twitter  facebook  cfyj donate  amazon smile


Guest Column: Redeemed Juveniles Like Me Are Not the Exceptions

Xavier McElrath Bay Thursday, 20 October 2016 Posted in Campaigns

Youth Justice Advocate, The Campaign for Fair Sentencing of Youth

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.”

I am not surprised by their efforts. I recognize that their actions are the reflections of an eternal apology that I, too, am living out. Fourteen years ago today, at age 26, I walked out of the prison gates with a remorseful heart and a mission to advocate on behalf of children who are exposed to violence and the justice system. After pleading guilty to murder, I had been incarcerated half of my life.

Today, I hope to inspire KID C.A.T. members to continue their good deeds and to know in their hearts that they too can create a positive legacy of their lives.

Fortunately, because of recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings and California legislation, including SB 9, SB 260 and SB 261 (and the potential passage of Proposition 57), they too now have an opportunity to be considered for release. Rather than living an existential nightmare until they die, they are planning for what their lives will look like in free society.

Spending the anniversary of my release from prison at San Quentin also feels special because October is Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM), which was started to increase awareness, strengthen coalitions and build campaigns to keep children out of adult prisons. The moment a child is charged as an adult, he or she is exposed to the possibility of extreme consequences — the worst of which was once the death penalty and is now life without parole. Pope Francis has referred to life sentences “a hidden death penalty.”

We have seen significant progress in the movement to end life without parole for children as courts and state legislatures have responded to adolescent brain research and evolving standards regarding how children should be treated in the justice system. The number of states that ban the sentence has more than tripled in the last three years. Therefore, hundreds of people throughout the country who were condemned as children to die in prison — and their families — now have hope.

We also know — and research documents — that too many children who enter the justice system and are charged with serious crimes hardly had a chance to succeed in the first place. As someone who experienced severe abuse and neglect during most of my young life, I can relate.

As a child, I endured beatings from my father, two stepfathers, a foster mother and police officers. My family often went without food and other necessities; we were frequently evicted; and my siblings and I were helpless as we watched our mother and brother struggle with schizophrenia and depression that went undiagnosed for many years.

At 11, I ran away and joined a gang. Blinded by the illusions of love and a new family, I almost lost my life that same year when my best friend shot me in my face by accident. At age 13, my life took a horrible turn when I played a role in the loss of another child’s life. His name was Pedro Martinez.

By then, I had already been arrested 19 times and had seven convictions. The judge in my case said I was incorrigible and would never change. He immediately transferred me to the adult criminal court.

Despite the horrible things that were said about me, my public defender believed in me and worked to make sure I could have a meaningful opportunity for release. I was eventually sentenced to spend 25 years in prison. It was a long sentence, but at least I knew in my heart that I could be free someday. During the first years I was in prison, I continued to make poor decisions and mistakes. But I eventually grew up, earned college degrees and dedicated my life to Pedro’s memory.

Since my release, I have worked to prevent violence in my community and to reform sentencing policies that ignore children’s capacity for positive change. As youth justice advocate with the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth (CFSY), I now often speak with policymakers, judges, attorneys, law enforcement officials and others, reminding them that no child is born bad and that we are all more than the worst thing we have ever done.

I am also a co-founder and proud member of the Incarcerated Children’s Advocacy Network (ICAN), an initiative of CFSY that brings together leaders who were incarcerated as youth to advocate on behalf of children in the justice system. Like KID C.A.T., we also aspire to help others and change the narrative of incarcerated youth. It is the hope of ICAN to be able to embrace members of KID C.A.T. upon their release.

We are not the exceptions. On the contrary, we are what you can expect when children are given a chance to grow, thrive and lead redemptive lives. Whether we are seeking to change the world or to simply live normal lives and be good citizens, an undeniable truth exists within us: We are not the same people we were when we were children. #NoChildIsBornBad

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

Jody Kent Lavy Thursday, 20 October 2016 Posted in Campaigns

Executive Director, The Campaign for Fair Sentencing of Youth

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.

