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2014

Report Shows Florida Prosecutors Abuse Direct File Power

Wednesday, 23 April 2014 Posted in 2014, Research & Policy


In a recent report titled “Branded for Life,” the Human Rights Watch condemned the state of Florida’s outdated policies of allowing juveniles to be moved to the adult court through “direct file.” This policy allows a prosecutor to have unfettered discretion to move any juvenile offender under 18 into the adult court. “Florida transfers more children out of the juvenile system and into adult court than any other state. In the last five years alone, more than 12,000 juvenile crime suspects in Florida were transferred to the adult court system.” Roughly 98% of Florida youth in adult courts are there because of the arbitrary decisions of prosecutors stemming from this “direct file” process.

New Research Confirms 30-Year Trend of Poor Outcomes and Nearly Exclusive Impact on Minority Youth from Automatic Transfer to Adult Court

Tuesday, 22 April 2014 Posted in 2014, Research & Policy


Today the Juvenile Justice Initiative released a new report, "Automatic Adult Prosecution of Children in Cook County, Illinois, 2010-2012". The report finds that only one white youth was among the 257 Cook County children charged with crimes requiring an automatic transfer to adult court in a recent three-year study period, and most of those children live in predominantly minority communities in the south and west sides of Chicago.

Maryland Adds Another Win for Youth Justice

Friday, 18 April 2014 Posted in 2014, Across the Country, Campaigns

Last week, Just Kids Partnership wrapped up its legislative session, passing two reforms that help youth charged as adults in Maryland. After a quick 90 day session, Maryland advocates built on the momentum from the 2013 legislative session, by getting two bills passed based on recommendations from the Task Force on Juvenile Court Jurisdiction which studied the issue of charging youth as adults in Maryland last year.

JJDPA Matters: A Look at the Latest Data on Race and Juvenile Justice

Josh Rovner Friday, 18 April 2014 Posted in 2014, Research & Policy

Josh Rovner is the State Advocacy Associate for the Sentencing Project, where he focuses on juvenile justice issues.

This post is part of the JJDPA Matters blog, a project of the Act4JJ Campaign with help from SparkAction. The JJDPA, the nation's landmark juvenile justice law, turns 40 this September. Each month leading up to this anniversary, Act4JJ member organizations and allies will post blogs on issues related to the JJDPA.  To learn more and take action in support of JJDPA, visit the Act4JJ JJDPA Matters Action Center, powered by SparkAction.
 The remarkable drop in juvenile arrest rates since the mid-1990s has done little to mitigate the gap between how frequently black and white teenagers encounter the juvenile justice system. These racial disparities threaten the credibility of a justice system that purports to treat everyone equitably.
 
Across the country, juvenile justice systems are marked by disparate racial outcomes at every stage of the process, starting with more frequent arrests for youth of color and ending with more frequent secure placement.

CFYJ Goes to College: Windows from Prison Art Exhibit

Jessica Sandoval Tuesday, 15 April 2014 Posted in 2014, Uncategorised

 

By Jessica Sandoval

 
On Wednesday, April 9, CFYJ participated on a panel to discuss youth incarcerated in the adult system as part of the Windows from Prison project at George Mason University.  This two-week exhibit will feature hundreds of participants taking part in daily workshops, events, and community forums. Students from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts and George Mason University collaborated to create photographs requested by incarcerated Washingtonians. 

 

When youth from Washington are placed in the federal penitentiary system, they can be sent to any prison across the country (potentially thousands of miles away from family or friends). Windows From Prison utilizes photography as a way to bridge this distance while creating space and humanistic entry points for students, teachers, NGO's, family members of incarcerated individuals, former prisoners, and policy makers to engage with the sources, impacts, and alternatives to mass incarceration.
 
“If you could have a window in your cell, what place from your past would it look out to?”
This question was asked to prisoners who are from Washington but who have been sent to prisons across the country. As responses came back, students from George Mason University and Duke Ellington High School went across the city, created the requested photographs, and mailed the images to the incarcerated participants.

