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Guest Column: Redeemed Juveniles Like Me Are Not the Exceptions

Xavier McElrath Bay, Youth Justice Advocate, The Campaign for Fair Sentencing of Youth Thursday, 20 October 2016 Posted in 2016, Campaigns

By Xavier McElrath Bay, Youth Justice Advocate, The Campaign for Fair Sentencing of Youth

Today is special for me for several reasons.

For starters, I will have the honor of spending much of the day in a symposium at San Quentin State Prison in California. I especially look forward to sharing time with the members of KID C.A.T. (Creating Awareness Together), a group of individuals who were sentenced to life without parole when they were children. After years of incarceration, they created their own support group with a mission to organize acts of community service and goodwill.

During my first two visits to San Quentin earlier this year, I learned about the group’s past activities, which have included conducting food and hygiene product drives for the homeless, fundraising to sponsor youth involvement in community programs, raising awareness and money for cancer research, and folding hundreds of origami hearts for kids at Oakland’s Children’s Hospital. All these activities took place behind the walls of San Quentin and were facilitated by people once considered to be heartless, remorseless monsters as a result of the now-disproven “superpredator theory.”

 

Guest Column: Youth Justice Awareness Month: Transforming Awareness into Action

Jody Kent Lavy, Executive Director, The Campaign for Fair Sentencing of Youth Thursday, 20 October 2016 Posted in 2016, Campaigns

By Jody Kent Lavy, Executive Director of the Campaign for Fair Sentencing of Youth

October is Youth Justice Awareness Month — as proclaimed by President Obama — and we are celebrating and honoring all of the hard work of community leaders, advocates, coalition builders, legislative champions, judicial officials, defenders, and directly impacted individuals who seek to ensure that our country holds children accountable in age-appropriate ways that account for their experiences with trauma and their capacity to grow and change.

Our partners at the Campaign for Youth Justice started Youth Justice Awareness Month in 2008 to draw attention to the need to end the prosecution of youth in the adult criminal justice system. As awareness has grown, so have opportunities to create change, so the founders have decided to focus this year and in the future on transforming awareness into action. We are thrilled to join them in their efforts.

#Implement PREA Week of Action: A Conclusion

Friday, 22 April 2016 Posted in 2016, Campaigns, Voices

By Maheen Kaleem, Equal Justice Works Fellow/Staff Attorney, Rights4Girls

In 2001, the United States officially recognized April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This recognition was the result of decades of activism on the part of advocates who worked tirelessly to end the silence that shrouds sexual violence. They have made incredible strides by educating the public about the inherently shaming nature of sexual violence, the importance of consent, and the knowledge that sexual violence plagues every community in our country. Throughout the U.S., 1 in 5 women will be raped at some point in their lives, and 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted while in college.

While much of our advocacy has focused on adult women, we know that girls are especially vulnerable to sexual violence: one in four American girls will experience sexual violence by the age of 18, and nearly half of all female rape survivors report being first victimized before the age of 18. And yet our discussions, even among advocates, often leave out our most vulnerable and marginalized girls- girls who are subjected to the Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline.

In 2015, Rights4Girls, the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality, and the Ms. Foundation published a report entitled, The Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline: The Girls’ Story.  This report outlines how experiencing childhood sexual violence as a girl can actually create pathways into the juvenile justice system. Girls in the juvenile justice system report experiencing childhood sexual abuse at alarmingly high rates—rates as high as 80%. 

Childhood sexual abuse is one of the primary predictors of delinquency in girls. Put simply, girls in the juvenile justice system often find themselves there as a result of being sexually victimized as children. Among the most common offenses for which girls are arrested are running away, substance abuse, and prostitution. But oftentimes, girls are running away from abusive home environments or foster care placements. When they abuse substances, it is a coping strategy. And in many states, when girls fall victim to human traffickers who profit off of their sexual abuse, the girls themselves are arrested for prostitution.    

