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Are Youth of Color Benefiting From Juvenile Justice Reform?

Within the scope of juvenile justice literature, studies highlight the need for both immediate and long-term reform measures. This is clearly pertinent given the existence of racial disparity in terms of treatment and confinement among youth in the United States. In fact, federal and state-level funding has been provided to address this dilemma during the past 10 to 15 years.

There are a variety of programs and policies that facilitate juvenile justice reform efforts. For instance, the Annie E. Casey Foundation has instituted a number of effective measures designed to reduce the use of detention among youth. One example is the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative, which has demonstrated promising results in a number of states.

Congress is currently reviewing the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2017, which passed the House in May and was sent to the Senate. Certain components of this act will address either directly or indirectly the need for and evaluation of juvenile justice reform measures.

North Carolina finally increased the age at which a juvenile may be certified as an adult. Despite this needed change, implementation of this law may not take effect until 2019. After reviewing the 2016 Juvenile Justice Report as provided by the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, I noticed the following reform findings:

Between 2010-16, there was a 56 percent decrease in youth sent to detention centers and 48 percent reduction of youth sent to development centers. A 28 percent reduction in school-based complaints and a 37 percent reduction in gang affiliation among youth were also identified.  

The report said that compared to their counterparts, youth of color are more than 2.5 times more likely to have complaints filed against them and 1.5 times more likely to experience secure detention.

To this end, racial disparity levels (or the ratio of blacks to whites in terms of treatment in the juvenile justice system) have either remained the same or in some cases actually increased. This begs the question: Are juvenile justice reform measures exclusively beneficial for youth who are not considered “youth of color”? If so, this is equivalent to the “whites only” segregation-based ideology of the Jim Crow era.

Ultimately, let’s not assume that progress in relation to juvenile justice reform efforts is applied in an equitable manner. Just as there is a racially disproportionate number of youth confined in the juvenile justice system, there is also a similar relationship with regard to those who avoid such treatment. From this standpoint, the abstract and practical concepts of juvenile justice reform must be re-examined.   

Patrick Webb, Ph.D., is associate professor of criminal justice at St. Augustine’s University. He is the author of numerous peer-reviewed journal articles, editorials and books including “Incapacitating the Innocent: An Examination of Legal and Extralegal Factors associated with the Preadjudicatory Detention of Juveniles.”

Racial Disparities Persist After Years of Juvenile Justice Reform, Models for Change Leaders Say

WASHINGTON — James Bell, founder and president of the W. Haywood Burns Institute, told a gathering of juvenile justice reformers earlier this month that it was time to begin “an uncomfortable” conversation about racial disparities in the youth justice system.

He made the comments to Models for Change stakeholders gathered here to discuss the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s final evaluations of the $121 million juvenile justice reform initiative, which began in 2004. It ended as MacArthur changed its emphasis from reforming youth justice to jail reform.

The daylong meeting centered around the many success Models for Change helped bring about, from reducing incarceration sentences to influencing states to stop shackling youth in courts to raising the age at which teens are treated as adults in court.

[Laurie Garduque video | Accomplishments]

Bobbe Bridge, founder and president of Center for Children & Youth Justice in Washington state, said, “Models for Change was certainly the catalyst in accelerating reform. We have certainly changed the conversation.”

Yet, thanks in part to Models for Change support for data collection, it is apparent that racial disparities in the youth justice system, if anything, have gotten worse, not better.

A MacArthur-commissioned evaluation of Models for Change by Mathematica Policy Research found that disparity “persists, mostly at pre-Models for Change levels.” The Sentencing Project recently reported that in 2015 black male youth were five times more likely to be locked up than white youth.

[Laurie Garduque video | Racial disparities]

Speaking of the reforms, Bell said, “What we now know after 10 years of informed analysis is that all of those things have benefitted white kids and the racial disparities persist.”

In the past, he said, the reformers wanted “to get something rather than nothing” so the discussions that might have made decision-makers uncomfortable didn’t happen. Now, he says, “As we go into 2.0 of reform policy we are going to make people very uncomfortable to examine why the disparities still persist.”

Laurie Garduque, who led the Models for Change initiative at the MacArthur Foundation, said although the disparities rate has not improved, the harm done to youth in the system has been reduced for kids of color. “Fewer of them are being swept up in the system, more of them are being diverted and remain in the community, fewer are incarcerated; the incarceration rate has dropped dramatically, somewhere between 40 and 60 percent depending on the state,” she said.

