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Articles tagged with: Campaign for Youth Justice

YJAM: A Month to Celebrate … and Keep Fighting for Juvenile Justice

Marcy Mistrett Wednesday, 30 September 2015 Posted in 2015, Take Action Now

left hand outstretched11The chorus of voices calling for criminal and youth justice reform, from all points of the political spectrum, has never been louder. This is a good thing, yet some groups, like youth charged as adults, continue to fall through the cracks. That’s why Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM) is more important than ever.

Since its first year back in 2008, YJAM has continued to grow, with more groups holding more events in more places.  Also since that time, 30 of states have passed 48 laws reforming the system and reducing the number of kids subjected to the adult criminal justice system.

But while we should celebrate these steps forward, we have to acknowledge that there is MUCH left to do.  The way we treat kids in our justice system is directly contradicted by science, and continues to be riddled with racial biases and disparities. Nine states still need to “Raise the Age” because they consider all youth to be criminally responsible at age 17 (or in the case of New York and North Carolina, age 16), no matter how minimal the charge. Fifteen states still empower prosecutors to “Directly File” kids into the adult criminal justice system without any judicial review. 23 states (including Washington, DC) have not set a minimum age of when a child can be prosecuted as an adult.  Kids are too often still housed in adult jails and prisons, either with adult prisoners, or isolated in solitary confinement.

Raising awareness is an essential first step to ending these practices, and raising awareness is what YJAM is all about.  Throughout this month, CFYJ and other groups and individuals will be highlighting the stories of those directly impacted by, and those with expert knowledge of, this system that unjustly (and counter-productively) treats kids as adults.

Please help us share and amplify these stories; they are the key to opening the hearts and minds of those with the authority to legislate change. Below find the top five ways you can join the movement:

TWEETS

Pres Obama declares October Youth Justice Awareness Month! http://bit.ly/1KOKfD1 #YJAM #youthjustice #JJDPAmatters

YJAM is here!  Learn more about Youth Justice Awareness Month and get involved http://bit.ly/1KOKfD1 #YJAM #youthjustice #JJDPAmatters

It's official!  October is Youth Justice Awareness Month.  Check it out at http://bit.ly/1KOKfD1 #YJAM #youthjustice #JJDPAmatters

Time to get your #YJAM on!  http://bit.ly/1KOKfD1   #YJAM #youthjustice #JJDPAmatters


FACEBOOK

President Barack Obama has signed a proclamation declaring October 'National Youth Justice Awareness Month' and calls on Americans to "observe this month by getting involved in community efforts to support our youth, and by participating in appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs." http://bit.ly/1KOKfD1 #YJAM #youthjustice #JJDPAmatters

Today kicks off Youth Justice Awareness Month and the White House has made it official!  Check out the President's proclamation and learn more about how you can get involved!http://bit.ly/1KOKfD1 #YJAM #youthjustice #JJDPAmatters

The Hidden Costs of Incarceration in the Adult System

Nils Franco Tuesday, 29 September 2015 Posted in 2015, Research & Policy

Collateral consequences borne by community, family members, according to new report

By Nils Franco, CFYJ Intern

The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights this month published “Who Pays,” a report investigating the adult criminal justice system’s long-term effects on inmates, families, and society. The Center surveyed more than 700 former inmates and 300 family members in 14 states. This effort produces reliable data on the economic, social, and health-related burdens communities bear from incarceration, which bring “increased poverty, destabilized neighborhoods, and generations of trauma,” according to the report.

The findings demonstrate that adult sentences cost more than just the lost years of one individual’s incarceration. The costs of even a minor offense can add up in thousands of dollars of debt, mental health issues, and the specter of a permanent record. While the report surveys the general population of the adult prison system, many of its findings apply especially severely to juveniles.

The burden of judicial punishment, the report finds, is not carried by the offenders alone: their families lose a source of income, their families must find a way to pay off legal fees, and their families must pay to stay in contact with their incarcerated loved one. No family or individual is an island, however, and the economic setbacks can spread to the entire community.

Most tangible among the collateral consequences are the economic costs, which pile up measurably at every stage of the system. Over half of respondents said they could not afford conviction-related fees, which average $13,607 per inmate. While imprisoned, inmates’ basic needs must be paid for by family, at absurd costs. Under these financial pressures, one in five families faces eviction during a loved one’s incarceration because of housing unaffordability, and almost two in three struggle to afford other necessities. Economic strains continue after incarceration because of the stigma attached to a criminal record. 76 percent of former inmates found it “very difficult or nearly impossible” to get a job after prison, and less than half worked fulltime five years after release. Unpaid debts incurred during adult incarceration compound the effects of employment constraints, and 12 percent of former inmates are put back into prison for missing conviction-related debt payments.