Despite the ongoing efforts of advocates, litigators and others throughout the county, children are still prosecuted as adults, and often are sentenced to life without parole and other extreme punishments. When we sentence children to die in prison, we ignore what adolescent brain science tells us and how that has impacted several recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court: Children are different from adults, both physically and developmentally. Children are less able to think through the long-term consequences of their actions, control their impulses or avoid pressure from peers or adults. Because they are still developing, they also possess a unique capacity to grow and change. In fact, we know that most children grow out of illegal behaviors by the time they reach their late 20s.

Thankfully, we are moving toward a justice system that less punitive in its dealings with children. In the last decade, the U.S. Supreme Court has significantly scaled back the use of the most extreme sentences for children, and has required opportunities for review for everyone sentenced as a child to a mandatory life-without-parole sentence. The Court also has said that these death-in-prison sentences are appropriate only when it can be proven that a child is irredeemable.

In addition, 17 states now ban these sentences for children. This includes both traditionally conservative states such as West Virginia and Nevada as well as traditionally liberal states such as Hawaii and Massachusetts.
Yet, our work is not done. We must ensure that all of these court and policy decisions are implemented in meaningful ways to provide everyone serving one of these sentences with a reasonable opportunity for release.

Throughout October, we will share commentaries of directly impacted individuals. We hope that you will be moved and inspired by their testimonies.

Thank you for your partnership as we work to ensure that no child is ever condemned to die in prison and all children are given a second chance.

Guest Column: Words that Hide the Reality of the Juvenile Justice System

Laurie Spivey Thursday, 20 October 2016

MST Expert, Multisystemic Therapy Services

By Laurie Spivey, MST Expert, Multisystemic Therapy Services

A look behind the euphemisms that proliferate the system

Imagine that you are sitting in court with your teenage son or daughter. The judge orders your child to six months living in a “training school” to address the concerns of the court. What would you imagine that to be? Something like a military school or a boot camp? A cluster of cabins in the woods where kids do ropes courses and practice trust falls?

The truth is that most training schools are thinly veiled youth prisons. Commonly referred to as “secure placements,” they are actually cinder-block buildings behind barbed-wire where children wear orange jumpsuits, rubber shoes and handcuffs. They live in cellblocks and behind bars, get limited contact with their families and are at high risk of sexual and physical abuse. There is an intentional glazing over of the horrors within these facilities, under-reporting of crimes against young people behind bars and a number of creative euphemisms aimed at shielding us from the truth.

Euphemisms are common in child prisons, and these euphemisms serve a very clear purpose. They keep us from knowing that there are nearly 70,000 young people in prison on any given day in the United States. These youth are separated from their families, disconnected from their communities and in great risk of harm. We like to think we are progressive and pragmatic, and that we treat people humanely in this country. So, lawmakers, court personnel and administrators of child prisons think of nicer ways to describe things, keeping us in the dark.

A prison by any other name is still a prison

I began to think it was important to talk about the euphemisms, to raise my own awareness and the awareness of others. I dug through the pages of a few books on the subject and began asking questions in the systems with which I have regular contact. What follows is not an exhaustive list, but a spattering of seemingly innocuous language that covers the truth: training schools, youth commissions, camps, facilities, institutions, academies.

And then comes the matter of solitary confinement and the euphemisms used to cover it up. Author Nell Bernstein says that “solitary confinement exists in the American imagination as a punishment reserved for the profoundly dangerous.” This, however, is far from reality. She goes on to say that “there are as many euphemisms for solitary confinement as there are justifications for using it on the young.” Words like ad seg, room time, room restriction, special management programming. Perhaps the most ironic is protective custody as it is one of the least protective things we can do to the psyche of a child. As the Youth Law Center points out, “No matter the nomenclature, it all comes down to the same thing: a young person locked, alone, in a tiny room.” A practice aimed at destroying the mind and breaking the spirit.

Civil-rights activist, playwright, poet and social critic James Baldwin said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” If we stop hiding behind these meaningless euphemisms, we will no longer be able to hide the truth of what we do when we send kids away. Only then, may we actually start changing the system.

For more on alternatives to “child prisons”, register now for A Community-Based Approach to Juvenile Justice, a presentation and report launch at 10 am, Friday, October 21.