Laurie Garduque

She added, “You are dealing with a host of economic, structural and political issues … you can’t expect the justice system to overcome. So there has to be an acknowledgement that we can make the system fairer and more just, but the deck is stacked against certain groups in such a way that it is very hard to make it equitable.”

The Mathematica evaluation reports that in states where Models for Change concentrated its effort:

  • “Significant paradigm shifts not only continued during Models for Change, they were propelled by it ...
  • “State and local stakeholders became more aware of the harms of detaining youth, particularly low risk youth, in out-of-home placements.
  • “The poor conditions that characterized confinement drew attention and litigation.
  • “Evidence mounted about the ill effects of formal involvement in the justice system.
  • “As these perspectives took shape, so did intentions to divert youth from pretrial detention and secure confinement and from the justice system entirely.
  • “As interest in diversion and serving youth in the community grew, evidence-based programs emerged as desirable alternatives to secure confinement and formal processing.“

Models for Change was not the only group influencing change. The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI) is active in seeking community-based alternatives to youthful incarceration.

Donald K. Ross of Malkin & Ross said his public policy firm, which worked for Models for Change, hired 56 different lobbying firms to work with states to help bring about reforms. For example, at the beginning of Models for Change in 2004 only 10 states forbade shackling of youth in courtrooms. Today there are 31 such states.

[Laurie Garduque video | Changes]

Marsha Levick, deputy director and chief counsel of the Juvenile Law Center, said that when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that kids are different, it gave everyone the freedom to use the youth developmental language. Yet, “what we haven’t eliminated is a persistently punitive response to offending in this country that still infiltrates and drives our criminal justice system.”

[Laurie Garduque video | Language]

Garduque said the research the MacArthur Foundation helped underwrite established the legally relevant ways that kids are different from adults, which was made concrete by Supreme Court decisions. Now there is a reluctance to think of young people as the worst thing they have done and focus instead on the individual young person.

Marsha Levick

The field was forced to ask, she said, “How can we hold young people accountable for their transgressions in ways that recognize that they are not adults and doesn’t jeopardize their future life chances and gives them the skills and competencies to become successful adults?”

[Laurie Garduque video | Future]

What’s most gratifying for her is that “Those principles have been adopted and now seem to be secure and are the basis for another generation of law and policy reform where we are rolling back those harsh and punitive sanctions.”     

Leonard Witt is executive director of the Center for Sustainable Journalism, the publisher of the JJIE. The JJIE was a MacArthur Foundation Models for Change grantee.  


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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.

It’s More Than Time to Raise the Age in Michigan

In Michigan, 17-year-olds are not allowed to buy lottery tickets, get a tattoo, rent a car or hotel room or drop out of school. They can’t vote, serve on a jury or sign a legal contract either, presumably because they don’t possess the requisite maturity to make adult-level decisions. This distinction, however, is tossed out the window if a 17-year-old breaks the law. Suddenly, they are adults, facing devastating repercussions that can come with an adult conviction.

That’s because Michigan is one of only five states that automatically consider 17-year-olds adults for any offense. In the past decade, more than 20,000 youth under age 18 have been charged as adults in Michigan.  

The majority of these 17-year-olds were charged with nonviolent offenses, and most had no previous involvement in the juvenile justice system. But in Michigan, a first-time mistake can lead to a lifetime of harsh consequences.

Despite the inherent dangers of placing a child in prison, more than half the 17-year-olds convicted as adults were confined in adult facilities. Research shows that youth in adult jails and prisons are more likely to experience sexual victimization and physical violence, and more likely to commit suicide. Even exposure and proximity to violence can severely disrupt the course of healthy physical, emotional and intellectual development in teens.

It is not surprising, then, that youth convicted as adults have worse physical and mental health outcomes over their lifetimes than those who enter the juvenile justice system. Their problems are compounded by the fact that youth with criminal records have a harder time accessing housing, furthering their education and securing long-term employment.

Youth with adult convictions are more likely to reoffend, and reoffend more violently, than their counterparts in the juvenile justice system. If the goal of our justice system truly is public safety, then directing these young people to rehabilitative youth services is a far better choice.

So, why are 17-year-olds considered adults in the first place? Because that’s how our system was created in 1908 — the year the first Ford Model T automobile was introduced. A century later, Michigan desperately needs a new model for adjudicating youth.

