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Articles tagged with: Juvenile Justice

#YJAM: The Story of Marcus Bullock- Juvenile Justice Advocate

Tuesday, 06 October 2015 Posted in 2015, Voices

The Power of Sharing Stories

marcus2

This theme for this year's Youth Justice Awareness Month is, "The Power of Sharing Stories". All month long CFYJ will share stories of youth and family members that have been impacted by the adult criminal justice system. This week we share the story of juvenile entrepreneur and justice advocate Marcus Bullock. 

Marcus grew up in the DC metropolitan area. At the age of 15, he participated in a car jacking and got away with it, initially. Not surprisingly, given his age and what we know about teenaged brains—that their evolving development leads teens to be impulsive, seemingly invincible, and strongly influenced by their peers—it makes sense that Marcus failed to understand the ramifications of his actions. The next day, Marcus got arrested while committing another crime. He was charged as an adult and sentenced to eight years in prison--until he was 23 years old. According to Marcus, “I wasn’t ready for that experience; no child is. To be thrown into a facility with adults, when you are still a child who is still developing is detrimental. The “psychological warfare” was present every day in an adult prison.  Trying to grow up healthy in that space that is meant to contain you will handicap any young person’s development."

His positive attitude, he says, is what helped Marcus be successful after prison. Marcus, a natural entrepreneur, had to work his way from the bottom to the top. He started out painting kitchens for people, to opening a paint store, to then expanding it into a full-fledged remodeling company. Not forgetting the isolated feeling of prison, he took his business experience to launch a web and phone app called Flikshop, which is used to connect families to loved ones who are incarcerated. His advice to the other young people who are incarcerated is to, “keep your outside world connections strong; it will put you in a better position to be successful when you re-enter society.”  Marcus continues to run both businesses, while also teaching entrepreneurship skills to youth in detention in D.C.

#YJAM: What Science and Common Sense Tell Us About Kids and the Law

Abigail Baird - Juvenile Justice Advocate Monday, 05 October 2015 Posted in 2015, Research & Policy

YJAM FB brain 01 28129A few years ago, my best friend’s husband was laid off. We were upset. In fact, we were very upset and we were not sure how to best cope with the news. One of us had the amazing idea of relying on an old high school technique of payback known as “egging someone’s house”. We talked about the pros and cons of driving to the boss’s house and just pelting it with a couple dozen eggs. “It would feel so good” one of us said, “…and serve him right” we said; but someone brought up the possibility of being caught and possibly arrested. I remember thinking that it would be hard, and beyond embarrassing, to explain to my friends and colleagues that at 42 years old I had been arrested for vandalism because I egged someone’s house. We then successfully used our mature and experienced brains to talk ourselves out of taking any action and moved on to more reasonable ways to cope with the situation.

This story frequently comes to mind when thinking about the numerous reasons why trying children as adults in a court of law makes absolutely no sense. My story demonstrates a compelling, and quite striking, contradiction in the law: No matter how “juvenile” our crime might have been, the idea of transferring the case to juvenile court would be unheard of because we, at 42 years of age, are simply too old to be considered juveniles. This makes sense. We have more life experience and more developed brains, and it is simply not just to try 42 year olds in juvenile court no matter how ridiculous their behavior. Yet, it is common practice to try children as adults in a court of law. In most states, children who are charged with violent crimes are transferred to adult court. If we follow the very simple logic above, this is simply not just. There are no twelve year olds who have fully mature brains, or have the experiences that adults have.  It simply does not make sense.

I appreciate that as a neuroscientist I should probably try to bolster my argument by detailing the many well-established facts about the development of the human brain that have consistently shown clear and reliable differences between the structure and function of adolescent brains relative to adult brains. These facts have been heard, and endorsed by, the Supreme Court of this country in two separate recent rulings that prohibit the execution of juvenile offenders (Roper v. Simmons) and prevent juveniles from receiving mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole (Miller v. Alabama).

As breathtaking as I find neuroscience, it pales in comparison to common sense. On par with the ridiculousness of trying adults as juveniles would be the notion of having a jury made up of 12-16 year olds. I think we would be hard pressed to find someone who would endorse this as a reasonable idea. Why? Because we know that 12-16 year olds are not fully mature and as a result we legally prohibit them from serving on juries.

Changing Youth Lives Through Testimony and Awareness

Alton Pitre - Juvenile Justice Advocate Thursday, 01 October 2015 Posted in 2015, Take Action Now

YJAM FB square 01Several years ago I found myself facing adult time as a teen in Los Angeles. I was held in detention for two years, serving dead time fighting my “fitness,” a court process where they were “determining” if I would be tried as a juvenile or an adult for a crime for which I was later exonerated. Presuming that I would be charged as an adult, I was housed separately from other youth in the detention center, even though we were all the same age. Through the years I spent pending my trial and since my release, I’ve learned that the juvenile justice system is failing our youth all over the nation, and it is time for everyone to realize that in its current state it is destructive and ineffective. 

I am constantly amazed yet distraught at how America treats its youth who are in essence its’ most vulnerable and teachable citizens. It’s true when people say that our children are the future but how can they ever be if they are often thrown away to die in prison? Sadly, the United States is the only country that does so.

When kids are locked up as adults they are immediately subjected to punishment instead of rehabilitation. Hence, they are deprived of the care and treatment necessary to turn their lives around; instead they are exposed to threats and acts, of physical, sexual and mental trauma and abuse. For their “protection” from this abuse, they are welcomed into the beautiful world of solitary confinement, burying them alive and permanently interrupting healthy brain development.

