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Articles tagged with: Juvenile Justice

NEW POLL: Floridians Share Thoughts on Criminal Justice Reform

Jade Kendrick Thursday, 06 October 2016 Posted in 2016, Across the Country

 

A recent survey conducted by the James Madison Institute and the Charles Koch Institute gives deep insight of Floridians’ thoughts on criminal justice reform in their state. The survey results couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. Recently, Florida prosecutor, Angela Corey, lost her chance at reelection in the primary. Corey was notorious for pursuing harsh sentences. She is notorious for failing to get a conviction on George Zimmerman, the man who killed Trayvon Martin. She did a number of other injustices during her eight years in office.  Corey charged a 12 year old boy named Cristian Fernandez with first degree murder of his 2 year old brother, David. Cristian, David, and their other brother and sister had been left at home, without supervision, while his mother was at work. That’s when David received a serious head injury and died. Cristian’s mother came home and took Cristian to school. She would wait eight more hours before taking David to the hospital. While the details around how David was injured are still foggy, Corey immediately deemed Cristian the perpetrator. Cristian was held in an adult jail until his conviction where he sentenced to life without parole. Corey would later fight Cristian’s transfer to a juvenile facility. Corey doubled the number of felony cases in Florida where minors were charged as adults. It would be one of Cristian’s lawyers who challenged and defeated Corey.

So what does her losing the election have to do with this survey?

For one, they show a drastic change in attitude with the Florida population. 72% of Floridians believe that it is time to reform the criminal system in Florida and 64% believe that there are too many nonviolent offenders serving time. The opinions show the possibility that kicking out hard prosecutors means that Floridians want different sentencing practices.  62% of Floridians also said they trust judges over prosecutors to decide if a minor should be charged as an adult. That contradicts Angela Corey’s efforts to increase the number of felony cases for minors charged as adults.

The survey is on par with changing laws in Florida. Recently, the state legislature repealed the “10-20 Life” law that required judges to give mandatory sentences to gun involved offenses. Unfortunately, this repeal will not apply to offenders currently incarcerated, even though 63% of Floridians agreed that it should apply to those already in jail. However, this is still a major step for Florida’s criminal justice reform. Another more preventive law Florida has passed a law regarding mental health and Medicare. This plan requires Medicare to offer comprehensive treatment plans for patients diagnosed with a mental illness. Because people with mental illnesses will have better access to treatment, in the long run, the number of mentally ill people with a criminal record will decrease. Still in discussion in the Florida state legislature is the Direct File bill. This bill would limit the power prosecutors have when deciding to charge a juvenile as an adult. Currently, the law states that if a juvenile, no matter the age, commits a certain offense, such as murder or sexual battery, the prosecutor can send them straight to adult court. Under the new bill, state attorneys can only use direct file for juveniles between the ages of 16 and 18. And the prosecutor can only direct file if it involves the 21 offenses listed in the bill. While the first goal of the bill was to make transfers only to be decided by a judge, supporters of the bill had to compromise in order to move it along. The Human Rights Watch found that Florida has more juveniles transferred into the adult court than any other state. The Florida government has been slow to keep up with public opinion. With new legislation being introduced and passed, hopefully criminal justice reform will begin to take effect.

Guest Column: Violence at Spring Creek: It's not the kids, it's the culture

Rebecca T. Wallace and Elizabeth Logemann Guest columnists Friday, 30 September 2016 Posted in 2016

By: Rebecca T. Wallace and Elizabeth Logemann Guest columnists 

 

Originally posted in the Colorado Springs Gazette

In a recent Gazette article, it was reported that Spring Creek Correctional Facility is again erupting with assaults and riots, leaving youths and staff frightfully unsafe. After more than two years of hearing these kinds of reports from Spring Creek, it has become increasingly clear that the facility is plagued by an unforgiving and punitive culture that breeds violence and chaos. Staff now attribute the source of the violence to restrictions on their use of solitary confinement and other punitive measures. That should send off alarm bells. When staff charged with rehabilitating at-risk youths lament that they can't do their job unless they can lock children in torturous and widely discredited solitary confinement, we know there is a serious culture problem at the facility.

