We live in a world of best practices. Some call themselves evidence-based best practices (EBP), some are simply promising practices based on evidence from somewhere, and a few are practices grounded in evidence-based research (EBR).
Confusing, eh? Part of the confusion stems from the difficulty and complexity of achieving successful outcomes with youth in custody. In part, the striking effectiveness of recent juvenile detention reforms, particularly JDAI, has removed from secure custody those youth who can thrive in nonsecure alternatives, leaving behind the most at-risk and troubled youth. Confusing has now jumped to complicated and challenging.
Evidence-based practices with their concerns about model fidelity sometimes sound too formulaic for practitioners. The flipside of evidence-based practice is case law-driven practice. Here, author D.L. Reed does a good job of using case law and juvenile rights as justification for certain practices, especially grievances.
If evidence-based practice and case law tell us what to do, the ongoing challenge is how to do those things. The realities of daily life in secure custody settings rarely lend themselves to precise problem-solving, and the reactions of youth never seem to follow the script from staff training handouts.
We continue to search for some field guide that acknowledges that what we tell new detention workers to expect rarely happens, so, in Boy Scouting parlance, we need to be prepared — prepared to respond quickly and effectively to fluid circumstances and changing situations that more accurately characterize secure custody. So, trial and error moves the field slowly in the direction of progress despite the frequent disconnects between new models and their outcomes with youth.
Successful secure custody practices are more an art than a science, and the scarcity of effective, safe and humane conditions of confinement serves as evidence that the art still needs substantial help. In that regard, this book is a basic primer of understandable and useful insights that are helpful to practitioners in implementing effective programs and services.
Reed uses long-standing and straightforward concepts to connect what and why with how questions. Information and explanations follow essential theories of human behavior to support his positive approach to physical and emotional security. While many of the references are to anecdotal research and secondary sources, the utility of the book is just that: The content starts with the assumption that the reader knows very little about the theory and practice underlying Reed’s model. Juvenile care workers sometimes have formal education, sometimes in related fields, and sometimes beyond a year or two of full-time study. For these individuals, the book is a constructive resource.
One example of its utility is the description of a behavior management system. Reed provides a basic introduction of behavioral principles that serves as a refresher for new and veteran staff members. More importantly, he presents the information using multiple adult learning styles. The graduated rewards/privileges continuum is a visual representation of a comprehensive and expansive system that serves as a workable tool for immediate adaptation in a variety of different facilities.
The same applies to the discussions about de-escalation and safety. Appropriately, the book also contains a section on reentry. Without the need to know the intricacies of evidence-based research and references, direct-care staff still have a great affinity for strategies that make sense, are understandable and are effective; and these are precise descriptions of Reed’s book.
Other sample forms and data-collecting materials are also excellent, and the uncomplicated explanations of them raise questions as to why the reader would not implement them immediately. The topics left uncovered suggest the need for a volume 2, and experienced practitioners can generate their own list of deficiencies.
But that is not the point. This book is positive, encouraging, hopeful and above all else relevant. It moves the field forward, emphasizing how to apply Edward P. Mulvey and Carol A. Schubert's concepts of content and process (see Pathways to Desistance research). Employing the wisdom and techniques in this book will improve any secure custody practice regardless of its current status. To the juvenile detention practitioner, you will do better after reading it.
David Roush, Ph.D., has been active in juvenile detention and corrections for more than 45 years. As a facility superintendent, he earned four national awards for innovation and excellence, two from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. A specialist on conditions of confinement, he conducted compliance monitoring for the U.S. Department of Justice. While at Michigan State University, he taught classes on juvenile detention, conducted research and coordinated federally funded training and technical assistance to juvenile justice agencies.
Youth placed in juvenile justice institutions face a fundamental obstacle in their career pathway: They have been removed from their communities and lack access to the full array of educational and job opportunities available to their peers. Accordingly, the best long-term solution to the many barriers to career success “disconnected” youth face is to keep them out of the juvenile justice system entirely — and, in particular, out of juvenile detention and correctional institutions.
