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Vera Institute of Justice and National PREA Resource Center to Host Webinar on Implementing the Youthful Inmate Standard of PREA

Monday, 13 May 2013 Posted in Across the Country

On Thursday, May 16th, the Vera Institute of Justice in conjunction with the National PREA Resource Center will host the first of two scheduled webinars on implementing the Youthful Inmate Standard of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). The webinar will be held at 3:00 p.m.
 
The Youthful Inmate Standard requires all prisons, jails, lock ups, and detention facilities to provide sight and sound separation between youth and adults while restricting the use of solitary confinement and isolation practices. This much anticipated webinar will be the first opportunity to learn how states plan to implement this standard and protect one of the most vulnerable populations in adult facilities. This is a critical time to address this issue because we know that:
 
  •   youth in jail are 19 times more likely to commit suicide than youth in the general population;   
  • youth are 36 times more likely to commit suicide in an adult jail than in a juvenile detention facility; and
  •   to “protect” the youth in adult facilities, some jails and prisons keep youth in solitary isolation for upwards of 23 hours a day.
 
We hope you can participate on Thursday to learn what your state is doing to protect children in adult facilities. Register here for the webinar.

In Remembrance of Kirk Gunderson: Remembering My Son this Mother’s Day

Sunday, 12 May 2013 Posted in Voices

 

 
 
By Vicky Gunderson, Onalaska WI
 
Mother, Vicky Gunderson shares her story of how it feels to spend Mother’s Day without her son and discusses the importance of family engagement and parental involvement for youth in the criminal system.
 
This should be one of the most joyful times of the year for me, however it is a difficult time on and around Mother’s Day.  My name is Vicky Gunderson, and I am a mother who has spent the last seven Mother’s Days without one of my children, my son, Kirk. 
 
Kirk's arrival on the 9th of June, 1988 at 5:03 p.m. was one of the greatest miracles. From the day I found out I was pregnant until the moment we saw his beautiful face, the sense of joy is hard to describe in words. There are no words that can begin to explain the unconditional love you feel at that moment when your baby is laid into your arms. He enriched our family’s life in a way that only you who have raised a child can understand. I would never have imagined that with all the love in my heart and what we felt were the best parenting skills my husband and I knew, that we would find ourselves visiting our son in the county jail, where he was incarcerated nine days after his 17th birthday. And even then, we could not have imagined that just a few months later, we would be notified through family members that our son had taken his life by hanging. Only hours before hearing that he was doing well through the Christmas holiday, and that he was excited that a "deal" was going to take place versus a trial, we were told he was dead.

My lack of words to describe unconditional love; also pertains to the lack of words to describe the unbearable pain. The suicide note that he left was written in wet toilet paper rolled into letters and numbers, "I'm sorry, 143 Fam", meaning I am sorry, I love you family.
 
What I remember is a boy who loved to laugh. A boy whom we had watched play with a passion; hockey, baseball, and football. Even after a series of concussions, and short-term memory loss, a family decision was to end contact sports, leaving his love of hockey. He continued to assist in coaching younger players on the baseball field, and being a referee for the hockey association. What I am unable to share is the timeframe whereby Kirk was introduced to prescription drugs and alcohol as a way of managing his depression; a pain that we will never understand completely. A pain as a Mom I could not take away with a hug, or talking with him. I will remember forever the evening he injured his Dad and his younger brother while under the influence of drugs. Then evening he snapped, leaving me in the intensive care unit, and Kirk in the county jail, at the age of 17.
 
While my husband and other son have recovered physically, none of us will ever recover emotionally from the aftermath of that incident. Despite his age, size and psychological state, Kirk was automatically incarcerated as an adult with adult inmates. While there, we did everything we could for him, but the jail made it almost impossible for us to support him in the way that a 17-year-old in such a dangerous situation needs his family. My son did everything he could to assuage me of the torture he knew I would put myself through after his death. Kirk had started writing a journal while incarcerated. He wrote about times in his life when we talked about accountability, that he would never take his life because of the many people it would affect. As a Mom, you begin the questions, "If I had... If I would have known... If I could have been there”… and so many many “IF” questions that will never have an answer. 
 
