Friday, September 19, 2014

Building Safe & Strong Communities

Kids Don’t Care What You Know, Until They Know That You Care: Building Safe & Strong Communities
By Samantha Phillips

Last week on Capitol Hill, National experts came together to discuss community-based alternatives to incarceration that improve public safety and support youth.  The panelist all had one definite thing in common: each panelist believes in providing cost-effective, community-based alternatives to institutional placement.  The expert panelists include Judge Denise Navarre Cubbon, Lucas County Juvenile Court, Lucas County, Ohio, Shaena Fazal, National Policy Director, Youth Advocate Programs, Dr. Angela Irvine, Director of Research-Oakland, National Council on Crime and Delinquency, and Steven L. Gates, Program Director, Youth Advocate Programs, Chicago, IL.

Representative Tony Cardenas (D-CA) and Representative David Reichert (R-MN) are co-chairs for the new, Crime Prevention and Youth Development Caucus. The caucus works toward smart justice reform for at-risk youth and further efforts that encourage violence prevention and youth opportunity. His opening remarks hit hard when he expressed that the U.S. is the only country that incarcerates children without the possibility of parole when we are the leader of the free world. 

Shaena Fazal discussed incentives for effective community-based alternatives for youth in the criminal justice system.  Fazal spoke about the Safely Home report which describes how communities and systems can safely support youth in their homes and communities.  Currently, most kids are “left out, and locked up.”  Fazal says anything done in an institution can be done better in the community by creating an environment that keeps youth safe.  She articulated on redirecting the dollars that are spent on incarceration and putting the dollars toward less expensive community programs. 

Panelists, Angela Irvine led her discussion with three major components to JJDPA: sight and sound separation, deinstitutionalization of status offenders, and disproportionate minority confinement.  Irvine is a research director at the National Council on Crime & Delinquency (NCCD).  Her research was founded on racial and ethnic disparities.  She stated that the proportion of youth of color grew substantially from 2002 to 2012.  In 2002, youth of color represented 66.8% of sentenced youth.  In 2012, the percentage had risen to 80.4%.  Irvine indicated that families need to be educated on these matters in order to get the most out of building safe and strong communities.

Judge Denise Navarre Cubbon educated her listeners on the steps that Lucas County in Ohio has taken to reduce juvenile justice problems.  Cubbon spoke about Reasonable and Equitable Community and Local Alternatives to the Incarceration of Minor (RECLAIM Ohio), which is a funding initiative that encourages juvenile courts to develop or purchase a range of community-based options to meet the needs of each juvenile offender or youth at risk of offending.  Cubbon emphasizes that a community can educate with effective programming.  She ended her remarks by highlighting outstanding progress in her community; only 17 kids currently in Lucas County Juvenile Detention Center.

Panelist, Steven L. Gates is an antiviolence and community activist who works with high-risk youth and their families in Chicago’s far south side, one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago.  He is the Program Director for Youth Advocate Programs.  Gates stressed the effectiveness of catching kids doing something good instead of bad, taking home visits, and being flexible.  He says there is disconnect between policy and practice therefore the individualized piece is key.  This helps kids and their families listen to what you know because the care is visible. 

The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) is up for reauthorization, is the panelists emphasized the great outcomes that has come from the JJDPA in the past 40 years.  Each panelist reinforced the need to build safe and strong communities. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

JJDPA Matters: 40 for 40 Launched!

JJDPA Matters: 40 for 40 launched!

September 2014 marks the 40th anniversary of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), the nation's main law governing state juvenile justice systems. Forty years ago, the JJDPA changed the face of youth justice—setting basic standards for state systems and establishing four core protections for young people in the system.

The JJDPA allows states to fund innovations and reforms that keep more kids out of jails and detention facilities and connected to safe, proven supports in their communities. Many states have used the JJDPA to modernize and improve their programs in ways that give kids the supports they need to get their lives back on track while at the same time helping make communities safer.

Throughout the fall, we'll bring you new voices and personal stories about the impact of the JJDPA and ways it can be strengthened and improved—40 stories in all, to celebrate each year of this landmark law.  Watch the clips and learn more about how you can get involved.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Youth Voices: Why I Joined my SAG

Youth Voices: Why I Joined my SAG

By Lashon Amado
The National Council of Young Leaders

This past Tuesday night, I sat in a conference room at a juvenile detention facility here in Boston. I was scared a little overwhelmed, but not because I was being adjudicated. Instead, I was at a table with city officials and heads of state agencies—people who could casually talk about meetings with the Governor. I was there because I want to be a member of the Massachusetts Juvenile Justice Committee, our State Advisory Group (SAG) that oversees our juvenile justice system.  I had contacted several people, sent lots of emails and made phone calls in order to get a seat at this table.

