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Research & Policy

From Courts to Communities: The Right Response to Truancy, Running Away, and Other Status Offenses

Monday, 23 December 2013 Posted in 2013, Research & Policy


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“Status offenses” can sound like a scary concept, but in reality, status offenses are simply behaviors that are prohibited because of an individual’s legal standing as a minor. They can be things like running away or skipping school, or under-age drinking. While these youth need help, the problem is that the court system is often not the most appropriate place for these cases to be handled.


Like most aspects of juvenile justice, it can be difficult to even know where to begin to stem the tide of these types of cases. Fortunately, a new paper from the released by the Status Offense Reform Center at the Vera Institute of Justice called “From Courts to Communities:  The Right Response to Truancy, Running Away, and Other Status Offenses” aims to increase understanding about what status offenses are and what possible solutions look like in the real world.


The good news is that there are alternatives that work – states like Florida, New York, Louisiana, and Washington have taken incredible steps forward. And they aren’t alone. Across the country, communities are implementing alternatives that involve diverting youth from courts, immediate responses to families in crisis, and other hallmarks of effective systems. 


Want to learn more? Check out “From Courts to Communities” today to learn more about status offenses and the strategies that are working around the country today to achieve better outcomes for youth!

Research and Support for Retaining Ohio Youth in the Juvenile Justice System Grows: New Report and Resolution Call on Ohio to Continue Efforts to Keep Youth Out of Adult Court

Thursday, 19 December 2013 Posted in 2013, Research & Policy

Columbus, OH – On December 17th, the Children’s Law Center, Inc. released an updated report on Ohio youth in the adult criminal justice system; this report updates the original Falling Through the Cracks report issued in May 2012.  The report covers developments on youth in adult court both nationally, including the U.S. Supreme Court holding in Miller v. Alabama that youth cannot be sentenced to mandatory life without parole, and in Ohio, where the legislature passed SB 337 to keep youth out of adult jails.

Reducing Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the Juvenile Justice System: Federal Support Still Needed

Wednesday, 16 October 2013 Posted in 2013, Research & Policy

As part of National Youth Justice Awareness Month, we are highlighting the federal Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Act’s(JJDPA) core requirement, “Disproportionate Minority Contact” for its’ role in supporting state and local efforts to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system. 
The JJDPA, established in 1974 to provide federal standards for the custody and care of youth in the juvenile justice system, was updated twenty years ago with the “Disproportionate Minority Confinement” (DMC) provision requiring states to address the disproportionate confinement of youth of color at key points in the juvenile justice system.
In the most recent JJDPA reauthorization ten years ago, the term confinement was changed to contact emphasizing the racial and ethnic disparities faced by youth of color at all points in the juvenile justice system. “DMC is a critical issue in the juvenile justice system because it is an issue of basic fairness,” says national expert Mark Soler, Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Children’s Law and Policy.
The DMC provision was added to the law because of the huge disparities in the treatment of youth of color in the juvenile justice system. For example, African-American youth make up only 17% of the nation’s total youth population,  but African-American youth constitute 30% of the youth arrested nationwide and 62% of all youth in the adult criminal justice system.  Latino and Native American youth experience similar unfairness within the juvenile justice system. Latino children, the fastest-growing segment of the American population, represent 23% of all children under the 18.  At the same time, Latino youth are 40% more likely than white youth to be admitted to adult prison. Finally, Native American youth receive harsher sentences, with a 50% higher likelihood than white youth to receive out-of-home placement or to be placed in the adult system.
“Having an over-representation of young people of color in confinement means that those young people’s life outcomes are seriously diminished,” says one of the nation’s leaders on efforts to reduce racial and ethnic disparities, James Bell, Founder and Executive Director of the Haywood Burns Institute. “And that is why we as a society should care mightily about this.”
These facts are often undermined by a false impression that youth of color commit more crime than white youth.  That is simply not true.  Results from self-report surveys indicate that white youth are in fact significantly more likely than youth of color to use drugs and alcohol, sell drugs, and engage in minor theft.  Although white youth admit high drug use, African-American youth are twice as likely to be arrested and detained and as a group account for 87% of all youth tried in adult court for drug offenses.
The JJDPA’s DMC provision has ensured funding to every state to reduce these stark racial and ethnic disparities.  There are promising efforts in a number of states.  Take a look at the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) efforts and the Models for Change (MfC) initiative.
However, the recent U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Civil Rights Division three-year investigation into the operations of the Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County Tennessee underscores the need to redouble efforts nationally to do much much more, not less, to reduce racial and ethnic disparities. 
The federal investigation found extensive racial disparities in the treatment of African-American children: African-American youth are twice as likely as white youth to be recommended for transfer to adult court.  Of the 390 transfers to adult court in 2010 in Tennessee, approximately one half were from Shelby County, and all but two of the total children transferred were African-American.
As we all take National Youth Justice Awareness Month to highlight key youth justice issues, such as reducing racial and ethnic disparities, we encourage you to take a few minutes to check out the JJDPA Matters Action Center and let your national leaders know  you support the JJDPA and related juvenile justice funding.  Let them know that federal policies and programs can be part of the solution for youth in your community. Let them know that the JJDPA matters to you.
Join us this week in continuing the conversation on youth justice issues, follow us on Facebook and Twitter using: #JJDPAmatters #YJAM #JUSTinvest #youthjustice

