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2016

CFYJ Year of Impact

Monday, 21 March 2016 Posted in 2016, CFYJ Updates

2016 marks CFYJ’s 10th Anniversary! We are launching our “Impact Year” and as part of that we are planning a series of events, social media campaigns, blogs, and other activities to highlight voices from the field to REFLECT on how far we have come; REJOICE in the progress we’ve made; and RECOMMIT to ending the practice of trying youth as adults. We hope you join us on a year’s journey to reflect, rejoice and re-commit to treating youth humanely, and removing them from the adult criminal justice system.

REFLECT:

In the 1990’s a spike in youth crime led the country to a “get tough” response, where the country replaced its focus on rehabilitation of youth with punishment.  As a result, 47 states and the District of Columbia made it easier to try youth in the adult criminal justice system.  The number of youth in the criminal justice system exploded, and 10,000 youth a night sat in America’s jails and prisons.

REJOICE:

The Campaign for Youth Justice was created in 2006 to end the practice of trying, sentencing, and incarcerating youth under age 18 in the adult criminal justice system. By partnering with impacted youth and families, state advocates, , and national allies, the Campaign set out to change laws and public opinion about youth prosecuted as adults. In our first decade, there is much to celebrate: 30 states have changed 48 laws in recognition that youth don’t belong in the adult criminal justice system.  A handful of states are calling to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 21 years. There are two federal laws that protect children in custody (JJDPA and PREA), and that incentivize states to return them to juvenile court jurisdiction.  Research on neuroscience and adolescent development has shown that youth are different from adults; research that has been cited five times in the past decade by the US Supreme Court who repeatedly has found that the unique aspects of childhood must be part of consideration before treating children as adults.  The number of youth in adult jails has dropped 53% and those in prison are down by an astonishing 73% since the turn of the century.  These decreases are paired with a 30 year low in juvenile arrests.

Finally, impacted youth and families continue to be front and center in the calls for reform—Ten years later, Tracy in Missouri continues her efforts to raise the age and remove youth from adult jails and rides her bike across Missouri on the  anniversary of the event she started—Youth Justice Awareness Month,  YJAM, that has grown from one family to 70 events in 23 states and a proclamation from US President Barack Obama.  But Tracy is not alone.  Youth and parents across the country lead campaigns, testify, share their stories with media, educate policy makers, ensure reforms are implemented with integrity—all while often still fighting for the dignity and rights of their incarcerated sons and daughters. 

RE-COMMIT:

Despite these tremendous accomplishments, there is still much work to be done.  Several big and influential states still haven’t raised the age of criminal responsibility to 18, including NY and Texas. 15 states still allow prosecutors to directly file youth into the criminal court and 29 allow youth to be automatically charged as adults for certain crimes—both mechanisms push more youth into the criminal justice system than those cases reviewed by a judge.  Furthermore, as reforms have been enacted, the racial and ethnic disparities in our system have become more, not less, pronounced.  Outside of youth arrest, transfer is the most racially disparate point of the youth justice system.  The deplorable and traumatic conditions that youth face while incarcerated, and the difficulties they have re-entering their home communities continues to be staggering.

We need you and communities across the country to stand with us and say “there is a better way,” as we look toward a more compassionate tomorrow.  Join us this year as we:

  • Kick off our impact year on the 50th anniversary of Kent vs. USA, which first extended due process rights to children who were being charged as adults.  Our DC event will celebrate several founders of our Campaign.
  • Rejoice in our wins through blog posts and an Impact Reports that highlight youth, families and advocates who are fighting for change.
  • Commit to the cause and expand our reach—help us reach 10k Twitter followers and 5k Facebook followers.
  • Engage others in the cause by activating your networks in key states fighting for reform that returns youth to juvenile court jurisdiction.
  • Share your Stories—join our spokesperson bureau.  Whether you are a youth, family member, victim, or community member impacted by our country’s continued over-reliance on punishment instead of age appropriate rehabilitation; we need your experiences to reform public policy that keeps youth and communities safe and healthy.
  • Mobilize for Action in October during YJAM as we travel across the country highlighting this national movement.
  • Donate to our cause…support campaigns across the country by helping us provide strategic campaign training, outreach to media, produce and highlight cutting edge research, connect experts to state efforts and train formerly incarcerated youth and families to be expert spokespersons on this issue.

 

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.”

New National Poll Shows Americans Want A Different Youth Justice System

Thursday, 03 March 2016 Posted in 2016, Voices

By Anne-Lise Vray, Juvenile Justice Fellow

The Youth First Initiative   just released a national poll showing that across the polictical spectrum, Americans believe that the youth justice system is in need of  reform.  Ninety-two percent agree that what is most important is that the youth system does a better job of making sure youth get back on track so that they are less likely to commit another offense. The results also show that the majority of American people favor investing in community-based programs rather than in incarceration; and furthermore that they would like states to address the racial and ethnic disparities in the youth justice system.

Once again, this new poll demonstrates that our current youth  justice system does not reflect what most Americans believe is working and how they would like their own children to be treated if they were in the system.

