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Across the Country

The Justice System Continues to Fail Black Boys

Wednesday, 01 February 2017 Posted in Across the Country

By Aprill O. Turner, CFYJ Communications Director

As we begin another Black History Month, it is time to celebrate the contributions and history of African Americans in this country.  Along with the celebration of progress, it’s also a time to reflect on areas for improvement. How young Black boys are treated in the criminal justice system is one of those areas.

We are in a national crisis. Across the country our justice system is marked by disparate racial outcomes at every stage of the process — especially for those who are most vulnerable, young Black boys. The racial and ethnic disparities that exist in our criminal and juvenile justice systems do not measure up to the standard of treating everyone equitably.

International Human Rights Day: Let's give our youth the human rights they deserve.

Friday, 09 December 2016 Posted in Across the Country

By Anne-Lise Vray, Communications Associate

Human Rights are defined by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) as “rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, language, or any other status.” Such rights are protected by the law, including international treaties like the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the US has signed in 1995 but failed to ratify since then.

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.

It’s Back to School Week For Most Kids

Marcy Mistrett Wednesday, 07 September 2016 Posted in Across the Country

Youth Locked Up As Adults Remain Where Punishment Reigns Over Childhood

 

As I scan social media this week, I’m met with many “milestone” pictures of children on their way back to another year of school.  There are many common threads among these photos,—new shoes, new uniforms, new hairstyles, new smiles with missing teeth, new teachers to learn from and new friends to meet, new books to read and new school buildings to navigate.  But to a tee—all the pictures signify the start of something new and exciting-with parents who tenderly comment on how hard it is to watch their children grow up so fast.

Interspersed among these delightful “back to school” pictures, a quieter and unhappier thread is also unspun.  It’s the stories of children who won’t be returning to school this week; those who have been locked up as adults and housed in facilities where rehabilitation and their future aren’t a priority; where punishment reigns over childhood. It’s the story of Miriam Abdullah in Arizona, who died of suicide in an adult jail shortly after her 18th birthday-she had been there since she was 16-and in isolation since March.  It’s the headline that Brendan Dassey’s case was reversed, after ten years of incarceration and being locked up in an adult facility since he was 16.  It’s the finding from an appellate court in Wisconsin that upholds the decision to try the two young girls (age 12 at arrest) as adults who acted on auditory hallucinations of a fictional character, Slenderman, telling them to harm their friend. 

Juvenile justice systems were created to rehabilitate children, which means their staff are trained to work specifically with youth.  It is a system, that when run well, balances public safety with rehabilitation—an approach that is supported by the vast majority of people across the country.  It means that children under the care of the juvenile justice system have access to education and recreation while incarcerated; that family engagement is considered part of treatment; that mental health and substance abuse treatment is provided to those youth who need it.  That the system sees their role as temporary, and understands the real work of changing lives takes place in the context of home and community.

This is not so in the criminal justice system, that was created to punish adults for breaking the law.  Youth who are transferred to criminal court do not fare well.  Beyond their exposure to violence and vulnerability to sexual and physical assault or lengthy isolation, children in adult facilities lack access to even basic education.   In the rare case that education is offered (11% of jails offer education opportunities) in the months or years that youth are pending trial, it is often only GED preparation; while if they were held in a juvenile facility, they could continue earning high school credits.  For those who managed to finish high school before their arrests, they could use PELL Grants to take a college class if detained in a youth facility—outside of a small handful of pilot programs, this opportunity would not be provided to youth in the adult system.  Despite the fact that research has shown that access to education is a key factor in reducing recidivism, youth who sit in adult jails and prisons receive no such benefit.  

In December 2015, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which includes new provisions to strengthen correctional education for youth in juvenile facilities and eligible adult correctional institutions.    Under ESSA, State Education Agencies will receive federal funding if they submit a complete state plan with procedures to evaluate the educational needs of youth in these facilities, better coordinate the transfer of student records and credits, improve reentry planning, and help youth re-enroll back into school or an alternative program upon release.  Unlike juvenile facilities, adult correctional facilities are a lot less likely to meet ESSA eligibility requirements, because far fewer adult facilities provide at least 15 hours of educational programs to youth. 