From April 7 -21, the photographs, which have each been printed on 10-foot banners, will be exhibited on George Mason University’s Fairfax campus (situated in the main public square in front of the Fenwick Library).

 
For the exhibit, the project has partnered students, teachers, policy advocates, former prisoners, and community members to produce an extensive set of public programing. Each day will feature film screenings, brainstorming sessions, lectures, poetry readings, and more in hopes of meaningfully exploring the causes, effects, and alternatives to incarceration.
 
For more information, the requested images from those incarcerated and a list of events, visit, here
 
To learn more about the efforts to remove youth from the adult court in the District of Columbia, please visit CFYJ's website, here.  

Tolerance in Schools for Latino Students: Dismantling the School to Prison Pipeline

Sunday, 13 April 2014 Posted in 2014, Campaigns

By Leah Robertson

On April 15, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute hosted a discussion on how policymakers, community advocates, and school administrators can work together to change existing policies and practices to ensure that schools lead all students down pathways toward success, not prisons.

Panelists Deputy Director of the Center for Children’s Law and Policy (CCLP) Dana Shoenberg, Campaign for Youth Justice Policy Director Carmen Daugherty, and Mexican American Legal Defense and Education al Fund (MALDEF) Regional Counsel James Ferg-Cadima spoke about the disparate and detrimental affects the school-to-prison pipeline has on today’s youth, emphasizing that there are better alternatives that legislators and voters can take action on.

Daugherty provided some background and an explanation of the school-to-prison pipeline and its disparate effects on Latino youth. In particular, she explained how the pipeline perpetuates itself cyclically. In addition, Shoenberg utilized this “cycle” metaphor to explain the mechanisms by which zero tolerance policies discriminate against youth of color and results in poorer student performance and disengagement. Zero tolerance policies have evolved from more objective categories of behavior, such as bringing weapons to school, to a much more subjective standard, i.e., disrespecting a teacher. These subjective standards disproportionately affect children of color and children with special needs. Zero tolerance policies punish rather than understand and address underlying causes of misbehavior and are seen more often in urban schools and schools that primarily serve youth of color, and contribute to what education specialists call the “achievement gap.”

Unfortunately, rather than attempt to remedy this cycle, Congress is currently considering adding more police officers to schools, which only exacerbates the issue. Police presence on school campuses have shown only to stimulate the pipeline without leading to safer schools, particularly for students of color because police officers, rather than trained counselors and teachers, are referred to handle behavioral issues. These “School Resource Officers” (SROs) are less likely to be trained in adolescent development and management and are more likely to refer kids to the justice system, leading them straight down the pipeline to prison for minor infractions characteristic of teenagers.

When funding goes to police or SROs rather than teachers and school counselors, students do not have the positive behavioral supports they need to stay engaged and achieve academic progress. Additionally when school administrators relinquish to SROs their disciplinary responsibilities, we see an increase of referrals to the juvenile justice system, further pushing children out of school. This is of particular importance because police in schools are called in for a variety of behaviors only about 5 percent of which are criminal offenses, but many of which are nevertheless referred to the justice system.

The good news is there is plenty that Congress can do to remedy this situation. Ferg-Cadima and Shoenberg left the audience with the call on Congress to:

Collect and research data regarding school discipline practices in their district;

Pressure the While House and Departments of Education and Justice to issue disciplinary guidance; and

Consider passing legislation including the Youth Promise Act and reauthorize and support the President’s budget for the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.

We support the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute for hosting this discussion and for making this issue a priority, and we hope that Congress will take action to ensure the best future for all of America’s children.

