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Across the Country

Governor Malloy of Connecticut prepared remarks today on criminal justice reform

Friday, 06 November 2015 Posted in Across the Country

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Today, the Governor of Connecticut issued a press release on criminal justice reform in which he urged the legislature to consider raising the age of being tried as adult to 21. Raisng the age of juvenile justice jursdiction through to the age of 20 instead of 17 is a poineering effort, however, it does have credible roots in research based evicence on youth development. 

Marcy Mistrett, CEO of The Campaign for Youth Justice touches upon the importance of age appropriate sentencing.

"Making decisions informed by brain research, evidence- based practice, local data and what is in the best interest of kids and the community is smart public policy. We applaud the Governor for treating kids like kids, " said Mistrett. "Governor Malloy’s statement today on criminal justice reform continues to build momentum on the great progress already underway in Connecticut. 

The following is direct from the press release:

Governor Dannel P. Malloy presented some first-in-the-nation ideas regarding criminal justice today at a Connecticut Law Review symposium held at the UConn School of Law in Hartford.  While Connecticut has become a national leader in its criminal justice efforts, the Governor introduced several ideas to deliver further progress, including raising the age of the juvenile justice system's jurisdiction through age 20 instead of age 17, as well as allowing low-risk young adults aged 21 through 25 to have their cases heard confidentially, their records sealed, and the opportunity to have those records expunged.  He also discussed exploring bail bond reform.

Find the complete press release transcipt here

#Girls Justice Day: Focus on Girls & Juvenile Justice

Thursday, 29 October 2015 Posted in Across the Country

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Written by Jeannette Pai-Espinosa, courtesy of JJDPA Matters Blog 

Today, October 29, we join together to recognize Girls Justice Day because sadly, despite decades of attention, the proportion of girls in the juvenile justice system has increased. At the same time,their challenges have remained remarkably consistent, resulting in deeply rooted, systemic gender injustice.

Every day in this country, girls who are survivors of violence, sexual abuse, neglect, and family dysfunction are driven into the justice system. Too often, it’s because we criminalize the actions they take to protect themselves and to deal with their trauma. Girls are rarely detained for offenses that cause a risk to public safety—they are significantly more likely to face arrest for “status offenses,” which are actions that would not be considered a crime if they were adults, such as running away.

New data recently released by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention shows that despite declines in overall youth incarceration, the number of system-involved girls is increasing and those girls are disproportionately girls of color. In fact, data that show 61 percent of incarcerated girls are girls of color, and that black girls are twice as likely as white girls to be incarcerated.

For juvenile justice reform to be truly effective, it must consider the context of girls’ lives, address their needs, and attack the disproportionate detention of girls of color. The good news is that momentum for change is building, even at the highest levels of our government.

On October 28, The White House Council on Women and Girls and the Domestic Policy Council’s Urban Affairs, Justice and Opportunity team hosted an all-day forum called “Girls of Color and Intervening Public Systems: How Can Communities Interrupt the Sexual Abuse-to-Prison Pipeline?”

This convening focused attention on the social impact of trauma and the connection between adverse childhood experiences—such as sexual abuse, young motherhood, commercial sex trafficking—and juvenile justice system engagement. As President Obama noted in his September 19th speech to the Congressional Black Caucus, we must change the ways our nation supports women and girls who are most at-risk, including many women and girls of color.

During the meeting, Vanita Gupta, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, stated, “Protecting young women and girls from sexual assault and abuse is a fundamental right.  Federal law requires that our schools protect our students from sexual abuse. Schools are too often responding with suspension expulsion and arrest.”

She also told the young women who attended: “You are not alone.”

Fran Sherman, speaker and author of the recent report, Gender Injustice, noted that, “Everyday girls with trauma enter the juvenile justice system for behavior related to their trauma and that school failure disproportionately drives girls of color into the justice system.”

During a panel of Federal officials OJJDP Administrator Robert Listenbee announced the release of the OJJDP Policy Guidance on Girls in Juvenile Justice. The policy statement includes recommendations that include a ban on status offenders being placed in the juvenile justice system and a phase out of the use of valid court orders. OJJDP believes that the needs of girls must be addressed in a developmentally appropriate manner.

We couldn’t agree more.

