and tailor programs to individual needs,” Levick said. “But there has to be the will to do that.

“What’s always frustrated me is that these kids in locked facilities should have the same exact opportunities as kids on the outside. Yet we don’t hold facilities accountable for delivering the same quality of education. We have to really change that mindset if we want to see better outcomes.”

Trying to interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline

The 2014 U.S. Department of Education’s “Guiding Principles A Resource Guide for Improving School Climate and Discipline” articulates the federal government’s acknowledgement of inequity when it comes to school discipline:

“Nationwide, data collected by our Office for Civil Rights show that youths of color and youths with disabilities are disproportionately impacted by suspensions and expulsions. For example, data show that African-American students without disabilities are more than three times as likely as their white peers without disabilities to be expelled or suspended. Although students who receive special education services represent 12 percent of students in the country, they make up 19 percent of students suspended in school, 20 percent of students receiving out-of-school suspension once ... and 23 percent of students receiving a school-related arrest.”

While the guidelines are nonregulatory, and “the extent to which states and school districts implement the suggestions in this resource guide is a matter for state and local school officials to decide,” it does provide 13 specific action steps designed to reduce suspensions and other out-of-school referrals.

For example:

  • “Engage in deliberate efforts to create positive school climates.” This action item names groups of youth who are often disenfranchised — from those with disabilities to LBGTQ youth and young people of color. Specific goals may include reducing numbers of suspensions and expulsions and law enforcement referrals, and “identifying and connecting at-risk youths to tailored supports, or increasing the availability of quality mental health supports available for students.”
  • “Train all school staff to apply school discipline policies and practices in a fair and equitable manner so as not to disproportionately impact students of color, students with disabilities, or at-risk students.”

“Remove students from the classroom only as a last resort, ensure that alternative settings provide academic instruction, and return students to class as soon as possible.”  

State Trends Show Fewer Young People Tried As Adults, New Report Says

WASHINGTON — The number of young people locked into adult jails and prisons has plummeted nearly two-thirds since 2009 and the number automatically sent to adult courts for criminal trials has fallen by nearly half from 2007 to 2014, a new report says.

The numbers of youth tried as adults will likely fall even further by 2020, when four states — Louisiana, South Carolina, North Carolina and New York — fully implement reform laws passed over the last few years, said the new report from the Campaign for Youth Justice, a Washington-based nonprofit group.

The statistics are unalloyed victory for juvenile justice reform advocates, said Marcy Mistrett, CEO of the Campaign. “We have a lot to celebrate,” she said. “We have the majority of states not only changing one law but changing a lot of laws that treat kids like kids. That is something to celebrate.”

Once New York and North Carolina implement their laws, it will mark the first time since juvenile courts were created more than a century ago that no state will automatically try 16-year-olds as adults.

Nine states and the District of Columbia all passed laws limited or barring youthful offenders from being put in adult jails. New York and Oregon banned the practice outright this year.

Mistrett’s group will release the report formally this  morning in Washington. She’ll be joined by Olivia Brown, a teenager who was charged as an adult for a school fight, and senators from two states that have recently begun ambitious reform efforts of their own — Vermont’s Dick Sears, a Democrat, and South Carolina’s Gerald Malloy, a Democrat. Brown became for many the face of the campaign to “raise the age” of adult prosecution in North Carolina.

“The science we’re familiar with now tells us we continue to grow and age beyond childhood,” Malloy said. Quoting Frederick Douglass that “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men,” Malloy led efforts to pass state legislation to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction for most crimes from 17 to 18 years old. The legislation passed unanimously but must still be properly funded, by 2019, to take effect.

“There are a mountain of things we can do. They say we save children one child at a time,” Malloy said. The reform “also tells us a little bit about who we are as a people. The idea is to try to keep children from behind the fence.”

Sears’ Vermont was hailed by the Campaign for “a number of juvenile justice reforms over the last two years,” the report says. Children under 11 will be subject to juvenile court no matter what and only those older than 16 and charged with “the Big 12” felonies, such as murder, rape, etc., will face the prospect of an adult prosecution.

“Many of these kids, they carry around the collateral consequences of crime for the rest of their lives,” Sears said. “Now they’ll be given a second chance.”

For all the good news, Mistrett said she hopes no one thinks advocates can — or will — rest on their laurels. “We still have a lot of work to do,” she said.

Among the challenges remaining are the often opaque rules about who gets to determine which children will be prosecuted as adults — and the often-shocking racial disparities that result from that opacity, Mistrett said. And the backlash politics of the Trump administration shows “just how easy it is to get back to the ‘get tough’ messaging,” she said.

Still, she is hopeful that the years of work by reform advocates has helped Americans reach a different level of consciousness about crime, punishment and young people.

“I think the general public is finally realizing that we can’t incarcerate ourselves out of the problem of crime,” Mistrett said.

New York City Mother Still Hopes for Justice on Son’s Sixth ‘Murder-versary’

NEW YORK — Six years after Jamal Singleton was shot in the back, mother Monica Cassaberry says she is ready to make a new push for detectives to solve his murder.

She and her family are frustrated at the police department’s lack of any meaningful progress. There is no indication that the shooting was random, targeted or a case of mistaken identity, she said. The case remains unsolved even though the shooting was captured on three different surveillance cameras from nearby businesses and apartment buildings.

“When I was growing up, we had a community raise our children. We need to come back to that because these children are dying,” Cassaberry said.

On what she calls his "murder-versary,” she released blue and white  balloons Tuesday evening, just after dark. Grandson Jamal Singleton Jr., 8, played tag with his cousins, running around in front of his grandmother's apartment in Brownsville, Brooklyn.

Cassaberry hopes that during the next “murder-versary” her son‘s killer will be in custody and serving time for shooting her son to death. She was joined by other mothers whose children have been killed, some more than one.