New York Governor Forms Commission on Youth, Public Safety & Justice

Friday, 11 April 2014 Posted in 2014, Federal Update

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By Christopher Costner

CFYJ Fellow

On April 9, New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, announced the members for his Commission

on Youth, Public Safety & Justice. This Commission will generate recommendations and policies regarding youth in New York’s criminal and juvenile justice systems. The Governor indicated that New York’s laws are archaic and in desperate need of improvement. New York is currently one of only two states (North Carolina being the second) that automatically charges 16 and 17 year olds as adults. In 2013 alone, New York State had 33,000 cases handled in the adult court system involving children only 16 and 17 years old. Due to this, thousands of children were denied the proper services and help that they would be offered in juvenile courts and detention facilities. Members appointed to the commission include several justice focused groups such as: the Albany Chief of Police, NYC Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, Executive Director of the Children’s Defense Fund, and Executive Director of the Correctional Association of NY.

This Commission is a great step towards justice for New York youth, and the Campaign for Youth Justice will be eager to follow the work of this prestigious commission. For more information see this press release from the Governor’s Office, which outlines the Commission’s goals and all the participating members.

For Safer Communities, We Must Start with a System that's Fair

Friday, 11 April 2014 Posted in 2014, Voices

By Benjamin Chambers

Communications Director for the National Juvenile JusticeNetwork.
 
This week’s blog, For Safer Communities, We Must Start with a System that's Fair, is from Benjamin Chambers at the National Juvenile Justice Network.  It comes during National Crime Victims' Rights Week and talks about the pervasiveness of racial and ethnic disparities in the treatment of youth in the justice system and in the numbers of youth who are victims of crime.
As I write this, I've just left “SurvivorsSpeak,” a conference in California that brought together hundreds of crime victims and survivors for the first time. It was a powerful, moving event. Conference attendees came from all over the state, yet they had many tragic stories in common: losing multiple family members to violence, long histories of sexual and domestic violence, being victims of sex trafficking or hate crimes. They were also predominantly people of color, from low-income communities.
 
The event was a testament to the devastating impact of crime (and the inadequate response of the justice system) on impoverished communities of color.  To my mind, it also reinforced the need for Congress to reauthorize and strengthen the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA).
 
As juvenile justice advocates already know, youth of color are disproportionately impacted at every stage of the juvenile justice system: they’re arrested more often and punished more severely than their white counterparts.  And we also know that incarcerating kids—or merely involving kids in the formal juvenile justice system—is ineffective and may even make them more likely to commit new crimes.
 
youngmenofcolorBut that’s only half the story. Kids and adults of color are not only more likely to get in trouble with the law, they’re also more likely than their white counterparts to be victims and survivors of crime.
 
Data from the National Crime Victimization Survey shows that over a six-month period, Latinos, African Americans, and American Indians were significantly more likely than whites to have been victims of violent crime;and a recent statewide survey in California found that Latinos and African Americans are “more likely than whites to have been victims of three or more crimes over a five-year period.”
 

 

As we note in “A House Divided No More: Common Cause forJuvenile Justice Advocates, Victim Advocates, and Communities”—a new paper from my organization, the National Juvenile Justice Network – research shows that being victimized by violent crime makes kids more likely to commit new crimes.
 
One study of over 5,000 youth published by the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention found that youth who were the victims of a violent offense were three times more likely to commit a violent offense in the next twelve months than those who were not.
 
To sum up: on the one hand, we have a disproportionate number of kids of color being caught up in a juvenile justice system that can make them more likely to commit new crimes. On the other hand, we have untold numbers of youth of color being victimized by violent crime at disproportionate rates in their own communities – which also makes them more likely to commit new crimes.
 
The JJDPA can’t fix this problem. But it can help.
 
Right now, the Act requires states to study and “address” disproportionate minority contact (DMC) in their juvenile justice systems.  But that vague requirement hasn’t yielded much progress.
 
Much more could be done to set expectations for the Act’s DMC “core requirement” about what concrete steps states should take to achieve measurable reductions in racial and ethnic disparities. The Act might even take a more holistic approach and require collaborative work with other agencies to ensure that communities with the highest need for victims’ services and trauma care receive targeted attention.
 

 

Both steps would result in safer communities, especially in the areas hardest-hit by crime.