Which is why we are excited that yesterday also brought the announcement of the first recipients of the National Girls Initiative’s Innovation Awards, a program designed to spotlight and support creative efforts to advance systems-level juvenile justice reforms for girls. Support for the seven recipients comes from a mix of government and philanthropic funds and will drive new resources to state, local and tribal efforts to address girls’ needs, and to share information on evidence-based practices that are trauma-informed and gender and culturally responsive. The National Girls Initiative is a collaborative effort of both American Institutes for Research (AIR) and The National Crittenton Foundation (TNCF); it works to elevate the voices of girls and their families as partners in reforming the juvenile justice system.

For me the highlight of the day at the White House was the panel of youth advocates from Girls for Gender Equity in New York City. Nowhere is the call to action for reform more clear, passionate and commanding than through the voices of young women survivors. Possessed with the courage born of commitment, and compassion for the girls yet to come, they share the reality of their lives as evidence of the need for change. As leaders, they teach us that we must invest of ourselves to achieve true change.

So today, on Girls Justice Day, while it appears that movement and transformation is near, we must stand with these young women leaders to continue to press forward for reform that addresses the needs and potential of girls in or at risk of entering the juvenile justice system. This includes the long overdue passage of reauthorization of the JJDPA.

Jeannette Pai-Espinosa is the President of The National Crittenton Foundation and the Co-Director of the National Girls Initiative of OJJDP. Additionally, she is chair of the National Foster Care Coalition and a member of the Women’s Services Advisory Committee for SAMSHA.

Utah’s Governor Gary Herbert declares October "Juvenile Justice Awareness Month"

Anne-Lise Vray, CFYJ Intern Tuesday, 27 October 2015 Posted in Across the Country

On Friday, Gary R. Herbert, Utah’s Governor since 2009, officially proclaimed October “Juvenile Justice Awareness Month”, acknowledging that “the juvenile justice system is best equipped to work with teenagers in making meaningful changes that maximize opportunities for youth offenders to realize their full potential.”

This proclamation is part of a movement of positive changes for youth justice in Utah. Indeed earlier this year, in its 2015 general session, the state’s legislature passed a bill that reduced the number of felonies for which 16 year-old kids would face Utah district (adult) court jurisdiction.

One of Governor Herbert’s stated priorities being education, he regularly calls for youth to be agents “for positive change”. Accordingly, by keeping children out of the adult criminal justice system and giving them the tools to rehabilitate and turn their lives around, they are more likely to become agents for positive change.

The Utah Governor’s proclamation is one of many resolutions and declarations that have been passed all over the country, showing an increasing and widespread support for juvenile justice reform; support that we hope one day will fully prevent youths from being tried, sentenced and incarcerated as adults.

Despite this important step forward, Utah still has a long way to go, as it is for example one of the few states still ignoring or refusing to comply with federal guidelines intended to prevent sexual assault in prisons. The Prison Rape Elimination Act is a key piece of legislation for guaranteeing children’s basic safety in prison, since one of its 4 main requirements is to keep youth under 18 strictly separated from adults. However, for “budgetary” reasons, Utah has so far refused to apply this federal law.

We can hope that Utah will go further on the path towards youth justice and adopt more important reforms soon. 

 Written by Anne-Lise Vray, CFYJ Intern

 

#YJAM: Dear Mr. President, It's time to stop the torture of solitary.

Rev. Laura Markle Downton, Director of U.S. Prisons Policy & Program National Religious Campaign Against Torture Thursday, 15 October 2015 Posted in Across the Country

solitaryWritten by Rev. Laura Markle Downton, Director of U.S. Prisons Policy & Program National Religious Campaign Against Torture Breaking Down the Box from NRCAT 

The Pope, legislators on both sides of the aisle, President Obama, and even prison officials all agree: the use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons is a human rights crisis that must be addressed.

The United States is a global outlier in its use of mass incarceration and systemic use of solitary confinement, a practice long considered a form of torture. On any given day in the U.S., it is estimated that between 80,000 to 100,000 adults and youth –disproportionately people of color– are held in solitary. That number does not include people in local jails, juvenile facilities, or in military and immigration detention. That number does not tell you their names nor their stories, but it tells the story of a moral crisis.