Indeed, although the goal underlying the juvenile justice system is rehabilitation — meaning that when youth leave the system they will be better off than when they entered, ready to gain employment and be contributing members to society — most juvenile facilities do little to prepare youth for adulthood and fail to properly treat the issues contributing to problematic behaviors.
In particular, many facilities are ill-equipped to provide appropriate treatment for the roughly 75 percent of youth in their care who were previously victims of violent trauma. Without treatment, this trauma can manifest as behavioral health conditions, mental illness and substance abuse, all of which are present at rates two to three times more for children in the juvenile justice system. Moreover, the poor conditions in juvenile facilities can often exacerbate these conditions, leading to further mental health problems. These issues are not new, but any proper response requires a thoughtful systemwide effort.
That’s exactly what Bob Listenbee plans to achieve. Previously serving as chief of the Juvenile Unit of the Defender Association of Philadelphia for 16 years, Listenbee was later appointed by President Barack Obama as administrator of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). Now, back in Philadelphia as a fellow with the Stoneleigh Foundation, Listenbee hopes to build bridges between the various justice system players to create a comprehensive support system for youth. He recently shared some of his innovative ideas with us.
Under Listenbee’s leadership, OJJDP issued a report finding that trauma will continue to manifest and disrupt a youth’s educational and emotional development until properly addressed. The report emphasized the implementation of “trauma-informed care,” a systemwide approach that recognizes the unique needs of youth who have experienced trauma during childhood. To effectively address trauma, ensuring it does not contribute to later involvement in the justice system, immediate intervention is necessary. Programs that provide counseling and support to young people experiencing domestic violence or gang violence at the moment of the impact have been proven effective.
Too often, trauma left untreated can manifest into involvement in the justice system. Rather than criminalizing the behaviors and incarcerating young people, further exacerbating the trauma they experience, effective programs divert young people out of the justice system and into treatment programs. When youth require more supervision than just treatment, we must make sure systems provide adequate treatment programs that are individualized to meet the youth’s needs.
In contrast, if trauma is left unaddressed, youth are unlikely to fully benefit from other rehabilitation programs such as job training and internships. Because of this, trauma-informed care must be included alongside other career programming so that youth can begin properly preparing gainful employment upon release. If trauma-informed care and job training are implemented successfully, our juvenile justice system can become a real instrument for positive change and rehabilitation.
Listenbee has repeatedly emphasized that just having the answers isn’t enough. The real challenge is implementing these changes across the country so we can start healing our youth as fast as possible. Addressing the root causes of incarceration will give “disconnected” youth the best chance to reach their potential and achieve their career goals.
At Juvenile Law Center, we agree that this approach will best serve not only young people but also their greater communities. We recommend it as a practice for all who are seriously interested in tackling issues of youth employment with system-involved kids.
Patrick Took is a legal intern at the Juvenile Law Center.
This is one in a series of blog posts from the Juvenile Law Center on career pathways and barriers for system-involved youth. It has been slightly edited and is reposted with permission. See the original and full series here.
As I watched Attorney General Jeff Sessions announce the termination of DACA, I was reminded how President Donald Trump had duped Democrats into actually supporting Sessions and arguing that he should not be removed as the head of the Justice Department. Sessions’ announcement meant the end of protections provided to nearly one million Dreamers under President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.
A few months before the DACA press conference, when Sessions erroneously claimed that children brought to the United States by their parents were taking jobs away from Americans, Trump publicly criticized Sessions and signaled that he might be one of several administration officials on the chopping block. But fearing that Sessions’ ouster might lead to the firing of special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Trump’s ties to Russia, Democrats caved and called for the attorney general to keep his job. Just a few months earlier, in his confirmation hearings, these same Democrats were trying to stop Sessions from becoming the nation’s top cop while reading the words of Coretta Scott King, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow, warning that Session was a racist.