JJDPA Matters

Monday, 09 September 2013 Posted in 2013, Research & Policy



By Jill Ward


“It is therefore the further declared policy of Congress to provide the necessary resources, leadership, and coordination (1) to develop and implement effective methods of preventing and reducing juvenile delinquency; (2) to develop and conduct effective programs to prevent delinquency, to divert juveniles from the traditional juvenile justice system and to provide critically needed alternatives to institutionalization; (3) to improve the quality of juvenile justice in the United States; and (4) to increase the capacity of State and local governments and public and private agencies to conduct effective juvenile justice and delinquency prevention and rehabilitation programs and to provide research, evaluation, and training services in the field of juvenile delinquency prevention.” - PUBLIC LAW 93-415-SEPT. 7, 1974

This, in part, is the originally stated purpose of the landmark federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) signed into law by President Gerald Ford on September 7, 1974.  Thirty-nine years later, that purpose still rings true.

Back then, leaders in the juvenile and criminal justice field recognized the need for national leadership to address the all too common practice of jailing children with adults, the overuse of incarceration to respond to non-violent and status offenses, and the lack of alternatives to appropriately meet the needs of young people in ways that helped them and strengthened the community.  Congress stepped up and passed this bi-partisan law to provide policy direction and support for states. 

Most recently reauthorized in 2002, the JJDPA embodies a partnership between the federal government and the U.S. states, territories and the District of Columbia to protect children and youth in the juvenile and criminal justice system, to effectively address high-risk and delinquent behavior and to improve community safety.  It is the only federal law that sets out national standards for the custody and care of youth in the juvenile justice system, provides direction and support for state juvenile justice system improvements, and supports programs and practices that have significantly contributed to the reduction of juvenile crime and delinquency.

At the heart of the Act are four core protections that states must adhere to in order to receive federal support for their state system.  These protections help ensure the health and well-being of youth:

•    Deinstitutionalization of Status Offenders (DSO) keeps status offenders, such as runaways and truants, out of secure facilities;
•    Adult Jail and Lockup removal (Jail Removal) prevents youth from being placed in adults jails and lock-ups (with limited exceptions);
•    Sight and Sound Separation provides that when youth are held with adults (as occurs in limited instances) they be separated by both sight and sound from adult offenders;
•    Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) requires that states address the disproportionate contact of youth of color at key contact points in the juvenile justice system – from arrest to detention to confinement.