The Youth First Initiative also released a juvenile prison inventory of the nation’s largest and oldest youth prisons, calling for the closure of 80 of the nation’s oldest and largest youth prisons.  This would reduce the youth incarceration rate in half by 2020. Among many findings, this inventory shows that 54,000 kids are incarcerated in the U.S. juvenile justice system on any given day, and that African-American youth are 5 times more likely to be incarcerated than their white counterparts.

Governors from three states, including Connecticut, Illinois, and Virginia are calling to shut down youth prisons in favor of more effective, community based programs that help set children on the path to a brighter future.

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. 

Remembering Trayvon Martin: A Death That Brought A Movement To Life

Thursday, 25 February 2016 Posted in 2016, Voices

By Aprill O. Turner, Communication & Media Director

It was four years ago on this very day that an unforeseen incident would be the catalyst to start a national movement.  On the evening of February 26, in Sanford, Fla., a 28-year-old man with a gun, got out of his truck, confronted, chased, and then shot and killed a 17-year-old unarmed Black kid. Young Trayvon Martin was merely walking home from a convenience store with a bag of Skittles and a can of Arizona Iced Tea.

We watched in agony as the nation sought to digest the death of this young man. It exposed elements of a grim reality for young black boys. American society has been conditioned to see young black men as greater threats, as more violent, and regards them as more dangerous. In effect, blackness has become weaponized in a way that elevates a normal boy into suspicious, and then transforms suspicion into threatening. This affects how authority figures from schools to law enforcement all choose to engage young black men, and what society will allow or permit as acceptable in doing so. More alarmingly, is that this carries with it real consequences for those young men who find themselves at the mercy of a flawed criminal justice system that sets a low value on their lives.
In the months and years to follow, the tragic death of Trayvon has set off a national conversation about racial profiling and the role race played in the death of this young man.  Trayvon’s death, and those of other young black men, has served as a catalyst for a new generation of activists that seek to dismantle the structures that target and criminalize black youth. New organizations have been formed, new leaders have emerged, the spirit of resistance has been given a reboot, and a new modern day civil rights movement has emerged.

The question at the center of this movement is, “What does the world look like when Black Lives Matter?” Not just in terms of policing, which has become a major focus in the wake of the killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in New York City, Tamir Rice in Cleveland, or Freddie Gray in Baltimore, but in all areas of our society. What does education look like when Black lives matter? What does economic opportunity look like when Black lives matter? What does the criminal justice look like when Black lives really matter?
It is a question those of us that advocate for criminal justice reform and ensuring that young black men and boys are treated fairly, ask ourselves daily. The racial and ethnic disparities that exist in our criminal justice system do not measure up to the standard of treating everyone equitably. Research has shown that this is fact. According to a report issued by the American Psychological Association, and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers reviewed police officers’ personnel records to determine use of force while on duty and found that those who dehumanized Blacks were more likely to have used force against a Black child in custody than officers who did not dehumanize Blacks. Dehumanization is the belief that a certain group should be treated as less than human.The study described use of force as takedown or wrist lock; kicking or punching; striking with a blunt object; using a police dog, restraints or hobbling; or using tear gas, electric shock or killing. It should be noted that dehumanization and not just police officers’ prejudice against Blacks — conscious or not — was linked to violent encounters with Black children while in police custody, according to the study.
The same study also found Black boys as young as 10 may not be viewed in the same light of childhood innocence as their white peers, but are instead more likely to be mistaken as older, be perceived as guilty and face police violence if accused of a crime. There is a national crisis, and across the country our justice system is marked by disparate racial outcomes at every stage of the process -- especially for those that are most vulnerable, young black boys. This is exemplified by more frequent arrests for youth of color and ending with more frequent secure placement.
The anniversary of young Trayvon's death and the other tragedies, which have unfolded in the last several years should serve as a clarion call for anyone, committed to justice reform.Our youngsters of color are much more likely to be profiled-- and then subsequently, prosecuted, sentenced and incarcerated as adults than their white counterparts.
Young men who experience similar profiling by their local police, prosecutors and judges will not be seen for what they often are, young boys. Children.Unfortunately, Trayvon and so many others had to lose their lives in order for America to pay attention. But if Trayvon's death, their deaths, serve as a catalyst for change in the justice system, and more specifically the juvenile justice system, then their deaths will not have been in vain.
We remember Trayvon on this day because his death should serve as a daily reminder of the very real work left undone. His memory serves as our invitation to help fix a broken system. It will become better when we all become involved: What can each of us do that is different than what we have been doing to create a more equitable system for black men and boys, and therefore a system more just for all young people?

Millions in Budget Savings if Direct File Reformed in Florida, Analysis Finds

CFYJ policy intern Nils Franco Friday, 12 February 2016 Posted in 2016, Research & Policy

From safer communities to more efficient government, new research outlines the benefits of reforming direct file

Reforming Florida’s direct file system will improve public safety outcomes and help sustainably balance the budget, according to a new policy brief entitled “No Place for A Child.” Prosecutors in Florida transfer more youth to the adult criminal justice system, without any checks or balances, than in any other state in the country.