“We are parents and mothers who don’t want to be in this group, we didn’t ask to be in this group” Cassaberry said about the network of women who have connected after the loss of a child. “But this club is getting bigger and bigger.”

Jamal Singleton, 22, was killed on September 19, 2011, shot outside the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood house he shared with his family, including Cassaberry, and his son, Jamal Jr., who was 2 at the time. He had been working at Verizon Wireless doing custodial work for six months before his death and was helping support his household.

Every generation of Cassaberry’s family has been shaped by violence in the community. Jamal Jr. still lives in the home where the shooting took place. Her oldest grandson, 12, lost his mother to arson at age 4 and his godfather to gun violence.

Cassaberry says she didn’t find solace in support groups, and found herself drawn more to being active and vocal in the community. She began meeting other mothers who lost children to gun violence at marches and rallies. One was Bridgette Hoggard, mother of 18-year-old Terrell Fountain, who was shot to death in 2011, just a few months before Singleton.

She is now involved in the Tayshana “Chicken” Murphy Foundation with Hoggard, an organization founded in honor of a slain basketball rising star, lovingly nicknamed Chicken. Cassaberry is the assistant supervisor, overseeing community-organized response to support families immediately after gun-related deaths.

She has grown close with the group of mothers she’s met in her fight for justice and who she now considers like kin. They form the community that is filling in to raise and support the families fractured by gun violence.

Together, they commemorate birthdays, anniversaries, “murder-versaries,” and milestones, like murder cases being solved.

“We’ve all become family because of this,” Cassaberry said.


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New York’s March for Justice

They were white and black, young and old, gay, trans and straight, putting themselves on the line for what the organizer called the civil rights movement for the 21st century.

Soffiyah Elijah came up with the 180-mile walk from Harlem to Albany, New York, an attempt to draw attention to the abuses in state prisons and, they hoped, bring about some reforms. She is the executive director of the Alliance of Families for Justice.

The story of the march is told in Bokeh.

Check out previous New York March coverage

Civil Rights, Chi and a Full Moon

The first time I met the organizer of the March for Justice she told me to shut up. She put it more politely, but that was the meaning all the same.

I was milling about in the lobby of the Beacon Light Tabernacle Seventh Day Adventist Church in the Hudson Valley in New York state half-asleep, chatting with marchers about what in the hell would bring them out on a cold, rainy early Sunday morning when I heard it.

“S!”

“S” is protestor-speak for shut the fuck up.

One of the march’s drivers, Bill, who looks like he could be plucked out of a picture from the height of the upheavals of the 1960s, leaned over and whispered: “When Miss Soffiyah says ‘S’ it means be quiet.”

Soffiyah Elijah, the charismatic executive director of the Alliance of Families for Justice who created the March of Justice, has an almost uncanny ability to tap into reserves of energy. She had already marched 80 miles from Harlem, with another 100 to go. She had been sleeping on cots and inflatable mattresses, with the occasional catnap in the rattling school bus or on tattered couches. But here she was taking command of the group of marchers and newcomers.

She ordered everyone into a circle. It was time for chi. Justice, Elijah insists, takes chi.

I am not what you would call a chi guy. But something about her exuberance and infectious smile and the almost military no-nonsense way she barked out orders about channeling energy from the universe won me over. Next thing I knew I was twisting back and forth and paying a visit to my toes and rubbing my shins.

Elijah, a former defense attorney for revolutionaries, conceived of the march as a way to use traditional civil rights tactics from the 1960s to draw attention to what she sees as a civil rights catastrophe happening every day behind New York’s prison walls and in the ubiquitous inequities that plague its criminal justice system.

I traveled 20 miles with Elijah. I watched her face obstacles as serious as prison administrators who tried to stop her march to as mundane as finding a place to wash clothes. She never stopped. When a park employee told her she couldn’t continue without a permit, she replied with a smile and without hesitation: “We aren’t turning back.”

The last time I saw her, Elijah was done marching for the day. She was in yet another church basement turning a rickety foldout table into an information booth surrounded by people. She was explaining, composed but with quiet passion, what is happening in the prisons while they sleep at night.  

Bob, one of the other drivers for the march and a veteran of the social justice movement since the 1960s, offered to give me and my photographer a ride back to my car, which was a 10-mile backtrack to the south. We sat bumping along in a silence for a few minutes. Then I remember that earlier in the day, during the march, I saw Bob rocking out to reggae music while he crawled next to us in his Toyota FJ Cruiser. I mentioned to Bob that I saw him enjoying his tunes.

“You were really pumping out the jams today,” I say.

“What's that,” he says as he leans forward to hear me better.

“I said you were really pumping out the jams today!”

“Oh yeah,” he responds, making a face that he knows it.

He turns on the radio and Peter Tosh’s rendition of “Go Tell It on the Mountain” comes on. He is beggin’ for his people to be set free.

"Who's there yonder dressed in white?

“Must be the children of the Israelites.

“Go tell it on the mountain,

“To set my people free."

It might be an Old Testament song but after two days of marching it has a contemporary resonance.

"Look at that, you got yourself a beautiful full moon tonight," Bob says as we turn down New Paltz Main Street, where a few hours earlier a 105-year-old white woman in a wheelchair held hands for a brief electric moment with an 82-year-old black woman marching and shouting civil rights era chants.

He's right. It is. It looms in the twilight sky like an omen. In the sideview mirrors Shawangunk Mountains, known around here as The Gunks, recedes into the distance, outlined by splashes of pastel pinks and oranges.

I don't know how much saving this world has left in it. I have never been much for the bright side of things. But it's all so god damn breathtakingly beautiful that it's almost tempting to think that Bob might be right.

Check out previous New York March coverage


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