Psychological and rehabilitative experts from around the country are unanimous in their finding that solitary confinement hurts children and is wholly counterproductive to rehabilitation. What's more, it has been proved that evidence-based, nationally accepted best practices - which rely on building one-on-one relationships rather than isolation and restraint - work to reduce recidivism while keeping children and staff safe from violence.

Look to Missouri, which has adopted an approach to youth corrections that is founded on the idea that children are a work in progress and that all youths are redeemable and changeable. After shutting down its large and notoriously violent juvenile detention facility in Boonville in 1983, Missouri began to build small group homes and adopted a rehabilitative model where staff are strongly discouraged from using seclusion and restraint to manage even violent youths. Youths are instead immersed in an intensive, therapeutic treatment program led by development specialists rather than correctional guards and are provided a wide range of vocational and academic opportunities. Facility staff keep children safe primarily through relationship building and compassionate de-escalation, rather than through solitary confinement and restraint. The results are astounding. Compared with youth correctional staff in other states, Missouri staff are 14 times less likely to be assaulted. Compared with their peers in other states, Missouri in-custody youths are 4.5 times less likely to be assaulted, 17 times less likely to be placed in mechanical restraints and 228 times less likely to be placed in isolation. Recidivism rates are some of the lowest in the country, and high school graduation rates are on par with Missouri children who are out of custody.

These results show unequivocally that when children are treated with compassion, while given individualized attention and opportunities for meaningful growth, detention facilities become safer. Pleas from the Spring Creek staff to return to punitive measures, like increased solitary confinement and more restraints, demonstrate with clarity that the facility is on the wrong path. And it is no wonder. While leadership within the Division of Youth Corrections has long said it is committed to implementing nationally accepted best practices and curbing solitary confinement and restraint, it has seen four directors in the past two years - the most recent of whom departed in the wake of the latest Spring Creek scandal. Spring Creek has also seen at least three different facility directors during that same time period. Without consistent, committed leadership at the top, we cannot expect to see meaningful cultural change among line staff.

Finally, although you would not know it from staff accounts, the source of limitations on Spring Creek staff's ability to use solitary confinement is state law that has been in place since 1999. That law prohibits solitary confinement of youths except during an ongoing emergency. In 2014, our child advocacy coalition discovered that staff were placing children in isolation for days, weeks and even months at a time to punish them, in direct violation of the law. This was occurring at precisely the same time Spring Creek staff were complaining of rampant violence in the facility. Clearly, then, it is not the use or nonuse of solitary confinement that is driving the violence.

After more than two years of complaints and assaults, we must acknowledge the true root cause - a persistent punitive culture that must change.

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Rebecca T. Wallace is ACLU of Colorado staff attorney and policy counsel, and Elizabeth Logemann is Colorado Juvenile Defender Center (CJDC) supervising attorney.

 

October is Youth Justice Awareness Month

Marcy Mistrett Thursday, 29 September 2016 Posted in 2016, Take Action Now

Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM) is almost here, and this month we are turning Awareness into Action!

YJAM’s goal is to bring attention to a movement that prevents youth from entering the adult criminal justice system. Nearly 200,000 youths a year are tried, convicted, and incarcerated as adults in our country annually. YJAM works to unite people to take a stand together and become the voices for the silenced, incarcerated youths of their communities. For the past 8 years, people nationwide have hosted YJAM events and fundraisers. This October, you can also bring the movement to your community!

Visit our website, www.campaignforyouthjustice.org/yjam to learn more about YJAM and access an event planning guide. Our guide will help you plan anything from a dinner party to a concert and festival. You can also donate and encourage friends to sign up for our weekly YJAM newsletter to receive news on upcoming YJAM walk/5ks, film screenings, and other YJAM events near you (Sign up).

Make sure to follow us on Twitter (@justiceforyouth), Facebook (Campaign for Youth Justice) and Instagram (@justiceforyouth), to stay up to date on the latest juvenile justice news and happenings.

