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Reforming Juvenile Justice: When Science Meets Common Sense

Wednesday, 12 June 2013 Posted in 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.

Progress on the U.S. Attorney General's Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence

Tuesday, 11 June 2013 Posted in Federal Update

By Liz Ryan

Six months ago this week, the U.S. Attorney General's Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence released recommendations after an exhaustive year-long examination on best practices and approaches to reducing childrens' exposure to violence.  Through extensive public hearings, the Task Force heard from directly affected youth and their families about the violence children are exposed to in the justice system.  Among the extensive set of recommendations, the task force report included a chapter on reducing exposure of children to violence in the justice system with a recommendation to abandon policies that prosecute, incarcerate or sentence youth under 18 in adult criminal court. 

According to the Task Force's report, "We should stop treating juvenile offenders as if they were adults, prosecuting them in adult courts, incarcerating them as adults, and sentencing them to harsh punishments that ignore their capacity to grow."  This recommendation impacts an estimated 250,000 youth under the age of 18 who are prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system and the nearly 100,000 youth who are cycled through adult jails and prisons each year.
 
The Task Force's recommendation reflects the policies of all the major professional associations representing juvenile and adult criminal justice system stakeholders that highlight the harm youth are subjected to in the adult criminal justice system. And the recommendation is consistent with the research across the nation undertaken by the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlighting the ineffectiveness of juvenile transfer laws at providing a deterrent for juvenile delinquency and decreasing recidivism.


The Task Force's recommendation also builds on the latest state law reforms according to an August, 2012 report, "Trends in Juvenile Justice State Legislation 2001 - 2011" released by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), showing that numerous states have undertaken policy reforms in the last decade to remove youth from the adult criminal justice system and from adult jails and prisons.  

Since the report was released, several states have moved forward in 2013 by reducing the prosecution of youth in adult court and removing children from adult jails and prisons.  Illinois’ legislature passed legislation this spring to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to age 18, and Massachusetts’ House has approved similar legislation. Missouri’s legislature has approved “Jonathan’s Law” to give more youth an opportunity at rehabilitation in the juvenile justice system instead of the adult criminal justice system. The Maryland General Assembly has created a task force to examine the issue of automatic transfer, and the Nevada and Indiana legislatures have approved legislation to keep kids out of adult jails and prisons.

As the Attorney General continues to consider the Task Force's report, we look forward to working with the AG to ensure that the recommendation to remove youth from adult criminal court and other recommendations impacting youth in the justice system are fully implemented.

What Can Be Done For Girls in the Juvenile Justice System?

Thursday, 06 June 2013 Posted in Take Action Now

By Mackenzie Tudor

 

On May 17th, the Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ) and The National Crittenton Foundation participated in a workshop entitled, “What Can Be Done For Girls in the Juvenile Justice System?” at the Association for Junior Leagues International Annual Conference in Washington, D.C., where they discussed system-involved girls and girls at risk of becoming involved in the justice system and what can be done to help. The Junior League has a rich history in juvenile justice advocacy and was actively involved in the 1970s and 80s in the development and subsequent reauthorizations of the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.

Moderated by Jill Ward, panelists CFYJ CEO Liz Ryan, Crittenton Foundation President Jeannette Pai-Espinosa, and Just Kids Partnership Advocate Jabreria Handy, spoke about the issues surrounding the rise in the number of girls in the juvenile justice system and the ways that Junior League Members could get involved.

 

The highlight of the event was Jabreria Handy. At the age of 16, Jabreria was charged as an adult in the criminal justice system for a crime that she did not commit. She spent 11 months in the Baltimore City Detention Center before her case was sent back to the juvenile justice system. She now shares her story to help ensure that no youth will ever have to go through what she experienced. Jabreria’s account of her experience as a youth in the adult criminal system had a powerful impact on the workshop attendees. Jabreria emphasized that programming both in and out of the juvenile justice system is crucial and, unfortunately, is not as available to youth incriminated in the adult system. Providing support to these girls is critical to helping them transition back into the community.

Jabreria’s perspective on what girls need was echoed by Jeannette Pai-Espinosa. The National Crittenton Foundation has conducted research on Adverse Childhood Experiences that included girls in the juvenile justice system. Girls in the juvenile justice system are often victims of abuse, neglect, household dysfunction or substance abuse in the home.  As a result, these girls are more likely to be incarcerated for status offenses, offenses that would not be illegal if the individual was an adult, such as running away from home. Once in the system, girls often fail to receive the services they need, and instead are re-traumatized and derailed from educational achievement.

This discussion clearly resonated with many of the women in attendance. Sparked by Jabreria’s story, there was a clear desire from those in attendance to learn more about how they could help the at-risk girls both in and out of the juvenile justice system.

Liz Ryan identified the following key steps to take to start advocating for girls in your communities:

1. Urge your Governor to implement the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) to ensure that girls are not placed in adult jails and prisons.


2. Contact your Representative and Senators and urge them to provide more federal resources to address the needs of girls in the justice system.


3.  Reach out to the Juvenile Justice Specialist in your state to get information on how your state is addressing gender-specific programming in its JJDPA state plan. http://www.ojjdp.gov/statecontacts/ResourceList.asp

4. Engage your community and plan an event around October 23rd, National Girls Justice Day. Contact Leah Robertson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information.

5. Contact the National Girls institute and request technical assistance to create programming in your community.  http://www.nationalgirlsinstitute.org

For more take action steps go here.

Want to learn more about girls in the juvenile justice system? Take a look at CFYJ’s resource list here.