In solitary, people spend 23 hours a day in a cell the size of an average parking space. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has stated that solitary in excess of 15 days should "be subject to an absolute prohibition” based on scientific evidence of its psychological damage. He has called for a ban on its use for children, persons with mental illness, and pregnant women.

Our faith traditions teach us the importance of community, belonging, and connection. So it’s no surprise that isolation fundamentally alters the brain . It creates and exacerbates mental illness. Half of all prison suicides occur in conditions of solitary confinement. Such conditions are profoundly damaging for anyone, but for children, who are still developing, the experience is particularly devastating. In isolation, young people are denied access to treatment, programming and tools necessary for growth and development. Children in adult facilities across the country are subjected to solitary confinement for weeks or even months at a time.

Pope Francis has spoken out powerfully against the use of isolation, calling “confinement in high security prisons” a form of torture, and has said that torture is “a grave sin, but even more, it is a sin against humanity.” In September, the Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA) released a statement acknowledging that “prolonged isolation of individuals in jails and prisons is a grave problem in the United States.” This summer, President Obama announced that the Department of Justice will conduct a nationwide review of the use of solitary, saying, “Do we really think it makes sense to lock so many people alone in tiny cells for 23 hours a day for months, sometimes for years at a time?”

To address the moral crisis of solitary, we need these words to lead to decisive action. So earlier this month, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture joined 126 organizations, including 39 religious organizations, in delivering an open letter to the White House calling on President Obama to ensure the nationwide review outlines a clear path toward ending the torture of solitary confinement. This call included the support of more than twenty national religious organizations – including the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Union for Reform Judaism, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada, and the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church.

To address the moral crisis of solitary, we must affirm that there are no throw away people, and no throw away children. Where cycles of trauma persist, we need interventions that lead to restoration and life. Children should never be placed in solitary confinement. And our young people should not be subjected to confinement in jails and prisons designed for adults. We owe their future, the future God dreams for each of them, an opportunity to flourish. To that end, a bipartisan coalition of United States Senators recently introduced the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, which includes provisions that would largely prohibit the solitary confinement of youth in federal prisons. 

Despite widespread national momentum to confront the use of solitary, for children and adults, much work still remains to turn words into action. In California, despite calls from may including the faith community to act, legislators there have failed to pass critical legislation to prevent young people, disproportionately youth of color, from placement in solitary in the California juvenile justice system.

The time is now to face the moral crisis of solitary confinement and bring it to an end. The time is now to turn words into action, and work for a future of possibility for our communities, especially for our children.

This week, join the conversation on solitary confinement of youth by using the hashtag #YJAM. Below is sample language you can share on social media!

TWEETS

  • Youth in adult facilities face a “lose-lose”situation, in order to segregate them from adults, they are often placed in isolation. #YJAM
  • Solitary confinement is torture. Ask NRCAT https://vimeo.com/129764024  #YJAM
  • Girls often get placed in solitary confinement for insubordination and not violent behavior #YJAM
  • Many youth in solitary will do things they’d never do otherwise such as talk to themselves of self-harm. #YJAM
  • Solitary confinement can lead to severe depression and has shows to correlate with suicide rates. #YJAM

FACEBOOK

  • President Barack Obama has signed a proclamation declaring October 'National Youth Justice Awareness Month' and calls on Americans to "observe this month by getting involved in community efforts to support our youth, and by participating in appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs." http://sparkaction.org/content/president-proclamation-yjam #YJAM #youthjustice #JJDPAmatters

#YJAM: Solitary Confinement: Cost of Incarceration

Amy Fettig, Senior Staff Counsel & Director, Stop Solitary Campaign, ACLU National Prison Project. Thursday, 15 October 2015 Posted in Across the Country

 

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Amy Fettig, Senior Staff Counsel & Director, Stop Solitary Campaign, ACLU National Prison Project

“Being in a room over 21 hours a day is like a waking nightmare, like you want to scream but you can’t. You want to stretch your legs, walk for more than a few feet. You feel trapped. Life becomes distorted. You shower, eat, sleep, and defecate in the same tiny room. In the same small sink, you “shower,” quench your thirst, wash your hands after using the toilet, and warm your cold dinner in a bag. I developed techniques to survive. I keep a piece of humanity inside myself that can’t be taken away by the guards . . . There’s no second chance here.