Michigan’s juvenile justice system isn’t perfect but it does strive to continuously make itself better. Over the past decade, some juvenile courts have begun embracing evidence-based practices that are proven to reduce crime and improve outcomes for children and their families.

During the same time span that tens of thousands of 17-year-olds were systematically funneled into the adult criminal justice system, Michigan’s innovative juvenile justice system managed to cut detention and out-of-home placement rates by 40 percent. We have seen the emergence of high-quality diversion and community-based programs that allow kids to stay in school and receive treatment for their entire families. Unfortunately, 17-year-olds who commit crimes are prohibited from accessing these services; their options are adult probation, jail or prison.

Michigan’s juvenile system already serves 17-year-olds who entered their jurisdiction prior to their 17th birthday. In fact, the juvenile court can maintain jurisdiction until one’s 19th or 21st birthday, depending on the offense. Probation and facility staff are already trained to work with this age group and offer successful programming designed to meet their developmental and behavioral health needs.

This is important because we know that adolescence is a period of significant developmental growth, characterized by impulsivity, risk-taking and strong influence by peers. As part of normal human development, young people experience rapid physiological and psychological changes that do not fully mature until well beyond age 18.

These changes establish the architecture that will eventually allow young adults to temper risk-taking behaviors, evaluate costs and benefits and fully grasp the consequences of their actions. As such, youth are far more amenable to rehabilitative programs and behavior modification during these formative years. Conversely, harsh treatment during adolescence can further solidify a child’s trajectory down the wrong path.

Experts estimate that 90 percent of justice-involved youth have experienced at least one traumatic event. In Michigan, the vast majority of youth convicted as adults have had a friend or family member killed, domestic violence or substance abuse in the home, multiple foster home placements or parental incarceration. Rather than retraumatizing youth by sentencing them to prison, we should support them with juvenile justice services that build their coping and resilience skills and teach them accountability.

In the past 10 years, numerous other states have raised the age of jurisdiction, citing improved public safety, greater access to children’s services and better outcomes for youth and their families. The other four states that prosecute 17-year-olds as adults — Wisconsin, Missouri, Georgia and Texas — are also considering legislative changes to raise the age.

The proposed legislation in Michigan would continue to allow for the “waiver” of a 17-year-old into the adult system, depending on the seriousness of the offense. Those youth would be housed in a juvenile facility until they reach the age of majority, and then sent to an adult prison.

Why hasn’t Michigan raised the age yet? The short answer: money and a lack of political will. During legislative hearings in 2016, every single stakeholder group — from prosecutors to judges to facility staff — clearly stated that raising the age was the “right thing to do.” The big question was, “How do we pay for it?”

Other states have managed to pay to raise the age and, as it turns out, at a much lower cost than initially anticipated. In Illinois, the overall cost of the system actually went down after raising the age.

It is true that Michigan’s funding system poses unique challenges. The state pays the full cost for inmates in the adult criminal justice system, while counties pay costs in the juvenile justice system with the state reimbursing half of eligible expenses. Counties rightly fear they may get saddled with massive costs if 17-year-olds automatically come into their systems, and that serving additional youth will impact the quality of their existing services.

There are data limitations as well. But none of this excuses legislators and other policymakers from finding solutions that nearly every other state has come up with — solutions that will enhance public safety, protect existing services and help more troubled youth turn their lives around. We have the brainpower to figure out the funding. Now we just need the willpower.

At the end of the day, we must ask ourselves one important question: Have I done everything I can today to prevent a child from being harmed? With each passing day, young people are forced into an adult justice system that does not address their needs and, in fact, exposes them to significant physical harm and psychological trauma. For their well-being, for the safety and protection of our communities, it’s time to raise the age in Michigan.

Paul Elam, Ph.D., is the president of Public Policy Associates, Inc. and has worked on national, state and local efforts to create fair and effective juvenile justice policies and practices. He is a board member of the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency and a consultant to the Michigan Committee on Juvenile Justice.

Mary King is executive director of the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency. She previously served as community coordinator for the Michigan Prisoner ReEntry Initiative, where she engaged key stakeholders in a unified effort to provide evidence-based services for returning citizens.

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.