Also please,follow the hashtag #YJAM to see what others are doing for the month and share your own YJAM event and pictures! We hope you are inspired to take action, and together, we can stop the prosecution of juveniles as adults.

Thank you for your continued support. Let’s get ready to YJAM!

2016 Summer Institute: Session 3 – Solitary Confinement of Youth

Nils Franco Thursday, 21 July 2016 Posted in 2016, Voices

By CFYJ Law & Policy Fellow Nils Franco

No evidence exists to support the use of solitary confinement on youth, according to Jenny Lutz of the Stop Solitary for Kids campaign, and better alternatives would adapt to what evidence finds effective in correcting young people’s behavior. This realization, Lutz said, has offered a powerful rallying point for practitioners, advocates, and academics alike.

Lutz, a staff attorney at the Center for Children’s Law and Policy (CCLP), spoke to interns and fellows working with juvenile justice–related organizations at CFYJ’s offices Tuesday.

The lunch-hour discussion detailed the effects of solitary confinement on youth health, as well as the promising solutions proposed to address the widespread problem of isolating youth. These solutions most obviously hold promise because of the sound psychological and social-science research backing up alternative tools for behavior corrections.

But also, in an environment of gridlock and partisanship, Stop Solitary for Kids’ solutions inspire hopefulness because we can expect to see the solutions implemented relative swiftly, having found support from associations of probation officers and corrections leaders. This is no easy accomplishment.

Reflecting so many other successful areas of criminal justice reform in the past year, Stop Solitary for Kids is a coalition of strange bedfellows pushing for the same goals. This coalition – the CCLP, Georgetown University’s Center for Juvenile Justice Reform, the Justice Policy Institute, and the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators – respectfully works together to find wise solutions.

Switching to safer and demonstrably effective practices to correct the behavior of inmates, after all, improves safety in the correctional facility and would reduce challenges faced by correctional officers and other staff. The successes of states that reduced the general use of solitary confinement support this finding as well.

With these mutual interests, and with reform advocates acknowledging the struggles faced by on-the-ground staff who have spent their careers serving youthful detainees, the groups came together to build smarter policy and offer help to juvenile corrections leaders.

Of course, changing the behavior and tools of corrections staff requires a change of mindset among the staff – something no legislation could accomplish. So, without that respect and teamwork, policy change would not only be more difficult, according to Lutz: without working with practitioners, any policy change enacted would fail expectations.

Data collection must still improve to better understand how different states and facilities practice solitary confinement of youth. Systems improvement still requires courageous action by leaders in state legislatures nationwide.

But, in the meantime, the campaign has built a sturdy foundation of legislative goals and of credible publications rooted in sound technical advice and research since launching in April, winning experts’ support at a federal and state level through an inclusive and evidence-based approach.

New OJJDP Report Shows New Trends in Residential Placement of Juveniles

Wednesday, 01 June 2016 Posted in 2016, Research & Policy

 By Anne-Lise Vray, Juvenile Justice Fellow

A new report of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention analyzes the juvenile residential placement data for the year 2013, and finds that overall, more than 60,000 youth were in residential placement across the United States on October 23, 2013, a drop of over 12% compare to 2011 and of more than 44% since 2003. 

While this report shows some encouraging trends, some others are worrisome. On the same date, 2,524 youth were locked up for status offenses, i.e. for misbehavior such as running away from home, skipping school, or speaking back to an adult – actions that are not considered crimes when committed by adults. Although the number of kids incarcerated for status offenses has decreased, it still represents almost 5% of all juveniles in residential placement, which is proportionally about the same as in 1997.

The report cautions that state variations in upper age of juvenile court jurisdiction influence placement rates. It points out that if all other factors were equal, one would expect higher juvenile placement rates in states where older youth are under juvenile court jurisdiction. Juvenile placement rates are also influenced by extended jurisdiction laws and transfer laws. States with laws allowing for youth to stay in juvenile facilities beyond the upper age of juvenile jurisdiction have higher placement rates than states with stricter laws, while states with broad transfer provisions would be expected to have lower juvenile placement rates than other states.

