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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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?”
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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In 1990, in California’s 15 largest cities, 373 youths (in a population ages 10 to 17 of 850,000) were arrested for homicide. In 2015, in those same cities (now with 1.1 million youth), 21 youths were arrested for homicide — a rate decline of 94 percent.
Over the last 25 years, gun killings of teenagers in California’s urban centers fell nearly 80 percent; in New York City, they declined by 90 percent.
Such impossible decreases look like typos, but they’re real. They are repeated in city after city and state after state, where growing, racially diversifying youth populations accompany astonishing reductions in crime and other serious problems.
From 1990 to 2016, juvenile arrest rates declined by 73 percent nationally, including large declines in all reporting states. Arrests for violent offenses plunged by two-thirds. Homicide arrests of youth decreased from nearly 4,000 per year in the early 1990s to under 900 in 2016. Twenty of the 35 reporting states – including California, Texas, New Jersey, and Michigan – saw youth homicide arrests plunge 75 percent or more.
In California, a harbinger of national trends, the justice system is rapidly disappearing from young lives. As the youth population grew by one million from 1980 to 2016 and became increasingly diverse, juvenile arrests plummeted from 286,000 to 63,000. All offenses — felony, misdemeanor and status — have fallen to all-time lows. California’s state youth correctional system, the Division of Juvenile Justice, has seen its budget cut 70 percent since 1995 as youth incarceration dropped 93 percent and eight of 11 state detention facilities closed. In juvenile halls and camps, more than 7,000 beds lie empty.
No one knows why these hugely encouraging trends are happening. Instead, we’re seeing more recycled "teenage brain” and “adolescent risk" nonsense of the type that has proven devastatingly wrong and perpetrated destructive policies. Like a Greek play with predetermined lines marching to inevitable tragedy, we let outmoded agendas and prejudices stifle honest debate again and again.
Figure 1. Declining rates of criminal arrests of youth (under age 18) by state, 2016 v 1996 (includes all violent, property, drug, sex, other felonies and misdemeanors, and status offenses).
Source: FBI, Uniform Crime Reports, 1995, 2016. Notes: This figure includes the 35 states with reports to UCR for both 1996 and 2016. Arrest totals are adjusted by the proportion of jurisdictions reporting to UCR by state and year. U.S. Bureau of the Census data for populations ages 10-17 are used to calculate rates.
Even though 21 percent of teens live in poverty compared to 11 percent of middle-agers, more Californians age 40-49 (186,000 in 2015) and 50-59 (128,000) are now getting arrested for felonies and misdemeanors than those under age 20 (123,000 in 2015; 105,000 in 2016). Adolescents can no longer be called “crime-prone.” Crime rates among 18- to 19-year-olds resemble those of 35-year-olds; age 15-17 is like 50.
It’s a whole new world. How are authorities responding to the youth crime revolution’s exciting new opportunities? The prevailing view pretends the decadeslong plummet in crime by youth isn’t happening; that crime, guns and violence remain youthful stupidities. Reading major reports and commentaries these days is like retreating 20, 50, even 100 years into the past.
As teenage crime falls to historic lows, backwards-looking interests are reviving 19th-century myths that “teenage brains are neurologically wired" and “biologically driven" to crime and risk as some "new science." Malarkey. Real scientific reviews show that the functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) underlying “brain science” cannot be reliably interpreted or replicated, invalidating thousands of studies.
The premature embrace of poorly grounded psychological and biological notions has the potential to harmfully expand youth and young adult detention by justifying investment in new and “better” lock-ups. For example, California hired a private firm (Campbell Consulting) to rehash developmental clichés and recommend yet another set of “therapeutic” prisons while ignoring young people’s massive crime drop.
Demeaning all 60 million youth and young adults as brain-miswired criminals in order to win lenient treatment for the dwindling few who commit serious crimes isn’t reform — it’s demagoguery. Self-flatteries that “adolescents are not like adults,” while great fun at conference workshops, dodge the uncomfortable reality that crime by youth is a function of adult-imposed poverty, abuse and its trauma sequelae, and troubled caretakers, not being young.
The few commentators who admit real-life trends typically credit their local initiative or pet solution. However, we now see there was no unique Minneapolis gun-violence reduction or “Boston Miracle.” (Nor can my group take credit for the unheralded “San Francisco miracle:” juvenile murders down 80 percent from 1992 to 1999, including 15 months with zero under-16 gun killings). Crime and shootings among youth fell substantially everywhere regardless of what locals did.