Meanwhile, government aid that could lift men and women back onto their feet during re-entry is denied even to minor offenders. Past drug offenders are ineligible in most states for federal welfare programs, and local housing authorities can deny public housing to individuals with a record. One in 10 family members polled lost their public housing after a loved one with a record returned home. Unpaid criminal justice debts can also result in the denial of student loans, disability benefits, and Social Security.

Lasting incarceration-related health effects in adults detailed in the report are even more severe for youth, who are less emotionally developed and more likely to be victimized by adult prisoners. 66 percent of the general population of former inmates said their or their family’s health suffered from incarceration’s effects. Many reported pre-existing chronic health problems worsening, while high healthcare costs block inmates from getting needed treatment. Mental health in particular suffers from experiences related to incarceration, and PTSD and depression are linked to and exacerbated by those experiences.

With robust new data, the Center’s report powerfully underscores the ripple effects of incarceration. By locking up a young offender for even a few years, we destroy not just his or her economic and social opportunity, but in fact harm entire families and communities. Developmentally, childhood is a ripe moment for growth through opportunities, health, and second chances. The adult criminal justice system impairs all of these, and at high societal costs. Stripping juveniles of their lifetime earning potential and saddling their families with debt are undesirable outcomes of a criminal justice system. The Ella Baker Center report provides crucial insight into the collateral consequences of prison life, and understanding these post-incarceration stressors helps to explain why juveniles tried as adults have higher recidivism rates than juveniles tried in the appropriate system.

An executive summary of the report can be found here.

Written by Nils Franco, a policy and law intern with the Campaign for Youth Justice. Nils studies economics and public policy at American University.

Reauthorization of the JJDPA: Briefing Recap

Tomás Perez Friday, 18 September 2015 Posted in 2015, Federal Update

2nbdChris Bellamy, Assistant DA from Tennessee, speaking about the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, “I support the JJDPA because I’m hard on crime.”

Yet, the JJDPA would be one of the last bills in the Senate which people would correlate with being “hard on crime”. Most would associate being hard on crime as using the most punitive approaches to responding to criminal behavior resulting in increased incarceration rates.

This is not the case with the JJDPA. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act aims to lower incarceration rates and spending, while offering protections for youth who are in the juvenile justice systems, without compromising safety of communities. However, to Bellamy’s point, this bill also uses evidenced-based practices that have shown to decrease crime rates and increased public safety. Some might refer to these tactics as being “smart on crime”.

This week, a briefing in the Russell Senate Office Building was held to discuss the bipartisan bill S. 1169, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act (JJDPA) of 2015. Senators from both sides of the aisle have cosponsored the bill, including Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). Those in attendance ranged from advocates for youth in the system, to staffers of senators and others with ties to the juvenile justice system, who came to hear testimony from groups such as the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, the Justice Policy Institute, Boys Town, and Fight Crime: Invest in Kids. There were also speakers with ties to the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, and the District Attorney’s office of Tennessee’s 19th Judicial District. The panel talked about the JJDPA and how the reauthorization can improve upon current law.

There are four main components of the JJDPA, the deinstitutionalization of status offenders (DSO), adult jail/lockup removal for youth, sight and sound separation from adults, and addressing disproportionate minority contact to the system (DMC).

Marc Schindler, Executive Director of the Justice Policy Institute, spoke about the history of the JJDPA. “We know that when young people are held in adult facilities we get terrible outcomes” he said.

Research has shown that youth released from adult facilities are more likely to offend than youth released from the juvenile justice system. It has also shown the lack of educational opportunities and other resources that are not present in adult facilities, but are available in juvenile centers matter. We know that it is a “lose-lose” situation when youth are in adult facilities because they can’t be kept safe or distanced from adults without being isolated/confined which in turn has other harmful effects. And, we know that youth incarcerated in adult facilities are 36 times more likely to commit suicide than youth in juvenile facilities. Schindler was talking about all of this research and more.

All the speakers spoke about their expertise and experience with the juvenile justice system to support the JJDPA and its reauthorization. The Honorable Judge Deborah Schumacher spoke about the deinstitutionalization of status offenders. A status offense is an offense that is only considered illegal because of the age of the offender; such offences like truancy, running away from home, and breaking curfew. In the case of minors, such offenses are things like truancy, or breaking curfew. “Status offenses are no reason to incarcerate a child,” said Judge Schumacher, “more harm will come of incarcerating a child for a status offense than if we used a community based alternative."

Chief Richard Crate, a police chief from Enfield New Hampshire and member of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, spoke about the treatment of youth at the local level. He notes that the area where he has seen the most success has been in alternative programs for youth, some may know them as “diversion” or “restorative” youth courts or programs in which the state takes custody of the youth but “we don’t incarcerate them, we help them. We tell them, at least in New Hampshire, that everyone makes mistakes, and we’re not there to punish them.” The JJDPA will help to support these types of state efforts.