With those caveats in mind, the report highlights the geographic disparities in juvenile placement rates on the state level. The District of Columbia, South Dakota, and Wyoming have the highest juvenile placement rate per 100,000, while Vermont, Massachusetts and Hawaii have the lowest. Nationwide in 2013, 173 juvenile offenders were in placement for every 100,000 juveniles in the U.S. population.

Promising Findings of Louisiana Raise the Age Study

Brittany Harwell, CFYJ Policy Fellow Friday, 18 March 2016 Posted in 2016, Across the Country, Research & Policy

Raise the Age Logo 2

On February 1st the Louisiana legislature released a report supporting the need for, and impact of, raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction. This report was commissioned by the legislature through Resolution No. 73 in 2015 and completed by The Institute for Public Health and Justice  at the Louisiana State University’s Health Science Center. The ultimate recommendation of this comprehensive report is that Louisiana should raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to include 17 year old offenders. Louisiana remains one of nine states that fails to recognize that youth under 17 year olds should not be prosecuted automatically in the adult criminal justice system.
The three big findings that the report made are:
1) 17 year olds are developmentally different than adults and should be treated as such;
2) the Louisiana juvenile justice system has the capacity to manage and rehabilitate added 17 year old youth;
3) other state have found that raise the age impact has had substantially less of an impact on their systems than was predicted and Louisiana should be the same and may even have substantial fiscal savings

It further recommends that a five year comprehensive plan be developed to address a variety of issues specific to youth such as transition, community based interventions, services while in detention, and other ways to ensure that youth are rehabilitated and do not recidivate.

The report notes that the state of Louisiana has not reviewed the age of juvenile jurisdiction in more than 100 years. Due to the growth of the law, social science, and brain science it is important for Louisiana to raise the age to ensure that its juvenile justice system is not stuck in the past. “Louisiana’s successful juvenile justice reforms, and an overall decline in juvenile crime reflective of national trends, have opened up system capacity for raising the age that may not have previously existed.”
The report highlights current brain science on adolescents and specifically how 17 year olds are unable to consistently reason and make responsible decisions. Due to this increased awareness of how adolescent brains work, the courts, including the Supreme Court, have recognized that treating 17 year olds the same as adults is not appropriate. The data shows that 17 year olds are capable of change when rehabilitated and generally stop reoffending. Most delinquent behavior does not follow the youth into adulthood.

The effects of the adult system on youths are troubling because rates of juvenile recidivism rise when placed in adult facilities. Additionally, youth are subject to a variety of harms both physical and psychological when they are subject to adult courts and facilities. To address the issue of placing 17 year olds in adult facilities the report examined the capacity of existing juvenile facilities. The report found that on any given day only facilities are only 56% filled, “…it can be estimated that 258 beds could be available on any given day in Louisiana’s juvenile detention facilities.” The addition of 17 year olds would not cause the current facilities to be overburdened.
The Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights (LCCR) has been a vital advocate for Raise the Age Reform and helping shepherd a bill into law. Raise the Age Louisiana Act, SB 324 will ensure that 17 year olds are under the jurisdiction of the juvenile courts. LCCR has reported that, “polling by LSU shows that 66% of Louisianans – a majority of both parties – believe that 17-year-olds should be included in the juvenile justice system.” On March 15, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards has announced that he supports SB 324 and raising the age. Widespread support from Louisianans will ensure that legislators know that their constituencies want what is best both for communities and for adolescents, to raise the age.


For more information on how to get involved in Louisiana's reform efforts, follow us on Facebook and check out the links below:

LCCR

Full Text of SB 324

Report

Raise the Age Bills Flourish in 2016

Tuesday, 15 March 2016 Posted in 2016, Research & Policy

Written by: CFYJ policy intern Nils Franco

In five states, legislators and governors alike are calling for new action this year to allow 16- and 17-year-olds back into the juvenile justice system, where youth can receive much-needed, age-appropriate rehabilitative or educational services. In two more states, lawmakers recently proposed including young adults under 21 in the juvenile justice system.