So, as we start another school year, I ask state governors and legislatures to review their transfer and certification laws in order to serve youth in the juvenile justice system where they are guaranteed greater access to appropriate services.  I also ask citizens to contact their State Education Agency and their State Board of Education, and demand a strong education plan and sound procedures for incarcerated youth under Title I Part D of ESSA.    Research shows that keeping justice-involved youth engaged in their academics reduces recidivism and results in better reentry outcomes. Not only will action on this issues keep your communities safer, but you will provide a second chance to a young person.  In the famous words of the UNCF, “a mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

INDEPENDENCE DAY: Free from what?

Friday, 01 July 2016 Posted in Across the Country

By Marcy Mistrett

As we approach our country’s 240th birthday, I am reminded of our forefathers’ preamble to the Declaration of Independence : “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

While history has uncovered the blatant shortcomings of this dictate, the rights to one’s liberty, or freedom, seem particularly important to highlight on the eve of Independence Day. With nearly 95,000 children incarcerated in adult jails and prisons each year, the vast majority of whom being children of color, we have a responsibility to question this concept of liberty in the shadow of our carceral state.

Liberty, defined as “the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one's way of life, behavior, or political views” has a long history of grotesque unequal application in our country: it certainly wasn’t a protected right for slaves, women, or children, nor was it promised to numerous other special populations--immigrants, the disabled, LGBT communities, Indigenous peoples to name a few--at the birth of our country.  Yet, as many scholars have noted, as unique populations have gained access to liberty through the Courts, other structures of oppression have emerged to stifle their ultimate achievement of freedom.  Perhaps the most well-known, yet egregious, obstruction of liberty is incarceration.

For our children who sleep in adult jails and prisons, the deprivation of liberty extends far beyond the restrictions on their movement.  Despite being treated as adults in the criminal courts, children under 18 who are prosecuted as adults are hypocritically denied the freedoms granted by adulthood (voting, serving in the military, living independent of their parents, completing compulsory education, getting married, etc.). This inconsistency begs the question, Is incarceration itself the punishment, or are we sanctioning further punishment once children are incarcerated? Sadly, the answer lies in the latter. 

Our country has become so reliant on punishing law-breakers, that we have decided that the deprivation of liberty is simply not enough.  Instead, we subject these young children to extensive punishment—to long periods of solitary confinement, repeated exposure to violence, sexual assault, and physical abuse involving pepper spray, Tasers, or prolonged shackling, and sexual assault, all on top of decades and decades of incarceration.  We prohibit them from visiting with their families if they face a long time in prison; they go to the bottom of the waitlist for school, vocational training, and mental health treatment—services that are considered necessary for those “returning back to society.”  And then, when this punishment isn’t enough, we also punish them economically: before they are legally allowed to establish credit, we set about eroding their finances.  We charge them fines; when they can’t pay, they accrue penalties. We charge them for their healthcare, for phone privileges, and for  buying a bag of Cheetos.  And then we ask, “Is this enough punishment? Have we deprived them of enough of their liberties?”

And still, the answer is NO.  For the vast majority of youth who come home after a period of adult incarceration (95% will be released by the time they are 25), they continue to face “oppressive restrictions” to their liberty.  As we cite in our collateral consequences report, children who return home from a period of adult incarceration retain that conviction for the rest of their lives.  This can (and does) prevent them from furthering their education, securing housing, finding a job, serving in the military, voting, and thousands of other activities that define the “liberty” of adulthood. Furthermore, as conditions of their release, they are often told that they can’t congregate on certain community blocks, or interact with certain people (including members of their family). They are restricted from using alcohol, and are under surveillance for anywhere from one to five years, or, in some cases, for the rest of their lives. We have heard others refer to this as “perpetual punishment,” but it can also aptly be referred to as “loss of liberty.”

And, because we have found it acceptable to treat not only adults this way, but also children who are younger than 18, we have effectively undone a core tenant of our country’s founding principles.

