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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christie Thompson is a reporter with the Chicago Bureau

Photo by Advancing Transgender Equality






Snapshots From the Inside, A Powerful Photo Exhibit Explores the Cruelty of Juvenile and Adult Detention

Photo by Ara Oshagan

NEW YORK -- As Ara Oshagan rocked his first-born son to sleep he prepared to meet monsters.

While he bounced and cooed his boy, Sebouh, to sleep to the achingly plaintive melody of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata he was the image of a doting father, but in his mind he was quietly bracing himself to meet some of what many considered to be California’s youngest and most dangerous criminals.

The geo-physicist turned documentary photographer had never been behind the walls of the juvenile detention facilities that dot the outskirts of Los Angeles along the spine of Interstate 5 in the Central Valley, but the following morning he was going to take his camera, walk in, and take pictures of killers and gangsters.

“I expected the worst,” he said. “The worst of the worst; The ones glaring at you in those orange jumpsuits. You see how they’re portrayed. I expected them to be standoffish, imminently violent, unstable. Ready to do anything.”

What he encountered subverted his anxious expectations. He found a teenager, a piano prodigy before he was tried as an adult and put behind bars. The young inmate was tinkering with an electric piano, and in the grey gloom of the facility echoed the same funereal, haunting sonata he heard in the comfort of his son’s nursery the evening before. The inmate played Beethoven with precision and feeling.

“What I met weren’t monsters,” Oshagan, now 47, said. “They were normal kids. I knew the system wasn’t working -- I didn’t know exactly how bad it was until I started talking to these kids and seeing what happens to them.”

Photo by Ara Oshagan

The pictures Oshagan took that day and for years after from 2001 to 2005, are part of a exhibition called “Cruel and Unusual”  on display inside a massive 40-foot long shipping container stacked on the uplands of Pier 3 along the Waterfront in Brooklyn. The show features a collection of pictures by photographers from across the country chronicling life behind bars, some of which were gathered by co-curator Pete Brook during what he calls the Prison Photography on the Road.

Brook hopes the people who come to see the pictures will undergo the same sort of transformation that Oshagan did when he started his project.

“This installation doesn’t come close to describing the problems with the system and the need for reform,” he said. “But for many people who are uninformed with the subject matter I’m hoping it will be a jolt, an awakening, and a reason to go look deeper into these issues under their own steam.”

“Cruel and Unusual,” named ironically after the Eighth amendment (and, Brook notes, written into the English Bill of Rights in 1689) is part of a larger exhibit, described by its organizers as a “photography destination” called Photoville -- a 60,000 square-foot village featuring 30 containers with exhibitions ranging from the photojournalistic to the playful and bombastic, hands-on workshops, projections and lectures open from June 22 to July 1.

Photo by Joseph Rodriguez

Last year, Brook and fellow blogger and curator Hester Keijster began talking about assembling an installation to showcase the work that so many photographers were doing to document the life of prisoners and the system of corrections. They curated a show in Noorderlicht, a gallery in Groningen, a town in northern Netherlands. The gallery decided to send “Cruel and Unusual” as its contribution to Photoville.

Brook, who started a blog featuring prison photography in October, 2008, said he became interested in prison reform when he started researching his master’s thesis on a prison museum in San Quentin. A native of England, who grew up in Lancashire, Brook said he does not want to be perceived as an outsider chastising the United States for what he sees as a deeply flawed prison system.

On a recent morning sweat dripped from Brook’s face as he put the finishing touches on the installation. He scrawled facts and quotes directly onto the grey sides of the containers, the red and black markers squeaking on the corrugated metal. Above him a string of bulbs casting a wan glow hung from the roof. He wore a pair of tan cut-off shorts, a T-shirt with a picture of faded palm trees and some scuffed black scandals. He blended in well with the gritty, frill-less presentation of the work -- raw, bleak photos taped to the wall without the formality of staged lighting and frames.

Pete Brook. Photo by Jack Jeffries

“Cruel and Unusual” is like looking at a fractured dimension of real life; A parallel universe much like ours but taking place behind bars. It captures the full range of the human experience, but rigidly contained to barren cells and cramped hallways.