In nine states across the country, the juvenile justice system has an unusual upper age limit – that is, the juvenile system entirely excludes youth after their 17th or even 16th birthday. No matter the crime an older child is accused of committing in these states, the state handles the case entirely in the adult justice system.

These counterproductive state-based policy changes occurred in the late 1990’s, and reform took root just a few years ago. Five states have raised the age of juvenile jurisdiction to cover all ages under 18 in seven years. Connecticut started the trend in 2009, and Mississippi, Massachusetts, Illinois, and New Hampshire followed in 2010, 2012, 2013, and 2014, respectively. This year, with a strong basis for action, so-called “Raise the Age” reform seems to be spreading quickly.

Lawmakers in five of the remaining nine states – Louisiana, Wisconsin, New York, Michigan, and South Carolina – have proposed legislation to bring 16- and 17-year-olds back under the jurisdiction of the juvenile justice system.

In Connecticut, the same governor who oversaw the state’s 2009 Raise the Age reform now calls to further expand juvenile jurisdiction up until a young adult’s 21st birthday. In Illinois, which also implemented Raise the Age reform, a four-committee hearing on raising the age further to 21 prompted Rep. Laura Fine to sponsor one bill to bring misdemeanor cases for young adults under age 21 to juvenile court, and another to bring all cases for adults under age 21 to the juvenile system.

After Louisiana Senator JP Morrell introduced Raise the Age legislation (SB 322) last week, Governor Edwards and Louisiana Chief Justice Johnson announced their support for the bill. Edwards included the bill in his 2016 legislative agenda, and Johnson argued favorably for the bill in her State of the Judiciary address. This reform comes after years of advocacy from a coalition of state-based groups, and after the state’s legislature asked Louisiana State University to study the problem last year. That report published in February and found that reform “would benefit public safety, promote youth rehabilitation, and create long-term savings.”

Governor Cuomo of New York (where juvenile jurisdiction ends after a youth’s 16th birthday) proposed Raise the Age language in his budget proposal and listed raising the age among his State of the State priorities for the coming year. Jennifer March, executive director of the Citizen’s Commission for Children of New York, hailed the governor’s advocacy, noting the state’s age-inappropriate jurisdictional age limit “increases recidivism and reduces the chance for youth to turn their lives around. We can and must do better for our youth and our communities.”

Reform also made its way to South Carolina, where Senate Bill 916, introduced by Democratic Senator Gerald Malloy, will raise the age to 18 and expand the rights of youth to have their case reviewed. That bill was recently referred to a subcommittee chaired by Malloy, who in February discussed past work to separate minors from adults in adult facilities. “We just have to keep changing minds,” Malloy remarked at a panel event.

Missouri’s legislature will also consider Raise the Age legislation among five other bills in both the state house and state senate. The Raise the Age bill, HB 1812, was introduced by Republican representative Ron Hicks. Hicks also successfully passed Jonathan’s Law, another CFYJ-supported bill, unanimously in the 2013 House session.

In Michigan, an impressive 20 bills introduced in this session of the House of Representatives would reform the transfer of youth to the adult criminal justice system. Taking a piecemeal approach, eight of these bills would raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction in the state from youths’ 17th birthday to their 18th birthday.

The editorial board of The Detroit News describes the bills as “an important step in the quest to reform Michigan’s criminal justice system.” Noting that Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has not yet endorsed the package, the board reminds readers that “what Michigan has been doing in terms of juvenile justice is not working.” A similar editorial from the Battle Creek Enquirer calls Raise the Age “a rare issue that can unite Republican and Democratic lawmakers.”

Across Lake Michigan, Wisconsin legislators moved this year to capitalize on that rare bipartisan momentum, introducing bicameral legislation to stop sending first-time, nonviolent 17-year-old offenders automatically to the adult justice system.