March Activists Urged to Keep ‘Paying Attention’ at Final Rally

ALBANY, New York — At the midpoint of the 180-mile March for Justice, its organizer, Soffiyah Elijah, was overwhelmed. She was simultaneously trying to find the proper turn on a back road in a Hudson Valley town, coordinate with the caretaker of a 105-year-old woman who wanted to join the march and figure out where to find a laundromat that would stay open late.

She slumped in her seat on the repurposed school bus and wearily placed her face into her hands.

“I need a nap,” she said.

At that point Albany seemed more like 900 miles away than 90, but Wednesday Soffiyah Elijah wore footwear that wasn’t sneakers for the first time in 18 days. She pointed to her brown-and-tan strap sandals inside LaZeez, the Indian restaurant where she was planning the rally for later that evening and cracked a joke.

“It feels good to be in something other than sneakers,” she said, flashing a brilliant smile.

She had launched the March for Justice on Aug. 26 in Harlem in Manhattan. And after walking through numerous counties, towns, villages and cities, they had finally made it.

Elijah, the executive director of the Alliance of Families for Justice, conceived of the march as a way to employ traditional 20th-century civil rights tactics to draw attention to what she considers an urgent 21st-century civil rights catastrophe in New York: the abuse of prisoners in the state’s juvenile adult facilities and the broken criminal justice system that puts them there. The United States imprisons more of its citizens than any other country on Earth. In New York, often heralded as a beacon of progressivism, 80 percent of its prison population is black or Hispanic.

Elijah’s organization is dedicated to ending abuses behind the walls of New York state prisons and helping families of prisoners on the other side. It fights for a number of issues — from voter registration to meaningful raise-the-age reforms, as well as supporting the families with loved ones behind bars.

March organizer Soffiyah Elijah told the crowd "you should never be able to rest at night until you’ve done everything in your power to help bring an end to the suffering going on in prisons and jails going on right in New York and across the country.”

New York’s prisons are almost exclusively upstate, away from New York City, often in bucolic surroundings near charming hamlets and villages. Elijah strategically selected a route that would take the march past as many prisons as possible en route to Albany, the heart of political power in the state.

At 5 p.m. the march culminated in a rally in West Capitol Park, in the center of vast, imposing state government buildings. Behind the stage was the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, its granite facade etched with the names of many of the counties the marchers crossed: Westchester, Dutchess, Ulster, Green.

Elijah opened the rally by launching into her favorite chant, one she recited dozens of times. It begins: “Everywhere we go, people want to know who we are, where we come from, where we’re going, so we tell them, we are a family …” She did her trademark crouch and shimmy and then ran into the crowd like the front man of a rock band and kept leading the chant. She approached Miss Ivey, the oldest of the marchers who made it all the way from Harlem, and held her signature red megaphone to Miss Ivey’s mouth so she could lead the chant.

Across the lawn of the park sat the New York Capitol Building, on either side the monumental Legislative and state Educational buildings. The emcee, Alliance member Carol Harriott, kept the mood light as well, making jokes and moving the evening along with an upbeat, conversational tone. She teased Elijah at one point and had the crowd laughing.

Many of the 200 people who gathered for the rally wore T-shirts or held handmade posters advocating for the cause they think is in most need of reform. Some support ending solitary confinement for youth, others for improved reentry services.

Whatever the cause, all the attendees were in agreement with the march’s aim — to bring as much attention as possible to what they see as a civil rights catastrophe in New York’s criminal justice system. One recurring theme for speakers was the need to convert the energy created by the march into tangible policy successes.

March organizer Soffiyah Elijah was happy to be wearing something other than sneakers after 18 days of marching.

Again and again, speakers encouraged attendees to reach out to politicians and policymakers at every level of government. As the sun set, in a theatrical gesture Elijah showed how she was going to tell Andrew, referring to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. She raised her megaphone to her mouth and led a chant about bringing an end to the prison state. Her voice was rugged and raw after 18 days of chants, but it could be heard clearly as it bounced off the walls of the Capitol building.

Throughout the evening speakers talked about the list of demands. Chief among them was closing down the Attica Correctional Facility, which Elijah called New York’s Abu Ghraib. She had timed the march with the anniversary of what some call a riot and others call a rebellion and an uprising, when Attica prisoners took corrections officers hostage to draw attention to abuses happening inside the prison.

“If you consider yourself a person of conscience,” Elijah said. “Then you should never be able to rest at night until you’ve done everything in your power to help bring an end to the suffering going on in prisons and jails going on right in New York and across the country.”