The behavior of young people themselves brought down crime and boosted education achievement dramatically. How else do we explain huge drops in youth crime, violence, murder and gun killings in Idaho and Connecticut, West Virginia and Washington, Oklahoma and California, New Jersey and Utah — states with widely varying conditions and policies? We elders did little to relieve unconscionable youth poverty, student debt and addiction and crime epidemics afflicting their parents. Grabbing credit for improvements sabotages reasoned evaluation.
This isn’t “superpredator” 1995, “broken-windows” 1982 or “biological-determinism” 1895. Is the adult brain capable of comprehending changed realities, or is it doomed to lag decades behind, indulging cosmetic system-tinkerings and pleasing orthodoxies to preserve archaic institutions?
Of course we can change. Biological determinism doesn’t dictate thinking, young or old. We need the dynamic, modern discourse 2017’s young people deserve.
Mike Males is senior research fellow for the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco. He is author of “Teenage Sex and Pregnancy: Modern Myths, Unsexy Realities.”
WASHINGTON — Nearly 700,000 American kids were found to be victims of abuse or neglect in fiscal 2015, and the public ought to be just as worried that kids who haven’t been abused are being victimized by a heavy-handed bureaucracy, a veteran child rights advocate says.
Child welfare officials found evidence of “maltreatment” in more than 683,000 cases in fiscal 2015, data newly released by nonprofit research group Child Trends show. That’s a slight decline from the year before, when there were more than 702,000 such cases. Yet the sustained allegations of abuse and neglect were only a fraction of officials’ caseload — state bureaucrats opened more than 2.8 million investigations in fiscal 2015 and more than 3.2 million investigations the year before, the data show.
For Matt Fraidin, associate dean of the University of the District of Columbia law school, the numbers illustrate a child welfare system that is hopelessly out of whack.
“According to the data, 2.2 million children who were not maltreated nonetheless were subjected to intrusive, traumatizing ‘investigations or assessment.’ That’s an awful lot of kids’ lives unnecessarily disrupted, a lot of children unnecessarily subjected to fear, shame and trauma,” he said. Fraidin has spent decades working to reform child welfare systems in Washington and around the country.
The percentage of sustained allegations was relatively consistent from fiscal 2014 to fiscal 2015, Child Trends’ data show. Twenty-two percent of investigations determined “maltreatment” in 2014; 24 percent in 2015. There are now some 428,000 children in the U.S. foster care system, the data show.
Fraidin says he’s worried about the methodology behind some of those sustained abuse or neglect accusations. Barely 13 percent of the kids who come into foster care have been physically abused and another 4 percent have been sexually abused. That leaves hundreds of thousands who are victims of “neglect” — a nebulous term and one loaded with disturbing racial, ethnic and class undertones, he says.
“It’s defined as the lack of food, clothing, supervision or adequate housing,” Fraidin said. “All of those are fundamental aspects of being poor, not necessarily of dangerous parenting.”
While 25 percent of the foster care population is African American, African Americans are only 14 percent of the population.
Perhaps worse than the racial disproportions, more than one in 10 kids is in foster care because of “inadequate housing,” Fraidin said.
“That’s poverty, plain and simple,” he said. “It seems un-American to destroy kids’ lives just because they made the bad decision to be born to poor parents.
“You know the solution for ‘inadequate housing?’” Fraidin asked. “It's adequate housing. It's also less punitive, less expensive and less traumatizing for kids than foster care. If we really care about children, it is time to get over our negative assumptions about low-income families of color. Our biases lead to the harsh, punitive response of foster care, instead of proven, humane, cost-effective approaches that keep families together.”
For decades, Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist Joseph J. Doyle has examined the impact of foster care on its kids. His findings have been consistent: For kids whose cases are “marginal” — lots of gray areas, official intervention could be argued either way — foster care is devastating. Kids in foster care are more likely to wind up in jail, more likely to become teen parents, more likely to be poor and more likely to wind up the subject of delinquency petitions and more likely to end up in emergency rooms.
For Fraidin, you can’t make it any plainer than that.
“The data reflect a child welfare system that harms more children than it helps,” he said. “Too many children are the subject of false or inaccurate anonymous reports, too many investigated, too many separated from their families, too many languish harmfully in foster care and too many age out of foster care.
“We end up,” Fraidin added, “with kids in the system who would be better off at home, whose lives didn’t need to be upended and who get ignored and overlooked by the caseworkers, lawyers and judges who are supposed to be watching out for them.”
This story has been updated.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Juvenile justice advocates are dismayed by a new law that they say threatens to accelerate the fading relevance of juvenile justice reform within the federal government.
To the chagrin of many, President Barack Obama has not nominated anyone for the U.S. Senate to confirm as a permanent leader of federal juvenile justice efforts since he took office. For three and a half years, the federal office responsible for setting national policy, sharing research on best practices and funding state initiatives on juvenile justice and delinquency prevention has chugged along on temporary leadership, first under acting Administrator Jeff Slowikowski and since January, under acting Administrator Melodee Hanes.