This year’s reform opportunities offer states a unique ability to limit children’s needless exposure to trauma, abuse, and criminality in adult prisons and jails. The juvenile justice system offers youth the resources needed to overcome traumatic experiences and rehabilitate after committing an offense. 

Children have a particularly strong psychological capacity to learn from past decisions, if the opportunity is allowed. Creating more childhood trauma in a prison setting will do the opposite. Raise the Age legislation is therefore common sense: children cannot be funneled into the adult criminal justice system without long-term consequences to the youth, their communities, and to public safety.

Meanwhile, two remaining states – North Carolina, and Texas – are likely to introduce reforms in upcoming legislative sessions, especially as local organizations continue to underscore the unjust and counterproductive effects of nonstandard jurisdictional age limits.

On the other hand, Georgia’s legislature and governor have not yet acted or expressed interest in moving toward reform. In contrast with the leadership shown across the country by other states, Georgia’s leaders stand out in their inaction.

 

This article was updated on March 22nd to include new actions from Louisiana's legislature, governor, and chief justice.

After Louisiana Senator JP Morrell introduced Raise the Age legislation (SB 322) last week, Governor Edwards and Louisiana Chief Justice Johnson announced their support for the bill. Edwards included the bill in his 2016 legislative agenda. This reform comes after years of advocacy from a coalition of state-based nonprofits, and after the state’s legislature asked Louisiana State University to study the problem last year. That report published last month and finds that “Louisiana should strongly consider raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to include 17-year-old offenders. … This change would benefit public safety, promote youth rehabilitation, and create long-term savings.”

March is Juvenile Justice Month of Faith and Healing

Monday, 29 February 2016 Posted in 2016, Across the Country

March marks the annual Juvenile Justice Month of Faith and Healing. This month brings together congregations of all faiths, schools and universities in prayer, service and action. The goal is to offer young offenders hope and alternatives to a lifetime as a hardened criminal by raising awareness and creating engagement with issues pertaining to juvenile justice.

How to Get Involved:

Place a bulletin in your faith organization’s newsletter.

  • Throughout the month of March discuss juvenile justice in your weekly faith service.
  • Post a flyer in your place of worship.
  • Host a candle light vigil in your faith community in remembrance of youth in the justice system.
  • Host a discussion after a faith service in your community about juvenile justice issues. Such topics could be sentencing laws, sending children into the adult court system, willful defiance or the classification process in the prison system that sends youthful offenders to higher level prisons than adults for the same crime.
  • Support neighborhood groups that work to create cooperative relationships between neighbors, faith communities, and law enforcement to create a safe and secure community.
  • Support or volunteer with programs that promote victim ministry in your place of worship.
  • Support or volunteer with the ministry at your local detention center.
  • Provide spiritual, material, or emotional assistance to those reentering society, both youth and adult. Schools and places of worship are encouraged to invite formerly incarcerated youth to share their experiences and insights about the juvenile justice system.

The events through the month will initiate a dialogue between offenders, victims and the community regarding the causes of crime and will suggest structures needed to prevent youth from becoming engaged in the cycle of violence. Find out how you can participate here

For talking points for Juvenile Justice Faith Week, visit here

For more information or to schedule a speaker please contact Javier Stauring at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Judges Stress the Importance of Considering Trauma in Juvenile Cases

Brittany Harwell, CFYJ Policy Fellow Friday, 26 February 2016 Posted in 2016, Research & Policy

On February 23rd the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges brought together a panel of judges to speak about the judge’s role in creating communities of healing. Judge Karen Adam shared about the ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Study, which looks at childhood trauma indicators. The ACE Study have been able to link the number of childhood traumas a person experiences to risky and rule-breaking behavior and serious health problems.  By acknowledging trauma and engaging in training around creating trauma-responsive court rooms, judges can better sever juveniles and their families.