Throughout the two-hour rally speakers came to tell their stories and give intimate, human examples of what they meant when they used the clunky phrase “prison industrial complex.”

Alicia Barraza, a veteran of the political battle to raise the age of treating juveniles as adults during the last state legislative session, recounted the story of her son, Ben Van Zandt. She talked about how as a result of a severe mental illness he committed a crime, arson, when he was 17. He was charged as an adult and placed in series of adult prisons where he endured beatings, rapes and frequent harassment due to his illness. Eventually, he ended up in Fishkill Correctional Facility. It’s a prison in Beacon, New York, where Elijah and her marchers had a confrontation with an administrator who accused them of riling up the inmates.

While he was in Fishkill, Baraza was repeatedly placed in solitary confinement. Eventually, he killed himself. He was 21.

“He just couldn’t take it anymore,” Barraza said.

The soaring buildings of the state capitol loomed over the marcher and supporters.

When she explained that her son committed suicide, the crowd gasped. She cautioned the crowd to be vigilant. Despite the Empire State passing a law to raise the age, district attorneys still have vast power to steer teenagers into the adult system.

“People should be paying attention,” she said.

Some marchers reunited for the first time since meeting on the road. Friends, associates and fellow activists chatted amiably between speakers. But after Barraza spoke, the mood took a jarring turn.

For most of the evening the mood had been light and jovial, despite the seriousness of the event. Harriott took back the microphone. For most of the evening she had been upbeat. She suddenly appeared shaken, overcome with sorrow.

She made a few halting attempts to encourage people to be active, her voice starting to crack.

“I’ve run out of words,” she said.

She stepped away from the microphone, slid her fingers beneath her glasses and wiped away tears. Elijah came up from the crowd, where she had been glad-handing and hugging well-wishers, to meet her. She hugged Harriot, who was now sobbing.

Other marchers noticed Harriot, who, like them, had made some part of the 180-mile journey from Harlem to the shadow of the statehouse in Albany. They took a few more steps to join in consoling her.

Check out previous New York March coverage


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How to Create an Effective and Equitable Juvenile Justice System in Michigan

Two 15-year-olds, Ryan and Michael, are both arrested for simple assault. While Michael is ordered to complete a diversion program, Ryan is to be locked up for six months in a juvenile facility. Why the difference in punishments? They live in different counties in Michigan.

Every youth, from Detroit to Marquette, deserves the same chance to overcome the mistakes of youth and reach his or her full potential. Simply put, that’s not happening today. Stakeholders have been talking for years about reforms needed that address geographical and racial disparities and that emphasize rehabilitation rather than punishment. Despite broad bipartisan support, the reforms have stalled.

Michigan’s current juvenile justice system is decentralized and inconsistent. Each county has its own complex system of jails, local courts, budgets and private providers. The entire system needs to be reformed so that it provides fair and equitable outcomes for all youth. For this to happen, all counties in Michigan need the tools to provide appropriate treatments that address the complex needs of youth in the system.

Research into brain development shows that a youth’s ability to reason and exercise sound judgment continues to improve well into their mid-20s. Since minors are likely to outgrow impulsive behavior, diversion programs and community treatment options better serve them. But currently counties in Michigan are not consistent on how and whether they use evidence-based diversion programs, treatment services and assessment tools.

Michigan's current approach is also expensive. Michigan is one of just five states that treat 17-year-olds as adults if they are charged with a crime. On average, locking youth in adult prisons costs taxpayers $34,000 a year per prisoner. Worse still, youth who serve time in prison are more likely to reoffend after being released back into their communities and are more likely to commit a violent offense than their peers in the juvenile justice system. The policy of adjudicating 17-year-olds as adults is at odds with the research that shows youth are better served by rehabilitative and positive youth development practices.

In spring 2016, the Michigan House of Representatives passed a Youth in Prison Legislative Package to address problems facing the system. The package passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, but died in the Senate.

Stakeholders are currently renewing discussions to bring about change in Michigan’s juvenile justice system. It is important for this talk to turn into action. Going forward, policymakers should consider these guiding principles to achieve statewide improvements:

  • Every young person deserves fair and effective support to become a productive, law-abiding adult.
  • A child’s development and well-being greatly impact future success.
  • Systems should be designed to meet the developmental characteristics unique to youth.
  • Policies and practices should effectively identify and address disparities among vulnerable youth and marginalized communities.
  • Public safety is improved when young people are given the opportunity to thrive.
  • A child-serving system should use data and research to inform best practices and wisely invest.