These are the words of a young girl named Lino Silva – but this wasn’t written decades ago during a World War and it wasn’t written from a gulag in some far-off, brutal dictatorship.  A child wrote this in a youth facility in California

It is terrible to think that any child would be forced to live such an experience anywhere at any time.  But the truth is that these same words could be written by thousands of children any day in America if they are held in our criminal justice system – either in youth facilities or in adult jails and prisons. 

While in solitary, youth are locked in a cell for 20 hours or more a day with limited access to exercise, reading and writing materials, contact with family members or other human beings, educational programming, drug treatment, or mental health services. Although solitary confinement is well known to harm even previously-healthy adults, for children, who have special developmental needs, the damage is even greater. Young people’s brains are still developing, placing them at a higher risk of psychological harm when subjected to isolation and sensory deprivation. Indeed, the vast majority of youth suicides occur in isolation.

This is bad enough, but these negative effects on kids are usually exacerbated by that the fact that youth frequently enter such facilities with histories of substance abuse, mental illness and childhood trauma, which are only aggravated by the stark deprivations of solitary confinement.  Moreover, in solitary confinement access to programming and pro-social development that might facilitate a youth’s rehabilitation is virtually nonexistent. 

Why would we ever subject our kids to such treatment?  Fortunately, the public, our political leaders, doctors, lawyers, families, and enlightened corrections and juvenile justice officials across the country are increasingly asking this question and coming up with the same answer: 

We must never subject kids to solitary confinement.

Efforts are now underway to end this barbaric practice.  Legislators in some states, like New Jersey and Nevada, have passed laws to limit solitary confinement of youth in their juvenile justice systems.  At the federal level, several bipartisan bills, the REDEEM Act, the Mercy Act, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act have also been introduced to end the practice for youth held under federal jurisdiction.  And some states, for example New York and Massachusetts, have moved away from using solitary confinement in their juvenile systems.  Internationally, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has called for a global ban on the solitary confinement of children under 18.  But we need more!!  Thousands of kids are still subject to this practice in our backyards.  It’s now time for every state and community in the United States to act in the best interests of our children and STOP Solitary for all youth.

This week, join the conversation on solitary confinement of youth by using the hashtag #YJAM. Below is sample language you can share on social media!

 

TWEETS

  • Youth in adult facilities face a “lose-lose”situation, in order to segregate them from adults, they are often placed in isolation. #YJAM
  • Solitary confinement is torture. Ask NRCAT https://youtu.be/PwlPPCkr8q4 #YJAM
  • Girls often get placed in solitary confinement for insubordination and not violent behavior #YJAM
  • Many youth in solitary will do things they’d never do otherwise such as talk to themselves of self-harm. #YJAM
  • Solitary confinement can lead to severe depression and has shows to correlate with suicide rates. #YJAM

FACEBOOK

  • President Barack Obama has signed a proclamation declaring October 'National Youth Justice Awareness Month' and calls on Americans to "observe this month by getting involved in community efforts to support our youth, and by participating in appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs." http://sparkaction.org/content/president-proclamation-yjam #YJAM #youthjustice #JJDPAmatters
  • Youth are being held in solitary confinement inside adult prisons sometimes due to administrative response to not knowing how to house youth. The issue of youth incarcerated as adults has demanded the attention of the nation, especially since President Barack Obama has signed a proclamation declaring October 'National Youth Justice Awareness Month' http://sparkaction.org/content/president-proclamation-yjam #YJAM

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Michigan Lawmakers Introduce Bipartisan Juvenile Justice Reform Legislation

Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency Tuesday, 06 October 2015 Posted in Across the Country

Today, 14 state lawmakers introduced a 21-bill package with bipartisan, bicameral support to reform Michigan’s juvenile justice system.  Currently, Michigan is one of only nine states remaining in the nation that automatically prosecutes 17-year-olds as adults.  The main focus of the legislative package would be to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 17 to 18, allowing for Michigan’s youths to have greater access to age-appropriate rehabilitative services.