Under the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), each state must have a SAG to guide and monitor juvenile justice programs and ensure compliance with the core standards of the JJDPA. At least 20 percent of SAG members must be young people—and I’m aiming to be one of them.

How I Got Here

I first learned about State Advisory Groups (SAGs) at the Coalition for Juvenile Justice Youth Summit in August.  My first thought was, how can I not get involved? I have a strong passion for criminal justice and am personally committed to “correcting the correctional systems.” That’s my motto. I don’t just mean behind the walls, I mean all aspects of juvenile and criminal justice: community supervision, parole and probation.

It stems from my experience in the system and the difficulties I experienced trying to get a job with a criminal background.  And from losing friends and family; I lost my own father to the streets and gun violence. I believe that part of the solution is to fix the problems in the justice system—for example, the distrust between the police and community, the community feeling a need to take the law into their own hands, the police not solving crimes. These are things we see every day in our cities.

I first got involved with the courts when I caught a small drug case. I just wanted to make money, in part because I had to step up and provide for my family at a young age.  I was 17 but got charged as an adult. Since then, state law has changed—they just raised the age of automatic transfer to the adult system—so if I were arrested today, I’d be in juvenile justice system and maybe connected to supports earlier.

As it was, I served a suspended sentence which meant I didn’t have to be in a prison or institution. Instead, I did community service and had two years of probation. I realized that if I kept getting arrested for minor things, I would be facing real time.

Street lifestyle is a revolving door. You make money fast and you lose it fast. There’s no big picture. I knew I needed a big picture. I got involved with YouthBuild, an alternative program that connects young people to education and skills training get themselves back on track; it is funded in part by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) Mentoring Fund. (The OJJDP was another creation of the JJDPA.)

I now have my Associate’s degree and am about to get my Bachelor’s in criminal justice. Most people assume I want to be a cop. I tell them, I don’t know what the job title is, or what it looks like, but I want to be in a position where I’m having a direct influence on systems and policies, and through that, on people’s lives.

Joining the SAG is helping me move toward that. It’s a beginning for me.

Speaking Up, Having an Impact

At this first meeting, I felt a little out of the loop as a new guy. One of the presenters was the education program director for the Department of Youth Services (DYS). He talked about the state of education for young people in the system. He shared challenges, and we were able to suggest things they could try. I shared a little about the YouthBuild SMART initiative, which we piloted recently in Boston. It’s a traditional YouthBuild skills training model with some enhancements specific to court- and systems-involved youth.

I shared with him the results of the pilot, both what we did very well and the things we learned from. He said he thought this was great and wants to connect.

That’s a perfect example of why it matters that young people—and different types of people—be at the table. This could make a difference; whatever he and his department decide will likely be the model that is implemented statewide. Massachusetts is already a trailblazer in the education space in general, both in public school and justice system, and so it’s amazing to both learn from and maybe even influence that.

Seeing the Inside—from Both Sides

After the meeting ended, I got a personal tour from the Commissioner of the state Department of Youth Services. It was the first time I had been inside a juvenile detention center. You see how young people are living and being treated, it lights a fire and makes you want to hurry up and do something.

I had a lot of emotions. I knew people couldn’t make me out: is he one of us? One of them? I come from a family where being locked up is nothing out of the normal but still, just to be in the facility and to be interacting with the staff was wild.

Eyes on the Future

A big goal for me in being involved with our SAG, is that I want to help shift the paradigm of education in the justice system—from expectations that are at best GED or high school diploma to emphasizing college prep.  If you want young people rehabilitated and back in their communities, they’ve got to be able to get real jobs. We’re competing with a lot of money on the street, so we need to get them in a position where they at least feel autonomous. We have to equip youth to actually succeed and make a new path.

Lashon’s Advice to Other Young Changemakers

Don’t let a record stop you: One thing I want to make clear is that if you have a background in the system, do not be discouraged. This can be your opportunity to change the way people who have been involved with the justice system are viewed and treated. Think about it: why should committees and groups keep pulling in young people to present here and there when you can have them at the table and part of the committee all the time?

Find your local SAG: To find a local SAG you can reach out to the Coalition for Juvenile Justice.

Network and don’t be shy: It sounds generic but it’s important: if you want change you have to take steps toward it yourself.  I talked to a lot of different people about getting on the Committee. I just kept asking people. Next thing you know, I got an email asking me for my resume and a statement of interest.

Prepare: I wasn’t very in tune with the JJDPA—I didn’t know much about the law, so I did my research and got up to speed, which helped out in the meeting. I also checked out the agenda and looked up who was going to be speaking and what they do. At the meeting, I was nervous, but I listened and asked questions. 

The JJDPA Matters: “I am all for the JJDPA, especially the provisions that make sure juveniles are rehabilitated and don’t end up influenced or intimidated by more severe criminals. I believe that the way the JJDPA protects young people is key to changing lives. In my case, that one year changed my life a little bit. If I had gotten locked up, I would have been completely derailed and wouldn’t have my Associate’s now.”