Some local juvenile justice systems have taken the initiative to make improvements by investing in evidence-based assessments. Others are establishing diversion programs, school partnerships and effective community-based alternatives to detention and incarceration. But statewide reform is incomplete until this work is taken to scale and all 83 counties have the access, knowledge and resources to address the needs of justice-involved youth.

Paul Elam, Ph.D., is the president of Public Policy Associates, Inc. and has worked on national, state and local efforts to create fair and effective juvenile justice policies and practices. He is a board member of the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency and a consultant to the Michigan Committee on Juvenile Justice.

North Carolina Last State to Raise the Age for Adult Court for Juveniles

WASHINGTON — More than five years of lobbying, arm twisting and a fair dose of shaming finally paid off. North Carolina voted Monday to end its status as the only state in the country that still automatically charges 16-year-olds as adults, no matter the crime.

The state legislature added the sweeping juvenile justice reform to a vote on the final state budget, rather than as a standalone bill. In the end it didn’t matter because supporters got virtually everything they were hoping for, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle joined forces to make the changes.

“This is long overdue, but this is good for the state and especially good for our youth who deserve a fair chance in life,” said North Carolina Rep. Duane Hall, a Democrat, who led unsuccessful efforts to raise the age in 2013 and 2015. “As someone who has defended these kids in the courtroom, I know how important this bill is for their future, and for our state.”

No one is going to benefit from the new law for quite some time, as the changes won’t go into effect until 2019. That gives the state time to prepare for what some skeptics of the legislation expect to be an influx of new juvenile cases, and for the state to build a new juvenile detention facility.

Hall and other supporters have spent years trying to increase the age, without much success. But this year was different because of two new factors, one external, one internal.

First, New York voted to overhaul its juvenile justice system in April, raising the age of adult responsibility for crimes to 18. That left North Carolina as the only state still automatically charging 16-year-olds in adult court. That created a sense of urgency, according to supporters.

More importantly, Mark Martin, chief justice of North Carolina’s Supreme Court, pushed hard for passage of the bill.

"Now, I hate to be the bearer of bad news," Martin said during a May press conference, according to Politifact. "But North Carolina now stands alone.”

Hall, in an April interview with JJIE after the New York vote, called North Carolina’s status “another dubious list for us to be last on.”

The crux of the argument by Martin, Hall and others focused on the data showing that only 3 percent of the crimes that result in convictions for 16- and 17-year-olds in North Carolina would have even made it to adult court in other states.

The final vote gave supporters of the measure most of what they wanted, but not all. Under the final version of the bill, all misdemeanors and many felonies will be sent automatically to juvenile court. But Class G felonies are still heading to state court, the only aspect of Hall’s original bill that was not passed.

Under North Carolina law, Class G felonies include arson, burglary, possession of a firearm by a felon and some drug sales crimes, according to summaries of North Carolina statutes.

The passage received nearly universal support, and was noticeable for the bipartisan work of the state legislature. Hall said Republican Rep. Chuck McGrady was instrumental in getting the raise the age bill linked to the final budget, and said both parties worked closely throughout.

The bill was also strongly supported by the state’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“We applaud legislators on both sides of the aisle for uniting behind this commonsense effort to do what’s right for the safety and future of North Carolina’s young people,” ACLU counsel Susanna Birdsong said in a press release Monday afternoon. “North Carolina’s century-old policy of sending 16- and 17-year-olds to adult jails and branding them with lifelong criminal records has been a blight on our state and done nothing to make our communities safer.”


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Raise the Age Advances in NC, Dies in Missouri; Texas Uncertain


North Carolina is one of three states being carefully watched by national supporters of raise the age. A similar measure in Missouri has died, while one in Texas is apparently teetering on the edge of failure.

Supporters of raising the age of criminal responsibility in North Carolina are optimistic as legislation heads to the Senate after a 104-8 approval vote in the General Assembly.

The overwhelming vote Wednesday is a major step in the last state that still automatically charges 16-year-olds as adults, no matter the crime.

The bill calls for youth to be charged as juveniles until they reach 18, although there are provisions allowing prosecutors and victims to ask a judge to refer the most serious cases to adult court.

