Thursday, August 21, 2014

"Raise the Age" Victory in New Hampshire: More Kids Treated as Kids

By: Guest Blogger, John DeJoie
NH Kids Count
NH CAN Coordinator/Policy Consultant

Are 17 year olds really old enough to be sent to adult prisons? In NH, since 1995, the answer has been YES. Over the past decade, as states across the US have recognized that 17 year olds are still children, NH was unwilling to change. Since 2000, Representative David Bickford (R ) attempted to “Raise the Age” without much support, that is until this year. Following on the heels of a successful restoration of the CHINS (Children in Need of Service) statute and funding, the same group of advocates set their sights on modernizing the juvenile justice system in NH, including Raising the Age.

The NH Juvenile Justice Coalition, comprised of numerous advocacy organizations (child, mental health, legal and disability) began working to Raise the Age in the fall of 2013. It became clear that there were several areas of change needed. However, the coalition was unsure of the political environment for legislation and proceeded with caution. Conversations with leaders from both sides of the aisle about “raise the age” showed broad support for the concept, with some trepidation. The same tone was struck by state agency heads during similar discussions. The concerns centered on the cost of implementing changes and potential election year fall out.  The coalition emerged from these conversations understanding that efforts should address costs, be bipartisan and be “bold”.

The advocates decided that creating an omnibus juvenile justice reform bill held the best promise for success during the 2014 legislative session. This decision centered on the fact that an omnibus bill would present a needed system overhaul. Beginning with “Raise the Age”, the list included:
  •  Clarifying the right to counsel in juvenile parole hearings
  • Changing the waiver of counsel for juvenile proceedings
  • Clarifying competency determinations in juvenile proceedings
  • Requiring standards relative to the appointment and qualification of juvenile defense counsel
  • Directing the department of health and human services to collect certain data regarding the juvenile justice program

With a strategy and list of issues, advocates reached out to other key stakeholders in an attempt to enlist their support. Numerous groups worked with the coalition to provide input which made the legislation stronger including state agencies, county agencies and police. While all of these groups did not support the legislation, they all helped shape HB1624, AN ACT modernizing the juvenile justice system to ensure rehabilitation of juveniles and preservation of juvenile rights.  

Although various Representatives and Senators expressed interest in sponsoring the legislation, and since NH House limits sponsorship to five members it was important to choose key legislators. The final sponsor list included Representatives Mary Beth Walz (D) (Chair, Child & Family Law), Mary Jane Wallner (D) (Chair, Finance) and Jordan Ulery (R ) (member of the conservative House Alliance and Senators Molly Kelly(D) and Bob Odell(R ) (Chair, Ways and Means and Finance member).

Over the next six to eight months, coalition members gathered extensive research and held frequent meetings with Senators, key Representatives and Gubernatorial staff to share their findings. In addition to decreasing US crime statistics and especially juvenile crime, NH had seen a 50% decrease in juvenile charges between 2003 and 2008, with no available data after 2008. These data began to address cost concerns for legislators. 

During House Finance Committee hearings, legislators also began investigating the costs associated with instituting the new Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) regulations if 17 year olds remained in the adult system. The answers they received about the costs to state and county facilities made it clear that it would be more expensive to continue treating 17 year olds as adults. After receiving overwhelmingly positive votes at each phase of the House process, the bill moved to the Senate. In the end, with the combination of data, hard work, perseverance and a growing coalition, HB1624 passed the Senate and was signed into law by the Governor. 

HB1624 is one of the most important pieces of juvenile justice legislation in 
New Hampshire over the past 30 years. 

