Friday, April 18, 2014

Maryland Adds Another Win for Youth Justice

By Kara Aanenson 
Just Kids Partnership

Last week, Just Kids Partnership wrapped up its legislative session, passing two reforms that help youth charged as adults in Maryland. After a quick 90 day session, Maryland advocates built on the momentum from the 2013 legislative session, by getting two bills passed based on recommendations from the Task Force on Juvenile Court Jurisdiction which studied the issue of charging youth as adults in Maryland last year.

Just Kids attending the Governor's public signing of SB515/HB1295

On April 12, Just Kids advocates attended the Governor's signing of SB515/HB1295. Adding another win for Maryland youth. The bill allows youth who have been previously charged as adults but transferred back to the juvenile court and then adjudicated delinquent, the opportunity to ask for a transfer hearing back to juvenile court if they are arrested for a subsequent offense.  Under current law those youth were not allowed to have a judge review their case and had to stay in the adult system.  This bill allows a child to request a hearing and have a judge review the case and make a decision on what court should handle the case.

Another win for the books is the passing of SB 718/ HB 589, which requires the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention to conduct population forecasts on the number of youth charged as adults and held in local correctional facilities, for the next three years. The forecast will include the average daily population along with the average length of stay for youth in local correctional facilities. Our hope is that this data will support our position that this small population of youth tried as adults can be accommodated in the juvenile justice system and will not cause an overpopulation of juvenile detention facilities.

We are thankful to all of our partners who joined us during this legislative session by contacting their legislators, spreading the word, and continuing to show their support for youth justice reform. During the interim, Just Kids Partnership will be out organizing in Maryland to build support for next sessions goals of ending the automatic prosecution of youth as adults and removing youth from adult jails. To learn more about Just Kids work – check out our documentary screening "The Truth About Our Youth,"at the Silver Spring Civic Center on May 6. Reserve your seat HERE.  

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

CFYJ Goes to College: Windows from Prison Art Exhibit


By Jessica Sandoval

On Wednesday, April 9, CFYJ participated on a panel to discuss youth incarcerated in the adult system as part of the Windows from Prison project at George Mason University.  This two-week exhibit will feature hundreds of participants taking part in daily workshops, events, and community forums. Students from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts and George Mason University collaborated to create photographs requested by incarcerated Washingtonians. 

When youth from Washington are placed in the federal penitentiary system, they can be sent to any prison across the country (potentially thousands of miles away from family or friends). Windows From Prison utilizes photography as a way to bridge this distance while creating space and humanistic entry points for students, teachers, NGO's, family members of incarcerated individuals, former prisoners, and policy makers to engage with the sources, impacts, and alternatives to mass incarceration.

“If you could have a window in your cell, what place from your past would it look out to?”
This question was asked to prisoners who are from Washington but who have been sent to prisons across the country. As responses came back, students from George Mason University and Duke Ellington High School went across the city, created the requested photographs, and mailed the images to the incarcerated participants.
From April 7 -21, the photographs, which have each been printed on 10-foot banners, will be exhibited on George Mason University’s Fairfax campus (situated in the main public square in front of the Fenwick Library).

For the exhibit, the project has partnered students, teachers, policy advocates, former prisoners, and community members to produce an extensive set of public programing. Each day will feature film screenings, brainstorming sessions, lectures, poetry readings, and more in hopes of meaningfully exploring the causes, effects, and alternatives to incarceration.

For more information, the requested images from those incarcerated and a list of events, visit, here

To learn more about the efforts to remove youth from the adult court in the District of Columbia, please visit CFYJ's website, here.  

Friday, April 11, 2014

New York Governor Forms Commission on Youth, Public Safety & Justice



By Christopher Costner
CFYJ Fellow

On April 9, New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, announced the members for his Commission

on Youth, Public Safety & Justice. This Commission will generate recommendations and policies regarding youth in New York’s criminal and juvenile justice systems. The Governor indicated that New York’s laws are archaic and in desperate need of improvement. New York is currently one of only two states (North Carolina being the second) that automatically charges 16 and 17 year olds as adults. In 2013 alone, New York State had 33,000 cases handled in the adult court system involving children only 16 and 17 years old. Due to this, thousands of children were denied the proper services and help that they would be offered in juvenile courts and detention facilities. Members appointed to the commission include several justice focused groups such as: the Albany Chief of Police, NYC Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, Executive Director of the Children’s Defense Fund, and Executive Director of the Correctional Association of NY.