 

Implementing the Youthful Inmate Standard: Lessons from the County and State Level in Oregon

Thursday, 06 June 2013 Posted in Federal Update

By Mackenzie Tudor

On Thursday, May 16th, the Vera Institute of Justice in collaboration with the National Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) Resource Center held the first webinar of their “PREA in Action” series on implementing the Youthful Inmate Standard. 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.

In this interactive web conference, Juvenile Custody Services Program Manager Craig Bachman, Multnomah County Department of Community Justice Director Scott Taylor, and Oregon Youth Authority Assistant Director Philip Cox discussed the county- and state-level changes that have been made in Oregon to keep young people who are being charged as adults in juvenile facilities.

Oregon's facilities found that the juvenile placement of youth sentenced as adults:

  • Meets the developmental needs of the youth.
  • Offers them age-appropriate education services.
  • Provides staff trained in adolescent development.
  • Allows for cognitive behavioral skill-building program tailored to youth.


Professionals from local and state correctional and juvenile corrections agencies, criminal justice and correctional nongovernmental organizations, and advocates are encouraged to watch this webinar, now archived here.

Learning from Oregon’s success and working towards successful implementation of the Youthful Inmate Standard is critical because:

  • 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, a practice that has been proven to have destructive effects on mental health especially for children and adolescents.


Watch the webinar now.

Register for the second webinar in the “PREA in Action” series, “Implementing the Youthful Inmate Standard Part II: Spotlight on Indiana and Pennsylvania” on June 25th at 3pm - here.

 

 

Jonathan’s Law Unanimously Clears Legislative Hurdle in Missouri

Friday, 24 May 2013 Posted in Federal Update

By Tracy McClard

The Missouri legislative session ended in victory for Senate Bill 36 - Jonathan’s Law - which was truly agreed upon and finally passed on the evening of Thursday, May 16, after garnering unanimous votes in the House and Senate.  Jonathan’s Law was named after Missouri youth, 17 year- old Jonathan McClard, who after being accepted into Missouri’s highly touted Dual Jurisdiction Program by the Missouri Department  of Youth Services (DYS), was denied entry by the judge and given a 30 year maximum prison sentence instead.  Seven weeks later and 3 days after his 17th birthday, after losing all hope, Jonathan gave up his life.

The Missouri Dual Jurisdiction Program, created in 1996,  by then DYS state director Mark Steward, is one of a kind in the nation and has received accolades from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Harvard University.  It was created specifically for youth who are tried as adults in Missouri.  The youth within the program are housed in a youth-oriented, home-like facility.  Rehabilitation is the goal and youth can remain within the program until their 21st birthday.  Youth receive services for education, mental health/counseling, drug treatment, victim empathy, and restitution with an emphasis on family involvement.  Youth who complete the program have extremely low recidivism rates compared to youth who are placed in the Missouri Dept. of Corrections.  The latest research places the program at an 83% success rate.

Jonathan’s Law opens the dual jurisdiction program up to more certified youth across the state in a couple of ways. First it addresses the issue of awareness and accountability of the courts by requiring   judges to consider dual jurisdiction as a sentencing option for certified youth and issue findings if they go against the DYS recommendation to accept a youth into the program.  Second, it allows the courts an additional six months to complete the eligibility process for the dual jurisdiction program.  Currently the process has to be complete by the youths 17th birthday, Jonathan’s Law extends the process to 17 years and 6 months.  In Jonathan’s case, if the judge had to issue findings, and if his case could have extended an additional 6 months, it most likely would have saved his life. 

The fact that Jonathan's Law passed the senate judiciary committee with a unanimous vote speaks to the great desire to bring our children out of the adult system and once again treat our youth as children and not adults.

 

2013 Public Information Officer Learning Collaborative a Huge Success

Aprill O. Turner Tuesday, 21 May 2013 Posted in Uncategorised

 

  
2013 PIOLC Participants
 

Earlier this month, Georgetown University's Center for Juvenile Justice Reform (CJJR), the Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ), the Communications Consortium Media Center (CCMC), and the Public Welfare Foundation (PWF), hosted the 2013 Public Information Officer Learning Collaborative (PIOLC).  The PIOLC is a professional development opportunity for juvenile justice and child welfare public information officers.  The conference is in its fourth year, and 27 public information officers from across the country were in attendance, all committed to working on children and youth related issues.

CJJR has been supporting juvenile justice and child welfare reform efforts through leadership development in various capacities since its inception. The Learning Collaborative allowed the PIOs who work in juvenile justice and child welfare field to learn from one another and from experts in the communication field.

Sessions were led by Shay Bilchik (CJJR), Kathy Bonk (CMMC), and Aprill Turner (CFYJ). Some of the workshop topics were: What it means to be a PIO in a Cutting Edge World, Communicating Reform, Social Media, Polling and Effective Messaging, Reactive/Proactive Strategies Supporting Reform, and a Roundtable Discussion with Journalists.

 “They are very few opportunities and resources available for career development in my current position, so it was extremely valuable to get an  opportunity to learn from and collaborate with such a talented and diverse group of professionals, “ said Jess Harvat, Communications Coordinator for the Colorado Department Of Human Services.

The curriculum for the collaborative also included techniques to deal with crisis situations and ways for PIOs to implement strategies to engage their peers in other child and youth-serving agencies in order to better communicate about their reform efforts and utilize more consistent and comprehensive strategies in reaching their constituencies.

The PIOs who attend the collaborative have undoubtedly formed a cadre of mutually supportive communication specialists in the children, youth and family-serving field that will strengthen their overall work and promote support for reform efforts nationwide.

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

Friday, 17 May 2013 Posted in 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 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

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.
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