The JJDPA has positive, far--reaching effects on youth and communities all across the United States. Aeryn Van Eck was a youth who had been incarcerated, but they was placed in a non-secure, family like setting at Boys Town, an organization focused on fostering child rehabilitation and development into leaders and productive members of society. She spoke about the positive experience that alternative routes can have for youth who have offended. She notes that the JJDPA and initiatives like it were a big reason for her success.

With support for the bipartisan bill growing, there is a good chance it will be passed by the Senate this year. The law has worked in the past to lower the crime rates, lower incarceration rates, and lower spending on prisons, while investing in children successfully. The air in the room of the senate office building after the briefing was lively with chat of growing support from more senators, and a hopeful outlook for a renewed and improved JJDPA.

Written by Tomás Perez, intern with the Campaign for Youth Justice. Tomás is a senior, political science major at the University of California, Merced.

SAFE Justice Act: A Briefing Recap

Tomás Perez - Juvenile Justice Fellow Friday, 11 September 2015 Posted in 2015, Federal Update

Written by Tomás Perez - Juvenile Justice Fellow

Bernie KerikThis week, a briefing took place inside the Library of Congress to discuss the appropriately named house bill H.R. 2944, The Safe, Accountable, Fair, and Effective (SAFE) Justice Act. An audience of media representatives, congress members, interest group lobbyists, and other individuals invested and concerned with the criminal justice system packed the Members Room, awaiting the briefing from the panel of speakers. The panel consisted of a variety of point people on the issue ranging from former U.S. Attorney, Tim Heaphy, to a former federal prison inmate, to a victim’s rights advocate, to even the general counsel for Koch Industries, Inc. The primary congressional speakers were Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), which added to the diverse and bipartisan representation of supporters at the briefing.

Van Jones, a CNN political contributor, started the briefing with a general overview of the SAFE Justice Act. If enacted into law, the bill, according to FAMM (Families Against Mandatory Minimums), would “reduce prison costs and populations, save money, reinvest savings into law enforcement needs (e.g., training, body cameras, blue alerts), and protect the public by using state-tested, evidence-based practices that are reducing crime”. The SAFE Justice Act seeks to end over-criminalization, and break the cycle of recidivism, or relapse of criminal behavior. It uses strategies that were implemented in 32 states (such as New York, Texas, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Georgia, and South Carolina) where there was state-level reform that reduced both their crime and imprisonment rates over the past five years.

A Federal Prosecutor's Perspective

Former U.S. Attorney, Tim Heaphy spoke about his experience being a federal prosecutor for several years and his perspective on reform for the criminal justice system. He stated that he prosecuted people hard, and for the highest charges. The vast amount of cases he heard were drug related and non-violent he said. However, while he was a U.S. Attorney, he would prosecute on charges of conspiracy, which basically meant that although the defendant was not a direct perpetrator of whatever crime was committed, the fact that they were slightly affiliated with the direct perpetrator(s) and/or had a knowledge to the slightest degree of what possible crimes were being committed, it made them not only an accessory to the crime, but a conspirator by allowing it to happen. Heaphy would use this method to his fullest extent, until he later realized that the window of resources for prosecutors was diminishing because the spending on incarceration and prisons was increasing. This was to the point that prosecutors were left with minimal resources not only for themselves, but also for the prisoners. It was at this moment that he realized that there must be reform to balance out the budget for the justice department. The past 20 years has shown a dangerous trade off in which more money was being put into imprisoning people and less money going to federal assistance to state and local law enforcement, including resources for those convicted.

Federal Prison: Not Just for the "Worst of the Worst"

A notable panel speaker was Bernie Kerik, who had a unique set of perspectives on the issue by not only being a former NYPD officer, detective, and eventually commissioner, but also an ex-inmate of federal prison. Kerik was a leader in criminal justice as well as national security and crime and terrorist prevention. He was nominated by former president Bush to be head of Homeland Security, but withdrew his nomination after being investigated by the Bronx District Attorney’s Office. He pleaded guilty to two ethics violations, misdemeanors, in 2006, and then was indicted by a grand jury on charges of conspiracy, tax fraud, and making false statements in 2007 and served 4 years in federal prison. Kerik stated, “like many Americans, thought that federal prison was reserved for ‘the worst of the worst’ but I was wrong”. He stated that while he was there, he met many young adults who were first time offenders, and were charged with nonviolent crimes. There were many who were charged at the state level then turned over to federal prosecutors. It is not hard to imagine that some of these were juveniles charged as adults, and then somewhere along the line, were handed off to federal prosecutors or transferred to federal adult facilities due to overcrowding or lack of accountability.