This Commission is a great step towards justice for New York youth, and the Campaign for Youth Justice will be eager to follow the work of this prestigious commission. For more information see this press release from the Governor’s Office, which outlines the Commission’s goals and all the participating members.



For Safer Communities, We Must Start with a System that's Fair

By Benjamin Chambers
Communications Director for the National Juvenile JusticeNetwork.

This week’s blog, For Safer Communities, We Must Start with a System that's Fair, is from Benjamin Chambers at the National Juvenile Justice Network.  It comes during National Crime Victims' Rights Week and talks about the pervasiveness of racial and ethnic disparities in the treatment of youth in the justice system and in the numbers of youth who are victims of crime.

As I write this, I've just left “SurvivorsSpeak,” a conference in California that brought together hundreds of crime victims and survivors for the first time. It was a powerful, moving event. Conference attendees came from all over the state, yet they had many tragic stories in common: losing multiple family members to violence, long histories of sexual and domestic violence, being victims of sex trafficking or hate crimes. They were also predominantly people of color, from low-income communities.

The event was a testament to the devastating impact of crime (and the inadequate response of the justice system) on impoverished communities of color.  To my mind, it also reinforced the need for Congress to reauthorize and strengthen the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA).

As juvenile justice advocates already know, youth of color are disproportionately impacted at every stage of the juvenile justice system: they’re arrested more often and punished more severely than their white counterparts.  And we also know that incarcerating kids—or merely involving kids in the formal juvenile justice system—is ineffective and may even make them more likely to commit new crimes.

youngmenofcolorBut that’s only half the story. Kids and adults of color are not only more likely to get in trouble with the law, they’re also more likely than their white counterparts to be victims and survivors of crime.

Data from the National Crime Victimization Survey shows that over a six-month period, Latinos, African Americans, and American Indians were significantly more likely than whites to have been victims of violent crime;and a recent statewide survey in California found that Latinos and African Americans are “more likely than whites to have been victims of three or more crimes over a five-year period.”


As we note in “A House Divided No More: Common Cause forJuvenile Justice Advocates, Victim Advocates, and Communities”—a new paper from my organization, the National Juvenile Justice Network – research shows that being victimized by violent crime makes kids more likely to commit new crimes.

One study of over 5,000 youth published by the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention found that youth who were the victims of a violent offense were three times more likely to commit a violent offense in the next twelve months than those who were not.

To sum up: on the one hand, we have a disproportionate number of kids of color being caught up in a juvenile justice system that can make them more likely to commit new crimes. On the other hand, we have untold numbers of youth of color being victimized by violent crime at disproportionate rates in their own communities – which also makes them more likely to commit new crimes.

The JJDPA can’t fix this problem. But it can help.

Right now, the Act requires states to study and “address” disproportionate minority contact (DMC) in their juvenile justice systems.  But that vague requirement hasn’t yielded much progress.

Much more could be done to set expectations for the Act’s DMC “core requirement” about what concrete steps states should take to achieve measurable reductions in racial and ethnic disparities. The Act might even take a more holistic approach and require collaborative work with other agencies to ensure that communities with the highest need for victims’ services and trauma care receive targeted attention.


Both steps would result in safer communities, especially in the areas hardest-hit by crime.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Governor Rick Perry Refuses to Protect Vulnerable Populations in Texas Jails and Prisons

The Campaign for Youth Justice in continuing our mission to protect children and youth incarcerated throughout the United States, condemned a recent statement by the Texas governor that he will not certify whether Texas’s prisons and jails are in compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), which was enacted by a unanimous vote of Congress and signed in to law by President George W. Bush in 2003.  