Governor Rick Perry Refuses to Protect Vulnerable Populations in Texas Jails and Prisons

Monday, 07 April 2014 Posted in 2014, Federal Update

The Campaign for Youth Justice in continuing our mission to protect children and youth incarcerated throughout the United States, condemned a recent statement by the Texas governor that he will not certify whether Texas’s prisons and jails are in compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), which was enacted by a unanimous vote of Congress and signed in to law by President George W. Bush in 2003.  

In a letter sent to Attorney General Holder on March 28, 2014, Texas Governor Rick Perry stated that he will not provide the Department of Justice with information on Texas’ compliance with PREA. The purpose of the Act is to “provide for the analysis of the incidence and effects of prison rape in federal, state, and local institutions and to provide information, resources, and recommendations and funding to protect individuals from prison rape.”

“Prison rape is not a bargaining chip. Thousands of children under 18 are placed in Texas jails and prisons each year with real potential of victimization. Governor Perry is behind the times and should be ashamed at the potential harm he will cause to thousands of inmates in Texas,” said Carmen Daugherty, Policy Director for the Campaign for Youth Justice.

For CFYJ's full press release, click here.

Coming Soon: A Watershed Moment on DMC

Monday, 07 April 2014 Posted in 2014, Voices

By Dick Mendel
This post is part of the JJDPA Mattersblog, a project of the Act4JJ Campaign with help from SparkAction. The JJDPA, the nation's landmark juvenile justice law, turns 40 this September. Each month leading up to this anniversary, Act4JJ member organizations and allies will post blogs on issues related to the JJDPA.  To learn more and take action in support of JJDPA, visit the Act4JJ JJDPA MattersAction Center, powered by SparkAction.
 
Reading through JJIE’s extensive coverage regarding racial and ethnic disparities in juvenile justice over the past month, reviewing its excellent new DMC resource hub, and scanning the available literature, it is impossible to avoid a couple of painful conclusions.
 
More than two-thirds of the kids confined by juvenile justice systems nationwide in 2011 were youth of color, even though white non-Hispanic youth still comprised 57 percent of the U.S. youth population.
 
First, our nation’s juvenile courts and corrections systems remain deeply inequitable. More aggressive policing in low-income communities of color, counterproductive and racially-biased school disciplinary policies, weak legal representation and failed human service systems all inflate the rate at which youth of color enter the system. Then, once involved in the justice system, youth of color are subjected to a far more punitive and counterproductive variety of justice than white youth.
 
In its 2012 review of juvenile justice, the National Academy of Sciences found that even controlling for seriousness of the current offense, offending history and a host of other factors, “data consistently show that race/ethnicity are associated with court outcomes, and that racial/ethnic differences increase and become more pronounced with further penetration into the system through the various decision points.”  In addition, NAS concluded, “bias (whether conscious or unconscious) also plays a role,” and “many conventional practices in enforcement and administration [in the justice system] magnify these underlying disparities.”
 
Second, though the evidence of unequal justice is overwhelming – a stark deviation from our democratic ideals – our country is not making much if any progress to redress it. Just look at the latest census of youth in custody nationwide: More than two-thirds of the kids confined by juvenile justice systems nationwide in 2011 were youth of color, even though white non-Hispanic youth still comprised 57 percent of the U.S. youth population. The confinement rate for black youth in 2011 was 4.6 times that of whites, up from 4.1 times a decade earlier. Already large disparities have worsened for Hispanic and Native American youth as well.
 
JJIEYouthColorFortunately, there may be some good news on the horizon. On March 28, Administrator Robert Listenbee and other top staff in the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention will convene an unusual, perhaps unprecedented powwow with some of the nation’s leading juvenile justice reform advocates to discuss fundamental changes in OJJDP’s approach to racial and ethnic disparities.
 
This meeting presents a rare opportunity to initiate a meaningful, much-needed reboot of federal efforts to assure equal justice for youth of color.
 