“It is time for Michigan to abandon this draconian practice,” lead bill sponsor Representative Harvey Santana (D-Detroit) said.  “There have been numerous studies which indicate that incarcerating youth actually increases the rate of violent crimes.  We need to ensure we are rehabilitating our youthful offenders and not simply putting them in prison, potentially throwing away their future.”

According to the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency, research has found that youth exiting the adult system are 34% more likely to reoffend, reoffend sooner, and escalate to more violent offenses than their counterparts in the juvenile justice system.    “This is a subject that touches many lives and knows no partisan bounds,” Representative Santana said.  “That is how I was able to bring together 14 different legislators from diverse backgrounds to sponsor and support this package of bills.”

Along with raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 17 to 18 years of age, other bills in the bill package include not allowing youth under the age of 18 to be housed in any adult correctional facility, ensuring age-appropriate rehabilitation services are accessible for all youth in the juvenile justice system, eliminating certain offenses that do not require adult sentencing from the list of specified juvenile offenses, requiring public monitoring and oversight of any youth who has entered the jurisdiction of the Michigan Department of Corrections prior to turning 18 years old, requiring equal consideration of all mitigating factors prior to waiving jurisdiction in traditional juvenile waiver cases, establishing a family advisory board within the Michigan Department of Corrections to ensure effective partnerships with families and victims, and requiring that the Department establish policies in line with Michigan’s Mental Health Code for youth out-of-cell time, including youth who are in punitive or administrative segregation.

“In Michigan you need to wait until 18 to serve our country or buy tobacco, and wait until 21 to legally buy alcohol, yet at 17 we stand ready to throw you in jail as if you were an adult,” said Representative Peter J. Lucido (R-Shelby Township). “Science has shown us the brain does not fully develop its cognitive and reasoning skills until the mid-twenties. Therefore, it makes no sense not to join the forty-one other states which treat 17-year-olds as juveniles and 18-year-olds as adults in our correctional system. Instead of just tossing a 17-year-old in jail and give up on them, we should put in the effort to help set them on a better path towards a brighter future.”

Other notable points were made when Representative Kosowski (D-Westland) said “The corrections system cost Michigan taxpayers more than 2 billion dollars per year. In fact, Michigan annually spends more on its corrections system than it does on higher education.  As legislators it is our duty to cut costs while ensuring public safety." Kosowski continued, "My bill in this package creates a monitoring system within the Department of Corrections that will allow us to ensure that best practices and greatest cost efficiency are implemented while reducing recidivism rates of youthful offenders.”

Representative Kesto (R-Commerce Township) also noted “As a former prosecutor and current representative, I work every day to improve public safety and making Michigan more efficient with our tax dollars. This bill package accomplishes two important goals - improved public safety while costing the taxpayers less money.”

“This package of bills has not been arrived at lightly,” said Representative Howrylak (R-Troy). “Rather, our Judges, Prosecutors, Counties, the Department and groups including the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency and the Mental Health Association have contributed extensively. These combined perspectives have resulted in legislation which rightly acknowledges our purposes for incarceration, the humanity of our youth, and their potential to contribute successfully in society if treated appropriately and compassionately.”

PREA’s 12th Birthday

Carmen Daugherty Friday, 11 September 2015 Posted in Across the Country

#ImplementPREAThis week marks the twelfth anniversary since Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) to address the sexual assault and victimization in prisons, jails, lockups, and other detention facilities. Some could characterize PREA’s development as being in its adolescence. Thus, we exercise patience and understanding when the law and regulations aren’t panning out as neatly as Congress could have hoped. Yet, we wait, give rational excuses as to why PREA audits aren’t going as smoothly as anticipated, and hold our collective breath for the Department of Justice to “figure it out”. "Give it time to work", we hear, and we nod our heads in agreement. We recognize that such a massive law with its substantial regulations will take time to trickle down to the states in a way that we, as a nation, feel like the law is “working” and a decrease in rape and abuse in prisons will be well documented. We unwearyingly sit down with other advocates and policy makers to figure out how to strengthen the law. While urgency exists, we focus more on getting it right so another ten years doesn’t pass with the same results.