“We were expecting it would pass, but I never expected nearly that many votes,” said Rep. Duane Hall, a Democrat, who has introduced similar measures in previous years, only to see them fall short. “This gives us great bargaining power when it goes to the Senate, and it also shows just how much support is out there in each district.”

If the Senate passes the bill without making any changes, it will become law. If changes are made, the two houses would have to reconcile their bills and then each would need a final vote. The Senate vote is expected next week.

The measure has broad support from both conservative and liberal groups and was boosted by the strong support of state Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin.

While North Carolina supporters are buoyed by the vote, a similar measure in Missouri has failed and is stalemated in Texas.

They are two of only six states that automatically charge 17-year-olds in adult court.

The Texas House of Representatives did pass a raise the age bill in April. Lawmakers said it also had broad, bipartisan support in the Senate. But state Sen. John Whitmire, the Democratic chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, opposed the measure and refused to let it come to a vote.

Whitmire did not return several phone calls seeking comment.

Texas Rep. Gene Wu, a Democratic sponsor of the bill, has been pushing for a vote, but an aide said earlier this week that it won’t happen this year. Texas’ legislature won’t meet again until 2019. Some Texas media have also reported on the bill’s apparent demise.

Today, Wu said his aide misspoke and that the fight is not over. If Whitmire's panel does not act by Wednesday, the measure dies without a vote.

"The Senate's position on this bill is simply bizarre. The House has had a plan to make it work for several sessions now and has done interim study after interim study that says Texas should change the age to 18,” Wu said.

“We have watched state after state implement this very law with no problems while the Texas Senate has stalled. There still time to save raise the age, but the Senate needs to act now.”

In Missouri, the measure never came close to passing before the legislative session ended Friday. Democrats and Republicans supported the bill, but the state has seen an unprecedented number of filibusters and infighting this year, supporters said.

“It’s been the most difficult year I’ve seen; we never got any energy to move the bill,” said Bill Foster, chief of staff for the bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Wayne Wallingford. “It had a really high fiscal note, and that really hurt, of course. The note was higher than it should be, because we’ve seen in other states that the costs don’t go up.

“We still have people who want to put kids into adult courts, and that’s just a bad idea,” Foster said. “We’ll keep trying to get this passed next year.”

This story has been updated.


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Raise the Age Wave Stalled in Michigan, But Gathering Strength in Texas, North Carolina

Texas state Rep. Gene Wu is getting frustrated. Legislatures around the country are voting to treat 17-year-old offenders as juveniles while his own state remains in a shrinking — and he says wrongheaded — club that charges them as adults, no matter the crime. Neighboring Louisiana acted last year, as did South Carolina, leaving just seven states nationwide that still prosecute all youth under 18 as adults.

Wu’s frustration grew earlier this month when New York made it six, joining the wave deciding that helping kids get their lives back on track is better than giving them a criminal record in the adult system. New York, which had automatically treated even 16-year-olds as adults, enacted a sweeping overhaul that included raising the age to 18, effective next year.

Rep. Gene Wu

“So many people here are saying, well, Texas is Texas, and it doesn’t matter what the rest of the country is doing. But it does, and we should do better on this issue,” said Wu, a Houston attorney and Democratic lawmaker. He sponsored a bill earlier this year that he hopes will increase the state’s age of criminal responsibility to 18.

“Last year Texas was one of nine states, and when we filed this bill there were seven, and now six,” he said. “North Carolina is probably going to raise the age this year, and maybe Georgia, so we just keep falling behind, and there is no reason for it.”

Today, Wu and his colleagues in the Texas House of Representatives voted by 82-62 to raise the age, giving supporters hope, although it faces an uncertain Senate fate.

Similar legislative battles are playing out around the country. North Carolina’s House has passed a nearly identical measure, but it faces a potential state Senate roadblock, as does Texas. And last session, Michigan’s House enacted the measure, but it died without making it to a Senate vote.

In each state, opponents argued that such measures would cost too much to implement, overrun juvenile justice court systems and could, potentially, leave dangerous youth on the street.

Supporters of the lower age say such fears are nonsense and point to extensive studies that show the move lowers costs to taxpayers and drastically reduces recidivism rates. More importantly, they argue, such change provides true justice by giving kids picked up for marijuana or other minor crimes a chance to keep their futures from falling apart.