Support of Michigan's Bill Package to Raise the Age

Jeree Thomas Monday, 17 October 2016


Senator Rick Jones, Committee Chair

Judiciary Committee

Michigan State Senate

P.O. Box 30036

Lansing, MI 48909-7536

Re: In Support of HB 4947- HB 4966 – “Youth in Prison” Bill Package


Dear Chairman Jones and Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee:

The Campaign for Youth Justice strongly supports HB 4947 through HB 4966.  This comprehensive bill package will protect youth by raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction, funding developmentally-appropriate rehabilitative services, and prohibiting the placement of youth in adult facilities where they are vulnerable to physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.  We encourage all members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to vote in favor of these bills, so the full Senate may put Michigan one step closer to positive youth justice reform.

The Campaign for Youth Justice is a national non-profit that supports state efforts to reduce and eventually eliminate the need to prosecute, sentence, and incarcerate youth in the adult criminal justice system.   As a result, we have seen the powerful impact of policies that raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction, limit the use of juvenile transfer to the adult court, remove youth from adult facilities, and ensure that youth in adult facilities are safe from physical, sexual, and mental abuse.   Since our founding 10 years ago, 30 states have passed legislation to reduce the prosecution, sentencing, and incarceration of youth in the adult system.

In 2016, South Carolina[1] and Louisiana,[2] passed laws to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction, bringing the total number of states with lower ages of juvenile court jurisdiction to 7.[3]  Without raise the age, removal of youth from adult jails and prisons, and age-appropriate rehabilitative programs, youth in Michigan will be at a significant disadvantage compared to their peers in 43 other states. They are at a greater risk while they are incarcerated.  They are at a serious disadvantage upon release, and their families and communities are no safer.   

Youth who are incarcerated with adults are at a greater risk of physical and sexual abuse. According to research by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), of the youthful inmates aged 16 and 17 that reported sexual abuse, an estimated 78.6% reported experiencing physical force or threat of force and 65.5% reported being victimized more than once.[4]  The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission found that “more than any other group of incarcerated persons, youth incarcerated with adults are probably at the highest risk for sexual abuse.”[5] In addition, youth in adult facilities are also 36 times more likely to commit suicide than their peers in juvenile facilities.[6]  Michigan’s youth are currently at a greater risk of abuse and suicide than their peers in 43 other states, but you can change that.

Youth who are convicted as adults also experience significant and life-altering collateral consequences that stunt their ability to grow into self-sufficient, law-abiding adults.  The American Bar Association and the National Institute of Justice’s Collateral Consequences website identified over 700 “penalties, disabilities, or disadvantages” imposed as a result of an adult criminal conviction in Michigan, including ineligibility for certain vocational licenses, housing opportunities, and public offices.[7]  Without the ability to have a roof over a youth’s head and earn a living, Michigan’s youth are at a greater risk of homelessness, joblessness, and recidivism than their peers in 43 other states, but you can change that.

Finally, youth, their families, and communities are no safer when youth are tried, treated, and incarcerated with adults.  Youth prosecuted in the adult system are 34% more likely to recidivate and with more violent offenses than those youth prosecuted in the juvenile system.[8]   In addition, youth held in adult jails and prisons are more likely to commit suicide than adult inmates, and they have significantly more behavioral issues and rule violations.[9]  Since 95% of these youth will return to their communities by age 25[10], it is critical that they receive the behavioral, social, and mental health treatment that they need to become law-abiding citizens.  Extensive age-appropriate treatment and effective diversion programs are only available to youth in the juvenile system, and as a result, the success of youth and the safety of their communities are linked to treating youth in a system tailored to meet their needs.

In addition, with declining youth crime rates, many states like Connecticut and Illinois have found that after they raised the age of juvenile court jurisdiction, the flood of 17 year olds that they feared would overwhelm the juvenile system, did not show up.  In fact, quite the opposite occurred.  According to a September 2016 Connecticut report, since raising the age in 2009, the rate of incarceration has dropped 77% among 16 and 17 year olds, and 54% among 18 to 21 year olds.[11]  Similarly, the arrest rates of 16 and 17 year olds has declined by 64%, and by 52% for 18 to 21 year olds.  This decline in arrests and incarceration is related to states raising the age while also expanding the use of front-end diversion, improving probation and aftercare approaches, reducing pre-trial detention, addressing mental health needs outside of placing youth in deep-end facilities, increasing an emphasis on community-based approaches, improving how the juvenile justice system manages resources, and keeping youth safe from further trauma by complying with the Prison Rape Elimination Act’s Youthful Inmate Standard.