However, as a Mom there is a deeper sense within ourselves , with regard to our children, and I do know what the system could have done differently, and should be doing differently after the death of my son. My son never should have been incarcerated with adults, and he never should have been left alone in isolation, especially when he requested to not be left alone. There should be a means to bring a family together to work on rehabilitation and accountability, without the delays, and without the lengthy periods of time that Kirk was incarcerated. Kirk never asked for much while incarcerated, his primary ask was he wanted a hug from his family. That was not too much to ask. 
 
As his Mom, I pray that I will not live one day without Kirk’s joyous smile and sparkling blue eyes in my heart, hoping that the vision I hold so dear does not disappear with time. I also hope that we can change our system so that no mother has to suffer the pain that I feel on a daily basis.
 
Every mom deserves the chance to see their child grow up and blossom into an adult.  This is why, on this Mother’s Day, I am asking stakeholders and systems to understand the importance of family engagement and parent involvement in adolescent development and rehabilitation.  I know my son would be alive today if these practices had been in place when my son was arrested, and I would be celebrating this Mother’s Day with that hug that he and I valued so much.

Support Family Engagement This Mother's Day

Friday, 10 May 2013 Posted in Research & Policy


Family Comes First
On Sunday we will gather to honor and thank the mothers and other important women who have nurtured us in our lives through their love, support, and patience. We all have such women in our lives - women who work daily to provide and to protect the children and family they love. 
 
Unfortunately, most justice systems in operation today keep mothers and family members at arm's length. Family must come first,especially whenit 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. However, in order for families to truly become a part of their children's rehabilitation, we need to make sure families receive copies. For this reason, we are asking our supporters to support the Mother's Day Campaign.

Please consider making a donation on behalf of a loved one this Mother's Day to support families in the justice system. 100% of all donations will go toward directly supporting family members in their advocacy for family engagement.Here is what your donation will do: 
  • $25 - Family Comes First Supporter -As a Family Comes First Supporter, your support will send a Family Comes First manual to a family member of youth who have been or are currently incarcerated.  
  • $50 - Family Comes First Partner - As a Family Comes First Partner, you will receive a Limited Edition Family Comes First Pin. Your support will send twoFamily Comes Firstmanuals to family members of youth who have been or are currently incarcerated. 
  • $100 - Family Comes First Companion- As a Family Comes First Companion, you will receive a Limited Edition Family Comes First Pin. Your support will purchase five Family Comes Firstmanuals for family members of youth who have been or are currently incarcerated. 
  • $200 - Family Comes First Champion- As a Family Comes First Champion, you will receive a Limited Edition Family Comes First Pin and a free copy ofFamily Comes First.Your support will send 10 Family Comes Firstmanuals to family members of youth who have been or are currently incarcerated.  
 
 
Thank you so much again for your generous support. We look forward to a future where children will be treated like children and where no child will ever be in the adult criminal justice system. 
 
 

"FAMILY Comes First" - Transforming the Justice System by Partnering with Families Released

Monday, 06 May 2013 Posted in Research & Policy, Voices

Family Comes First

Today, May 6th, the Campaign for Youth Justice releases its most recent report, FAMILY Comes First: A Workbook to Transform the Justice System by Partnering with Families, which will be the first comprehensive analysis of current family engagement and family partnership practices in juvenile justice systems across the country and provides practical tools and resources for juvenile justice system practitioners invested in undertaking a family-driven approach to juvenile justice. We know that the ability of family members to meaningfully participate in their children’s lives makes a dramatic difference on youth outcomes. FAMILY Comes First provides a framework—The FAMILY Model—to guide efforts to create and sustain meaningful family-system partnerships.