Ironically, or not to some, we do not exercise the same level of patience, consideration, or solution focused attitudes when it comes to youth involved in the criminal justice system. On any given day, nearly 6200 youth under 18 are sitting in adult jails and prisons. Some in solitary confinement for their own “protection” and some in general population because the crime they have committed automatically makes them an “adult”. All much too young to waste away behind bars; many first time, nonviolent offenders; and none receiving rehabilitative services proven to reduce recidivism and increase public safety.

Fortunately this group of inmates was not forgotten by The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission—a group of experts brought together to provide recommendations to the Department of Justice on creating PREA standards--that made strong recommendations on the removal of youth from the adult system. The Department of Justice took these recommendations in stride and stated “as a matter of policy, the Department supports strong limitations on the confinement of adults with juveniles.”  To advance this position, the PREA regulations include a “Youthful Inmate Standard” to protect youth in adult facilities. That standard provides that youthful inmates, which the standards define as “any person under the age of 18 who is under adult court supervision and incarcerated or detained in a prison or jail,” must be housed separately from adult inmates in a jail or prison, but may be managed together outside of a housing unit if supervised directly by staff.  While not a panacea, it certainly provides a sturdy floor for which states can stand and reach higher with the support from the federal government.

The ACLU and Human Rights Watch estimate 100,000 youth in jails and prisons each year which means a staggering 1.2 million youth have cycled through an adult facility since PREA’s enactment. The vast majority of states statutorily allows the housing of youth in adult jails and prisons. Most without the full protection of what PREA can offer.  Despite these grave figures, incremental progress is documented at the state level with twelve states (CO, ID, IN, ME, NV, HI, VA, PA, TX, OR, OH, MD) passing legislation limiting the states’ authority to house youth in adult jails and prisons in the last decade. Approximately one state a year since PREA's enactment. 

As states continue to work towards full PREA compliance, we should start seeing new policies and regulations that reflect the way states treat young offenders in their facilities.  Ideally, this will lead to the full removal of youth from adult jails and prisons to really see the success of PREA.  Indeed, several states have used the advances in brain research paired with the costs of PREA compliance and falling crime rates to argue for removing youth under 18 from criminal court jurisdiction altogether (e.g. Massachusetts and New Hampshire both raised the age of criminal responsibility to 18, in part to comply with PREA).  

Later this month, Campaign for Youth Justice will release a report that examines the ways that states regulate the housing of youth in adult prisons in the PREA-era. We combed through state statutes and state Department of Corrections' policies to see how youth under 18 are housed. The results are not surprising and reiterate how we punish youth who sometimes make terrible decisions; no second chances. As we recognize in so many other facets of society,  adolescence is a time of mistakes and lessons learned. And when it comes to policymakers, we recognize that the enactment of laws often times require a few years to see results so we exercise patience and have a willingness to tweak where beneficial to society. Shouldn't we do this for some of our most vulnerable youth as well?

Back To School

Marcy Mistrett Friday, 04 September 2015 Posted in Across the Country

It’s back to school time in the nation’s capitol and a buzz is in the air—traffic is picking up, parents are excited to get back to the routine of school days, and kids can’t wait to meet their new teachers and reconnect with old friends.  It’s a time for fresh starts and new beginnings—of opportunity to overcome academic challenges of the past and embrace the possibilities of the future.

However, children that we have charged as adults in the criminal justice system, don’t get to be part of this routine. While detained in adult jails—they receive little—if any-- formal education.   In adult prisons, these youth have been barred from receiving PELL grants since 1994, unlike youth in the juvenile justice system. We tell this to 100,000 children a year who spend months, years, and even decades, in adult jails and prisons.

Our country doesn’t educate children that we have prosecuted as adults because we have already told them their lives don’t matter. That they have lost the opportunity for a second chance.  That punishment for what they have done (or been accused of doing) is valued more than the opportunity to get services and turn their lives around. We tell them this despite polling that shows that 78% of the American public believes in second chances for youth, and favor rehabilitation over incarceration.  In the past year, we have sent this message to 10 year olds in Pennsylvania,  12 year olds in Wisconsin,  14 year olds in Mississippi,  and 15 year olds in Florida that are sitting idle in adult jails and prisons, “doing time”—but not mastering their times-tables.