Marcy Mistrett is CEO of the Campaign For Youth Justice, a national initiative focused entirely on ending the practice of prosecuting, sentencing and incarcerating youth under the age of 18 in the adult criminal justice system

Oregon Considers “Age and Sophistication” of Youth before Treating As Adults

Monday, 20 June 2016 Posted in Across the Country

In May, the Oregon Supreme Court made an exemplary decision when they reversed a 2015 ruling made by the state’s Court of Appeals in the State v. J.C.N.-V. case. In State v. J.C.N.-V., the appeals court upheld the initial decision to transfer a 13 year old, J.C.N.-V, who was charged with aggravated murder, from juvenile court to circuit court for criminal prosecution. State law in Oregon permits the juvenile court to waive its jurisdiction and hand over cases to the jurisdiction of the circuit court if it finds the youth to be of “sufficient sophistication and maturity to appreciate the nature and quality of the conduct involved.” This happened to J.C.N.-V., whose case was originally transferred to the circuit court for criminal prosecution, and whose transfer was affirmed by the Court of Appeals.

Enter Marsha Levick, Deputy Director and Chief Counsel at Juvenile Law Center, and Angela Sherbo, J.C.N.-V.’s attorney from Youth, Rights, and Justice. They successfully argued a reversal of the transfer in the state’s Supreme Court, which responded with an avowal that the “sophistication and maturity” of a child is too simplistic a measure for determining whether a transfer from juvenile court to circuit court is warranted. The Court urged the legislature to use a more nuanced approach in dictating the guidelines for any potential transfers.

A couple weeks after this decision, District Attorney of Oregon’s Multnomah County, Rod Underhill, announced that his office will no longer automatically prosecute teens ages 15 to 17 in circuit court for certain Measure 11crimes. Unlike the defendant in State v J.C.N.-V., children charged with Measure 11 crimes do not have the benefit of a hearing before a juvenile court judge; instead they are automatically prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system.  Furthermore, if convicted, they serve the same mandatory sentences that would apply to adults; however, they can begin serving their sentence in a youth prison until they are age 25.

District Attorney Underhill has agreed that if certain considerations are met, his office will be willing to start some Measure 11 cases in juvenile court.  Examples of these considerations include: Whether the teen has no past criminal record, whether he or she didn’t seriously hurt anyone, or whether he or she wants to get treatment or turn his or her life around.  Cases that will now originate in juvenile court would then be bound by the ruling in J.C.N.-V, and judges would have to consider the “sophistication and maturity” of the child before determining whether or not to transfer the child to the adult system.

While the Campaign for Youth Justice advocates that all children’s cases should originate in juvenile court, these are still steps in the right direction, and nice examples of the ways that litigation and practice interface forpositive reforms.  All these efforts combined will hopefully set an example for other states to come around on this issue.

June is Children’s Awareness Month

Monday, 20 June 2016 Posted in Across the Country

By Anne-Lise Vray, Juvenile Justice Fellow

June is Children’s Awareness Month. One would typically think of a child as a 10 year-old in the prime of his/her life, happily going to school, swinging on the playground with friends, helping parents around the house, growing and learning more every day. Unfortunately, for many American children this is not the reality. In 22 states and the District of Columbia, children as young as 7 can be prosecuted as adults. In fact, fourteen states have no minimum age for trying children as adults. Some states set the minimum age at 10, 12, or 13, which is still way too young.  As the U.S. Supreme Court has found 5 times in the past decade, children are not the same as adults, and Courts need to ensure they are considering the age, maturity, and brain development before issuing adult punishments.  

Children’s Awareness Month is a great occasion to remember these too often forgotten children, and to act on their behalves in order to end the harmful practice of trying, sentencing and incarcerating youth as adults. Instead we should invest in age appropriate approaches that work and tend to the underlying trauma that so many of these youth are exposed to before they ever come in contact with the law. This failed policy of treating children like adults is contradicted by neuroscience leads to poor outcomes for public safety, since youth prosecuted as adults are 34% more likely to recidivate than those handled by the juvenile justice system.

All children deserve to be children, and provided the opportunity to correct bad decisions and afforded second chances.

Happy Father's Day!

Monday, 13 June 2016 Posted in Across the Country

This month like every year, the Campaign for Youth Justice celebrates Father’s Day, a time to recognize the amazing dads, grandfathers, and other men who have served as role models to so many children.