In a letter sent to Attorney General Holder on March 28, 2014, Texas Governor Rick Perry stated that he will not provide the Department of Justice with information on Texas’ compliance with PREA. The purpose of the Act is to “provide for the analysis of the incidence and effects of prison rape in federal, state, and local institutions and to provide information, resources, and recommendations and funding to protect individuals from prison rape.”

“Prison rape is not a bargaining chip. Thousands of children under 18 are placed in Texas jails and prisons each year with real potential of victimization. Governor Perry is behind the times and should be ashamed at the potential harm he will cause to thousands of inmates in Texas,” said Carmen Daugherty, Policy Director for the Campaign for Youth Justice.

For CFYJ's full press release, click here.

Coming Soon: A Watershed Moment on DMC

By Dick Mendel
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.

Reading through JJIE’s extensive coverage regarding racial and ethnic disparities in juvenile justice over the past month, reviewing its excellent new DMC resource hub, and scanning the available literature, it is impossible to avoid a couple of painful conclusions.

More than two-thirds of the kids confined by juvenile justice systems nationwide in 2011 were youth of color, even though white non-Hispanic youth still comprised 57 percent of the U.S. youth population.

First, our nation’s juvenile courts and corrections systems remain deeply inequitable. More aggressive policing in low-income communities of color, counterproductive and racially-biased school disciplinary policies, weak legal representation and failed human service systems all inflate the rate at which youth of color enter the system. Then, once involved in the justice system, youth of color are subjected to a far more punitive and counterproductive variety of justice than white youth.

In its 2012 review of juvenile justice, the National Academy of Sciences found that even controlling for seriousness of the current offense, offending history and a host of other factors, “data consistently show that race/ethnicity are associated with court outcomes, and that racial/ethnic differences increase and become more pronounced with further penetration into the system through the various decision points.”  In addition, NAS concluded, “bias (whether conscious or unconscious) also plays a role,” and “many conventional practices in enforcement and administration [in the justice system] magnify these underlying disparities.”

Second, though the evidence of unequal justice is overwhelming – a stark deviation from our democratic ideals – our country is not making much if any progress to redress it. Just look at the latest census of youth in custody nationwide: More than two-thirds of the kids confined by juvenile justice systems nationwide in 2011 were youth of color, even though white non-Hispanic youth still comprised 57 percent of the U.S. youth population. The confinement rate for black youth in 2011 was 4.6 times that of whites, up from 4.1 times a decade earlier. Already large disparities have worsened for Hispanic and Native American youth as well.

JJIEYouthColorFortunately, there may be some good news on the horizon. On March 28, Administrator Robert Listenbee and other top staff in the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention will convene an unusual, perhaps unprecedented powwow with some of the nation’s leading juvenile justice reform advocates to discuss fundamental changes in OJJDP’s approach to racial and ethnic disparities.

This meeting presents a rare opportunity to initiate a meaningful, much-needed reboot of federal efforts to assure equal justice for youth of color.

For many years, it’s been an open secret that reformers and youth advocates are dissatisfied with the federal government’s lack of urgency in addressing the impossible-to-deny disparities in the treatment of youth of color in the justice system.

Yet, at least so far as OJJDP is concerned, the complaints have most often been muted, indirect, polite. As one long-time insider told me recently, “There’s not too many people who want to criticize OJJDP.  They’re the only source of grant money in the field.” OJJDP also funds many or most of the organizations and consultants working on DMC issues, assisting states and localities to calculate disparities and hopefully solve them. So, full-throated criticisms are rare.

The basic outlines of the critique are clear.

First, advocates and many juvenile justice practitioners are deeply disappointed in Congress’ failure to issue a clear and specific mandate requiring states and localities to take concrete action to remedy disparities. When first enacted in 1974, the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act did not include any provisions related to racial equity. Congress did amend the law in 1988 adding a requirement that states study their systems, determine if minority youth were overrepresented in juvenile facilities, and undertake reforms efforts if disparities were identified.

Four years later, Congress elevated this mandate by making it a “core requirement” of the law. But that requirement only demanded that states study confinement disparities and then “address” any problems they uncovered, with no definition of what that meant.