We don’t educate them because we likely locked them out of their schools before we locked them up in adult facilities.  An estimated 65% of incarcerated children meet the criteria for a disability, three times higher than the general population according to the National Disability Rights Network.  Children with learning and emotional disabilities are more than twice as likely to receive an out of school suspension than those without disabilities. For disabled children of color, these numbers are even more disparate—1:4 boys and 1:5 girls of color with disabilities are suspended from school.

We also don’t educate them despite knowing that education while incarcerated is one of the most affordable ways to ensure that when they go home, they stay home. Yet, most youth are denied educational and rehabilitative services that are necessary for their stage in development when in adult facilities. A survey of adult facilities found that 40% of jails provided no educational services at all, only 11% provided special education services, and a mere 7% provided vocational training. This lack of education increases the difficulty that youth will have once they return to their communities.

On Capitol Hill and in the White House, policymakers are just starting to question these tactics with the (re) authorization of new laws and pilot programs that benefit incarcerated youth. Unfortunately, most have limited application to youth in adult facilities. For example: 

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is up for reauthorization.  Title 1 Part D of ESEA addresses prevention and intervention programs for neglected, delinquent, or at-risk youth, requiring that schools facilitate the re-enrollment, re-entry and proper education for youth returning from juvenile justice system placements; that educational records and credits earned during placement in the juvenile justice system are transferred back to the youth’s community-based school; and that some of the  funds are allocated toward youth re-entry and re-enrollment into high quality educational settings.  These supports do not apply to youth returning from adult facilities.

The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) is also up for reauthorization.  It has four core protections for incarcerated children including the removal of youth from adult jails, so they can receive developmentally appropriate services (including education).  Both the Senate Bill (S1169) and House Bill (HB2728) increase opportunities for incarcerated youth to transfer educational credits received while incarcerated back to their home high school.

Finally, the PELL grant program, which helps low income students pay for college does extend to youth incarcerated in juvenile facilities and adult jails. However, those in adult prisons have been barred from using PELL grants to pay for college credits since 1994.  Just this past July, the Obama Administration launched a pilot program, Second Chance Pell Pilot, in which incarcerated individuals who are eligible for release in the next five years can apply for PELL grants.

Education remains the great equalizer in our country in terms of long-term positive outcomes for children and families. Access to education should be a requirement for children who have come in contact with the law, to help them prepare for a successful future.  All children deserve the right to a quality education, even those we consider adults before their age determines them to be.

Liberty and Justice for All--Except You

Marcy Mistrett Monday, 06 July 2015 Posted in Across the Country

July fourth is the 239th birthday of the United States of America.  While the country gathers to commemorate the vision of the founding fathers’ as they signed the Declaration of Independence, I can’t help but to think about populations who were excluded from the founding documents.  The Bill of Rights, for example, extended to only those who were governed—at the time that meant only white men.  The enslaved, women, First Nation persons, and children were among those individuals exempt from the promises of freedom and liberty protected by the Bill of Rights.
 
More than two centuries later we have made progress in terms of extending these protections to more of our citizens.  Youth, however, are not one of those groups.   One hundred years after the establishment of a separate juvenile court, we are still depriving children of their liberty, incarcerating more than 60,000 youth per year, the vast majority for non violent crimes including truancy and running away from home.  More egregiously, we continue to lock up nearly 100,000 children charged as adults in adult jails and prisons each year, many for property and drug offenses.  We persist in implementing and supporting these harmful policies despite the lowest juvenile crime rates in 30 years.  The youth crime rate has fallen approximately 43% since the 1990’s, and the most serious crimes have fallen even more rapidly—the number of murders involving a juvenile fell by 67% over a similar time period.  
 
Youth prosecuted as adults forfeit their rights to a childhood and are expected to take on the responsibilities of adults. Below find rights of childhood that youth tried in the criminal justice system forfeit:
 
1.Right to be seen as a child who is capable of making mistakes; even egregious ones. 
 
Despite brain research and Supreme Court findings that adolescent brains are different from adults, youth tried as adults are no longer afforded the rehabilitative presumption of juvenile court; instead they are punished as adults with a focus on retribution. 
 
Furthermore, an abundance of research shows that most serious youth offenders will age out of criminal behavior, and that harsh punishment experienced in the adult system actually leads to an increase in re-offending, making communities less safe. 
 