We Cannot Incarcerate Our Way Out Of These Problems

Dionne Wilson, a victim’s rights advocate and survivor outreach coordinator for Californians for Safety and Justice, spoke on behalf of communities most impacted by the crime in America today. Wilson was married to a police officer and said that she, like many Americans, had an idea for what “justice” meant. Her husband was shot and killed in 2005, and like any person, she wanted the shooter to receive the fullest extent of punishment. Who could blame her? The courts agreed with her and sentenced a death penalty to the defendant. Yet, the verdict would not suffice, or give her any closure or peace of mind. After contemplating the issue for many years, she became an advocate for sentence reduction and prison reform to stop the cycle of crime in America not by being “hard on crime”, but by being smart on crime. “We cannot incarcerate our way out of these problems” she said, and with that she would be one of the most unlikely faces for incarceration-reduction and prison reform. She noted that she was very privileged to be in her position, as the wife of a police officer, many people would listen to her. But when she would speak to other victims of crime, such as the families and communities, she noticed not everyone was as well received. Now, she acts as a voice for the voiceless and advocates for prison reform that ends the cycle of violence, to really solve the root of the problem.

The Cycle of Incarcerations

Many other people from all backgrounds and expertise spoke to defend this bill, either from a moral standpoint, a fiscal standpoint, and a constitutional standpoint. The overarching support from the briefing was clear to be bipartisan, and diverse. The issue of mass incarceration is a pressing issue that has now demanded the attention and priority of the federal government on a scale of magnitude that the country has not seen before. PEW charitable trusts--who were also represented at the briefing--shared their research which has shown that prison spending grew twice as fast as all other justice department spending from 1980 to 2013. With the bill aiming to end the cycle of crime and incarceration, this could have a big impact on the youth of America as well. At the moment, youth tried and convicted as adults will often serve out their sentences into adulthood and in some cases, until death. This leaves them stuck if they are to assimilate back into society at the end of their sentence. Without proper resources for them, this leads to recidivism, and they will likely offend again. This is the cycle of incarceration and crime that the SAFE Justice Act is aiming to end. It is time for America to stop the cycle of incarceration not by being “hard on crime” but by being smart on crime.

Written by Tomás Perez, intern with the Campaign for Youth Justice. Tomás is a senior, political science major at the University of California, Merced. 

PREA’s 12th Birthday

Carmen Daugherty Friday, 11 September 2015 Posted in 2015, Across the Country

#ImplementPREAThis week marks the twelfth anniversary since Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) to address the sexual assault and victimization in prisons, jails, lockups, and other detention facilities. Some could characterize PREA’s development as being in its adolescence. Thus, we exercise patience and understanding when the law and regulations aren’t panning out as neatly as Congress could have hoped. Yet, we wait, give rational excuses as to why PREA audits aren’t going as smoothly as anticipated, and hold our collective breath for the Department of Justice to “figure it out”. "Give it time to work", we hear, and we nod our heads in agreement. We recognize that such a massive law with its substantial regulations will take time to trickle down to the states in a way that we, as a nation, feel like the law is “working” and a decrease in rape and abuse in prisons will be well documented. We unwearyingly sit down with other advocates and policy makers to figure out how to strengthen the law. While urgency exists, we focus more on getting it right so another ten years doesn’t pass with the same results.

Ironically, or not to some, we do not exercise the same level of patience, consideration, or solution focused attitudes when it comes to youth involved in the criminal justice system. On any given day, nearly 6200 youth under 18 are sitting in adult jails and prisons. Some in solitary confinement for their own “protection” and some in general population because the crime they have committed automatically makes them an “adult”. All much too young to waste away behind bars; many first time, nonviolent offenders; and none receiving rehabilitative services proven to reduce recidivism and increase public safety.

Fortunately this group of inmates was not forgotten by The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission—a group of experts brought together to provide recommendations to the Department of Justice on creating PREA standards--that made strong recommendations on the removal of youth from the adult system. The Department of Justice took these recommendations in stride and stated “as a matter of policy, the Department supports strong limitations on the confinement of adults with juveniles.”  To advance this position, the PREA regulations include a “Youthful Inmate Standard” to protect youth in adult facilities. That standard provides that youthful inmates, which the standards define as “any person under the age of 18 who is under adult court supervision and incarcerated or detained in a prison or jail,” must be housed separately from adult inmates in a jail or prison, but may be managed together outside of a housing unit if supervised directly by staff.  While not a panacea, it certainly provides a sturdy floor for which states can stand and reach higher with the support from the federal government.

The ACLU and Human Rights Watch estimate 100,000 youth in jails and prisons each year which means a staggering 1.2 million youth have cycled through an adult facility since PREA’s enactment. The vast majority of states statutorily allows the housing of youth in adult jails and prisons. Most without the full protection of what PREA can offer.  Despite these grave figures, incremental progress is documented at the state level with twelve states (CO, ID, IN, ME, NV, HI, VA, PA, TX, OR, OH, MD) passing legislation limiting the states’ authority to house youth in adult jails and prisons in the last decade. Approximately one state a year since PREA's enactment. 