There has been debate about whether Trump is crazy or crazy like a fox. Though clearly showing signs of mental instability at times, Trump seemed to outfox Democrats with this move. Democratic and Republican congressmen called on Trump to keep his attorney general in place, and the president, who usually shuns such pressure, either complied or enacted his ploy to deceive the Democrats. Either way, Sessions remains, more secure than ever.
Sessions leads the Department of Justice, which encompasses the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). The OJJDP distributes hundreds of millions of dollars to states for prevention, diversion and rehabilitation programs, including those that aim to reduce racial and ethnic disparities. Yet his regressive policy agenda may dismantle the very reforms OJJDP has sought to achieve.
While the attorney general for Alabama, Sessions suggested that youth in the juvenile justice system be sent to “work camps” and argued for more funds to be spent on expanding youth incarceration. When he was on a youth violence subcommittee in the U.S. Senate, Sessions doubled down on his out-of-touch stance on juvenile justice, opposing prevention programs. In 2009, he also put forth an amendment to the reauthorization of juvenile justice funding to expand the number of children being charged and incarcerated as adults in the federal system.
Early on in Trump’s presidency, Sessions announced that the Department of Justice would no longer pursue federal orders to reform police agencies that abuse their powers and have a pattern and practice of discrimination. Then while speaking to officers in New York, Trump encouraged police to violate the Constitution by intentionally roughing up suspects.
Sessions has also rescinded Obama administration policy aimed at reducing the number of people imprisoned for drug crimes. The Justice Department’s “Smart on Crime” initiative implemented by former Attorney General Eric Holder encouraged federal prosecutors to not go after long sentences for those charged with nonviolent drug offenses, a policy that has become a universally accepted, nonpartisan issue.
Sessions is instead looking to revive the war on drugs that led America to excessive levels of mass incarceration. After several decades of over-reliance on ineffective, harmful and excessively expensive incarceration, the United States has finally seen a significant reduction in youth detention rates and the beginning of a decline in the number of adults in prison.
Jeff Sessions would like to take us back to the dark ages, and Trump duped Democrats into supporting him.
David Muhammad is the executive director of the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform. He is the former chief probation officer of Alameda County in California and the former deputy commission of probation in New York City.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Twenty-year-old Edward Ward, a sophomore on the honor roll at DePaul University, tried to describe to U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.), the only senators left in the room by the time he spoke on Capitol Hill Wednesday, what it was like to grow up in his neighborhood on the west side of Chicago.
“When I was 18, I witnessed a complete stranger's killing mere feet from me in a neighborhood restaurant," Ward said before the Senate subcommittee. "I was stopped by the police a few years ago. I saw them train their guns on me until I could show them the item in my hand was only a cell phone.”
Things didn’t get much better at high school, Ward said. “My school environment was very tense. The halls were full of security officers whose sole purpose seemed to serve detention. I felt constantly on alert – afraid to make the smallest mistake. I felt I couldn't go to them for general security issues because first I would be interrogated.”
More than 400 people crammed into hearing rooms in two separate U.S. Senate office buildings to hear lawmakers, educators, federal and court officials, and Ward testify about how punitive disciplinary measures at schools were funneling children into the criminal justice system, often for minor offenses like truancy or dress code violations, and at much higher rates if they were minorities.
This was the first-ever Congressional hearing on the subject, according to Dignity in Schools, a coalition of parents, educators and students advocating for the end of zero-tolerance policies in schools. Ward, who also works as a community organizer, is a member of the coalition.
Although many of his classmates wanted to succeed academically, they were hobbled by financial struggles at home and the responsibility of caring for siblings, Ward said. A classmate was suspended for being late to school, he said, even though she was tardy because she couldn’t leave her little brother alone at home until her parents returned from work.
There were lots of instances where his classmates were suspended or expelled for minor offenses that should have merited “a stern warning or a reminder,” Ward said. When they were suspended, they often disappeared for days -- weeks if they were kicked out of school, he said.