Michigan’s youth deserve the same opportunity as their peers in other states to mature into self-sufficient, law-abiding, contributing members of their communities, which is why it is critical that members of the Judiciary committee vote in support of HB 4947 through HB 4966.


Jeree Thomas, Esq.

Policy Director

Campaign for Youth Justice


[1] South Carolina legislation signed by the Governor on June 6, 2016  http://www.scstatehouse.gov/sess121_2015-2016/bills/916.htm

[2]  Louisiana legislation signed by the Governor on June 14, 2016 https://www.legis.la.gov/legis/ViewDocument.aspx?d=1012088

[3] The seven remaining states are Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Georgia, Texas, Missouri, and Wisconsin.

[4] Beck, A. (2013). Sexual Victimization in Prisons and Jails Reported by Inmates, 23, 2011-12.  Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.  http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/svpjri1112.pdf

[5] United States. (2009). National Prison Rape Elimination Commission Report. Washington, DC: National Prison Rape Elimination Commission.

[6] Calculations by comparing suicide rates published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the Center for Disease Control. Mumola, C.J. (2005, August). Suicide and Homicide in State Prisons and Local Jails. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

[7] Collateral Consequence of Criminal Convictions, American Bar Association and the National Institute of Justice,  http://www.abacollateralconsequences.org/search/?jurisdiction=26

[8] Ziedenberg, Jason, You’re An Adult Now Youth in the Adult Criminal Justice Systems (2011). Available online at http://static.nicic.gov/Library/025555.pdf

[9] Noonan, M.E. & Ginder, S (2015). Mortality in Local Jails and State Prisons, 2000-2013- Statistical Tables.  Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.  Kuanliang, A., Sorensen, J., Cunningham, M. (2008). Juvenile Inmates in Adult Prison System: Rates of Disciplinary Misconduct and Violence. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 35, 1186-1201.

[10] Redding, Richard E. (2010). Juvenile Transfer Laws: An Effective Deterrent to Delinquency? Washington DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. 

[11]  Connecticut’s Declining Prison Population: Some Contributing Factors, Office of Policy & Management, Criminal justice Policy & Planning Division, (Sept. 29, 2016) http://www.ct.gov/opm/lib/opm/cjppd/cjcjpac/20160930connecticuts_declining_prison_population.pdf


New York Case Example: Why Fully Implementing the Youthful Inmate Standard of PREA Means Removing Youth from Adult Jails and Prisons

Maya Williams Thursday, 13 October 2016

New York Case Example: Why Fully Implementing the Youthful Inmate Standard of PREA Means Removing Youth from Adult Jails and Prisons

Wednesday, September 21, 2016, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) and Legal Services of Central New York (LSNY) filed a class action lawsuit against the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office and Syracuse City School District on behalf of six named plaintiffs—Black and Latino youth ages 16 and 17 jailed at the Justice Center—and a class of similarly situated youth.

The suit’s charges are over the use of solitary confinement for youth in the adult jail citing, “the use of solitary confinement violates the children’s rights and that the sheriff and school district are denying them an appropriate education in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Eighth Amendment, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.”

The sheriff has placed at least 86 youth, many of whom are mentally-ill, in solitary confinement over 250 times since October 2015.

The conditions are dehumanizing and dangerous. While in solitary, youth are sexually harassed by adults; housed in disgusting conditions, where in some cases, there is visible feces and urine on the floor; denied education and, sometimes, pushed to contemplating suicide.

When the county first began transferring youth to the Justice Center from the Jamesville Correctional Facility it was under the pretext that solitary confinement for youth would be put to an end. Instead the Sheriff’s Office continues to put youth in solitary without even acknowledging it.