As states continue to work towards full PREA compliance, we should start seeing new policies and regulations that reflect the way states treat young offenders in their facilities.  Ideally, this will lead to the full removal of youth from adult jails and prisons to really see the success of PREA.  Indeed, several states have used the advances in brain research paired with the costs of PREA compliance and falling crime rates to argue for removing youth under 18 from criminal court jurisdiction altogether (e.g. Massachusetts and New Hampshire both raised the age of criminal responsibility to 18, in part to comply with PREA).  

Later this month, Campaign for Youth Justice will release a report that examines the ways that states regulate the housing of youth in adult prisons in the PREA-era. We combed through state statutes and state Department of Corrections' policies to see how youth under 18 are housed. The results are not surprising and reiterate how we punish youth who sometimes make terrible decisions; no second chances. As we recognize in so many other facets of society,  adolescence is a time of mistakes and lessons learned. And when it comes to policymakers, we recognize that the enactment of laws often times require a few years to see results so we exercise patience and have a willingness to tweak where beneficial to society. Shouldn't we do this for some of our most vulnerable youth as well?

Back To School

Marcy Mistrett Friday, 04 September 2015 Posted in 2015, Across the Country

It’s back to school time in the nation’s capitol and a buzz is in the air—traffic is picking up, parents are excited to get back to the routine of school days, and kids can’t wait to meet their new teachers and reconnect with old friends.  It’s a time for fresh starts and new beginnings—of opportunity to overcome academic challenges of the past and embrace the possibilities of the future.

However, children that we have charged as adults in the criminal justice system, don’t get to be part of this routine. While detained in adult jails—they receive little—if any-- formal education.   In adult prisons, these youth have been barred from receiving PELL grants since 1994, unlike youth in the juvenile justice system. We tell this to 100,000 children a year who spend months, years, and even decades, in adult jails and prisons.

Our country doesn’t educate children that we have prosecuted as adults because we have already told them their lives don’t matter. That they have lost the opportunity for a second chance.  That punishment for what they have done (or been accused of doing) is valued more than the opportunity to get services and turn their lives around. We tell them this despite polling that shows that 78% of the American public believes in second chances for youth, and favor rehabilitation over incarceration.  In the past year, we have sent this message to 10 year olds in Pennsylvania,  12 year olds in Wisconsin,  14 year olds in Mississippi,  and 15 year olds in Florida that are sitting idle in adult jails and prisons, “doing time”—but not mastering their times-tables.

We don’t educate them because we likely locked them out of their schools before we locked them up in adult facilities.  An estimated 65% of incarcerated children meet the criteria for a disability, three times higher than the general population according to the National Disability Rights Network.  Children with learning and emotional disabilities are more than twice as likely to receive an out of school suspension than those without disabilities. For disabled children of color, these numbers are even more disparate—1:4 boys and 1:5 girls of color with disabilities are suspended from school.

We also don’t educate them despite knowing that education while incarcerated is one of the most affordable ways to ensure that when they go home, they stay home. Yet, most youth are denied educational and rehabilitative services that are necessary for their stage in development when in adult facilities. A survey of adult facilities found that 40% of jails provided no educational services at all, only 11% provided special education services, and a mere 7% provided vocational training. This lack of education increases the difficulty that youth will have once they return to their communities.

On Capitol Hill and in the White House, policymakers are just starting to question these tactics with the (re) authorization of new laws and pilot programs that benefit incarcerated youth. Unfortunately, most have limited application to youth in adult facilities. For example: 

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is up for reauthorization.  Title 1 Part D of ESEA addresses prevention and intervention programs for neglected, delinquent, or at-risk youth, requiring that schools facilitate the re-enrollment, re-entry and proper education for youth returning from juvenile justice system placements; that educational records and credits earned during placement in the juvenile justice system are transferred back to the youth’s community-based school; and that some of the  funds are allocated toward youth re-entry and re-enrollment into high quality educational settings.  These supports do not apply to youth returning from adult facilities.

The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) is also up for reauthorization.  It has four core protections for incarcerated children including the removal of youth from adult jails, so they can receive developmentally appropriate services (including education).  Both the Senate Bill (S1169) and House Bill (HB2728) increase opportunities for incarcerated youth to transfer educational credits received while incarcerated back to their home high school.

Finally, the PELL grant program, which helps low income students pay for college does extend to youth incarcerated in juvenile facilities and adult jails. However, those in adult prisons have been barred from using PELL grants to pay for college credits since 1994.  Just this past July, the Obama Administration launched a pilot program, Second Chance Pell Pilot, in which incarcerated individuals who are eligible for release in the next five years can apply for PELL grants.