The new research came out the same morning the Florida senate moved forward on direct file reform legislation. On Thursday, Senate Bill 314 earned a second unanimous vote of support from the Florida Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice. The Republican subcommittee chairman thanked the researchers for their work after hearing from Floridian judges and advocates who support the bill.

The authors of the brief, researchers from the free market–oriented James Madison Institute and the Florida State University Project on Accountable Justice, gathered FY2010 data from the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) and Department of Corrections (DOC) to provide unique insights into the fiscal and social impact of reining in direct file. Their research complements a recent website with specific stories of direct-file Florida youth.

Direct file – a unilateral transfer performed by prosecutors before any hearing or due process can occur – accounts for 98% of the state’s cases of minors in the adult system, which remarkably totaled more than 10,000 cases in the past five years. Ending or reforming the practice of direct file would allow youths’ cases to be more fairly considered by a judge for transfer, and would greatly reduce the total number of transferred youth in the state.

This decrease of youth in the adult system would move more children back to a system that focuses on rehabilitation, which is especially appropriate because both DOC and DJJ data suggest that direct-filed youth would pose a low risk in the juvenile justice system. In fact, the researchers use government risk assessment tools and find that if direct-filed youth were processed in the juvenile justice system, fully 87% would not be placed in secure detention.

Moreover, the policy brief finds that keeping direct file–eligible youth in the age-appropriate juvenile justice system would save the state $12.6 million in ten years, with annual savings accumulating annually just four years after the reform. The authors point out that placing youth in the adult system demonstrably harms rehabilitation; in their words, “the adult system sets children up to fail.” Nonetheless, another decade of the status quo would cost Floridian taxpayers more than $175 million dollars.

Similar to adults’ cases, almost all of children’s cases in Florida’s adult system end in plea bargains, the brief finds. When a plea deal or a sentencing decision leads to probation for youth, which occurred in 72% of children’s cases in FY2010, 53% of youth on probation ended up in prison, either for a felony (70%), or for a probation violation (30%).

Without access to the rehabilitative services offered by the juvenile system, the authors note, youth have no developmentally-appropriate guidance to reform their behavior. Poor outcomes with adult-system probation reflects near-certain causative evidence that placing children in the adult system significantly raises transferred youths’ recidivism rates.

The researchers call for reform of direct file after concluding that the practice negatively affects public safety, children’s mental health and potential to reform, and the state’s budget. Finding a way to offer more due process and rehabilitative opportunities for children, they say, will be “unambiguously positive” for the state, its government, and its young adults.

A direct link to the research is available here.

You can read more about the lives affected by direct file practices in Florida by visiting www.noplaceforachild.com.

 Chart of the fiscal impacts of direct file reform in Florida.

Momentum for Youth Justice in 2016

Thursday, 11 February 2016 Posted in 2016, Across the Country, Campaigns, Take Action Now

By Anne-Lise Vray, Juvenile Justice Fellow

The year 2016 has started off very well for youth justice issues, as actions and movements throughout the country have raised hopes of a positive evolution towards reforming and ending the adultification of youth. On the national level, the most important step at the beginning of this year was taken by President Obama, who used his executive authority to end the use of solitary confinement for youth in the federal prison system. Almost at the same time, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that its Miller v. Alabama decision, which found that a mandatory sentence of life without parole for juveniles is unconstitutional under the 8th Amendment, was retroactive.

At the state level too, great movement is underway, from California where Governor Brown officially showed his support for a sentencing reform referendum that would include ending direct file, to Wisconsin where a report recommending raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction has just been released. Legislation in Wisconsin to do just that is pending. Earlier this month, another report, authorized by the Louisiana legislature, analyzed the benefits of raising the age in Louisiana and advocated strongly in favor of doing so. Louisiana’s legislative session starts in mid-March.

Additionally, a lot of legislative action is already happening across the country, with the potential of improving the lives of thousands of kids. This week should be crucial for the future of key bills dealing with juvenile justice issues, starting on Wednesday in Missouri with a Senate Committee hearing on SB 618 and SB 684, two bills that would keep more kids out of adult facilities.

In Florida, a second hearing on SB 314 was held today, February 11th. This bill would modify the direct file statutes to decrease the number of offenses in which a child can be direct filed in criminal court and create a reverse waiver mechanism. The bill was approved unanimously by the Committee today, after passing unanimously out of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee late last year. Today also, the conservative James Madison Institute released a report analyzing the long-term costs of the bill, and recommending that it be supported.

Additionally today, another hearing took place in Maryland on SB 243, a bill which would repeal laws that allow the automatic transfer of kids into the adult system. Finally, Michigan’s House Committee on Criminal Justice is expected to vote on a raise the age reform any day now.

Show your support, take action and be part of this movement of change. Together, we can create a better future for our children and a safer, fairer society.

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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