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Learn more about school discipline reform trends at the Juvenile Justice Resource Hub HERE.
“We have a discipline crisis in this country that must be ended,” said Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the civil rights group The Advancement Projectand another witness at the hearing.
“Police are arresting youth for things like talking back. That’s now ‘disorderly conduct.’ Writing on desks is now vandalism.”
At the same time, racial disproportionality in school discipline can be such that, within the same school district, a five-year-old African-American girl who set off a fire alarm was suspended for five days, while a white ninth-grader who committed the same offense was suspended for just one day, testified Deborah Delisle, the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education at the U.S. Department of Education.
Held by the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, the hearing drew so much public interest that it was shifted to a 260-seat room, the largest available, in the Hart Senate building.
Other witnesses at the hearing included U.S. Reps. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Danny Davis (D-Ill.); Melodee Hanes, the acting administrator of the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; Mike DeWine, the attorney general for Ohio; and Judge Steven Teske, chief judge at the Clayton County juvenile court in Georgia. (Judge Teske is a frequent op-ed contributor to the JJIE.)
By the time the hearing was to start, the first room was full. A mass of young people, many wearing Dignity in Schools t-shirts, was still lined up in the hallway outside, waiting to get in. Capitol Hill staffers soon escorted them three floors up in an adjacent building to a 150-seat “overflow room” equipped with a live video feed.
But that room soon ran out of seats too.
OJJDP’s Hanes told the senators that millions of children were suspended or expelled every year for minor infractions like truancy, classroom disruption or dress code violations. Fifteen percent were suspended 11 or more times, she said, and those were the kids who were more likely minorities and who were likely to end up in the juvenile justice system.
“We have learned that the minute a child sets foot in the juvenile justice system, their chances of becoming an adult offender go up 50 percent,” Hanes said. “As soon as they enter the juvenile justice system, their chances of completing their education, of getting a job, their chances of life, diminish significantly.”
The costs to taxpayers are significant as well, Hanes pointed out: It cost $10,000 a year to educate a child, and $87,000 a year to lock a child up.
“Research has clearly indicated that children exposed to violence in the home or in school or in the community, those children suffer trauma. The evidence is conclusive that those children don’t do as well,” Hanes said.
Ward said his classmates' experience bore that out. “A lot of youth from where I come from, they face huge struggles, huge difficulties,” Ward said. “We have to take into account the situations students face outside school to understand their actions when they’re in school.”
Any discussions of solutions had to include young people themselves, several witnesses said. “We can’t arrest our way out of this issue,” Dianis of the Advancement Project said. “Young people have to be part of this conversation.”
Solutions included developing greater consensus among experts about best practices, greater collaboration on research and data between federal agencies and better guidance for school districts and states on practices that maintain students’ rights. Other solutions proposed were greater public education on the necessity for appropriate responses to delinquent behavior, more training for police officers in crisis intervention and greater awareness on the part of the public and law enforcement on how to handle those from diverse social, medical and economic backgrounds.
“We’re basically using our criminal justice system as a substitute for a public health system and an education system,” Franken said during the hearing. “This is a bipartisan issue. There is no question about that.”
Senate hearing photos courtesy of U.S. Senator Dick Durbin. Photo by Kaukab Jhumra Smith.
Last week, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) released an updated fact sheet addressing disproportionate minority contact (DMC) in the nation’s juvenile justice system.
The OJJDP requires states participating in its Part B Formula Grants program to collect information about the effectiveness of programs and initiatives intended to address the overrepresentation of minority young people in state juvenile justice systems. Using a five-phase DMC reduction model, the OJJDP advises states to calculate disproportionality, assess “mechanisms” contributing to DMC and develop intervention, evaluation and monitoring programs to deter delinquency and initiate systematic improvements.