Wu said recidivism statistics showing that 30 percent of all youths charged as juveniles in Texas never commit another crime should make passage a logical choice. But, as a contentious debate during today’s vote made clear, the fight is far from over. Debate lasted more than an hour, with many voicing concerns about potential costs or increases in juvenile crime.

Those concerns are shared by state Sen. John Whitmire, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, according to Wu. Whitmire repeated those concerns in a recent interview with the Texas Tribune.

Sen. John Whitmire

Whitmire, who has the power to keep the measure from reaching a Senate floor vote, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

In both Connecticut and Illinois, which raised the age in recent years, startup costs were far lower than forecast, and juvenile crime has dropped, according to a March study by the Justice Policy Institute and public records compiled by each state’s juvenile justice department. Connecticut’s switch has been so successful that it is considering raising the age of criminal responsibility to 21.

Rep. Duane Hall

North Carolina state Rep. Duane Hall hopes such success stories will help him in his third attempt to get his state to act. With New York’s vote, North Carolina is the only state in the nation that automatically charges 16-year-olds as adults.

“Another dubious list for us to be last on,” said Hall, a Democrat who introduced similar measures in 2013 and 2015. Both passed the House, but could not even get a vote in the state Senate.

He’s more optimistic this time, buoyed by the nationwide trend, studies showing the benefits and growing enthusiasm of his colleagues.

“I think we are all in agreement that it is the right thing to do, first of all, but also that in the long term, and even the midterm, really, this is going to save the taxpayers millions of dollars,” Hall said. “In the past, the lone holdover of opposition was the sheriff’s association, but now they are on board, and that has made a difference.

Judge Mark Martin

“And North Carolina’s chief justice of the Supreme Court, Mark Martin, has made it a priority issue,” Hall said. “We are in a much better position today, but it will still come down to the budget.”

Estimates say the switch will cost the state about $15 million in the first year and slightly more in the second before cost savings kick in. Studies by the Justice Policy Institute and others have shown that nearly all states that have voted to raise the age experienced startup costs far lower than anticipated, in large part because of lower crime and recidivism rates.

Under North Carolina rules, the House bill must “cross over” to the Senate for consideration by April 27 to have a chance of being passed. There are provisions for it to be incorporated in the state budget process, but that is a longshot, said Hall’s legislative assistant, Gregory Lademann.

Earlier this year, the Michigan House of Representatives passed a bill raising the age of criminal responsibility to 18, only to see it die in the state Senate. The measure has been referred to a study committee for a full budget analysis, but that study is not scheduled to be finished until Jan. 1, 2018. Supporters hope to push a new bill long before then.

“We believe, and so do a lot of supporters of the legislation, that no matter what the study says, this is the right thing to do, and I’m not sure there is any reason to wait,” said Jason Smith, a policy associate at the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency, a nonprofit focused on criminal justice issues. “It’s important to have the financial information, but we’re lagging the rest of the country.

“I think we and other groups have done a very good job trying to educate people about the benefits, both financial and in other ways,” Smith said. “We’ve hosted experts from Connecticut and Illinois to share their success stories and show the positive results, and that’s made a big difference.”

In Texas, Wu, the state representative, is hoping that the weight of evidence nationwide will push the state Senate to finally act.

“This isn’t a tough sell, because people understand, both Republican and Democrat, that we’ve gone from tough on crime to smart on crime, and that has to be the approach,” Wu said. “We have statistics showing that 30 percent of all children put into the juvenile system will not reoffend, will never become adult criminals.

“That is tangible. People can see and feel that and understand the savings when you aren’t going to have to keep putting more people into adult prisons, or take care of them when they can’t get a job or a home because they did something stupid as a 17-year-old kid.”

Wu said the most important reason to raise the age is because it is the moral thing to do for youth and society.

“I represent juveniles in my day job, I had one kid, 16, a good kid, suddenly started fighting at school and getting worse grades,” said Wu, a full-time attorney when the legislature is not in session. “In the juvenile system, he got on our state insurance, and saw a therapist, who found a problem and prescribed mild drugs. He went back to normal almost immediately, got good grades again and stopped fighting.

“His family was poor and didn’t have access to medical so they couldn’t give him the help he needed,” Wu said. “If he was charged as an adult, his life could have been over. Charging in juvenile court, we look at the whole family situation, and the goal is how do we help this kid, as opposed to how do we hammer him, which is what happens in adult court.”


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