Through literature review, family focus groups and system practitioner surveys, we learned that system stakeholders are working together with families to break down stereotypes and stigma, engage families in individual treatment decisions and larger policy reforms, and prepare youth for productive futures. In the past few years, the juvenile justice field has made major strides in elevating the importance of family involvement to overall system reform efforts. We have come a long way even though we have far to go. FAMILY Comes First fills that gap by providing a clear and intentional guide to transforming the justice system by taking a family-driven approach.

Recommendations in the report include:

Federal policymakers:

  • A National Technical Assistance Center on Family Engagement should be created to provide support to state and local justice and child-serving agencies interested in starting or expanding family engagement programs;
  • A National Family Resource Center should be established to serve families in the justice system; and;
  • The federal government should also fund state and regional Parental Information Resource Centers for families involved in the justice system, and these centers should be co-located and coordinated with existing parent centers already funded by other child-serving agencies.

State and local policymakers:

  • Each agency and program having contact with children and families involved in the justice system should hire or appoint a staff person, preferably a family member or former system-involved youth, to coordinate family engagement efforts and activities;
  • Every justice system agency and program with responsibility for children and youth should conduct a comprehensive assessment to develop specific strategies to implement a family-driven approach to juvenile justice; and
  • Existing federal and state funding sources should be identified to support family engagement programs and related services to families in the justice system.


This workbook is designed to:

  • Educate the reader about the need to support families involved in the justice system;
  • Provide ideas to Train families and practitioners to challenge existing stereotypes about families and spark conversations about improving the justice system;
  • Identify ways to expand upon the positive changes already underway in the community; and
  • Develop a policy agenda to pursue at the local, state, and federal levels to build family-system partnerships.
 
This workbook was funded in large part by a generous grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
 

For more information and a copy of the Executive Summary of the Family Comes First workbook, please visit here. To purchase a copy of Family Comes First, click here.

 

CFYJ Mother's Day Card Signing Event with Justice for Juniors

Thursday, 02 May 2013 Posted in Across the Country

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Yesterday, the Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ), along with Justice for Juniors, held an event at the George Washington University for our Mother’s Day Card initiative. Justice for Juniors is a branch of George Washington University’s Protestant Campus Ministry association whose main focus is juvenile recidivism within Washington D.C.
 
 Every Mother’s Day, CFYJ sends Mother’s Day cards to women that have impacted the lives of the prisoners we correspond with. Mother’s Day is one of many holidays that the prisoners we correspond with are away from their loved ones which can be very difficult.  CFYJ attempts to aid this pain during this emotional time by being the voice for those currently incarcerated through Mother’s Day cards.
 
The event was a success, with about 20 students and volunteers in attendance. The first portion of the evening consisted of CFYJ spokespeople, Michael Kemp and Keela Hailes, as well as  a screening of CFYJ’s, Childhood Interrupted. Michael spoke on being able to participate in the Mother’s Day initiative while he was incarcerated and Keela spoke on the feelings as a mother of a child who was incarcerated. During the second portion of the evening, the volunteers helped sign Mother’s Day cards on behalf of those currently incarcerated. Each card also included a personalized message that came directly from their loved one. In total, nearly 120 Mother’s Day cards were sent to the strong women who have supported and loved those incarcerated, through the good times and the bad.
 
For pictures from last night’s event, please visit , here. 

North Carolina Kids Still in Danger: HB 217 Moves to Appropriations

Angella Bellota Thursday, 25 April 2013 Posted in Across the Country, Take Action Now

On April 17, committee members of Judiciary Subcommittee B convened and passed an amended version of HB 217 which is now scheduled to go to the Appropriations Committee. The language for the updated bill can be found, here.