Dads can play many roles in children’s lives—they can help provide for their well-being, coach them through difficult times, advocate for them when they need extra support, celebrate their accomplishments, and provide the structure and stability that is needed if children fall off track. They even play and roughhouse on demand! In short, dads make a big difference in the lives of children.

This month we’re asking you to make a contribution in honor of fathers everywhere.

A few years ago, CFYJ CEO Marcy Mistrett met two fathers who, back when they were still in high school, were arrested for carjacking. Dwayne Betts, and his friend, Marcus Bullock, just fifteen and sixteen at the time, were tried and sentenced as adults and spent a significant part of their young adulthood incarcerated in adult facilities. Now, years later, both are married and dedicated fathers to their children.

While incarcerated, Dwayne completed high school and began reading and writing poetry and is now a nationally renowned poet and author, a recent graduate of Yale Law School, an advocate for those facing parole and returning home, and member of the CFYJ Board of Directors. Marcus, also a married father of two, is a successful entrepreneur, having started several businesses since he has been home. He is the CEO of Perspectives Premier Contractors (PPC), where he regularly employs other returning citizens, and a technology entrepreneur – he created Flikshop, a mobile app that allows those in prison to connect with their families. Marcus also developed the Flikshop School of Business, classes that he brings to incarcerated youth to help them develop the life skills needed for reentry, he also was recently appointed by the DC Mayor to serve on the board of returning citizens. Both dads are featured at the Aspen Ideas Festival this summer to generate support for their re-entry work.

Dwayne and Marcus are not only committed fathers, but serve as mentors to hundreds of others who are returning home and trying to get their lives back on track—a transition that is riddled with challenges. As CFYJ writes in our recently released report, Collateral Consequences, incarcerating youth as adults very often results in long-term mental health issues, lowered employment opportunities, restrictions to further education, and thousands of other barriers to re-socialization.

By supporting CFYJ, you’re supporting spokespeople like Dwayne and Marcus to help mitigate these consequences and keep youth out of the adult criminal justice system altogether.

We often get asked what type of financial support is the most helpful for a nonprofit organization. With so much uncertainty in nonprofit fundraising, a recurring monthly contribution of $50, $25 or even $10 a month (as little as $120 a year!) would help give CFYJ more stable funding from month to month as we seek to invest in people like Dwayne and Marcus who are working to turn the system around.

Your monthly contribution is a perfect way to help sustain our important work – just like so many dads have sustained us throughout our lives.

Please join us as we thank all the fathers and others that support our young people through good times and bad. 

“Raise the Age”, “Direct File”, and More: States Pursuing Youth Justice Reforms in 2016

Brain Evans Wednesday, 11 May 2016 Posted in Across the Country

By Brian Evans, CFYJ State Campaign Coordinator

As the year 2016 moves towards its half-way point, one trend has been unmistakable: states are moving to keep more youth out of the adult criminal justice system. And it’s not a regional but a national phenomenon. Led by South Carolina, which is poised to “Raise the Age” of adult court jurisdiction from 17 to 18 – bills have passed both chambers and only minor reconciling of bill language remains – states are adopting a variety of policies designed to treat youth as youth.

Michigan and Louisiana have both seen “Raise the Age” bills pass in one of their legislative chambers – Michigan in the House, Louisiana in the Senate – and in both cases the prospect of the bills ultimately becoming law this year is good. In New York and Louisiana, the governors have vocally backed the “Raise the Age” efforts. In fact, eight of the 9 remaining states that have ages of criminal court jurisdiction lower than 18 have introduced legislation to “Raise the Age” over the past 2 legislative sessions.

But current reform efforts aren’t limited to “Raise the Age”. In Louisiana, Michigan, New York and Missouri, proposed reforms go beyond “Raise the Age” to include larger efforts to change the ways youth are treated by the criminal justice system.  

In Alabama and Missouri, proposals to remove pre-trial youth from adult jails have made serious progress. Alabama’s bill passed in the Senate but fell short of the finish line when their session ended on May 6, while Missouri’s bill looks very likely to become law. Similar legislation has been proposed in Washington, D.C., as part of an omnibus youth justice package.