Research demonstrates that girls are sometimes arrested “for their own protection.” But detaining girls leaves them vulnerable to more sexual victimization. Once inside juvenile facilities, girls are disproportionately vulnerable to experiencing sexual violence: girls are ten to fifteen percent of the population in state and local facilities, and twenty-six percent of the victims of sexual victimization in juvenile facilities.

Both the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) and the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) include important protections to ensure that children do not become unnecessarily involved in the delinquency system, and that once involved, they are protected from additional sexual violence. In order to protect girls, we must ensure that that the JJDPA is reauthorized, and that PREA is effectively implemented.

But legislation can only be one piece of our efforts. If we are to realize a world where all girls are safe from sexual violence, then we must always remember our most vulnerable, our marginalized girls who all too often fall through the cracks.

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.

Report Commissioned By Louisiana Legislature Calls for State to Raise The Age

Monday, 01 February 2016 Posted in 2016, Campaigns

By Brian Evans, State Campaign Coordinator

Today a report commissioned last year by the Louisiana state legislature has strongly recommended that the state raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction. Louisiana is currently one of 9 states in which all 17-year-olds are tried as adults. Several states have raised the age in recent years, including Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Mississippi. Other states – Michigan, New York, South Carolina, and Wisconsin – are considering legislation to do so this year.

In November, New Orleans city officials pledged to move all kids under 18 (regardless of charge) from the adult Orleans Parish Prison to the city’s juvenile detention facility. 

The report – “A Legislated Study of Raising the Age of Juvenile Jurisdiction in Louisiana: the future of 17-year-olds in the Louisiana Justice System” – was produced by the LSU Institute for Public Health and Justice in response to a Louisiana House of Representatives resolution

It reviews the latest science on adolescent behavior, as well as public safety, system impacts, and the financial costs of keeping 17-year-olds in the juvenile justice system. It concludes by finding that “raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction to include 17-year-olds in Louisiana would be consistent with legal trends and a growing body of research on adolescent development and behavior”. It also concludes that raising the age would be likely to “improve public safety” and “lower long-term costs”.

The main recommendation of the report is that Louisiana “strongly consider raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction” after a one-year planning and transition period. The study also suggests “raising the minimum age of juvenile detention from 10 to 13”, and seizing this moment to create a “comprehensive five-year strategic plan for juvenile justice”.

The report notes that raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction would not change statutes that allow for youth to be transferred to the adult system. While the issue of transfer is outside the scope of its investigation, the report does observe that: “Given the noted effects of sending minors to the adult system, particularly higher recidivism rates, Louisiana should ensure that the use of transfer promotes public safety.”

The Louisiana legislature convenes in mid-March, so we will see in a matter of weeks what legislation might come out of this strong report – which the legislature itself authorized – and its recommendations to raise the age.

New York Governor Includes “Raise the Age” Proposal in his “State of the State” Budget Announcement

Friday, 15 January 2016 Posted in 2016, Across the Country, Campaigns

By Anne-Lise Vray, Juvenile Justice Intern

On January 13th, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo addressed the crucial question of raising the age in his “State of the State” speech, in which he outlined the New York State executive budget for 2016-17. New York is one of the last two states, along with North Carolina, where 16 year-olds are automatically charged as adults, which can have devastating, sometimes deadly, consequences. Trying, sentencing and incarcerating teenagers as adults has indeed been shown to substantially increase recidivism, as well as exposing the children to grave threats such as sexual assault and suicide.

A large coalition of advocates, law enforcement experts, unions and clergy has been working very hard to get New York to side with the vast majority of states and raise the age of criminal responsibility. The group has already won many victories and gained a lot of support, including from the state’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, which was reiterated in his Wednesday’s budget announcement.

The 2016-17 budget includes funds for the application of a bill which, if it passes, would (among other things) raise the age of criminal responsibility from age 16 to age 17 on January 1, 2018 and to age 18 on January 1, 2019; raise the lower age of juvenile jurisdiction from age 7 to age 12 on January 1, 2018 for all offenses except homicide; and expand Family Court jurisdiction to include youth ages 16 and 17 charged with non-violent felonies, misdemeanors, or harassment or disorderly conduct violations. New York is the state with the second highest number of kids housed in adult state prisons (after Florida), with 144 youth under 18 locked up with adults on any given day.