For many years, it’s been an open secret that reformers and youth advocates are dissatisfied with the federal government’s lack of urgency in addressing the impossible-to-deny disparities in the treatment of youth of color in the justice system.
 
Yet, at least so far as OJJDP is concerned, the complaints have most often been muted, indirect, polite. As one long-time insider told me recently, “There’s not too many people who want to criticize OJJDP.  They’re the only source of grant money in the field.” OJJDP also funds many or most of the organizations and consultants working on DMC issues, assisting states and localities to calculate disparities and hopefully solve them. So, full-throated criticisms are rare.
 
The basic outlines of the critique are clear.
 
First, advocates and many juvenile justice practitioners are deeply disappointed in Congress’ failure to issue a clear and specific mandate requiring states and localities to take concrete action to remedy disparities. When first enacted in 1974, the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act did not include any provisions related to racial equity. Congress did amend the law in 1988 adding a requirement that states study their systems, determine if minority youth were overrepresented in juvenile facilities, and undertake reforms efforts if disparities were identified.
 
Four years later, Congress elevated this mandate by making it a “core requirement” of the law. But that requirement only demanded that states study confinement disparities and then “address” any problems they uncovered, with no definition of what that meant.
 
When it reauthorized the JJDPA in 2002, Congress expanded the DMC mandate’s focus from disparate minority confinement (looking only at which kids get locked up) to disparate contact (examining disparities at all phases of the delinquency court process). But Congress punted on the equally important need to strengthen the racial and ethnic equity mandate by insisting on meaningful concrete action to correct disparities. Since then, Congress has failed to reauthorize the law despite widespread consensus that many of its provisions are weak or dated, none more so than the DMC mandate.
 
When the JJDPA was first up for reauthorization in 2007, and again in 2009, the advocacy community banded together to promote specificamendments to JJDPA, including stronger DMC requirements, and it worked with sympathetic legislators to insert favorable provisions into legislative proposals.
 
By contrast, advocates have been far less vocal regarding OJJDP’s role, due in part to a lingering lack of leadership at OJJDP. The agency’s administrator under President George W. Bush, Robert Flores, had no background in juvenile justice and little appetite for reform. Then President Barack Obama neglected to appoint a leader for OJJDP throughout his entire first term.
 
Yet, the fact remains that even without congressional reauthorization of the JJDPA, OJJDP has the authority to make many of the changes advocates seek regarding racial and ethnic disparities, and the resources to significantly up its game on the issue.
 
In 2010, for instance, the Coalition for Juvenile Justiceurged OJJDP to “craft explicit outcomes” for efforts to address disparities. “The other three core requirements of the JJDPA … are informed by associated implementation regulations and a set of metrics that must be substantially met for states to receive full federal funding,” CJJ wrote.  “Such regulatory guidance and performance measures [should] be developed for DMC as well.”
 
In fact, OJJDP has a framework to guide states in meeting the DMC requirement. The agency advocates a five-step change model for addressing disparities, and it lists four requirements for states to be in compliance with the DMC mandate — comparing outcomes for youth of different racial and ethnic backgrounds against white youth (by calculating the “Relative Rate Index”) at successive stages of the justice process, assessing the causes of identified disparities, developing and implementing strategies to reduce disparities, and tracking outcomes.
 
In practice, however, states seem to be held accountable only for: (a) calculating the Relative Rate Index; and (b) submitting reports. Since 2006, only one state (Mississippi) and two territories (American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands) have been penalized for failure to comply. As the Haywood Burns Institute — a leading think tank and consulting firm dedicated to combatting racial disparities — complained in a 2008 monograph, “The federal government set the bar so low that today nearly anything — regardless of how attenuated or remote from actual results — done in the name of ‘DMC’ is still considered adequate.”
 
If OJJDP is looking to strengthen its requirements regarding racial and ethnic equity, one target might be data reporting.
 