If the White House does name a person to fill the long-vacant position – something unlikely to happen soon, advocates say, given a looming presidential election -- such a Senate confirmation will never come.
That’s because effective Aug. 10, the process of confirming a person to lead the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has fundamentally changed. Under the Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act, passed by Congress and signed by the president earlier this summer, the Senate will no longer have to confirm the nominations of 170 government positions, including that of the administrator of the OJJDP. The president can now simply appoint someone to that office.
“I’m certainly not in favor of it. I think it downgrades the position of the office,” said Gordon Raley, who was staff director of a House subcommittee at the time that the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, which created an office focused on juvenile justice and delinquency issues within the U.S. Department of Justice, was being drafted.
“Kids generally don’t have high priority when it comes to the way things are done in Washington,” Raley said. “Kids in trouble even less so. To get someone who will be able to get stature in the position and be able to work across agencies -- that's what the office was supposed to do.”
Ira Schwartz, who was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to lead the federal office, echoed Raley’s characterization of the original intention of the 1974 legislation. It drew tremendous bipartisan support for bringing attention to the “many, many problems” faced by children who came into contact with the juvenile justice system, he said.
“Children were not receiving adequate due process, proper representation in the courts, they were being incarcerated for relatively minor and often times non-criminal offenses,” Schwartz said. “They were also being incarcerated for longer periods of time than their adult counterparts who had committed similar offenses.”
The position of the office administrator came up a lot during the drafting of the 1974 Act, Raley said. “The point we wanted to make at the time was that this was a position that needed a presidential nomination and Senate approval at the same time. It needed this stature.”
JJIE spoke to many other people in the juvenile justice field, including another former administrator of the office, and their views on the change were nearly unanimous: removing the Senate confirmation requirement, even in the name of expediency, will have a negative effect on the ability of the office to advocate for juvenile justice issues at the federal level. Hanes, acting administrator of the OJJDP, did not respond to requests for comment.
“I just don't think you have as much power or as much clout if you don’t have Senate confirmation. They don’t really know you then,” said Marion Mattingly, Washington editor of the Juvenile Justice Update, who has followed the juvenile justice field for decades.
Liz Ryan, president of the nonprofit Campaign for Youth Justice, says removing the requirement for Congressional confirmation opens the doors to more partisan and less-qualified appointees for the office in the future.
“Particularly in a situation where you have an unfriendly administration or an administration that views this as a low priority, we won’t have the ability to stop the appointment or hear their views prior to a vote,” Ryan said.
The director of Georgetown University’s Center for Juvenile Justice Reform, Shay Bilchik, who served as administrator of the OJJDP from 1994 to 2000 under President Bill Clinton, also said he was “disappointed” when he heard the law had been signed.
Sponsored by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act is intended to make it easier for the Obama administration to fill 170 vacant federal positions, some with nominees whose confirmations have been blocked or delayed for months by a partisan or distracted Congress. Schumer’s office did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
Some juvenile justice practitioners, however, take a pragmatic approach. Like Irv Katz, president of the National Human Services Assembly, an association of the country’s largest youth and human services organizations, including the Coalition for Juvenile Justice.
“What I would observe is that we have had good and bad people in that position regardless of the congressional approval process,” Katz said. He doesn’t blame the administration for the change.
“The whole appointment and confirmation process is so dysfunctional and fractured, that it leads to nominees who are not confirmed in the appropriate period of time, and nominees that withdraw, and a reluctance on part of the administration to put names forward knowing that it will not move forward,” Katz said. “So it appoints an interim person in the chain of command who they know will do a perfectly fine job.”
Jim Moeser, deputy director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, who serves on the federal advisory council for juvenile justice for OJJDP, also doesn’t see a problem with the change.
“If the confirmation process is so cumbersome and politically problematic that we end up with no one there, then that’s not very useful,” Moeser said.
But, several people have pointed out, there has never been an Obama nominee for the job of OJJDP administrator, even though, as JJIE’s sister publication Youth Today reported at the time, two candidates, Karen Baynes of Georgia, and Vicki Spriggs of Texas, came close in 2009 and 2010 respectively before withdrawing from consideration.
“The fact that this administration wasn’t even able to provide a name, or feel strongly enough that they could find someone, tells me that’s a problem with this administration giving this a priority, than it is with the Senate not pushing it through,” Raley said.
Photo by Justice.gov
A Washington state Supreme Court ruling Thursday upheld a state law allowing trial judges to appoint attorneys to foster children in cases where a court is considering removal from their family. However, the law does not require children to have an attorney, and the justices ruled 9-0 that the right to an attorney is not universal, according to The Seattle Times.