When it reauthorized the JJDPA in 2002, Congress expanded the DMC mandate’s focus from disparate minority confinement (looking only at which kids get locked up) to disparate contact (examining disparities at all phases of the delinquency court process). But Congress punted on the equally important need to strengthen the racial and ethnic equity mandate by insisting on meaningful concrete action to correct disparities. Since then, Congress has failed to reauthorize the law despite widespread consensus that many of its provisions are weak or dated, none more so than the DMC mandate.

When the JJDPA was first up for reauthorization in 2007, and again in 2009, the advocacy community banded together to promote specificamendments to JJDPA, including stronger DMC requirements, and it worked with sympathetic legislators to insert favorable provisions into legislative proposals.

By contrast, advocates have been far less vocal regarding OJJDP’s role, due in part to a lingering lack of leadership at OJJDP. The agency’s administrator under President George W. Bush, Robert Flores, had no background in juvenile justice and little appetite for reform. Then President Barack Obama neglected to appoint a leader for OJJDP throughout his entire first term.

Yet, the fact remains that even without congressional reauthorization of the JJDPA, OJJDP has the authority to make many of the changes advocates seek regarding racial and ethnic disparities, and the resources to significantly up its game on the issue.

In 2010, for instance, the Coalition for Juvenile Justice urged OJJDP to “craft explicit outcomes” for efforts to address disparities. “The other three core requirements of the JJDPA … are informed by associated implementation regulations and a set of metrics that must be substantially met for states to receive full federal funding,” CJJ wrote.  “Such regulatory guidance and performance measures [should] be developed for DMC as well.”

In fact, OJJDP has a framework to guide states in meeting the DMC requirement. The agency advocates a five-step change model for addressing disparities, and it lists four requirements for states to be in compliance with the DMC mandate — comparing outcomes for youth of different racial and ethnic backgrounds against white youth (by calculating the “Relative Rate Index”) at successive stages of the justice process, assessing the causes of identified disparities, developing and implementing strategies to reduce disparities, and tracking outcomes.

In practice, however, states seem to be held accountable only for: (a) calculating the Relative Rate Index; and (b) submitting reports. Since 2006, only one state (Mississippi) and two territories (American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands) have been penalized for failure to comply. As the Haywood Burns Institute — a leading think tank and consulting firm dedicated to combatting racial disparities — complained in a 2008 monograph, “The federal government set the bar so low that today nearly anything — regardless of how attenuated or remote from actual results — done in the name of ‘DMC’ is still considered adequate.”

If OJJDP is looking to strengthen its requirements regarding racial and ethnic equity, one target might be data reporting.

As of 2005, just 13 states reliably reported on the ethnicity of youth at various stages of the juvenile court process, leaving them unable to accurately account for the share of youth with Hispanic heritage. Though this situation is improving, problems persist in many states. And OJJDP’s own National DMC Databook still provides no information whatsoever on Hispanic youth, the nation’s largest and fastest growing minority population.

OJJDP might also insist that states capture and analyze data at the local level, not just aggregate state figures. Most of the decisions affecting the treatment of youth — from arrest, diversion, detention, probation and placement — are typically handled at the local level. The dynamics of racial and ethnic equity operate far differently in Los Angeles than in Eureka, so state-level figures offer little benefit.

More fundamentally, OJJDP could promulgate (and really enforce) regulations that require meaningful action to reduce racial and ethnic disparities, following a clear set of protocols. It could require communities to establish active steering committees to examine disparities at the local level, meet regularly, develop action plans to address identified points of disparity and monitor the impact of their chosen strategies.

Beyond issuing new rules, OJJDP could also revamp its process for delivering technical support to states and local jurisdictions on racial and ethnic equity.

Advocates complain that the aid offered by OJJDP doesn’t adhere to important lessons gleaned through leading reform efforts, such as those conducted by the Burns Institute and the Center for Children’s Law and Policy. In these efforts, local leadership teams receive ongoing support from consultants with expertise not just in number crunching, but also in engaging system and community actors and facilitating deeper conversations to identify the hidden dynamics that often drive disparate treatment.