There’s a pregnant woman, her swollen belly poking out of her prison issue clothes. Four couples beam at the camera, newlyweds, women who married serving time with no parole, who will never have an opportunity to consummate their relationship. Men squat in a circle around a small picture of Jesus with a heart engulfed in flames in a pantomime of a structured religious service. Grim faced men in Louisiana’s Angola state prison push a gurney toward the hospital ward to collect a corpse.

And then there are the young. In a number of pictures, the insecurity and confusion of adolescence is played out in rusty cells and behind thick security gates. In one shot, a boy swimming in his prison-issued uniform stares up at a wall inside a daunting metal cell that dwarfs him. In another, a girl hides her face behind her long blonde hair sitting on her bed.

Joseph Rodriguez, 61, who also has pictures of juveniles on display, said he was once one of those youths. He was arrested in Brooklyn for a number of minor charges. His mother

couldn’t afford the bail so he was shipped off to Riker’s Island. Rodriguez said there wasn’t a juvenile wing back then. He shared a cell with a 38-year-old man. He thought about suicide.

Photo by Joseph Rodriguez

“It smacked me in the face the minute I walked in there,” he said. “It’s a life that people don’t understand. Anything that is humane is thrown out the window. Handcuffed, strip searched, a million guys trying to hustle you, you are challenged the minute you walk in the door.”

He said he knows the pictures that he takes now as a documentarian won’t be enough alone to change the system, but for him it was the camera where he found salvation.

“I’m standing there in the darkness, the darkest place of my life; you can see it in the letter I write to my mother. I said I want to change myself. When I got out I got a camera. I went from shooting drugs to shooting pictures. It saved my life, man.”

Oshagan, now a father of four, said working with juvenile inmates changed how he looked at himself as a parent. He always told himself that his children were different, special, an attitude he said he shared with many doting parents.

But after spending time with juvenile inmates, seeing their curiosity about photography, and their sense of humor and watching them weep when they talked about the mistakes they made he said he realized they weren’t monsters. In fact, he said, they weren’t that different than his own children.

“I could see the potential of, you know, ‘my kid could be like that,’” he said. “You can see these are really good kids and you can’t believe that they are where they are. And then you understand how it is that one little thing got them here. One thing. You can imagine your own kid making one stupid mistake. It opened my eyes. Anything is possible.”

Photo of Pete Brook by Jack Jeffries

New Child Labor Laws Could Hurt Small Farms, Advocates Say

Local farm advocates in Iowa are concerned a new set of child-labor laws would inadvertently restrict the number of future farmers and place unnecessary restrictions on family farms.

According to The Daily Iowan, the U.S. Department of Labor proposed a new set of rules in 2011 that prohibit children under the age of 16 from working in manure pits or with certain animals unless their parents completely own the farm.

However, many smaller farms in Iowa are multigenerational, Russ Meade, president of the Johnson County Farm Bureau told The Iowan.

"We have a diverse makeup of smaller farms that rely heavily on extended family involvement," Meade said. "[The regulations] would significantly restrict kids' ability to participate."

Iowa farmer Kurt Dallmeyer said the rules could impact the number of children interested in farming, putting local farms at risk in the future and increasing the trend of factory farms in the state.

"You develop your interest in agriculture at a young age," Dallmeyer told The Iowan. "If they want to put rules in place that say it's too dangerous or too scary, they're basically going to limit the number of people who want to be involved in agriculture, because they don't have the experience."

The Labor Department has offered to revise the new rules following complaints from farmers. So far, no specific changes have been made.

Children need the experience of farming early if they are to learn the necessary skills, according to Dal Grooms, director of communications for the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association.

"We know that safety and the responsibility of animal care can go hand-in-hand when properly planned and supervised," Grooms said. "It is through that exposure to circumstances involved in livestock production that young people learn how to safely work with livestock."

She added, “It's up to the parent to determine their children's skills. We want our kids to be safe and would not put them in position of something they can't handle."