Not sure what a State Advisory Group is? Read about it here.

Lashon Amado—who dropped out of high school “never thinking of college as an option”—is enrolled at University of Massachusetts Boston and working toward a future in Criminal Justice. A graduate of YouthBuild, Lashon is a member of the National Council of Young Leaders, and hopefully soon will be officially appointed by Governor Patrick as a member of the Massachusetts Juvenile Justice Committee.

This post is part of the JJDPA Matters blog, a project of the Act4JJ Campaign with help from SparkAction. jjdpa matters icon
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 Matters Action Center, powered by SparkAction.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Law Enforcement's Leadership Role in Juvenile Justice Reform: Actionable Recommendations for Practice & Policy

New Resource:  Law Enforcement’s Leadership Role in Juvenile Justice Reform: Actionable Recommendations for Practice & Policy

When a young person gets in trouble with the law, oftentimes arrest, court referral, and detention run counter to public safety by making it more likely that young person will reoffend.  IACP’s National Summit on Law Enforcement Leadership in Juvenile Justice drew attention to the often untapped potential of law enforcement executives to improve their agencies’ response to young people and to serve as credible voices for “smart on crime” juvenile justice reforms in their communities and beyond.

CoverThe summit report, Law Enforcement’s Leadership Role in Juvenile Justice Reform: Actionable Recommendations for Practice & Policy, sets forth 33 recommendations for concrete actions that law enforcement leaders can take in collaboration with partners at the local, state, and national levels. 

IACP convened the national summit with support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation as part of a multiyear initiative to advance law enforcement leadership in juvenile justice.  The summit brought together a multidisciplinary group of 90 participants that included law enforcement executives and officers at various levels, judges, prosecutors, public defenders, young people, parents, policymakers, researchers, mental health service providers, and a range of other juvenile justice stakeholders from across the country. 

The 33 summit recommendations are divided into eight thematic areas:

1. Making Juvenile Justice a Priority within Law Enforcement Agencies
2. Building Partnerships Among Law Enforcement, Youth, and Their Families
3. Collaboration and Information Sharing
4. Promoting Alternatives to Arrest, Court Referral and Detention
5. Data Collection and Expanding Evidence-Based and Promising Initiatives
6. Pathways to School Completion
7. Responding to Youth with Behavioral Health Conditions and Trauma Histories
8. Amplifying Law Enforcement’s Advocacy on Juvenile Justice Reform

For more information, contact Kate Rhudy, Project Manager at

Friday, September 12, 2014

YOU ARE INVITED! JOIN CFYJ for #YJAM on Oct 2nd as “We Burn Down The House”

October is rapidly approaching and so is Youth Justice Awareness Month! Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM) is an opportunity for communities, families, youth, and allies to host community-led actions and events that expose the consequences of children being processed in adult court and placed in adult jails and prisons. With events happening throughout the country, YJAM is not only a time to raise awareness but also a time to build collective action, to strengthen relationships with other advocates, and to join local advocacy campaigns working to create policy changes.
One in three American children will be arrested by the time they are twenty-three, and many will spend time locked in horrific detention centers that defy everything we know about how to rehabilitate young offenders.
“Burning Down the House”, written by Nell Bernstein, introduces us to youth across the nation who have suffered violence and psychological torture at the hands of the state, offering a call to shut down our nation’s counterproductive juvenile prisons and bring our children home.
Author Nell Bernstein will participate in a book discussion and signing about ending juvenile prison.
We hope you will join us!
WHAT: Book Discussion with Nell Bernstein, author of “Burning Down the House, the End of Juvenile Prison”
WHEN: Thursday, October 2, 2014 at 6:30 p.m.
WHERE: Busboy & Poets, 2021 14th Street, NW, Washington, DC
#YJAM #YouthJustice #JuvenileJustice
Note: This event is free. Donations to advance the cause of juvenile justice will be taken at the door.
Please help us share this event with others by posting our sample Twitter/FB message below.
I have RSVP’d to Burn Down The House on October 2nd. I hope you will join me! More Info Here:  #YJAM #JuvenileJustice 

NEW REPORT- State Trends: Updates from the 2013-2014 Legislative Session

CFYJ released a new report today, State Trends: Updates from the 2013-2014 Legislative Session. The report takes a look at states that have, and are taking steps to remove children from the adult criminal justice system.

State Trends documents the continuation of four trends in justice reform efforts across the country to roll back transfer laws in the country, from arrest through sentencing. Building on efforts from the last decade, states continue to amend and eliminate harmful statutes and policies created in the 1990s that placed tens of thousands of youth in the adult criminal justice system. In 2014, advocacy, research, operative Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) regulations, and fiscal analysis assisted in the introduction of bills in nine states to remove youth from the adult criminal justice system and give youth an opportunity at more rehabilitative services.