According to 2011 data, 41 states now have DMC subcommittees under State Advisory Groups, while 37 have either part-time or state-level personnel designated as DMC coordinators. Twenty-nine states have collected DMC data at nine contact points within their juvenile justice systems, while an additional 13 have collected DMC data from at least six contact points. Thirty-four states, the updated data indicates, have invested in “targeted local DMC reduction sites.”
Regarding intervention practices, 34 states have implemented systems improvement and delinquency prevention strategies, while 30 have either funded or received funding and/or technical assistance to implement DMC reduction programs patterned after nationally recognized models. In 2011, 10 states had implemented DMC reduction programs specifically targeting American Indian and Alaska Native young people.
Although 39 states have released timelines for monitoring relative rate indexes (RRI), described by the OJJDP as “the rate of activity involving minority youth divided by the rate of activity involving majority youth,” data indicates that only four states -- California, Connecticut, Kentucky and Tennessee -- “have conducted at least one evaluation of delinquency prevention and/or systems improvement strategies statewide or in their local DMC reduction site,” according to the fact sheet.
Photo courtesy of the OJJDP fact sheet.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The nonprofit MacArthur Foundation has spent more than $100 million since 2004 on developing blueprints for reform within the juvenile justice systems of 16 states. Earlier this week, its reform initiative, Models for Change, brought together nearly 400 judges, advocates, probation officers and other juvenile justice professionals for two days of workshops in Washington, D.C.
It was the seventh such yearly gathering for Models for Change partners, and it came at a time when the foundation is beginning to wind down funding for new research into juvenile justice reforms and enter a new phase focused on defining, sustaining and disseminating to the rest of the country the reform models its state partners and networks have already developed.
As the foundation moves toward solidifying the legacy of its blueprint initiative, its conference this year emphasized the power of storytelling and collaboration as a way to convey the impact of justice reforms to other states and to the public.
The storytelling theme ran through several events over the two-day event. Public relations professionals held a plenary session to discuss how juvenile justice organizations could craft an effective public message.
of photographs that illustrated the stark conditions within juvenile facilities around the country. Journalists from the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange and CBS This Morning held a hands-on workshop to explain how justice professionals could engage the media without compromising the privacy of minors. And NPR reporter Cheryl Corley gave a keynote address explaining how she came to report a radio series on juvenile offenders in Chicago last year.
Another conference theme emerged around fostering collaboration: training attendees to recognize the multiple ways individuals, agencies and local governments can work together to improve the treatment of children in the justice system. Workshops addressed ways to involve families of juvenile offenders more closely with their child’s treatment; encourage state agencies to seek common goals with watchdog organizations; get court and child welfare agencies to share data more effectively; and build relationships between public defender offices and local law schools.
Plenary speakers encouraged cash-strapped public entities to partner with private organizations and foundations as a way to grow their resources and further their reach in replicating and sustaining reform models throughout the country.
Collaborative efforts by private foundations like MacArthur are motivating the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to develop its own partnerships with private philanthropic entities, said Marlene Beckman, the counsel to the assistant attorney general at the Office of Justice Programs in the U.S. Department of Justice, at a conference panel.
Federal officials recently met with a group of philanthropic organizations to solicit guidance on how to work with the private sector, Beckman said. The Obama administration was very interested in such partnerships, she said.
Among the feedback the federal juvenile justice office received from philanthropic groups at that meeting was that federal agencies needed to collaborate more closely with each other – between the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Education, Health and Human Services, for example – and present a united leadership front when seeking partners from the private sector, Beckman said.
The group also advised the federal office of juvenile justice that it needed to communicate more effectively with private partners so that everyone understands their priorities and goals, and shares a vision for desired outcomes, Beckman said.
“Up until now, we have been more the follower than the leader,” Beckman said of the federal office’s role in developing public-private partnerships in pursuit of justice reforms.
Editor's note: The MacArthur Foundation supports the work of JJIE.
Photos courtesy of Models for Change.
Tuesday, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) released “Transfer of Juveniles to Adult Court: Effects of a Broad Policy in One Court,” a new bulletin culling data from the Pathways to Desistance Study.