HB1624 specifics: 
  •           Raise the age of criminal majority from 17 to 18
    • This law becomes effective 7/1/2015 which was a strategic concession to avoid potential cost increases in the current state budget.
    • Prosecution may petition the court to remand the juvenile to adult court for felony charges.
  •          Right to counsel
    •  Juveniles must receive parole hearings not later than 6 months after commitment to the Division of Juvenile Justice Services and have the right to counsel at these proceedings.
  •          Waiver of counsel
    • Court may accept waivers when:
      • It is done voluntarily 
      • The juvenile is advised by a non-hostile parent or counsel 
      • The prosecution informs the court they are not seeking incarceration 
      • The charge is not a violent crime (as defined by statute)
  •          Clarifies competency determinations in juvenile proceedings 
    • Juveniles may be determined incompetent due to chronological immaturity, developmental disability, intellectual disability or mental illness.
    • Set strict time frames for determinations when juvenile is incarcerated 
    • Set required elements for the competency evaluation.
  •          Requires standards relative to the appointment and qualification of juvenile defense counsel 
    • Standards will be set by the NH Judicial Council
  •         Directs the department of health and human services to collect certain data regarding the juvenile justice program.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Rev. Laura Downton and CFYJ Fellows Discuss the Dangers of Solitary Confinement

By: Paige Bettge, CFYJ Summer Fellow

On Wednesday, July 30, the fellows of Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ) held their second Summer Institute session featuring guest speaker Reverend Laura Downton, of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT). Rev. Downton is the current Director of U.S. Prisons Policy & Programs at NRCAT, and she also serves on the Board of Directors for Grassroots Leadership and is a Provisional Elder in the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. The CFYJ fellows were joined by interns from the Justice Policy Institute, Washington Peace Center, and students from American University, Georgetown University, and University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, who are current interns in Washington, DC.

CFYJ fellows were excited to learn more from Rev. Downton on the effects of solitary confinement and the campaigns that NRCAT has worked on in order to reduce and ultimately eliminate the time that people spend in isolation. Rev. Downton discussed the harmful physiological effects of solitary confinement – the erosion of connections in the brain is similar to that of a traumatic brain injury. This is so extreme that international standards consider solitary confinement to be psychological torture after 15 days. Laura juxtaposed this with a video clip of a 2013 California legislative hearing in response to the CA prisoner hunger strike in which over 30,000 incarcerated people took part to protest torture. Returning citizens and family members of those incarcerated shared the detrimental impact it has on a person as well as extreme examples of time spent at one time – isolation lasting as long as 23 years.

Within many prisons, solitary confinement is used arbitrarily - people can be sent to solitary for minor offenses, such as unwashed hands. Frequently, solitary confinement is abused as a form of punishment because there are no set regulations for the amount of time an incarcerated person can spend in solitary, or what offense warrants the use of solitary confinement. The group discussed measures that could be put in place to work against these conditions, and interns shared ideas, such as requiring documentation of the reason a person is sent to solitary in order to increase transparency and accountability, and putting restrictions on the offenses that can result in solitary confinement.

The issue of solitary confinement is particularly significant for youth in the adult criminal justice system. Often, solitary confinement is used against youth as a means of “protection,” since youth are not safe in the general adult population. Rev. Downton mentioned how the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has categorized putting a youth in solitary confinement for even one day to be torture. She went on to share that young, developing brains are extremely vulnerable to the psychological trauma, and that being put in solitary does not allow them the physical activity and space needed for their healthy development. This poses an innate problem with youth being incarcerated in adult facilities – research shows that youth are not safe intermingling with the adult population, and the alternative of solitary confinement is dangerous and traumatizing.

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture has worked with state-based campaigns to reduce and eliminate solitary confinement in prisons nationwide. Through their efforts, Maine established a coalition to examine the use of solitary confinement, which ended up resulting in a 70% reduction of the use of solitary within Maine prisons. NRCAT has been involved with New York’s HALT bill, which aims to implement alternatives to solitary confinement in prisons. NRCAT is also collecting written prayers and reflections to share with those in conditions of isolated confinement in prison. To submit a reflection, contact Rev. Laura Downton.

To learn more about the Campaign for Youth Justice, please visit:

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Understanding the School to Prison Pipeline

By Samuel Wilkins

CFYJ’s first Summer Institute session focused on the School to Prison Pipeline. Kaitlin Banner, a staff attorney at the Advancement Project, informed us about youth whose futures are being destroyed by a system that pushes them from the education system to the prison system. Additionally, she emphasized ways to dismantle this pipeline, and taught us essential tools to become true advocates for change.