"Reform efforts strengthened tremendously during the 2013-2014 legislative sessions with nine states--Maryland, Missouri, Nevada, New York, New Hampshire, Ohio, Nebraska, West Virginia, and Hawaii, changing statutes and examining policies to allow more youth to stay in the juvenile justice system," said Marcy Mistrett, CEO of CFYJ. "The trend is continuing and the message is resonating across the country that kids need to be treated like kids."

Since CFYJ's inception, over half of the states have enacted legislation that echo what public polls, brain science, and even the Supreme Court have recognized: kids are different.

"Youth who commit offenses have a better chance of rehabilitation, and in most cases, are better served in the juvenile justice system rather than the adult criminal justice system," said Carmen Daugherty, CFYJ Policy Director and author of the report. "The state victories reported are a testament to families, advocates, and youth demanding more from their policy makers, and policy makers demanding more accountability from the state courts and agencies responsible for handling youth justice issues."

Click here to view the full report.

Click here to view the previous report, State Trends Legislative Victories from 2011-2013, Removing Youth from the Adult Criminal Justice System.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The JJDPA (Still) Matters: Celebrating 40 Years of Reform

By Jill Ward

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

On Sept. 7, 2014, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 (JJDPA)—the nation’s main law governing state juvenile justice programs—turned 40. This week, advocates from across the country will be taking time to reflect on the importance of this landmark federal law and how it can be made even stronger.

The JJDPA was last reauthorized in 2002, but few substantive changes were made at that time.   The law is now seven years overdue for review. Congress has the opportunity to propose a new, revised bill that reflects what has been learned over the past decade about what does and does not work to keep our communities safe and help young people get back on track to better futures.

Will This Be the Year JJDPA Is Reauthorized? It’s a question we are all asking (most notably in a recent  article on the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange). Advocates remain hopeful that later this month Senator Whitehouse (D-RI), along with his colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee, will introduce a reauthorization that strengthens the law and builds upon its original purpose to keep young people safe and improve outcomes.  This past June, the Committee held its first public hearing since 2007, signaling a renewed commitment to move a proposal forward this year.

At the beginning of the 113th Congress in 2013, the National Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition (NJJDPC) produced comprehensive Recommendations to Congress and Recommendations to the Administration that included key recommendations for JJDPA reauthorization.

Over the past year and half, members of the ACT4JJ Campaign, a national initiative to see the law renewed, worked in partnership with SparkAction to highlight why the JJDPA matters. Leaders in the field have been writing about the importance of the law, why after four decades it remains the bedrock juvenile justice policy, and what we have learned that can improve the law to better protect system-involved kids and promote safer, stronger communities.  

A Stronger Law Means Better, More Efficient State Programs

Take one look at the JJDPA Matters blog and it’s easy to see the role the law has played in supporting developmentally appropriate approaches to juvenile delinquency, identifying disparate treatment of youth of color, and  helping states to reshape their systems to be more equitable, effective, and cost-efficient.

But we also know there’s so much more that can be done to address the needs of girls and LGBTQ youth in the system, to respond to youth with mental health problems, to better provide community-based alternatives to incarceration, to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the system, and to protect all youth from the dangers of the adult system.

To highlight the anniversary and the need for Congress to act, from September 8-12, the U.S. Senate will showcase the work of Richard Ross, photographer, researcher and professor of art.  Visitors to the Russell Senate Office Building will have the chance to get an up-close look at the conditions of confinement facing children who live in America’s juvenile detention facilities.  The photographer traveled the country for nearly 5 years, documenting the lives of children who were confined in nearly 200 juvenile detention centers, across roughly 31 states. The result was a series of eye opening photos that were included in his acclaimed 2012 book, Juvenile In Justice.

“40 for 40”- A Multimedia Storytelling Project

Later this week, SparkAction, the ACT4JJ Campaign, and the NJJDPC, with the help of local organizations from across the country, will roll out the “40 for 40” video project, a series of first-hand stories that speak to the important role of JJDPA in supporting just, effective state systems.

It’s a big week for those of us who have worked to improve outcomes for all our youth.  There is much cause for celebration, but still much more work to be done.   As we take a moment to reflect on why the JJDPA still matters, we encourage others to join us in calling on Congress to act this year. 

What You Can Do

Read the JJDPA Matters blog series and ACT4JJ site to learn more about the law
Check the JJDPA Matters Action Center each week this month for new posts, the 40 for 40: 40 Stories for 40 Years of the JJDPA project, and news on a reauthorization bill.

Take a moment to contact your Members of Congress (it’s fast and it’s easy!)

Jill Ward, former co-chair of the National Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition, is a federal policy consultant for the Campaign for Youth Justice.