Judge Deborah Schumacher spoke about the unique issues concerning children who receive special education services or have special needs and their interactions with the court. Judge Schumacher discussed the challenges of placing children who have come into contact with the juvenile justice system but also have specific needs that cannot necessarily be met in typical rehabilitative settings. Noting that students with special-needs associate schooling with failure, Schumacher stressed that punishing these children for frustration just further compounds the problem. Judges must think creatively to effectively ensure that children with special education are rehabilitated and can function in the community.

Judge Richard Blake spoke about his experience as a tribal court judge. Judge Blake has focused on raising the graduation rate at the local high school by ensuring that the students who he sees in his court are in school. Juveniles’ probation officers focus on student attendance, grades, and behavior. Judge Blake spoke with students about the reasons that they were not attending or succeeding in school, and he worked with the school to create a better environment for all students.

Judge Darlene Byrne stressed the importance of a, “do no harm” mindset in working with juveniles in the court. Judge Byrne approaches every case differently depending on the needs of the child. Cases with dually involved youth require unique services and rehabilitation in order to ensure that courts address rather than ignore underlying trauma. Without addressing a child’s trauma, he or she will struggle to successfully exit the justice system.

The panel all agreed that juvenile judges can and should be a leading force in reforming and rethinking the way that juveniles are treated in the justice system. The ACEs study connects the central role of trauma on both heath and behavior. Considering trauma as a cause of delinquent behavior must be a consideration of all of those who are involved with children in the justice system, including prosecutors, judges, defense, corrections officers, service providers, and families. 

The Detriments of Direct File

Brittany Harwell, CFYJ Policy Fellow Wednesday, 10 February 2016 Posted in 2016, Research & Policy

Brittany Harwell, CFYJ Policy Fellow

Direct File occurs when a state has given the prosecutor power to file charges against a juvenile directly in adult criminal court. When a prosecutor exercises their discretion by choosing to file directly to adult criminal court they effectively override any juvenile or family court jurisdiction over a case. Direct file allows the prosecutor to hold all of the power in determining where to bring charges and what type of sentence a youth may receive if convicted.

Allowing the prosecutor to direct file is problematic because many prosecutors want to go for the most severe punishment and do not fully take into account important considerations for unique to each youth in the same way that a judge who could allow a transfer would consider.This lack of individual consideration is exacerbated by, “…wide variation among the States regarding criteria for direct file treatment, with some emphasizing offense categories, others the age of the juvenile involved, and still others the extent and seriousness of the juvenile’s offending history.” 

A majority of states do not allow their prosecutors direct file capabilities. This does not mean that a youth cannot be transferred to an adult court but rather that a judge considers several factors before allowing a transfer requested by the prosecutor. Youth can also be tried in adult criminal court through mandatory transfer. Mandatory transfer is not the same as direct file, mandatory transfer occurs when certain crimes have been deemed by statute to require a juvenile to be tried in adult court.

Some states that previously had a direct file systems chose to discontinue the practice because, “not only does direct file omit a disinterested arbiter for the child’s best interests, it plunges youngsters — and increasingly those charged with nonviolent crimes — into the much more punitive adult system.
Additionally, it has been found that direct file has had little effect on violent juvenile crime. If these direct file capabilities of the prosecutor fail to affect juvenile crime then why are they needed in the first place?

Currently, 16 states still allow direct file while the rest of the country has moved away from the practice. The states that continue to allow prosecutors to direct file youth into adult court are: CA, MI, DC, FL, LA, GA, PA, MT, NE, OK, VT, WY, VA, AZ, AK, CO. Of the state that currently allow direct transfer both California and Florida lawmakers are considering a move towards a more equitable juvenile justice system by ending direct file. California has made progress towards creating a more just juvenile justice system over the last few years, but moving away from direct file ability will ensure that judges, not prosecutors are making transfer decisions for youth after a consideration of several different factors. In 2014, 393 juveniles were transferred to adult court in California and 1607 juveniles were transferred to adult court in Florida. These numbers include both judicial waiver and prosecutorial direct file but. A recent study from Human Rights Watch found at 98 percent of the juveniles who end up in adult court are there do to “direct file” of a prosecutor.This means that over 1500 children in one year alone would benefit from direct file reform in Florida.

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