I have countless childhood friends who have lost the rest of their fruitful lives to the prison system. Yes, children will make mistakes; some will make bad mistakes depending on the type of environment they were raised in and the supports they had (or lacked). However, children shouldn’t be judged solely on the type of crime they committed but also considering the contributing background factors leading up to why they did it.  They should have the chance to learn from their mistakes and choose differently.

Currently, I am a  24-year-old, full-time student at Morehouse College and ambassador for juvenile justice reform. Through sharing my story of overcoming both the mean streets of Los Angeles and incarceration, I have been able to travel the country writing and speaking about this injustice. I have written op-eds that have gained the likes of U.S. Senator Cory Booker, Michael Eric Dyson, Rosie O’Donnell, and Orange is the New Black’s author Piper Kerman, all, who have shared them on their Twitter accounts.

In California, I participate in lobbying efforts with the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), advocating for legislation that provides second chances to youthful offenders. This September, ARC helped passed SB261, which extends parole eligibility to 16,000 offenders under the age of 23. I also visited D.C. with ARC on a policy trip advocating for criminal justice reform at the White House.

This summer, I visited Washington D.C. again, interning with First Focus, a bipartisan children’s advocacy organization where I was able to extend my political advocacy on a national level. There I attended congressional briefings and met with members of Congress, advocating for reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. The JJDPA addresses youth in detention by providing funding to state programs that serve at-risk youth, addressing disproportionate minority contact (DMC) and removing status offenders from secure detention and youth from adult jails, or at least ensuring sight and sound separation. You can take action for the JJDPA here.

The practice of locking up and trying kids as adults is harmful to our youth and the world. Youth sentenced as adults are often condemned without a chance to redeem their freedom, even after they have been truly rehabilitated and served many years in prison. It is imperative that awareness of this devastating problem is brought to the attention of everyone in our nation, especially our law enforcement and policymakers. No child should be subjugated to this type of tyranny.

This month is Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM). As fellow caring human beings and advocates for justice, now is the time to challenge ourselves to get involved in this movement. We must use our personal stories and experiences to change the minds and hearts of those in power. Our children deserve to be treated like the children they are.

Written by Alton Pitre, Juvenile Justice Advocate.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_RDmeXbqPBA
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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

New Report: Gender Injustice: System-Level Juvenile Justice Reforms for Girls

Anne-Lise Vray Wednesday, 30 September 2015 Posted in 2015, Research & Policy

A young girl at Maryvale, an all-girls level-12 institution in Rosemead, California. Photo by Richard Ross.

 Anne-Lise Vray, Juvenile Justice Intern

The National Crittenton Foundation, in partnership with the National Women’s Law Center, just released a report entitled “Gender Injustice: System-Level Juvenile Justice Reforms for Girls”, which reveals how and why the girls’ experience of the American juvenile justice system is very different from the boys’. The issue has come under the spotlight as girls are increasingly entering this system but continue to lack appropriate care and support. Indeed, despite an overall decline in the arrests of youth, girls’ share of arrests has increased by 45% over the last two decades. Meanwhile, girls’ share of detentions increased by 40%. These alarming numbers are products of the incomprehensive and inadequate policies girls who get pulled into the juvenile justice system have been subjected to. Indeed, a large majority of these kids have a background of deprivation, abuse and violence, traumatic experiences that are directly related to their behaviors, which in most cases don’t pose any threat to public safety. Thus, among the girls arrested nationwide, there is a disproportionate number of them whose offenses are connected to poverty, abusive homes or poor relationships, such as “prostitution” (which is increasingly recognized as being sexual exploitation of minors), liquor law violation or curfew violation. Furthermore, the report highlights that these very young women are still consistently sent behind bars for status offenses, misdemeanors or other minor offenses that don’t represent any danger for the public.

Among these vulnerable girls, some groups are even more exposed. Young ladies of color and girls from the LBQ/GNCT (Lesbian, Bisexual, Questioning/Gender Non-Conforming or Transgender) community are indeed at a greater risk than their white/straight or gender-conforming peers to enter the juvenile justice system and to be discriminated against throughout the whole judicial process. 

The report reminds us of “Jane Doe”’s case, an “example of the way juvenile justice systems too often prioritizes control over treatment, disregarding the clear need for a developmental approach.” In 2014, a 16 year-old transgender girl of color who had been sexually abused/trafficked her whole life was sent to an adult women prison at the request of the Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families, before eventually ending up in isolation in a secure facility for boys. This story illustrates the way the needs of youth, especially of girls, are too often ignored by the juvenile justice system, from the police to the facilities’ staff. Yet, the report underlines the benefits a more comprehensive, developmental approach would have, and gives the 9 following recommendations for a reform of the system:

-        -  Stop criminalizing behavior caused by damaging environments that are out of girls’ control

-        -  Engage girls’ families throughout the juvenile justice process

-        -  Use pre-petition diversion to provide “off-ramps” from the formal justice system for girls living in traumatic social contexts

-        -  Don’t securely detain girls for offenses and technical violation that pose no public safety threat and are environmentally-driven

-         - Attorneys, judges and probation officers should use trauma-informed approaches to improve court culture for girls

-         - Adopt a strengths-based, objective approach to girls probation services

-         - Use health dollars to fund evidence-based practices and programs for girls, and address health needs related to their trauma

-         - Limit secure confinement of girls, which is costly, leads to poor outcomes, and re-traumatizes vulnerable girls

-         - Support emerging adulthood for young women with justice system histories

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.

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