The longitudinal report examined outcomes for juveniles transferred to adult courts in Maricopa County, Ariz., with the authors concluding that 77 percent of young people that returned to their community after being sent to adult facilities reengaged in at least some level of “antisocial activity,” with approximately two-thirds eventually arrested or placed in an “institutional setting.”
“Adolescents in the adult system may be at risk for disruptions in their personal development, identity formation, relationships, learning, growth in skills and competencies and positive movement into adult status,” the report’s authors wrote.
Researchers said transferring young people to adult courts might have a “differential” effect, with some juveniles becoming likelier to offend again, depending on the young person’s presenting offense and previous offense history. Researchers state that adolescent offenders transferred to adult courts, without any prior petitions, were much likelier to be re-arrested than young people that remained in the juvenile justice system.
“Most of the youth in the study who were sent to adult facilities returned to the community within a few years, varying widely in their levels of adjustment,” the report says. “Youth were more likely to successfully adjust when they were not influenced by antisocial peers.”
Additionally, researchers say that adolescents are also at an elevated risk of being physically or sexually attacked while housed at adult facilities. Despite representing a meager proportion of total inmates in the nation’s adult prison system, analysts estimate that 21 percent of all victims of substantiated incidents of inmate-on-inmate sexual violence in 2005 were under the age of 18.
While transferring juveniles with serious violent offenses to adult courts “seemed to have its intended effect,” the report noted that adult court transfers had a detrimental effect regarding juveniles with serious property offenses.
“These analyses provide clear evidence that certain case characteristics, most notably type of offense and prior history, are differentially related to outcomes among transferred adolescents,” the researchers concluded.
Photo from the OJJDP's “Transfer of Juveniles to Adult Court: Effects of a Broad Policy in One Court.”
Crossover youth is more than the latest buzzword in the often jargon-filled lexicon of juvenile justice. Instead, the term reflects a growing understanding of the dynamic between child abuse, neglect and delinquency. This population of young people has contact with both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.
Addressing child welfare is challenging enough, let alone when joined with deeper problems of delinquency. Abused young people often carry scars of trauma and pain, which can inform delinquent behavior that leads to subsequent contact with the juvenile justice system. However, the complex challenges and needs of crossover youth often prove too much for each system alone to address. Practitioners must find a reasonable solution that ameliorates these issues or crossover youth may re-enter the child welfare system or go on to commit more serious offenses. Instead, an integrated approach, which builds on each system’s unique strength, is the ideal approach.
Who are these young people?
The exact number is unknown, given the absence of rigorous data collection, although estimates range from 9 percent to 29 percent of those in the child welfare system. A recent webinar, by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), detailed how a majority of these young people suffer from wide-ranging challenges, which include education difficulties, mental health issues and sexual abuse.
Another major contributing factor is that many suffer from placement instability. A recent study of dually involved youth in LA County found that 55 percent had been relocated between group homes and foster care placements three or more times during their lifetimes.
Why do crossover youth matter?
The crossover population represents a unique challenge for both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. A 2001 study by the Vera Institute of Justice found the likelihood of detention for foster youth awaiting trial for misdemeanors or minor felonies was 10 percent higher than non-foster care youth. Moreover, they frequently suffer amid a compartmentalization of system care and oversight. For example, juveniles who make contact with the justice system may lose access to welfare services and their respective case manager, resulting in a disruption to their therapeutic services.
The long-term consequences for crossover youth are significant with many suffering higher incidence of drug use and exacerbated mental illness. The aforementioned study of LA County also found that crossover youth have a higher recidivism rate than non-crossover youth, and more than 30 percent have new maltreatment referrals following their arrest. These young people may not only commit offenses as adults, but may well perpetuate the cycle of maltreatment as parents.
What can be done?