Education remains the great equalizer in our country in terms of long-term positive outcomes for children and families. Access to education should be a requirement for children who have come in contact with the law, to help them prepare for a successful future.  All children deserve the right to a quality education, even those we consider adults before their age determines them to be.

2015 State Legislative Sessions: An Update on Nationwide Juvenile Justice Reforms to Protect Youth from the Adult Criminal Justice System

Nicholas Bookout, CFYJ Fellow and Carmen Daugherty, Policy Director Tuesday, 11 August 2015 Posted in 2015, Federal Update

Nicholas Bookout, CFYJ Fellow and Carmen Daugherty, Policy Director

With the JJDPA reauthorization making it out of the Senate Judiciary, along with President Obama’s recent speech at the NAACP and subsequent prison visit, there is no question that juvenile justice reform has both the American Public and federal policymakers’ attention. While these steps towards federal juvenile justice reform are very exciting, it is also very important to acknowledge the reforms taking place nationwide in state legislatures.

This legislative session, legislation to protect youth from the adult criminal justice system was introduced in the form of 35 bills in 19 different states. To summarize the results of these bills:

  • 7 bills that the CFYJ supports passed!
  • 3 bills are still active in legislative sessions (3 in California).
  • 18 bills that were introduced but the legislative session ended before they were passed or voted down.
  • 6 bills that we supported died (5 in Florida, 1 in New York).
  • 1 bill that we opposed died (Delaware).

Very few bills were introduced that ran contrary to the movement to protect youth from the adult system. One of these few bills was introduced in Delaware. Senate Bill 12 would have required adults who possess a firearm, and were convicted of a violent crime at age 16 or 17, to receive a mandatory minimum sentence. However, this bill died in committee, signaling a victory for youth justice.

Most Recent Victories!

House Bill 3718 is an enormous victory for Illinois. Before passage of the law, children under the age of 18 can be automatically transferred to adult courts. This practice has very negatively impacted communities of color, with 99 percent of the youth arrested and transferred to adult court in Cook County between 2010 and 2012 being children of color. 90 percent of these cases were then pled guilty – often resulting in adult incarceration. However, House Bill 3718 requires a juvenile judge to review this transfer to determine the proper court for the child, taking into account the age, background, and individual circumstances of the child. With the signature of this bill, countless children would be saved from unnecessarily harsh sentences, and the physical, mental, and sexual abuse that often comes with adult incarceration as a youth.

In New Jersey, the Governor recently signed Senate Bill 2003. This bill includes numerous provisions that drastically improve juvenile justice in New Jersey. First, this bill increases the minimum age at which a youth can be tried as an adult from 14 to 15. Second, it   limits the transfer and incarceration of youth under the age of 18, instead of the current lower limit of 16, to only those committing the most serious and violent of crimes. Third, this bill makes it more difficult for youth to be transferred to adult court, as prosecutors must submit written analysis on the reasons for the transfer, which is then granted only at the discretion of a judge. Finally, this bill tightens restrictions on the use of solitary confinement for youth. These reforms would signal a positive move towards justice for New Jersey youth, while also improving physical and mental well-being.

Other Important Victories

In Louisiana, House Resolution 73 requests the Institute on Public Health and Justice to study the issue of raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction to include seventeen-year olds. Hopefully the results of this study will yield further legislation to protect children in one of the tougher states for youth justice.

Previously, the state of Maryland authorized a district court exercising criminal jurisdiction over a juvenile to order a child be held in a juvenile facility. With the passage House Bill 618, the law now mandates that the district court, when exercising criminal jurisdiction, orders a child be held at a juvenile facility, except under a few specific circumstances (bail, no capacity, security risk). Additionally, if the district court withholds a transfer to a secure juvenile facility on the basis of the child posing a risk to his or her own safety or the safety of others, the court must state on the record the reasons for finding such a risk. Because of the recent drop in juvenile crime rates, the juvenile facilities have the ability to accommodate more children without significantly impacting their expenditures. Therefore, this bill will reduce the number of children held pre-trial in adult facilities, without imposing increasing costs on the state of Maryland.

Texas, a state surprisingly making positive strides in youth justice reform, passed two bills protecting youth. In Texas, a juvenile may be waived by a juvenile court to be tried as an adult in a criminal court. Previously, this transfer could not be appealed until after a juvenile had been convicted or deferred. With the passage of Senate Bill 888, a juvenile has the right to appeal a juvenile court order that waives exclusive jurisdiction before adjudication. This legislation also mandates that the Supreme Court take up standards to accelerate the disposition of these appeals by the appellate court or the Texas Supreme Court. These appeals may be taken by or on behalf of the child. With the post-adjudication appeal process often taking years to complete, this streamlined process increases the efficiency of appeals, potentially saving the state of Texas countless resources. Meanwhile, juveniles facing charges will encounter a more just process capable of adequately accounting for the differences between juveniles and adults.