By most all accounts, the law has been a success.  The JJDPA has created a national floor that incentivizes states to embrace these core principles.  The federal dollars that flow through the law also help fund both evidence-based programs and promising new innovations and are critical in leveraging other state and local funding to improve state justice systems and reduce recidivism.  Without a strong federal law that is sufficiently resourced, we risk losing a major tool to help sustain current protections for youth and to advance additional reform. 

Unfortunately, federal funding has been repeatedly cut over the last decade.  Federal dollars available to support implementation of the JJDPA and other state and local reforms has steadily declined by 83 percent from 1999 to 2010.   And, the recent budget sequestration has further diminished federal investment in states to develop and implement state and local prevention and early intervention efforts that keep kids on the right track and contribute to the prevention and reduction of youth crime and violence.

Ensuring that the JJDPA does not continue to suffer drastic cuts or is not completely defunded is particularly critical to states’ compliance with the jail removal and separation core protections.  Although funding has diminished drastically since 2000, the limited funding states continue to receive through Title II of the JJDPA has helped the majority of states comply with the core protections.  Loss of JJDPA funds would be a huge step backward as many states would have little incentive or ability to comply with these protections, further undercutting policies to keep youth out of adult jails and prisons and other de-incarceration efforts.

Federally supported juvenile justice programs also enable communities to provide critical treatment and rehabilitative services, in safe conditions, that are tailored to the needs of youth and their families; protects public safety; and holds youth accountable.  Continued federal cuts will threaten these efforts to keep youth and families safe, and keep juvenile crime rates down.

The 39th birthday of this landmark law is the right time to highlight how far we’ve come and to make sure the purpose laid out nearly 40 years ago this month continues to be advanced and supported by Congress.  

In recognition of the passage of the JJDPA, advocates are making September 10 a National Day of Action to call on Congress to invest in the JJDPA and related juvenile justice programs.

Tell Congress we must continue to invest in the policies and programs that work for all our young people.   Tell them JJDPA matters.

This is part of the ACT4JJ Campaign's JJDPA Matters Blog Project, a 16-week series that launched Sept. 10, 2013. You can find the full series at the JJDPA Matters Action Center, click here.

Protecting Youth Behind Bars

Wednesday, 04 September 2013 Posted in 2013, Research & Policy

 T.J. Parsell, Author, Filmmaker and Human Rights Activist gives his powerful and personal account of his sexual victimization experience while in prison.

To highlight the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), landmark legislation signed into law ten years ago this week, the American Bar Association (ABA) convened a panel of experts at the ABA's offices in Washington, D.C to discuss the impact of the law and the challenges in ensuring full implementation.  The panel included the Honorable Bobby Scott (D-VA) who was an original cosponsor of the PREA legislation; Mary Lou Leary, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice; T.J. Parsell, Author, Filmmaker and Human Rights Activist; Professor Brenda Smith of the American University's Washington College of Law; and the Honorable Reggie Walton of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. 

Carmen Daugherty, the Vice Chair of the ABA's Individual Rights & Responsibilities Justice Committee and Policy Director for the Campaign for Youth Justice, kicked off the panel discussion by showing a five- minute trailer of a new film created by T.J. Parsell about his experience as a teenager in adult prison.  The film clip was a powerful image of the risks youth face when incarcerated in adult jails and prisons.  To view the film clip and to read more about T.J.’s story, visit here.
Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Mary Lou Leary mentioned the Youthful Inmate Standard as one of the key standards in PREA and that sufficient funding from the Administration was needed to ensure it could be properly enacted.  She also indicated that it was crucial that more people apply to serve as auditors to enforce PREA's implementation in the states.
Brenda Smith recounted the major accomplishments of PREA to date, highlighting the fact that it establishes that sexual violence behind bars happens, it is very serious, and it must be addressed. "The PREA law has created a national discourse on the issue," according to Smith. She also underscored some of the challenges ahead such ensuring an appropriate balance between incentives for compliance and accountability. Smith urged advocates to read the standards, educate themselves on the impact of the standards, and to get involved in the work.
Judge Walton, who chaired the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC), closed out the panel saying that "Prison rape is not something that has to be inevitable" and that "Leadership has to come from the top."
For additional information on PREA, visit:

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange published the following article this week on the Prison Rape Elimination Act

Tuesday, 13 August 2013 Posted in 2013, Research & Policy

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange published the following article this week on the Prison Rape Elimination Act:

By James Swift

In 2003, the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) — a federal legislative proposal that sought to curb incidents of sexual assault in both adult prisons and juvenile detention facilities — was signed into law by President George W. Bush.