While children have a right to due process, trial judges “have the discretion to decide whether to appoint counsel to children who are subject of dependency or termination proceedings,” the justices wrote in their ruling.
"It is the child, not the parent,” the ruling continued, “who may face the daunting challenge of having his or her person put in the custody of the State as a foster child, powerless and voiceless, to be forced to move from one foster home to another.”
Children’s rights advocates were disappointed in the ruling, The Times reports, arguing the ruling departs from other decisions that have upheld children’s universal right to counsel.
Still, the ruling notes children would be denied attorneys only in rare cases.
Photo by Wikimedia Commons
Most states aren’t doing enough to curb child sex trafficking according to a new report by the advocacy group Shared Hope International. The study, prepared in partnership with the American Center for Law and Justice, graded all 50 states on the strength of their sex trafficking laws. States that protected minors and prosecuted traffickers received the highest grades. But more than half of states received grades of D or F.
Leading the states with grades of B were Texas, Missouri, Illinois and Washington. All received high marks for criminal provisions addressing demand and protective provisions for child victims.
Georgia ranked near the top as one of only six states receiving a C because of its comprehensive human trafficking law and laws combating commercial exploitation of children. But the state lost points because convicted traffickers are not required to register as sex offenders.
The report identifies four policy areas that must be addressed in order to combat the sex trafficking of minors: eliminating demand, prosecuting traffickers, identifying victims and providing protection, access to services and shelter for victims.
“Broken systems of criminal justice and child welfare responses to victims must also be fixed,” the report says, “to ensure that commercially sexually exploited children are treated as victims and provided with remedies through the law to recapture their lives and their futures.”
Former Republican U.S. Rep. Linda Smith of Washington founded Shared Hope International after leaving Congress.
"I was absolutely shocked,” she told NPR. “When we started sending people into states [posing] as sex tourists, and they would go in, and they would come into the city maybe from another country, maybe from another state, and they could buy kids so easily.”
The report, Smith told NPR, was designed to help states draft model laws to fight sex trafficking.
More than 100 Georgia attorneys will participate in a four-year study of the legal representation of neglected and abused children. Georgia was chosen as one of two states to be research and demonstration sites for the National Quality Improvement Center on the Representation of Children in the Child Welfare System.
The Georgia Supreme Court’s Committee on Justice for Children will administer the study in partnership with the Barton Child Law and Policy Center at Emory University and the Georgia Association of Counsel for Children.
“Being part of this study provides Georgia a good opportunity to train attorneys to become better advocates for the children of our state,” Georgia Supreme Court Justice Harris P. Hines said. “It is hoped that the training will have a positive impact by lessening the time it takes to safely return children to their parents, or if this cannot be done, to timely find permanent families for Georgia’s foster children.”
The National Quality Improvement Center at the University of Michigan Law School collaborating with the U.S. Children’s Bureau chose Georgia and Washington as the two test sites.
The House subcommittee that oversees Justice Department funding produced an appropriations bill this week that would slash activities authorized by the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act in 2012.
The draft bill, marked up by the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and State (CJS), would not fund demonstration grants, Juvenile Accountability Block Grants (JABG) or Title V Local Delinquency Prevention Grants. In 2010, the last year Congress actually passed an appropriations package, those three streams totaled $231 million.
The bill would also drop state formula grants - given to states on the condition that they adhere to basic standards in regard to the detainment of juveniles, and address racial disparities in the system - from $75 million in 2010 to $40 million.
The full appropriations committee will vote on the proposed funding levels for Justice on Wednesday, July 13, according to a memo published by the Coalition for Juvenile Justice on its website.
Many in the juvenile justice field have been unhappy with the way that the funding streams now on the chopping block were spent. Title V grants were intended to be given to state advisory groups to develop efforts to prevent juvenile crime; in recent years they were almost entirely allocated by Congress to enforcement of underage drinking laws, tribal areas and gang intervention.
Demonstration grants, which once funded coordinated efforts at research and pilot testing of juvenile justice strategies, became an earmark trough for congressmen.
President Barack Obama originally proposed in his 2012 budget to eliminate formula and JABG funding in favor of a Race to the Top-style incentive grant program, where conforming to basic standards was only a state’s ticket into the competition for big system improvement grants.
After a steady stream of criticism from advocates, the administration revised its budget proposal with most of the grants intact with only a small carve-out for its incentive grant concept.
The CJS subcommittee, which is chaired by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), does not propose to use savings from the formula grants or JABG for a new incentive program.
The subcommittee proposes $83 million for mentoring activities, which is $17 million less than 2010 appropriations.