By contrast, says Bell, “When you get us, we’re gonna be there every month, we’re gonna be asking ‘What’s the progress? Did you do that?’  And we’re going to help you do it.  [It] has to be about moving a process. That’s why you need to be there a long time, to establish relationships and to move a process.”“You can’t just parachute in,” says James Bell, founder and executive director of the Burns Institute. Currently, Bell explains, when jurisdictions request technical assistance from OJJDP “they’re gonna send someone in for some period of time, a day or two, maybe a week, and then you’re done until your next request.”

Over the past decade, the Burns Institute has applied its intensive methodology in more than 100 jurisdictions nationwide, including many sites in the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative. Likewise, through the Models for Change DMC Action network and other funders, the Center for Children’s Law and Policy has facilitated similar processes in many other jurisdictions. Often, these engagements have yielded encouraging results.

“We feel confident in the approach,” says Jason Szanyi, a staff attorney at CCLP. “We’re using it for a variety of funders. There’s faith in the process.”

To date, however, outside of a few smaller studies, none of these change models has ever been subject to an in-depth, independent evaluation to measure impact empirically, shed light on the characteristics of more vs. less successful sites, and examine critical factors in the timing or delivery of consulting support.

Here again, OJJDP support could make a pivotal difference.

Whether this type of evaluation research will be discussed at the March 28 event is anyone’s guess. The session will include leading advocates such as Bell and Raquel Mariscal of the Burns Institute, Bart Lubow of the Casey Foundation and Juan Sanchez of Southwest Key, as well as researchers, judges and OJJDP staff.

Another prominent participant will be Mark Soler, executive director of the Center for Children’s Law and Policy, which leads the DMC action network in MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change project. Soler has a long commitment to the racial and ethnic disparities issue, which he has championed heartily at CCLP and as part of the Building Blocks for Youth initiative.

Soler, who got to know Listenbee as part of the Models for Change effort in Pennsylvania, has been deeply involved in the discussions leading up to the March 28 meeting. Reached by telephone, he expressed optimism.

“We’ve let Bob know that we see some problems [in how the agency has been addressing the racial and ethnic disparities challenge historically].  We’ve made some observations and recommendations, and Bob has been very interested,” Soler said.

“He has authority to make changes, and he realizes that there’s only a limited window to get things done,” Soler added. “So he’s doing what any responsible administrator would do — taking the ideas to his team, and to outside experts, after which he will make a final decision.


“We’re all eager to hear what that decision will be.”

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

UN Criticizes American Policies on Juveniles in Adult Courts and Prisons


By Christopher Costner
CFYJ Fellow

On Wednesday, March 26, 2014, the United Nations Human Rights Committee issued statements in regards to U.S. policies of incarcerating youth in adult prisons and also trying youth as adults. While the Committee applauded the recent efforts of the U.S. Supreme Court in banning mandatory life-without-parole sentences for youth in Miller v. Alabama, they were openly critical of state policies that exclude 16 and 17 year-olds from juvenile court jurisdictions and cause them to be tried and convicted in an adult court. The Committee also expressed disapproval of the fact that many youth are placed in adult prisons and jails, exposing them to a risk of physical and/or sexual abuse due to their immaturity and lack of development.

The U.N. Committee stressed that all youth under 18 years- of- age should be separated from adults during pretrial detention and after sentencing, and that youth should not be transferred to adult courts. In addition, all juvenile life-without-parole sentences, regardless of the crime, should be abolished, along with non-homicide and mandatory related sentences of life-without-parole. The Committee urged states to change their laws and policies to include all youth under 18 year- old in the jurisdiction of the juvenile court system. Lastly, there was a strong push by the Committee for solitary confinement being banned for anyone under the age of 18.  

Such strong criticism and recommendations from the U.N. Committee bolsters our efforts across the country as we work to ensure that all youth are treated as youth and states finally recognize that kids are different.  For more information, please see this release from our allies at the City University of New York Law School, who attended the meeting in person.