Fortunately, juvenile justice professionals are increasingly recognizing the unique situation of crossover youth and are developing system tools sensitive to the specifics of their problem. Law enforcement officials, judges, and child welfare practitioners are beginning to collaborate on how to best meet the needs of this unique population early enough to offset the substantial human and fiscal cost. In addition, reform-minded foundations and non-profits have initiated pilot technical assistance programs across the country, in the hopes of creating replicable best practices. The recent OJDDP webinar featured speakers advocating for multi-disciplinary teams to bridge the system-wide gap, an approach shared by others.
For example, the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform, at Georgetown University, developed The Crossover Youth Practice Model, which is currently used at 11 jurisdictions across the country. A central feature of the model is to encourage multi-agency collaboration across the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Such coordinated case management and supervision fosters family engagement and youth permanency. This directly addresses the instability that leads many young people from the child welfare system to the juvenile justice system. In California, the Sierra Health Foundation, through their Positive Youth Justice Initiative, has also taken a lead in fostering county-level innovation to address this issue.
In the complicated world of juvenile justice, there is not always a clear distinction between young people in the child welfare system and those in the juvenile justice system. Abused and neglected young people come into contact with the justice system due to any number of contributing factors. For each system to work best, they must first understand whom crossover youth are and develop necessary treatment and support models. This requires child welfare and juvenile justice departments to collaborate on best practices, streamlined case management and more effective data collection.
Such partnerships bring a sense of stability and continuity of care that crossover youth so often lack. Moreover, this represents a promising development in juvenile justice, where youth are recognized for their potential to succeed beyond a history of neglect and abuse.
Brian Goldstein is a member of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ)'s policy team and a Masters graduate in political science from San Francisco State University. His expertise is on political trends in criminal justice reform.
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.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Thirteen advocates and professionals from around the country who serve as advisors to the federal office for juvenile justice met for two days last week in Washington, D.C., to share information on reforms and funding at the state and federal levels.
The Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice, which normally meets online every few months, gathered face-to-face for the first time in a year. Its last online meeting occurred Aug. 10.
Some of the reforms the committee discussed lie within the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention itself. Melodee Hanes, the acting office administrator, told committee members on the opening day of the meeting that a structural reorganization of her office, which has been in the works for months, would be announced soon. The office is also close to releasing its program plan for next year, she said.
The associate administrator for budget and planning, Janet Chiancone, described to the committee a “mixed” outlook for federal funding for juvenile justice in the 2013 fiscal year. Federal money for programs administered by the federal juvenile justice office has steadily fallen from $461.5 million in fiscal year 2009 to $277 million in fiscal year 2012, a 41 percent decline, she said.
Although the 2013 fiscal year began Oct. 1, a gridlocked Congress has yet to reach a budget deal. The proposed House budget for 2013 further slashes funds for OJJDP programs to $214 million, while the Senate version increases funding from last year’s level for the OJJDP to $299.5 million, she said. Both chambers are in recess until after the presidential election.
On Friday, committee members were briefed on changes in federal and state legislation on juvenile justice in recent years, trends that speakers said were driven by falling rates of juvenile crime, declining youth incarceration rates, the availability of better research and a shift away from treating children like adults under the law.
Friday’s speakers included Nancy Gannon Hornberger, executive director of the Washington-D.C.-
based Coalition for Juvenile Justice – a network of citizens, advocates and professionals from every state who advise their local governments on juvenile justice issues and monitor their adherence to federal guidelines -- and Bart Lubow, director of the juvenile justice strategy group for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a Baltimore-based nonprofit that has played a key role in funding reform initiatives around the country.
Sarah Brown, a senior researcher at the National Conference of State Legislatures, a bipartisan group of state legislators and their staff, described her recent report on trends in state legislation on juvenile justice in the last 10 years.
Speaking from Colorado via videoconference, Brown pointed to three separate rulings since 2005 by the U.S. Supreme Court that have adjusted federal standards for juvenile sentencing by abolishing the death penalty, life sentences without parole for non-homicides, and mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles. These rulings reflect the impact of new research on adolescent development and highlight how many states are shifting toward treating juvenile offenders differently than adults, she said.