 
HB 217 now includes two sections on juvenile transfer. Although there have been changes to the language about juvenile transfer, it is not enough.  North Carolina youth are still in danger of being sent to the adult criminal justice system. Specifically, the updated bill now states:
  
  •  B1 and B2 felonies committed by 15 year olds would be subject to prosecutorial discretion; and
  • All other felonies (C – E classifications) committed by 15 year olds will be sent to a study committee of Judiciary B Subcommittee to determine how often a prosecutor’s request for transfer is denied by the judiciary. 
 
“We are trying to solve a problem that does not exist…”
 
During the discussions before a vote on HB 217, many of the committee members questioned the need for the juvenile transfer section of the bill since judges currently have the discretion to decide whether or not a case can be transferred. Sponsors of the bill believed that prosecutors’ requests for transfers were being denied by judges at a high rate, but did not provide any evidence for this belief. 
 
In a state that is currently trying to evaluate how to most effectively use its limited resources, the North Carolina juvenile transfer section of HB 217 clearly reads as a misinformed and counterproductive policy recommendation.  
 
This is why a variety of expert practitioners - judges, university professors, attorneys, and legislators – have taken a stand to oppose the juvenile transfer section of HB 217. Although adjustments have been made to the language of the bill, the changes are not enough. Advocates from across the state are standing their ground and refuse to see the removal of judicial discretion and refuse to let ineffective policies like HB 217 throw more kids into the adult criminal justice system. One message still rings clear:


We must remove the juvenile transfer sections of HB 217!
 
The Campaign for Youth Justice and other organizations have vowed to continue providing support to North Carolina advocates and youth leaders who are doing all they can to protect NC kids. Here is how you can join them in their efforts:
 
#1 GET THE FACTS: North Carolina advocates have developed a new fact sheet that can inform all youth justice allies about HB 217 and the consequences it would have on youth and families if it were to pass. You can find the fact sheet, here.
 
#2 CONNECT: A new committee means connecting with NC legislators that now have the power to stop this bill. Use the script below to send a message to the Appropriations leadership. 
 
I urge you to oppose the juvenile transfer sections of HB 217. Deciding which court a youth should be processed through is a life-altering decision. Removing judicial oversight would lead to the unchecked prosecution of children in adult court. Prosecutors should NOT be given complete discretion over our children’s future. Oppose the juvenile transfer sections of HB 217 in order to maintain the appropriate checks and balances in NC’s court system. 
 
HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE
Legislator
Phone
Email
County/District
Rep. Nelson Dollar (Senior Chairman)
                919-715-0795
 
 
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 
Wake
Rep. Justin Burr (Chairman)
                919-733-5908
 
                This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 
Montgomery, Stanly
Rep. Bryan Holloway (Chairman)
 
919-733-5609
 
 
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 
Rockingham, Stokes
Rep.  Linda Johnson (Chairman)
                919-733-5861
 
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 
Cabarrus
 
#3 ACTIVATE: There are no easy wins when it comes to fighting for youth justice, so it is critical that you activate your networks on this detrimental bill. Please share this update and stay tuned for more action steps. To get connected with the youth leaders and organizations spearheading this effort in North Carolina, contact Angella Bellota, CFYJ Field Organizer: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 
 

Snapshot of State Reforms to Remove Youth from Adult Criminal Court

Wednesday, 24 April 2013 Posted in Federal Update

By Liz Ryan

At a recent event in New York, “In Search of Meaningful Systemic Justice for Adolescents in New York” hosted by the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, I gave an update on the trends in juvenile justice reforms as they relate to youth in adult criminal court and youth in adult jails and prisons.

During the past eight years, approximately twenty states have enacted more than thirty pieces of legislation to reduce the prosecution of youth in adult criminal court and end the placement of youth in adult jails and prisons.  These reforms have been undertaken in all regions of the country and have been led by republican and democratic policymakers.  CFYJ issued a report in 2011, “State Trends: Legislative Victories from 2005 to 2012 Removing Youth from the Adult Criminal Justice System” authored by Neelum Arya documenting many of these reforms and the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) released "Juvenile Justice Trends in State Legislation, 2001 - 2011",  in August, 2012 highlighting reforms over the previous decade.