Indiana has passed a law allowing some youth sent to adult court to access to a “reverse transfer” process that could send them back into the juvenile system, and in Vermont the power of prosecutors to “Direct File” youth into adult court has been drastically curtailed.

In Florida, where such prosecutorial discretion is used more than in any other state, a bill to curb “Direct File” passed unanimously out of two Senate committees before running out of time at the end of that state’s short 60-day session. Another attempt to reform the use of “Direct File” by prosecutors is underway in California, where a governor-supported ballot initiative on the issue may go before voters in November.

While there are still too many mechanisms for transferring youth into the adult system, it is clear that the states have come to recognize how harmful and counter-productive such transfers are. The results of this year will be better justice for more youth, with powerful positive momentum and strong prospects for even greater gains in the coming years.

2016: Recognizing that Kids are Different, Anniversaries of Kent, Miranda, and JDB

Friday, 22 April 2016 Posted in Across the Country

By Brittan Harwell, CFYJ Policy Fellow

The juvenile court was founded in Chicago in 1899 on the ideas that children were different than adults, should not be subject to adult prisons, and rehabilitation should be the main focus of juvenile detention. Over the years, the court has oscillated between treating children as completely different than adults where their trials require no standard procedural protections, or giving children the same floor of procedural protections as adults but then not allowing for their adolescent traits to inform the circumstances of their hearings or culpability.

Fifty years ago, the Supreme Court decided a case concerning a 15 year old Morris Kent.  In Kent v. United States the court addressed the fear that, “the child receives the worst of both worlds: that he gets neither the protections accorded to adults nor the solicitous care and regenerative treatment postulated for children."  The court went out of its way to include information about the differences between a child and adult in court. Kent’s case held procedural protections were required when a child is being transferred into the adult system.

Kent has had a lasting legal legacy; several cases expanding or further defining the rights of youth are rooted in the holding from Kent. Following the year after Kent, In re Gault built on Kent’s due process protection of waiver by stating that due process encompasses procedural protections for juveniles in delinquency proceedings including right to notice, confrontation of witnesses, right to counsel, and the right against self-incrimination.  A few years later Kent’s due process reasoning was used in support of finding that jeopardy attaches with a juvenile court conviction for purposes of the double jeopardy prohibition, meaning that children cannot be tried and convicted in both juvenile and adult court for the same charge (Breed v. Jones, USC).  Kent’s reasoning has helped youth in certain jurisdictions assert rights to rehabilitative treatment (Pena v. New York State Div. For Youth), full investigations to support court’s findings (Virgin Islands ex rel. N.G.), and access to all proceedings for a child’s guardian ad litem (Inge v. Slayton,  4th cir.).

Decided the same year, Miranda v. Arizona gave individuals questioned by the police the right to be informed of their rights. The Miranda warnings are known by most people because of their use in TV and movies. Subsequently police went on to give individuals Miranda warnings but there were no specialized warnings for children. The warning was assumed to be age neutral and an adequate procedure to ensure that an individual’s Fifth Amendment right to be free from self-incrimination was upheld.

Five years ago in the case of J.D.B  v North Carolina the court finally addressed the relationship between Miranda warnings and children, Justice Sotomayor announcing that,

“It is beyond dispute that children will often feel bound to submit to police questioning when an adult in the same circumstances would feel free to leave. Seeing no reason for police officers or courts to blind themselves to that commonsense reality, we hold that] a child's age properly informs the Miranda custody analysis.”

More and more the Court is considering the effects of age on the application of criminal procedure and juvenile interaction with the criminal justice system. In Kent, the Court touched on the difference between youth and adults in its ruling but the development of brain science and what is known about how differently the adolescent brain works has had a huge impact on Supreme Court treating children differently. Because adolescent brains are different than adults, what actions are appropriate to ensure their constitutional rights are upheld should be different than adults.

While we look back to see how far the court has come in its understanding of juvenile rights, we shouldn’t forget to look forward also and continue to push for juvenile rights. In every state there are still laws that allow for youth to be tried in adult courts. The Supreme Court has established that children are not adults. Not only is treating children both as people who need to be taken care of and people who are mature enough to make life altering confusing, it also does not allow for a system in which we can determine what states should do to protect youths’ constitutional rights.

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