Between 2001 and 2011, 20 states passed laws to expand the jurisdiction of juvenile courts, such as by raising the age limit for juvenile offenses, she said. Other state trends include the passage of legislation improving young people’s access to sound legal defense, reallocating funds from correctional facilities to community-based alternatives, and focusing on young people’s mental health needs.
At least 10 states have passed laws to address racial disparities in the detention and incarceration of youth in the last 10 years, Brown said. And more than half of all states have passed laws aimed at supporting young people once they are released from detention or confinement.
Hornberger, who has lobbied Congress for system reform for 25 years, provided historical perspective on the trends affecting federal policy changes and provided recommendations for future legislation, including the long-overdue reauthorization of a sweeping federal bill on juvenile justice that was first passed by Congress in 1974.
“Generally, Congress has regarded juvenile justice and delinquency prevention to be a limited role,” Hornberger said. However, the 1970s brought a significant shift in the way people thought about the detention and incarceration of youth, their treatment as status offenders, their placement in adult jails, and their separation from adult offenders by sight and sound, she said.
The resulting federal legislation, the sweeping Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, marked “a sea change” that forced states to meet federal standards on how to treat youth within the justice system, Hornberger said. Subsequent reauthorizations of the Act in the 1980s and 1990s added more requirements for states, including new rules asking states to explore racial disparities in their confinement of youth.
Last reauthorized 10 years ago, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act was due for reauthorization again in 2007 but has languished in Congress. Although a U.S. Senate committee has twice approved the reauthorization in recent years, the bills did not make it to the Senate floor. The House of Representatives has not acted on a reauthorization bill nor any legislation to do with juvenile justice in the last six years, Hornberger said.
Hornberger remains stoic. The 2002 reauthorization took six years to push through, she said. “It’s always been a long haul to get this Act reauthorized.”
In general, federal policy on juvenile justice has traditionally swung like a pendulum, with equilibrium rarely in the middle, she said. “Members of Congress are consistently going back and forth between punitive and rehabilitative approaches.”
Policy swings are frequently affected by changes in leadership, whether in the White House, on congressional committees, or within the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention itself, she said.
Congressional legislation still demonstrates a trend toward criminalizing normal adolescent behavior, such as underage drinking or sexting, Hornberger said. And federal legislators are still wrestling with the choices of institutionalized care versus family and community-based solutions, she said.
“There have been trends in time where national policy has really spurred state reforms,” like in the 1970s, Hornberger said. But these days, national policy is playing catch-up with reforms initiated by national foundations and some states, she added.
While federal trends in legislation and policy so far appear promising, the legislative progress is fragile, she warned -- especially in critical areas like the consideration of adolescent development and racial and ethnic disparities.
Speaking after Hornberger, Lubow gave a spirited presentation that made clear he too thought there was lots of room for improvement.
For every 100,000 young people in the United States, 336 are locked up, the highest rate in the developed world, he said. South Africa is in second place, at nearly one-fifth the rate of the United States. This could not be explained by disparities in juvenile crime, he said.
“We lock kids up in this country for a lot of minor stuff. In fact, we lock them up for things that we do not lock adults up for,” Lubow said. “We do that, frankly, because adults are bullies. When we get frustrated with kids who do not follow our rules, we throw them into detention centers.”
What would happen, he asked, if judges and law enforcement could not fall back upon incarcerating kids when they were angered and frustrated by their behavior? “What positions, what creativity, what alternatives would we come up with?” he asked.
Necessary innovations include limiting the types of young offenders who get incarcerated, increasing non-residential community alternatives to incarceration, and changing the financial incentives for local governments to keep their children within their own system and not the state’s, Lubow said.
Sometimes reforms only happen after someone takes off a shoe and bangs it on the table, Lubow told the committee.
Photos by Kaukab Jhumra Smith