Youth who are placed in solitary confinement find it nearly impossible to re-assimilate into the community, especially since the facility is already lacking meaningful educational or rehabilitative programming. Solitary also leads to the deterioration of mental health, leading to psychosis, trauma, depression, self-harm, and suicide in many young people.

This mental deterioration can begin after just one day in solitary, and many of these youth are being placed in these conditions for months, at which time they are not allowed to talk to others, receive essentially no education or mental health care, and are limited to one-hour of “recreation” in small, dirty, chain-linked cages.

There is also no evidence that putting youth in solitary reduces further misbehavior. Executive director at the NYCLU Donna Lieberman says, “Punishing children with solitary doesn’t improve public safety nor serve any disciplinary value -- it is simply torture and has to stop.”

While the suit asks the court to order the Sheriff’s Office to stop using solitary confinement and to completely end its use as a tool to punish children, adult jails do not have many other tools to deal with the youth in their facilities. With that being the case the best thing for these youth would be to keep them out of adult facilities entirely.

In honor of National Youth Justice Awareness/Action Month and PREA Action Week take action on behalf of youth in adult facilities in your state.  Contact your Governor and sign our petition to the National Sheriffs’ Association encouraging them to remove youth from adult jails and prisons.  For more information review our PREA Action Kit.

To view the complaint, visit: http://www.nyclu.org/news/lawsuit-syracuse-jail-harming-children-with-abusive-solitary-confinement-conditions

Chalking for Justice During Youth Justice ACTION Month

Jade Kendrick Thursday, 13 October 2016 Posted in Take Action Now


#YJAM has started off with a bang! Voices across the nation are raising awareness about youth justice. But there is another more artistic form of activism: Chalking! Chalk is a fun, harmless way of creating art while also sending a message. It's a perfect way to engage all ages into #YJAM festivities! So help us hit it the pavement and chalk up phrases and images to spread the #YJAM message. Then take a picture of your creation, share it on social media, and use the hashtag #YJAM.  No action is too small to bring awareness! Its as simple as chalking!

A Mother's Story: Transforming Tragedy into Action

Tracy McClard Tuesday, 11 October 2016 Posted in Voices

DSC 1097 771x512

By Tracy McClard

My involvement with the juvenile justice system began in July of 2007. My son, Jonathon made a poor decision causing another young man to be left with a gunshot wound. Jonathon was sixteen at the time. While I believe my son should have been held accountable for his actions, the process that followed was anything but proportional justice. Jonathan was eventually placed in an adult facility where he experienced violence, emotional trauma and constant fear. At any point in time he could be subjected to physical and sexual violence and was consistently threatened with solitary confinement. Throughout this process Jonathan remained a young sixteen years old and was forced to be surrounded by inmates who were much older and much more powerful. He was forced to give up his education to focus on remaining safe in prison.

Just before his seventeenth birthday, the horrors of the adult prison system became apparent. He conveyed to my husband and I that once he turned seventeen he would be transferred to another prison, with no hope of an improved quality of life. Three days after his birthday I received the worst news of my life. While in solitary confinement, Jonathan had hung himself.

This tragic event changed my family and me forever. The trauma we experienced during Jonathan’s time in prison and after his death illustrated that this was a problem we needed to address. Unfortunately, I came to understand that stories such as mine are common. There are so many children that are being tried and sentenced as adults and then sent to an adult facility. I knew I had to do something to change this. There are few limitations to the extent that a child is treated like an adult in our criminal justice system. Since Jonathan’s death, I have worked to push laws in Missouri that will create juvenile justice reform.

 Since my son’s death I have founded the organization; Families and Friends Organizing for Reform of Juvenile Justice and Youth Justice Awareness Month. This past year President Obama deemed October to officially be named Youth Justice Action Month. With the help of the Campaign for Youth Justice we have worked to transform a juvenile system that is dangerous and broken.