The pipeline is fueled by zero tolerance laws—which replicated the zero tolerance drug laws of the 80s—that were implemented in schools in the late 90s after tragedies like Columbine. Harsher regulations continued as more acts of mass shootings and violence occurred in school settings. School administrators believed preemptive harshness would prevent later problems. This led to school policies that criminalized basic adolescent behavior. These policies, which were implemented after school shootings in wealthy, predominantly white, suburban schools like Columbine began to negatively impact the urban, predominantly black/Latino public schools, and the Newtown shooting seems to be accelerating this trend.

Current policies push students into jails by both directly criminalizing certain activities and by indirectly increasing youth vulnerability for imprisonment by pushing them out of school. Kaitlin voiced concerns about the negative school climate caused by reduced funding, police presence in school, overly harsh and arbitrary discipline policies that disproportionately target youth of color, and school budgets that prioritize police and deans of discipline over counselors. She explained how funding based on test results tempt teachers to “remove kids who did not perform well on tests by enacting punishments that force them to leave class.” These policies transform school from a place children can begin to conceptualize their future to a place where they lose it. A Florida study demonstrated one suspension doubled a student’s likelihood to drop out of school.

Through identifying these flawed policies, Kaitlin helped us envision a better future rooted in returning schools to a positive learning environment. She concluded with recounting several success stories where communities were able to fight the overly punitive or unfairly arbitrary policies. She stressed the importance of a full community effort in implementing change and empowering the community from within. Graduating high school is not only essential for youth, but for society that will one day employ these youth. We need to advocate finding ways to keep kids in school, not make it easier to push them out. For more information about the Advancement Project’s work with dismantling the pipeline, visit their website, or Schoolhouse to Jailhouse page.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Youth Justice Awareness Month 2014 is just around the corner!

We are so excited for this year’s Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM)! Every October, youth, families, and advocates from all over the nation come together to host YJAM events to expose the consequences of children being prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system and incarcerated in adult jails and prisons. Together, we build collective action to launch and support local campaigns that work towards fair, humane, and effective reform.

YJAM Events are opportunities to educate policy leaders and the community on the lifelong consequences that our youth experience but also the most current and practical solutions that our communities know will ensure youth get back on track to becoming productive citizens. This year, we plan to highlight issues that YOU deemed important for youth justice – stay tuned for more details!

YJAM Support In the coming weeks, the Campaign for Youth Justice team will be sharing tools and resources for those hosting YJAM events. We will also make sure to continue to share events happening in October, so you can plug in with local advocates!

Let us know if you plan to host an event and how we can assist. And if you want to get involved, please contact Angella Bellota, CFYJ Field Director. 

Visit the CFYJ Blog to see the exciting work
from our partners during YJAM 2013.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Valuing Family, Community and Youth: Reauthorize the JJDPA

By Shaena Fazal, Esq

This post is part of the JJDPA Mattersblog, a project of the Act4JJ Campaign with help from SparkAction. The JJDPA, the nation's landmark juvenile justice law, turns 40 this September. Each month leading up to this anniversary, Act4JJ member organizations and allies will post blogs on issues related to the JJDPA.  To learn more and take action in support of JJDPA, visit the Act4JJ JJDPA MattersAction Center, powered by SparkAction.

It has been twelve years since Congress reauthorized the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), the nearly 40-year old federal legislation that recognizes the importance of preventing youth involvement in the juvenile justice system and establishes federal protections for youth in the system.

The JJDPA is long overdue for reauthorization.

Despite the many effective reforms spearheaded by the JJDPA, 70,000 youth are still incarcerated in jails and prisons on any given day.  Some are housed outside of their home states and far away from their families, in private facilities with little oversight.

All of these out-of-home placements have high price tags. Incarcerating youth has a fiscal price tag that averages $90,000 per year. The social costs—which include separation from family and community and barriers to education and work that can lead to chronic disconnection—are even higher. And we know that kids of color, kids with developmental disabilities and LBTQ youth are more likely to be incarcerated and be abused in facilities.

The JJDPA was last reauthorized by Congress in 2002. We now know a lot more than we did twelve years ago about what’s best for kids. For example, we learned that delinquent youth are more likely to die violent deaths, and that brain development that helps one understand right from wrong continues until early adulthood. We also have over a decade of additional evidence that incarceration can be harmful to youth and that community-based programs are far more effective.