There are now high hopes that the state of New York will finally come around and stop this detrimental practice, and will instead give thousands of children a second chance and the opportunity to turn their lives around. “We cannot lose one more child to a system that contradicts what we know about adolescent brain development, increases recidivism, and makes our community less safe,” said Paige Pierce, CEO of Families Together in New York State. “Including ‘Raise the Age’ in the budget recognizes that enough is enough, it is time for New York State to live up to its progressive reputation and be smart on crime.”

For more information on NY’s raise the age efforts: http://raisetheageny.com/

Florida: Unprecedented Media Support for Bills Restricting the “Direct-File” system

Wednesday, 13 January 2016 Posted in 2016, Across the Country, Campaigns, Voices

By Anne-Lise Vray, Juvenile Justice Intern

In Florida, a wave of endorsements for reforming “direct-file” is rising. Local media in the sunshine state are increasingly vocalizing their support for SB 314 and HB 129, two bills that aim to reduce the scope and the impact of direct-filing on youth.

The current “direct-file” system allows prosecutors discretion to unilaterally decide that minors as young as 14 should be tried in adult court. As pointed out by the Miami Herald, this “nefarious practice in Florida continues to help ruin the lives of thousands of young offenders, and it must stop.” According to Human Rights Watch, Florida transfers more children into adult court than any other state. Yet, the Ocala Star Banner reminds us that only about 9 percent of the state’s juvenile offenders are described as “serious, violent, chronic offenders,” while the Pensacola News Journal highlights that “98% of the more than 10,000 children tried in Florida’s adult courts in the last 5 years were transferred there WITHOUT the benefit of a hearing before a judge.”

The bipartisan bill introduced in the Florida Senate (SB 314) would restrict the practice of direct-filing by requiring judicial sign-off on such juvenile-to-adult court transfers. The companion House bill (HB 129) has been amended to eliminate this central reform, but there are two months during the Florida legislative session (which begins this week) for it to be reconciled with the stronger Senate bill.

This legislation has received great support from Florida media, maybe following the lead of Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward, who proclaimed last October Youth Justice Awareness Month. The Times Union in Jacksonville and the Orlando Sentinel agree that direct-file “does not make sense,” for kids, taxpayers or public safety, while the Gainesville Sun notes that fixing the direct-file system is a crucial step in the effort to break the school-to-prison pipeline in Florida.

Here is a complete list of recent editorials and articles that were published in Florida-based media to support SB 314 and HB 129 and/or oppose the direct-file practice:

-          Palm Beach Post

-          Miami Herald

-          Ocala Star Banner

-          Times Union (Jacksonville)

-          Orlando Sentinel

-          Tampa Bay Times

-          Pensacola News Journal

-          The Gainesville Sun

-          Treasure Coast Palm

-          Tallahassee Democrat

-          Sun Sentinel

The bills have each already passed out of one committee and are awaiting further review. For more information on Florida’s efforts to end this practice, go to www.noplaceforachild.com.

ALEC Endorses Raise the Age

Tuesday, 12 January 2016 Posted in 2016, Across the Country, Campaigns, Voices

By Anne-Lise Vray, Juvenile Justice Intern

Another important voice has recently called for states to raise the age of criminal responsibility to align with brain science and youth rehabilitation. In early December, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) passed a resolution that endorses raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to include all 17 year old youth. The resolution now awaits final approval from the ALEC Board of Directors.  This is a great step towards ending the practice of youth automatically being tried, sentenced and incarcerated as adults.