The Campaign for Youth Justice has worked for over ten years to change juvenile incarceration and develop alternatives to prison. Some of the federal initiatives they have advocated for include the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act and the Prison Rape Elimination Act. These provisions work to ban the placement of youths in adult jails and protect inmates from sexual assault. These are vital pieces of legislation, which if enacted before Jonathan went to prison, may have saved his life. Since most juvenile justice change happens at the state level, I am still fighting for legislation that will protect our youths in Missouri. This past year numerous bills have been introduced to combat the practice of youths in adult prisons. These laws include requiring any youth under the age of 18 to be prosecuted only in juvenile courts and a mandated evaluation by the Division of Youth Services to determine if blended sentencing would be appropriate for juvenile offenders. With the support of the Campaign for Youth Justice we are hopeful that these laws will pass through Missouri state legislature.
In order to stop what happened to my son from happening to anyone else’s child, we have to take action. It is important that we advocate and encourage our elected officials to take steps to alter the way we treat children in our criminal justice system. It is time to stop imprisoning and start rehabilitating. Maybe if that was the reality of our system, Jonathan would still be with us.

#JuviePodcast Youth Justice Awareness Month – Marcy Mistrett Interview

Aprill O. Turner Monday, 10 October 2016 Posted in Voices

This post was taken from Juvie Podcast and the full article and podcast can be found here

A summons to Action in spreading Awareness about juvenile justice!

Did you know that in the United States, children who commit crimes, whatevertheir age, start out automatically in the adult criminal justice system, and that most defense attorneys who work with children and youth have no specialist knowledge or training in child and adolescent developmental factors? Did you know that a 12-year-old will be completely cut off from any parental access if they are processed through the adult system?

If you would like to know what really goes on when children and youth come into contact with the American criminal justice system, listen in. You are bound to learn a thing or few that will surprise, and even shock you.

We talk to Marcy Mistrett, CEO at the Campaign for Youth Justice in Washington DC, a national advocacy organization committed to ending the prosecution, sentencing, and incarceration of children and youth in the adult criminal justice system. Every year, in October, CFYJ  promotes Youth Justice Awareness Month. We talk about some of the juvenile justice issues important for public awareness.

Listen here.

NEW POLL: Floridians Share Thoughts on Criminal Justice Reform

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


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

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

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

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

Girls Justice Day! Why Now is the Time to Act for Justice-Involved Girls

Maheen Kaleem, Esq. Staff Attorney, Rights4Girls and Jeree Thomas, Esq. Policy Director with the Campaign for Youth Justice Friday, 30 September 2016


Authors: Maheen Kaleem, Esq. Staff Attorney, Rights4Girls and Jeree Thomas, Esq. Policy Director with the Campaign for Youth Justice