The second bill, Senate Bill 1630, first aims to reduce the number of Texas youth held in TJJD (Texas Juvenile Justice Department) facilities, especially those far from their families and communities. To do so, they are expanding the scope of juvenile probation, with this probation serving as an alternative to incarceration for low and medium risk youth.   This bill will keep low and medium risk children in Texas closer to home, likely decreasing recidivism and providing specialized services for the needs of youth.

Finally, Utah also undertook positive youth justice reform. Previously, a Utah district court held jurisdiction over any 16 year old that committed any sort of felony. With Senate Bill 167, this jurisdiction is now limited to about ten violent felonies. In addition, when the state petitions to have a juvenile transferred to a district court under the premise of an allegation of one of these felonies, the juvenile judge may exercise judgment on the transfer. The judge can now take into consideration the interests of the minor, the ability of different facilities (both adult and juvenile) to provide rehabilitative services, and the course of action best suited to reduce the risk posed to the public. Lastly, with SB 167, juveniles may not be shackled or otherwise restrained when appearing in court. Consequently, this bill will reduce the number of youth in Utah unnecessarily tried as adults, while also providing for more humane treatment of children and safeguards to keep them out of adult facilities.

Finally, in California, there are multiple reforms taking place. The California District Court of Appeals recently upheld Proposition 47, the Reduced Penalties for Some Crimes Initiative, which was approved in November 2014. As a result, non-violent, non-serious crimes in California must now be classified as a misdemeanor instead of a felony. Consequently, those sentenced under previous guidelines may be re-sentenced. Such ruling allows thousands of youth previously sentenced to unusually harsh penalties to appeal these decisions and leave incarceration.

Furthermore, Senate Bill 382 passed the California Senate and Assembly, and simply awaits concurrence on amendments. If signed by the governor and enacted, this bill would allow judges to consider more comprehensive information when granting a transfer waiver. By doing so, judges will have a greater opportunity to consider the rehabilitative capacity of a youth before subjecting that individual to adult court, its more austere consequences, and potential incarceration.

The Campaign for Youth Justice is incredibly excited about the passage and progress of these bills. With each piece of legislation passed, countless youth in these states are in one form or another protected from the horrors of being incarcerated with adults as a child. More of the United States’ children are kept out of harm’s way, and given a better chance to be rehabilitated, in lieu of being subjected to inhumane punishment.

While it is encouraging to see these positive steps taken, and CFYJ commends these states and all involved for passing such legislation, there is still so much more to be done – in these states and across the nation. With a per day average of 6,000 of America’s youth spending time in adult jails or prisons, these reforms are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the need to protect our nation’s youth. Until this number is zero, we must keep fighting to have children be treated by America’s criminal justice system as just that – children. 

The EPA’s 2020 Environmental Justice Action Agenda: A Call to Protect Our Nation’s Youth from Hazardous Conditions While Incarcerated

Tuesday, 28 July 2015 Posted in 2015, Federal Update

By Nicholas Bookout, CFYJ Fellow
 
On July 14, 2015, The Human Rights Defense Center sent a letter to the EPA – endorsed by CFYJ – urging the agency to include the United States’ prisoner population in its 2020 Environmental Justice Action Agenda. Much to the excitement of criminal justice and environmental advocates, the following day an EPA staff person responded by saying that the Environmental Office will acknowledge this gap in EPA policy and include the prisoner population in its 2020 agenda. 
 
Per Executive Order 12898, government agencies are to, “Focus federal attention on the environmental and human health effects of federal actions on minority and low-income populations with the goal of achieving environmental protection for all communities.” As such, the EPA is currently drafting its Environmental Justice 2020 Action Agenda, which seeks to, “Make a visible difference in environmentally overburdened, underserved, and economically distressed communities.” 
 
With prison population being disproportionately both low-income and individuals of color, there is no question that the prisoner population comes from overburdened and economically distressed backgrounds. Furthermore, the 2.3 million yearly incarcerated Americans, 100,000 youth amongst them, are exceedingly exposed to harmful environmental conditions. The HDRC provides numerous examples of this environmental overburdening; these circumstances include prisoners facing close proximity to toxic waste, prolonged exposure to contaminated drinking water, and sickness resulting from exposure to coal ash. Thus, the prisoner population, by and large, faces harmful conditions of industrial pollution both prior to and during incarceration. 
 
However, as the HRDC letter articulates, the EPA does not currently take the prisoner population into account as it formulates this action agenda. Therefore, millions of Americans, and thousands of children, are continually exposed to hazardous environmental conditions. Luckily, with the EPA’s acknowledgement of this gap in policy, there will soon be an effort to remedy these injustices. 
 