Photo by | Richard Webb

Down And Dirty: Gardening Grants

YOUTH GARDEN GRANTSThe Youth Garden Grant Program (YGGP), supported by The Home Depot Garden Club, will award more than $50,000 in home depot gift cards for youth-oriented gardening programs before year’s end. Five grantees will receive $1,000 gift cards, and 95 others will get $500 cards.

Most non-profits, community and education organizations may apply. Applicants must plan to with at least 15 children between the ages of 3 and 18 in the coming year.

While this specific grant is for the 2011 year, YGGP offers a new round of grants each year. Former grantees must wait a year before applying for another round of gift card funding.

Rolling deadline.

April 8, 2011

Read up:

FBI Probing Possible Civil Rights Violation of Teen:

New Comcast 'On Demand' Show Seeks To Find Missing Children:

Juvenile Justice Journeys (series launching Monday, April 18):

- - -

Ryan Schill, JJIE Reporter

Multimedia team:
Clay Duda, Social Media Strategist

Update: More Charges Filed in Wreck that Killed Teen

Four adults have now been charged with supplying teens with alcohol ahead of a fatal car accident on Feb. 19 in Douglas County, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

One of the adults charged is the county’s chief code enforcement officer, Todd McAllister. McAllister’s home was the site of one of two parties the teens attended the evening of the wreck. Another charged was Rocky Patel, a local story owner who allegedly sold alcohol to the teens.

Also charged was Sherman Bennett, a 69-year-old grandfather of a teen attending one of the parties. Bennett admitted he bought beer and vodka for the minors, the Sheriff’s Office says.

The fourth adult was Dustin Willis, a 21-year-old who was a passenger in the wrecked vehicle. Law enforcement officials say Willis left the scene of the accident before emergency vehicles arrived.

Chief Deputy Stan Copeland told JJIE that his office believes Willis was the common thread that tied the evening together.

“Yes, we continue to believe Willis was the nexus in all of this,” he said.

Willis has been charged with vehicular homicide in the case, along with the driver of the crashed vehicle, Jason Lark, 17. Lark also faces DUI charges as well as a number of other traffic-related infractions including driving without a license.

Chief Copeland said he does not expect there to be additional arrests in the case.

“I think this is it,” he said. “I believe we tracked down everything and everybody involved in this tragic incident.”

The accident killed Cheyenne Sauls, 16, and left two other teens injured.

UPDATE: More Charges in Douglas County DUI Wreck That Killed Teen

A fifth passenger has been identified and charged in the auto accident that killed a Douglas County, Ga., teen Feb. 19.  Dustin Lee Willis, 21, has been charged with four counts of furnishing alcohol to minors and being party to a crime (vehicular homicide), according to the Douglas County Sentinel.  Willis and the 17-year-old driver of the wrecked vehicle, Jason Lark, were also charged with evidence tampering after allegedly removing empty beer bottles from the vehicle.

The passengers were travelling from a bonfire party at a home in Douglasville.  The homeowner, Richard Todd McAllister, 42, was also charged with five counts of contributing to the delinquency of minors.  Police say McAllister was at the party and aware that minors were consuming alcohol.

Sixteen-year-old Cheyenne Sauls was killed in the accident that left two other teens injured.  Sauls’ funeral was held Friday.

Augusta-area Teen Accused of Fatally Shooting Friend

An Augusta-area 14-year-old is accused of shooting his neighbor and hiding her body in the woods. Police say the boy, Lacy Aaron Schmidt, shot Alana Callahan, also 14, in the head and neck while she sat at her home computer on January 31.

According to the Augusta-Chronicle, Schmidt first said Alana was killed by an intruder before saying he shot her accidently.

Police say Alana was killed by a 9 mm handgun, the same kind owned by her father. Authorities later found the gun hidden in Schmidt’s home.

Schmidt was denied bond on Friday and remains jailed in the Regional Youth Detention Center awaiting trial.

Alana’s mother, Betty Jo Callahan, said Schmidt was Alana’s friend and would often come to her house for dinner.