In June, we at Youth Advocate Programs (YAP) added to that growing body of research with the release of our report, Safely Home.

In this report, we emphasize the need for community-based programs for youth with complex needs and demonstrate that reform is possible by highlighting “bright spots” from around the country where state and county leaders have worked with communities to safely reduce youth incarceration by building continuums of support for youth with varying needs.

In addition, the report finds that 8 out of 10 kids in intensive community-based alternatives to prison or jail ended up arrest-free and 9 and out of 10 remained living in their homes with their families.

If public safety and strengthening families and communities are a priority, Congress will reauthorize the JJDPA so that more programs that produce these outcomes can keep kids safe, at home and out of the system. The entire law is about protecting children and preventing delinquency because we know, and Congress knows, it is best for kids to be with their families, supported and connected to pro-social activities, people and places.

We can serve three to four kids in the community for the same price as locking one up. So why don’t we?
Better outcomes for youth and increased community safety are clearly important priorities, but that’s not all that reauthorizing the JJDPA can do. It would also help shape federal juvenile justice policy and incentivize a more cost effective approach to juvenile justice at a time of budget austerity for Congress and nearly every statehouse in the country. The cost to incarcerate a youth averages $250 per day, although in some places it’s as high as $667 per day. An intensive community-based program, on the other hand, costs on average $75 per day. That means we can serve three to four kids in the community for the same price as locking one up. So why don’t we?

We’ve learned a lot since 2002 and some states have used the JJDPA to implement sensible reforms. Yet for the 70,000 youth incarcerated tonight, their families, and their communities, reauthorizing the JJDPA cannot come soon enough.

For some youth, reauthorizing the JJDPA will mean the difference between whether they get a chance to complete high school and have productive futures or begin an arduous, expensive and wasteful path into the criminal justice system or chronic disconnection that will cost society in other ways. It is incumbent upon us to make sure they have every opportunity to be on the better path.

To really prevent juvenile delinquency, achieve the best outcomes for youth and promote safe communities informed by what we have learned in the last 12 years, Congress must adequately fund and re-authorize the JJDPA.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Homeboy Industries on Capitol Hill

By: Samantha Wiggins, CFYJ Fellow
Homeboy Industries Founder, Father Greg Boyle

On July 1st, the Interfaith Criminal Justice Coalition held Lessons from the Field: Protecting Youth and Stopping the Cycle of Incarceration. The event focused on the importance of rehabilitation in the criminal justice system. The speaker was Father Greg Boyle, the founder of Homeboy Industries, an organization that provides wraparound services for former gang members.Homeboy Industries is the biggest program of its kind in the world. 

In 1988, Father Greg Boyle founded Homeboy Industries to help local gang members, also called "homies", in the poorest parish in Los Angeles, California. The roots of Homeboy Industries started with a school for youth in gangs and a job referral program. Soon after the creation of the school, Father Boyle realized that his homies were having trouble finding jobs. In 1992 Homeboy Bakery was created; the bakery serves as a source of training as well as employment for former gang members. It is one of the most successful social enterprises of its kind. There are other enterprises at Homeboy Industries, such as Homeboy Diner and Homegirl Cafe. 

As Father Boyle began to grow Homeboy Industries he realized that more wraparound services were needed, including case management, employment services, tattoo removal, curriculum and education, and mental health. Today, the program at Homeboy Industries is an 18 month program, in which former gang members receive a wealth of services. Father Boyle believes that finding a job for someone is important but without healing from the pain and receiving counseling it is likely that there will not be any stability in their lives.

His philosophy of care is based on kinship, he believes we are all dependent on each other, thus it is important to help each other. He believes that if we viewed the world through the eyes of kinship that there would be no need for justice because kinship produces justice. Through the many examples he spoke of, I learned the difficulties facing those who have served time and would like to be a productive member of society. Understanding that thousands of youth come in contact with the criminal justice system each year, it is motivating to see someone like Father Boyle continue to advocate for reform in criminal justice. 