The newly formed National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC) was then tasked with establishing PREA standards; ultimately, nine years would pass before the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) approved the final standards set forth by the NPREC.

Read more here.


Support Family Engagement This Father's Day

Friday, 14 June 2013 Posted in 2013, Research & Policy

On Sunday, we will gather to honor and thank the fathers and other important men who have nurtured us in our lives through their love, support, and patience. We all have such men in our lives - men who work daily to provide and to protect the children and family they love. 
Unfortunately, most justice systems in operation today keep fathers, mothers, and family members at arm's length. Family must come first, especially when it comes to children who come into contact with the law. 
This is why the Campaign for Youth Justice has written Family Comes First, the first comprehensive analysis of current family engagement and family partnership practices in juvenile justice systems around the country. This manual provides practical tools and resources for practitioners interested in undertaking a family-driven approach to juvenile justice. 
This manual fills the gap in research and policy by providing a clear and intentional guide to transforming the justice system by taking a family-driven approach.
Please consider making this report a gift to a father or family in need of this resource. 
For additional information on how to get your copy of Family Comes First, please visit here.
Happy Father's Day from the Campaign for Youth Justice!

Reforming Juvenile Justice: When Science Meets Common Sense

Wednesday, 12 June 2013 Posted in 2013, Research & Policy

By Leah Robertson

On Monday, June 10, The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) discussed the findings of their recently released report: Reforming Juvenile Justice: A Developmental Approach. The report found that well-designed, community-based programs are more likely than confinement to reduce recidivism and facilitate healthy social and moral development for most young offenders and that even in the most serious cases of personal violence, criminal court sentences should avoid confining adolescents in adult prisons.

Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) Administrator Bob Listenbee spoke briefly about the implications of this research as a critical tool for promoting a positive behavioral model for juvenile justice. He emphasized, “I am confident that there is very strong support for juvenile justice reform at the present time” and reinforced his commitment to increasing OJJDP’s role in disseminating information on states with strong reforms and providing technical assistance to states who want to do the same. 

Other speakers included researchers, juvenile justice practitioners, doctors and others with expertise in adolescent development and delinquency. The panelists presented the findings of the report, noting six conclusions in particular:
  1. There are important differences between adults and adolescents that are well-studied and scientifically quantifiable. Much adolescent involvement in illegal activity is an extension of the kind of risk-taking that is part of the developmental process, and most adolescents mature out of these activities.
  2. Knowledge about adolescent development can provide a framework for reforming the juvenile justice system to create a system that bolsters, rather than hinders, positive behavioral development.
  3. Current juvenile justice approaches do not utilize the approaches that promote positive behavioral development such as family and parent engagement, pro-social peer interactions, and opportunities for social development.
  4. Juvenile justice’s overreliance on incapacitation denies kids opportunities for normal socialization and disturbs development.
  5. Over the past 15 years, substantial progress toward positive reforms has been made, but the pace has been slow and there is a disturbing lack of empirical data collection in the field.
  6. OJJDP should take the lead to strengthen the requirements of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, in particular the valid court order (VCO) exception, disproportionate minority contact and keeping kids separated from adults.

The panelists and audience concurred that this research will be critical in advocating for reform. Practitioners emphasized that this is the research that juvenile justice experts could see, but they did not have the science to back up their observations. With this data however, there is finally a strong body of science to serve as a base for passing legislation that coordinate juvenile justice practices with the specific needs of young people.  They emphasized that reauthorizing the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act would be critical to this effort.