Overall, the states have moved away from prosecuting youth in the adult criminal court and placement in adult jails and prisons, and towards providing access for children to improved rehabilitation and treatment services in the juvenile justice system.  In the past eight years, we’ve seen four major trends.

Several states have raised the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to age 18.  Connecticut was recently featured in a report, “Juvenile Justice Reform in Connecticut: How Collaboration and Commitment Have Improved Public Safety and Outcomes for Youth”, highlighting how it achieved this success.  Illinois removed 17 year olds charged with misdemeanors.  The Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission recently reported on the success of this effort and recommended that Illinois update its law in 2013 to remove 17 year olds charged with felony offenses, which can be viewed here. Mississippi also removed most 17 year olds from automatic prosecution in adult court, and Massachusetts and North Carolina’s lawmakers are considering ‘raise the age’ proposals in their 2013 legislative sessions.

More than a dozen states have changed their transfer/waiver laws to keep more youth in juvenile court.  These efforts have focused on providing judges more discretion to consider whether a youth’s case should be considered in adult criminal court and have dealt with felony cases as well as younger offenders.  States enacting these reforms include, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Nevada, Ohio, Utah, Virginia and Washington.  In 2013 legislative sessions, efforts are underway in Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada and Oregon, and Maryland has enacted a task force to examine this issue.

And, ten states have changed their laws to remove youth from pretrial placement in adult jails and/or placement in adult prisons under the age of eighteen.  These states include, Colorado, Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia.  Indiana just passed legislation in its 2013 session to remove youth from adult prisons.

Finally, a handful of states have changed their sentencing laws as they apply to youth.  These include Colorado, Georgia, Texas and Washington.  Oregon is considering legislation in its 2013 session.

As we’ve had the opportunity to work with so many allies in these states, there are many lessons learned from these successful efforts.  Here are just a few:

First, in these state reform efforts, state research and analysis has played a significant role in informing policymakers.  In a number of these states, state experts researched and wrote reports that looked at the state law and available data, and interviewed directly affected youth and their families.  These reports provided insights on the issue, identified problems and created a platform for reform.  We’ve highlighted many of these reports on our website here.

Second, the recidivism research showing that youth are more likely to re-offend when prosecuted in adult criminal court has proved invaluable.  Policymakers are most interested in the impact of public safety when they consider policy reforms on juvenile justice.

Third, the public strongly supports these kinds of reforms, seeing the issue as one of fairness and humane treatment of children.  Public opinion polling conducted by GBA strategies in 2011 shows that the public strongly supports rehabilitation and treatment over incarceration and automatic prosecution in adult criminal court, favors judicial decision-making and supports reducing racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system.  In this and other polling, the public absolutely rejects placing youth in adult jails and prisons, the polling can be found here.

Fourth, a number of these states created study commissions with all the key stakeholders, dedicated resources and staff, and a research and analysis capacity to examine the issue.  These study commissions obtain buy-in from key stakeholders, are a vehicle to create and advance policy recommendations as well as work out differences and monitor implementation of reforms.

Finally, involving directly affected youth and their families in these efforts is essential. Youth and families' voices and perspectives are the most crucial in informing policymakers and educating them on the negative impacts of prosecuting youth in adult criminal court.

As New York and other states consider policies to reduce the prosecution of youth in adult court, developments in these states and the lessons learned offer much to consider.  Thanks to the dedication and hard work of so many organizations and individuals around the country, we anticipate additional reforms in 2013 and beyond.

Jonathan’s Law Receives Overwhelming Support in Missouri

Wednesday, 17 April 2013 Posted in Federal Update

By Tracy McClard

The Missouri state legislature which began its 2013 session on January 9 and concludes May 17, is giving SB36/HB541- Jonathan’s Law overwhelming support.  Jonathan’s Law was named for Jonathan McClard who lost his life in an adult facility in Missouri right after his 17th birthday.  