October marks Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It also marks Youth Justice Action Month.  As we spend this month focusing on the necessity to protect vulnerable women and girls from abuse, we must not forget our girls behind bars.
In January of 2016, Latesha Clay was sentenced to nine years in prison for armed robbery.  Latesha is 15 years old. The “victims” in the case were two adult men who had responded to an online ad for sex with a teenager on Backpage.com, a website that traffickers use to sell sex with children.  When two men, at least one of whom had a history of inappropriate involvement with minors, arrived at the hotel to engage in sexual acts with 15 year-old Latesha, two individuals came out of the bathroom and threatened the buyers to give them more money. Latesha was not holding the gun, nor was she aware that the robbery was going to take place.
Under federal law, any individual who solicits a sexual act with a minor in exchange for any material good is guilty of human trafficking, and any child who exchanges sex with an adult for anything of value is a victim. Those who facilitate the sale of teens for sex on websites like Backpage.com are also guilty of human trafficking.  Despite the fact that Latesha is only fifteen, that her adult “boyfriend” convinced her her to post the ad, that she knew nothing of the robbery, and that at least two adult men exchanged money in order to commit acts of sexual abuse against her, she was deemed the perpetrator in this case, and her buyers, the “victims.” What’s worse—Latesha was charged and sentenced as an adult, and must serve her nine year sentence in adult prison.
What We Know About Girls in the Juvenile & Adult Criminal Justice Systems
This summer, the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) released No Place for Youth: Girls in the Adult Justice System.   The report summarized data and research on girls in the adult criminal justice system and includes a new survey conducted by NIC and the National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD) of members from the Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA). 
Despite the absence of sufficient data and research on girls in adult facilities, the little information we do have is cause for concern. According to the NIC/ NCCD survey, only 40.9% of correctional administrators responded that that they could safely serve and house youth, while 42.9% marked that they did not agree when asked if they had assessment tools to appropriately identify the specific needs of girls in adult facilities, let alone age and gender-appropriate programming for children in their care. Girls tried and sentenced as adults confront a system that was not designed to meet their developmental, social, mental health, or safety needs. Furthermore, girls in the adult system are denied the opportunities for rehabilitation that the juvenile justice system is expressly designed to provide.
Unfortunately, the neglect of justice-involved girls is not limited to the adult system. Girls in the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems are more likely to have experienced past physical and sexual abuse, trauma, and mental health challenges. In fact, the behavior that results in girls is often related to trying to escape, survive, or cope with extensive abuse. These drivers disproportionately result in the detention and commitment of girls of color, LBTQ girls, and girls who are gender non-conforming.  In the most extreme circumstances, girls are actually criminalized because of their victimization.
The pathways that gendered violence creates for girls into the justice system were highlighted a 2015 report by Rights4Girls, The Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality, and the Ms. Foundation for Women entitled, The Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline: The Girls’ Story. According to the report, across the country, girls in the juvenile justice system had extremely high rates of sexual violence, sexual abuse, and family violence.  In South Carolina, 81% of girls reported experiencing sexual violence, and in Oregon 76% reported sexual abuse.  In Florida, 84% of girls reported being victims of family violence.  The report also emphasized the lack of understanding, data, and appropriate responses to the unique needs of girls.
The Abuse to Prison Pipeline is the result not only of the high prevalence of physical and sexual abuse among girls, particularly marginalized girls, but also our inability to appropriately respond to girls’ behaviors when they are a direct result of the trauma they have endured. A recent report by Francine Sherman, Unintended Consequences: The Collateral Consequences of Mandatory DV Laws, highlights the increase in girls being charged with simple assault for instances of intra-familial violence. Instead of providing families with appropriate interventions, children who are often victims of domestic abuse are instead criminalized.  
Subjecting girls to the Abuse to Prison Pipeline is not the way to help girls grow, mature, and rehabilitate to meet their incredible potential.  Too often, our most traumatized and victimized girls end up behind bars when they should be met with services. In Ohio, Bresha Meadows currently sits in juvenile detention facing a charge for shooting her father in an effort to protect her mother and herself from domestic violence. Imagine if her family had received the appropriate interventions so that Bresha and her mother were safe from the domestic abuse they endured for years.   
In honor of Bresha, Latesha, and the countless girls behind bars around the country, we encourage families, advocates, and those who work in the juvenile or adult criminal justice system to take action on today, Girls Justice Day.  Tweet, write, and/or meet with members of Congress and tell them to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) by voting in favor of H.R. 5963.  The bill passed the House on September 22nd and is now in the Senate.  The reauthorized bill includes important protections for girls including:
  • Incentives for states to create prevention programming for girls at-risk of entering the juvenile justice system
  • Screening girls in the juvenile justice system for child sex trafficking and diverting them towards community-based programming wherever possible
  • Ending the use of unnecessary restraints on pregnant and post-partum girls
  • Encouraging states to limit use of the Valid Court Order exception, which has led to the disproportionate detention of girls who commit non-violent offenses
  • Ensuring that state juvenile justice advisory groups involve individuals with specific expertise in addressing the needs of girls
In addition, encourage your state and local policymakers and system administrators to implement practices and programs that result in better outcomes for girls.   Fund prevention programs that keep girls from being physically or sexually abused.  Divert girls who have been subject to the Abuse to Prison pipeline away from the juvenile and adult justice system whenever possible, and toward more community-based supports.  To the extent possible, girls should be kept in their homes or as close to their homes as possible in settings that provide trauma and gender-responsive programming, education, and therapeutic support.   In those rare cases when girls must be in secure care, girls and all youth under 18, should always be held in juvenile settings and not in the adult system.
Finally, and most importantly, we need to take the time to ask girls in the system what their needs are—they are the experts on their own lives. When they tell us—we need to listen. Only then will we be able to stop the Abuse to Prison Pipeline and ensure that all of our girls have the opportunity to thrive.
[12 3 4 5  >>