As of 2005, just 13 states reliably reported on the ethnicity of youth at various stages of the juvenile court process, leaving them unable to accurately account for the share of youth with Hispanic heritage. Though this situation is improving, problems persist in many states. And OJJDP’s own National DMC Databook still provides no information whatsoever on Hispanic youth, the nation’s largest and fastest growing minority population.

 

OJJDP might also insist that states capture and analyze data at the local level, not just aggregate state figures. Most of the decisions affecting the treatment of youth — from arrest, diversion, detention, probation and placement — are typically handled at the local level. The dynamics of racial and ethnic equity operate far differently in Los Angeles than in Eureka, so state-level figures offer little benefit.
 
More fundamentally, OJJDP could promulgate (and really enforce) regulations that require meaningful action to reduce racial and ethnic disparities, following a clear set of protocols. It could require communities to establish active steering committees to examine disparities at the local level, meet regularly, develop action plans to address identified points of disparity and monitor the impact of their chosen strategies.
 
Beyond issuing new rules, OJJDP could also revamp its process for delivering technical support to states and local jurisdictions on racial and ethnic equity.
 
Advocates complain that the aid offered by OJJDP doesn’t adhere to important lessons gleaned through leading reform efforts, such as those conducted by the Burns Institute and the Center for Children’s Law and Policy. In these efforts, local leadership teams receive ongoing support from consultants with expertise not just in number crunching, but also in engaging system and community actors and facilitating deeper conversations to identify the hidden dynamics that often drive disparate treatment.
 
By contrast, says Bell, “When you get us, we’re gonna be there every month, we’re gonna be asking ‘What’s the progress? Did you do that?’  And we’re going to help you do it.  [It] has to be about moving a process. That’s why you need to be there a long time, to establish relationships and to move a process.”“You can’t just parachute in,” says James Bell, founder and executive director of the Burns Institute. Currently, Bell explains, when jurisdictions request technical assistance from OJJDP “they’re gonna send someone in for some period of time, a day or two, maybe a week, and then you’re done until your next request.”
 
Over the past decade, the Burns Institute has applied its intensive methodology in more than 100 jurisdictions nationwide, including many sites in the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative. Likewise, through the Models for Change DMC Action network and other funders, the Center for Children’s Law and Policy has facilitated similar processes in many other jurisdictions. Often, these engagements have yielded encouraging results.
 
“We feel confident in the approach,” says Jason Szanyi, a staff attorney at CCLP. “We’re using it for a variety of funders. There’s faith in the process.”
 
To date, however, outside of a few smaller studies, none of these change models has ever been subject to an in-depth, independent evaluation to measure impact empirically, shed light on the characteristics of more vs. less successful sites, and examine critical factors in the timing or delivery of consulting support.
 
Here again, OJJDP support could make a pivotal difference.
 
Whether this type of evaluation research will be discussed at the March 28 event is anyone’s guess. The session will include leading advocates such as Bell and Raquel Mariscal of the Burns Institute, Bart Lubow of the Casey Foundation and Juan Sanchez of Southwest Key, as well as researchers, judges and OJJDP staff.
 
Another prominent participant will be Mark Soler, executive director of the Center for Children’s Law and Policy, which leads the DMC action network in MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change project. Soler has a long commitment to the racial and ethnic disparities issue, which he has championed heartily at CCLP and as part of the Building Blocks for Youth initiative.
 
Soler, who got to know Listenbee as part of the Models for Change effort in Pennsylvania, has been deeply involved in the discussions leading up to the March 28 meeting. Reached by telephone, he expressed optimism.
 
“We’ve let Bob know that we see some problems [in how the agency has been addressing the racial and ethnic disparities challenge historically].  We’ve made some observations and recommendations, and Bob has been very interested,” Soler said.
 
“He has authority to make changes, and he realizes that there’s only a limited window to get things done,” Soler added. “So he’s doing what any responsible administrator would do — taking the ideas to his team, and to outside experts, after which he will make a final decision.
 

 

“We’re all eager to hear what that decision will be.”
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