The effect of Homeboy Industries reaches farther than Los Angeles, because it also provides technical assistance to other organizations and people who would like to start similar programs. It has helped to start 46 programs in the United States and 8 programs outside of the country. Programs like Homeboy Industries demonstrate that when given the proper services, even long time gang members can be rehabilitated and become productive law-abiding members of society.

To learn more about how you can support Homeboy Industries, visit them online:

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Senators Paul and Booker Envision Better Options for Youth, Congress Takes Concrete Steps for Change

This week, Senator Cory Booker  (D-NJ) and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced the REDEEM Act (The Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment Act) which addresses several problematic areas of America’s  current criminal justice system.

What does the REDEEM Act hope to achieve? 

With financial incentives as the carrot, the bill:

1)       Incentivizes states to increase the age of criminal responsibility to 18-years-old: Currently 10 states (Louisiana, New York, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Georgia, South Carolina, Michigan, Missouri, and Texas) have set the original jurisdiction of adult criminal courts below 18-years-old. This sends countless kids into the unforgiving adult criminal system.

The REDEEM Act incentivizes states to “raise the age” by giving preference to grant applicants for the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) to those states that have set 18 or older as the age of original jurisdiction for adult criminal courts.  While this sends a strong message to jurisdictions to “raise the age” the bill does not penalize states in the COPS application process for having other avenues in which youth can enter the adult criminal justice system. For example, the 15 states that allow prosecutors to “direct file” youth to the adult criminal justice system for certain offenses and the majority of states that allow a judge to transfer youth to the adult system are still given preference if their age of original court jurisdiction begins at 18 years of age.

2)      Offers adults way to seal non-violent criminal records: Presents the first broad-based federal path to the sealing of criminal records for adults. Non-violent offenders will be able to petition a court and make their case. Furthermore, employers requesting FBI background checks will get only relevant and accurate information - thereby protecting job applicants - because of provisions to improve the background check system.

3)      Allows for sealing and expungement of juvenile records: The REDEEM Act improves juvenile record confidentiality, automatically expunges nonviolent juvenile offenses that are committed by a child before they turn 15, and automatically seals nonviolent juvenile offenses that occur after a child has reached the age of 15. The automatic sealing and expungement occurs at the age of 18, or three years after the offense, whichever happens later. The REDEEM Act provides an incentive for states to do the same by allowing preference to be given to Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant applications that originate from states that have enacted similar or stronger juvenile confidentiality, sealing and expungement provisions.

4)      Restricts use of juvenile solitary confinement: The REDEEM Act bans the use of room confinement for discipline, punishment, retaliation, staffing shortages, administrative convenience, or any reason other than as a temporary response to behavior that poses a serious and immediate risk of physical harm to the juvenile or others at any facility to which a federally adjudicated juvenile is sent. The REDEEM Act provides an incentive for states to follow suit by allowing preference to be given to Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant applications that originate from states that have enacted similar or stronger juvenile room confinement provisions.

This provision in the bill protects a very small population of youth that enter the federal system, offering very similar protections as the recently introduced Protecting Youth from Solitary Confinement Bill. With the newly found interest and urgency around solitary confinement increasing Congressional action, language should be stronger to ban all solitary in all facilities, especially for vulnerable populations of youth in adult jails and prisons.  

5)      Lifts ban on SNAP and TANF benefits for low-level drug offenders: The REDEEM Act restores access to benefits for those who have served their time for use, possession, and distribution crimes provided their offense was rationally related to a substance abuse disorder and they have enrolled in a treatment program.

Efforts Increase at the Federal Level

The REDEEM Act brings the issue of juvenile justice to the forefront of the bigger issue of criminal justice reform. With the imminent introduction of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, the newly comprised bipartisan Crime Prevention and Youth Development Caucus in the House of Representatives,  and the myriad of reforms the REDEEM Act envisions, Congress joins the voices of hundreds of advocates, families, and youth to recognize the ultimate value of young people and allow for more prevention, intervention, and rehabilitative opportunities.

We hope to see this kind of momentum continue in the coming months and hope that states share Congress’ reemerged enthusiasm in justice reform.