ALEC, which bills itself as the US’s “largest nonpartisan, voluntary membership organization of state legislators”, and claims to comprise almost “one quarter of the country’s state legislators and stakeholders from across the policy spectrum”, is well known both for its staunchly conservative principles and for its power in state legislatures. Recognizing that “research has found that 17 year-olds are less likely to recidivate when placed in the juvenile system,” the ALEC resolution pushes for all states to pass legislation to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction, regardless of the nature of the offense. It suggests that the juvenile court step should never be skipped, even if it is eventually decided that a youth should be tried as an adult. It is also worth noticing that the resolution does not separate violent and non-violent young offenders, but applies to all 17 year-olds. This is significant, as some state legislation has sought to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction for non-violent offenders or misdemeanants only, leaving behind a large group of young people just as open and capable of rehabilitation.

Considering ALEC’s impact among state lawmakers, this resolution could have great repercussions for tens of thousands of youth, for whom the practice of being tried, sentenced and incarcerated as adults has devastating consequences. Youth housed in adult jails are more likely to commit suicide, to be sexually and physically assaulted and to be placed in solitary confinement, which is considered torture in most places across the world.  Youth who are sentenced as adults have also been found to be more likely to recidivate, as the adult system is focused on punishment, and not rehabilitation. In addition to that, youth sentenced as adults will carry their criminal record their whole life, thus diminishing their chances to find jobs, access decent housing, obtain student loans and go to college, join the military, or vote.

There are only 9 states left in the United States who set the age of criminal responsibility below the age of 18, resisting to the wave of change that has been taking place for the past several years to end this practice that does much more harm than good.  In North Carolina and New York, all 16-year-old youth are automatically tried as adults. In Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Louisiana, South Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin, 17 year-old youth are all tried as adults. Hopefully the initiative taken by an organization as powerful as ALEC, with strong credibility among conservatives, will convince these states to side with the other 41 states that have already chosen to follow scientific evidence and data to change their legislation, and hence create a better future for youth as well as a safer society. 

Treating Youth as Youth: New Jersey Reforms How Kids are Waived to the Adult System

Jose Andres “Shea” Rosario - New Jersey Parents Caucus, Inc. Monday, 17 August 2015 Posted in 2015, Campaigns

By Jose Andres “Shea” Rosario - New Jersey Parents Caucus, Inc.

By raising the minimum waiver age, narrowing the offenses that a young person can be charged for as an adult, creating a reverse waiver procedure, establishing the presumption that a waived and convicted youth will serve his sentence in a juvenile facility, and creating other safeguards for youth in the justice system, New Jersey has taken a small, but important step in protecting our young people from the trauma of the adult criminal justice system. The bill, S2003, was proposed by Senator Pou and signed into law by Governor Christie on August 10.

Originally, youth arrested and charged in New Jersey could be waived into adult court using different criteria, depending on their age and circumstances of the offense. While the waiver age has only increased by one year, from 14 to 15, prosecutors now only have a limited list of offenses to waive. Prosecutors must also clearly state, in writing, the facts that support the waiver application. Courts can deny those waiver motions if they are clearly convinced that the prosecutor abused their discretion in considering waiver factors such as special education status, involvement in child welfare, mental health disorders, and the nature and circumstances of the alleged offense(s).

The list of offenses that a youth can be waived for has also been narrowed. No longer will a non-violent offense such as a computer crime be used to waive a 16-year-old. Adding more protection for youth, if they’re acquitted on their waived charge but convicted for something else, they will be sentenced in a juvenile court where they will only be subject to the penalties under the juvenile code. In addition, there is now the presumption that, unless good cause is shown, detention is to be served in a juvenile facility, as well as any sentencing up to age 21.

While not a true reverse waiver, it is now possible to have the youth’s case sent back to family court, which is a mechanism that unfortunately has not existed in the state. Not only will S2003 decrease the flow from juvenile to adult court, but it will also allow us the ability to reverse that flow. If there is consent from the prosecutor and defense, the court may send the case back to juvenile court if the interests of the public and the best interests of the youth require access to programs or procedures uniquely available to family court, and the interests of the public are no longer served by waiver. Ideally, consent from both parties should not be required, but a form of reverse waiver is absolutely better than no reverse waiver at all. This is another way that the law has created new safeguards for youth to avoid being tried and convicted in adult criminal court.