Unfortunately, the United States still locks up thousands of children in the adult criminal justice system. In an effort to recognize another negative consequence of this practice, and to positively influence the conditions of confinement for adults and youth alike, the Campaign for Youth Justice wholly endorsed the HRDC’s letter. CFYJ is excited that the EPA will include the prisoner population in its 2020 Environmental Justice Action Agenda, taking a small yet important step towards justice for our nation’s youth. As such, we also hope that the United States government and American People, as supposed global leaders in the realm of Human Rights, will take note of yet another injustice in our nation’s criminal justice system, and work towards reform that will increasingly remove our nation’s youth from these harmful circumstances of imprisonment. 

Encouraging Young Leaders to Fight for Juvenile Justice Reform

Friday, 24 July 2015 Posted in 2015, CFYJ Updates

IMG 0983
 
By Samantha Goodman, CFYJ Fellow
 
As part of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice's 2015 Youth Summit, CFYJ Policy Director Carmen Daugherty, along with DC Lawyers for Youth Executive Director Daniel Okonkwo and Free Minds Senior Poet Ambassador Gary Durant, presented on Keeping Young People Out of Adult Courts, Prisons, and Jails. The presentation was part of an annual two-day summit for emerging leaders in the field of juvenile justice hosted by CJJ and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
 
Following Hill visits, where the attendees (aged 16-25) met with members of Congress and/or their staff to discuss and share stories on the need for youth justice reform, Daugherty challenged participants to consider how reform movements get started. Together, Daugherty, Okonkwo, and Durant helped the young leaders understand the difficulties and best ways to build a campaign or movement. Participants reflected on engaging unlikely allies, unifying one goal, and mustering commitment to the cause.
 
Keeping in line with the theme of the summit, Daugherty explained the problems with trying and incarcerating youth as adults. She presented state-by-state efforts and statistics, inviting the attendees to get involved in programs in their communities.
 
"There are no best practices for how to house kids in adult facilities because kids don't belong there," Daugherty said to the young leaders.
 
Okonkow outlined the DC Judge Our Youth Campaign and Durant shared his personal experience as a juvenile in the system as well as a poem he wrote when first involved with Free Minds.
 
For more information on how you can get involved in our efforts for juvenile justice reform, call the Campaign for Youth Justice at (202) 558- 3580. 

CFYJ’s Summer Institute Series: Understanding Youth Solitary Confinement

Mette Huberts Friday, 26 June 2015 Posted in 2015, CFYJ Updates

Amy Fettig

By Mette Huberts, CFYJ Fellow

CFYJ’s first Summer Institute event of 2015 focused on the practice of Youth Solitary Confinement and the harmful effects it has on children. Amy Fettig, a member of the ACLU’s National Prison Project Senior Staff Counsel and the director of ACLU’s Stop Solitary Campaign, informed us about the destruction that solitary confinement can cause for youth both physically and mentally. In addition, she emphasized the need for reform in terms of correction officer trainings as well as general public awareness. 

The practice of solitary confinement, both for adults and children, reflects the rigor of the zero tolerance laws and the belief that the solution to disobedience and misconduct is to simply “lock ‘em up”. Correction facility officers and guards have known no other course of action, therefore understanding it to be both normal and expected to put an individual in solitary confinement. For children, this proves especially true. In an adult facility, children enter the system alone and afraid. They are often quickly targeted as prey by the older inmates, leaving them more vulnerable to rape and abuse. For years, prisons and jails have “solved” this issue by putting youth in solitary confinement as protection. While this may physically separate them from the immediate danger at hand, solitary confinement poses an extreme danger in itself. 

Fettig explained that because a minor’s brain is still developing, solitary confinement poses higher risks to youth than to adults. After only seven days in solitary, she informed us, measurements of youth brain activity have already begun to decrease. The child’s inability to obtain sufficient mental health support, education, recreation time, and other necessary services attributes to slowed brain development and often to the formation of a mental illness. Fettig then referred to the tragic story of Kalief Browder in testament to the long lasting damage solitary can do to a youth’s mind, even after being released. In an attempt to attack the root of the problem and prevent more stories like his, she called for reform and the ending of practices such as the direct transfer policy in New York, which allows 16 and 17 year old kids to be immediately tried in the adult court system at the prosecutor’s discretion. 

By identifying both the effects of solitary confinement on youth as well as the problematic policies that force youth into solitary, Fettig helped us recognize and understand the pressing need for change. She concluded by encouraging all of us to be present in the fight against solitary and to act to bring awareness to our own communities. She mentioned her work with the Student Alliance for Prison Reform and their continuing success with a petition calling to end solitary confinement for youth in the federal system, encouraging us to spread the word on our own campuses. Fettig’s discussion has reminded us once again that there is something bigger at stake here. Solitary confinement for youth must be abolished, and while right now this may feel like a large goal, it is up to us and our communities to start demanding policy change one by one, a change that will ultimately save lives.

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