To do your part to ensure that the juvenile justice system is aligned with what science shows is beneficial to children, families and society, sign the petition to fund juvenile justice reform programs.

New Policy Statement from the National Partnership for Juvenile Services on Youth in Jails

Friday, 17 May 2013 Posted in 2013, Research & Policy

By Roger Ghatt

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The Board of Directors of the National Partnership for Juvenile Services (NPJS) recently approved a new policy statement supporting the removal of youth from adult jails stating that, “adult jails lack the physical structure, programming and trained personnel to effectively serve juveniles.”  Further, the NPJS statement says that NPJS “opposes any action that places juveniles at risk of being victimized by adult offenders.” 
Retired facility director and current NPJS Board member Anne M. Nelsen commented on the significance of the statement stating, "As a Board Member of the National Partnership for Juvenile Services, I am proud that my organization has taken a stand in favor of holding youth charged as adults in juvenile detention.  Juvenile detention centers are better equipped with programs and staff to address the unique development needs of adolescents." The full policy statement is available online at here.
This issue will be a workshop topic at the upcoming NPJS sponsored Annual National Symposium on Juvenile Services on October 20-24, 2013 in Louisville, KY. The National Symposium on Juvenile Services is a unique forum that brings together the leadership and direct care professionals from juvenile services and other human services professionals for training and the opportunity to network and share innovative program service approaches being implemented within the juvenile justice system.


US Department of Justice Releases Study on Sexual Victimization of Youth in Adult Jails, Prisons that is Inconsistent with Previous Findings

Friday, 17 May 2013 Posted in 2013, Research & Policy

This week, the U.S.Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) released a study onsexual victimization of youth (ages 16 and 17) in adult prisons and jails, and inmates with mental health disorders. The study showed that overall rates of sexual victimization for youth in adult prisons (4.5%) and jails (4.7%) were higher than those for adults (4.0% in prisons, 3.2% in jails). The study concluded that youth did not have significantly higher rates of sexual victimization than adult inmates which is inconsistent with previous studies conducted by researchers in the field in relation to both adult facilities and juvenile facilities.
In 2011-2012 BJS conducted interviews and surveys with 537 youth in prison and 1211 youth in local jails to determine the prevalence of sexual victimization. Here is what they found: 
Youth ages 16 and 17 who reported sexual victimization by other inmates revealed that—

·         Two-thirds were victimized more than once (65.5%)

·         An estimated 78.6% reported experiencing physical force or threat of force, and 39.8% were pressured by the perpetrator to engage in the sexual act or other sexual contact.

·         More than a quarter (27.7%) were injured in at least one of the incidents.

·         Fewer than 1 in 6 (15.4%) reported an incident to someone at the facility, a family member, or a friend.

Youth ages 16 to 17 who reported experiencing staff sexual misconduct revealed that—

·         Three-quarters (75.8%) were victimized more than once.

·         An estimated 43.7% said that staff used force or threat of force.

·         An estimated 10.8% were injured in at least one of the incidents.

·         Fewer than 1 in 10 (9.0%) reported the staff sexual misconduct to someone at the facility, a family member, or a friend.

While the BJS report is the latest report to study the issue of youth sexual victimization in the adult setting, there are legitimate concerns with the conclusions. “This study tells us that youth face sexual victimization in adult institutions, but due to underreporting by youth in challenging adult facility conditions, we need more research to know more about this problem.  Previous studies and the experiences of young people in the adult criminal justice system document that youth are at greatest risk of sexual victimization in adult jails and prisons,” says Liz Ryan, President and CEO of the Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ).  “The report underscores the urgency for U.S. Attorney General Holder and the nation’s governors to redouble their efforts to fully implement the Prison Rape Elimination Act’s (PREA) Youthful Inmate Standard by removing youth under 18 from adult jails and prisons.”
Find the complete report here: www.bjs.gov

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