S2003 is not without its faults. For example, the waiver age is still too low. It sets a higher age limit for those disposed/sentenced to juvenile facilities, but it’s still relatively low given what we know about adolescent brain development. Prosecutors still have too much discretion and do not have to face a high standard of proof in regards to waivers. While some additional burdens have been added on the prosecutor, it still remains the duty of the youth to provide information on things such as their mental health history.

These new, complicated safeguards could be avoided by following other states which have eliminated their waiver system all-together. We need to be reminded that we are still dealing with children who are still in their formative years, who don’t always act out rationally, and who rely on adults to guide them into adulthood. Guiding them into prisons does more harm than good, to the youth, their families, their communities, and society-at-large.

Maryland: Gov. Hogan Signs Bill Removing Youth From Adult Jails

Thursday, 14 May 2015 Posted in 2015, Campaigns

MDBillSigning

This week in Annapolis, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan signed House Bill 618 into law. With his signature, Hogan ended Maryland's practice of holding young people ages 14-17 who are automatically charged as adults in adult jails. Passage of the new law is a major victory for the statewide youth-led advocacy Just Kids Campaign, which is an initiative of the Baltimore nonprofit Community Law in Action (CLIA). 

In Maryland, young people between the ages of 14-17 are automatically charged as an adult if they are accused with one of 33 offenses. Many of these youth have the opportunity to ask for a transfer hearing to send their case from adult court to juvenile court. 

The law, which goes into effect on October 1, 2015, requires that the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services holds every transfer eligible juvenile automatically charged as an adult in juvenile detention centers and not adult jails while they await their transfer hearing. The law also outlines the exceptions to the policy. The exceptions are when a young person is released on bail, recognizance or other conditions of pretrial release, when there is no capacity at a Department of Juvenile Service Detention Center, or when a judge finds that detention in a secure juvenile facility would pose a risk to the child or others. 

In 2013, the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services implemented a policy of holding qualified Baltimore City juveniles who have been charged as adults in juvenile facilities, ending the practice of holding those youth in the city's adult pre-trial detention center. With the passage of House Bill 618 into law, this practice now becomes the policy statewide. 

Holding youth charged as adults in secure juvenile facilities across the state is important for many reasons. First, it ensures that juveniles will immediately receive mental health and educational services that are considered appropriate for such youth while they await trial. Youth held in adult jails are not required to receive these services. Second, it protects youth regardless of their geographic location.Each county jail treats youth charged as adults differently. The majority of youth are either held in solitary confinement or in the general population with adult inmates while they await trial. Third, it decreases the likelihood that a young person will return to the criminal justice system. Youth held in adult facilities are more likely to reoffend and reoffend more violently than those treated in juvenile facilities. Finally, it protects young people from harm. Studies show youth held in adult jails are at a higher risk of physical and mental harm from other inmates and guards.

Ninety-three percent (93%) of the pretrial population of youth charged as adults is male, and 80% is African American. Between 2012-2014, the largest population of juveniles charged as adults and held in detention were in Baltimore City, followed by the Central Region (Baltimore County, Howard County, Harford County, and Carroll County).

 "This is an important first step in removing youth from the adult criminal justice system," says Kara Aanenson, CLIA's Director of Advocacy. 

Community Law In Action (CLIA) cultivates the leadership skills of Baltimore City's youth to elevate the unique voice of young people to advocate for positive community change.  In addition to leading the Just Kids Campaign, CLIA runs the Law & Leadership Academies program in four Baltimore City public high schools. 

Just Kids Campaign is a statewide advocacy campaign working to change the way youth charged as adults are treated in the Maryland justice system though policy changes, community organizing and public education.  The mission of the Just Kids Partnership is to stop the automatic prosecution of Maryland juveniles as adults.  The campaign trains young people and families who have been directly impacted by the criminal justice system to become advocates for statewide systems change.  

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