2 .Right to equal treatment.
 
Children are not all treated the same in the adult criminal justice system.  African American, Latino, and Tribal youth are between 2-9 times more likely to be prosecuted in adult court than their White counterparts.  These disparities grow even larger by sentencing, with African American young men receiving the harshest sentences for their actions.
 
3. Right to safety.
 
Children in the adult criminal justice system forfeit their rights to safety.  Housed in adult facilities, they are much more likely to be sexually, physically, or emotionally victimized by other inmates and correctional officers.
 
4. Right to be part of a family.
 
Youth in adult facilities often lack access to their families.  Frequently held far away from home, in facilities that often prohibit in-person visits or charge exorbitant rates for phone calls, youth often lose touch with their families when they are in adult facilities. 
 
Unlike in youth facilities, where best practices encourage family engagement in the rehabilitation of a young person, youth in adult facilities are presumed to be independent of their families.
 
5. Right to learn.
 
Many adult facilities don’t offer education opportunities. Those that do are limited in their scope, and aren’t aligned with state education standards, so many youth don’t earn credit for the schoolwork they completed while detained.  Only 1 in 10 children who have been incarcerated continue their education after release. 
 
6. Right to repair their wrongs.
 
 Youth prosecuted as adults aren’t able to make amends to their victims and communities. The voices of victims matter. Too often the government assumes victims want retribution and punishment, and exclude them from the lengthy court process. Research shows that some victims favor restorative justice practices which allows for the victims to be heard and have a voice in determining outcomes. Restorative justice practices increase the chances of a young person being rehabilitated and staying away from future criminal behavior.
 
 
7.Right to respect and dignity as a human being.
 
Violent security tactics, pepper spray, shackles, and other abhorrent practices become all to normal for youth in adult jails and prisons. Not only do youth lose their right to safety through these conditions, they lose their right to compassion and humanity.
 
Far too many youth enter the adult criminal justice system only to come out as uneducated, unskilled adults--far from being able to declare any independence from the system or their families. As we reflect upon our nation's independence, let's not overstate how far this country has come  in regards to the rights of our young people.

Raising Awareness for LGBTQ Youth in the Juvenile Justice System

Monday, 01 June 2015 Posted in Across the Country

 LGBTQ 28129

Resources and legislation that help and protect LGBTQ youth, a marginalized and vulnerable group within the juvenile justice system, are lacking. June is dedicated to raising awareness of the unique challenges that LGBTQ youth face in the system and the path forward to creating reform.

Research conducted by The Equity Project has shown that LGBTQ youths are more likely to confront certain barriers and environmental risk factors connected to their sexual orientations and gender identities. For example, compared with their heterosexual classmates and peers, LGBTQ youths are more likely to experience bullying at school   more likely to experience rejection or victimization perpetrated by their parents/caregivers (often resulting in youths’ running away from home)   more likely to face homelessness   twice as likely to be arrested and detained for status offenses and other nonviolent offenses, and at higher risk for illicit drug use. Available research has estimated that LGBT youths represent 5 percent to 7 percent of the nation’s overall youth population, but they compose 13 percent to 15 percent of those currently in the juvenile justice system.  Schools, law enforcement officers, district attorneys, judges, and juvenile defenders are ill equipped to deal with the challenges that these young people face. As a result, the system often exacerbates previous damage by unfairly criminalizing LGBTQ youth—imposing harsh school sanctions, labeling them as sex offenders, or detaining them for minor offenses, in addition to subjecting them to discriminatory and harmful treatment that deprives them of their basic civil rights.

The Equity Project, guided by experts on juvenile court processing and LGBTQ youth in the justice system, released Hidden Injustice; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth in Juvenile Courts (Fall 2009) to help inform justice professionals about the experiences of LGBT youth in the juvenile justice system. Many of the issues that affect all youth in the justice system — incarceration for misdemeanors, increased time in detention, and disparate impact on minority youth just to name a few—are augmented for LGBTQ youth. The report also identifies key issues specific to LGBTQ youth and makes recommendations for juvenile justice professionals to implement moving forward.

Please join CFYJ this June in learning more about this issue and raising awareness for reform. Follow the Equity Project on Twitter and Facebook.

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