Jonathan’s Law gives more youth who are certified as adults, access to Missouri’s Dual Jurisdiction Program operated by Missouri’s Department of Youth Services.   In this program, which was implemented in 1995, youth are kept out of adult facilities and placed in a youth oriented facility that provides education, mental health services, drug rehabilitation, victim empathy, and family involvement all in a space that was created to give youth the services they need to become productive members of society.  

The bill, which is sponsored by Senator Wayne Wallingford and Representative Hicks, has passed the senate judiciary committee, senate floor, and house judiciary committee unanimously.  

For additional information on Jonathan’s Law, click here for our fact sheet.

Marginalized Girls: Creating Pathways to Opportunity

Tuesday, 16 April 2013 Posted in Take Action Now

 

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Last Thursday, I joined a panel of youth justice advocates at Georgetown University’s Journal on Poverty & Law for a symposium, “Marginalized Girls: Creating Pathways to Opportunity,  to discuss the effectiveness of gender-responsive reforms in juvenile justice.  Moderated by Dana Shoenberg of the Center for Children’s Law and Policy, the panel featured Dr. Lawanda Raviora and Vanessa Patino Lydia of the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center and Liz Watson of the National Women’s Law Center who shared the main findings and recommendations in the articles they authored for the journal.   Malika Saada Saar of Human Rights Project for Girls and I shared our reactions to the articles and offered recommendations for next steps.
 
Here are my recommendations for ways you can take action:
 
(1)    Advocate for more federal resources to address the needs of girls in the justice system.
 
The Obama Administration just proposed a budget including $2 million for grants in this area that could provide powerful incentives to implement some of the best practices featured in the articles.
 
To contact your House member, visit here.
 
To contact your Senators, visit here.
 
(2)    Engage others in your community and ask the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Girls Institute (NGI) to provide technical assistance to your jurisdiction.
 
For information on the NGI, visit their website here
 
(3)    Contact your members of Congress to urge that they update the Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) to eliminate the loopholes in the law that allow status offenders to be detained in juvenile detention facilities as girls are disproportionately detained for status offenses.
 
To contact your Senators, visit here.
 
(4)    Urge your governor to implement the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) to ensure that girls are not placed in adult jails and prisons.
 
To contact your Governor, visit here.
 
(5)    Mark your calendars: October 23, 2013!
 
October is National Youth Justice Awareness Month and October 23, 2013 will be Girls Justice Day. Use this opportunity to build awareness in your community about girls in the justice system and to create support for change.
 
Organized by Rohini Singh, Editor of the Journal, the symposium was a great success and hopefully there will not only be more attention but more action to address the needs of girls who are at risk of or in the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems.

CFYJ National Spokesperson Deon Jones selected as a 2013 Truman Scholar

Friday, 12 April 2013 Posted in Across the Country

 

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By Roger Ghatt

The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation announced today the names of 62 exceptional college juniors from 54 U.S. colleges and universities who have been selected as 2013 Truman Scholars. The Campaign for Youth Justice is happy to announce that Deon Jones a National Youth Spokesperson for CFYJ has received a 2013 Truman Scholarship. Deon is a junior at American University majoring in political science. He is also founder of the Manifest Leadership Institute, a leadership program that caters to incarcerated youth. Deon was chosen for this prestigious award on the basis of his stellar academic and leadership accomplishments and the likelihood of his becoming an influential public service leader. As a Truman Scholar, Deon will receive priority admission and supplemental financial aid at some premier graduate institutions, leadership training, career and graduate school counseling, and special internship opportunities within the federal government.
 
Deon is a dedicated public servant who has chosen as his career goal juvenile justice advocacy. The Campaign already considers him one of our leaders and someone to watch for the future. He will receive the award in a special ceremony at the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri, on June 2, 2013.
 
The Campaign for Youth Justice congratulates Deon on this esteemed accomplishment.
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