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  • The Legacy of Helping Teens for 31 Years

    Jamie Ortiz is leaving a legacy of service in Ventura County Probation Agency, where caring adults are helping break the cycle of drugs, alcohol and crime.

    Because of the relationships that Jamie has built, Reclaiming Futures Ventura County, CA, teens are connecting to mentors and educators.

    Countless teens, like “JM”, are renewing their relationships with family and making positive contributions to their communities.

    “JM” has continued the legacy of service by presenting to middle school students at Red Ribbon Week and helping other young people reclaim their futures.

    We thank Jamie, who retires at the end of March, after 31 years of service. Jamie's contributions to Reclaiming Futures Ventura County, CA and these partnerships will last for generations.

  • Recognizing the Symptoms of Trauma in Justice-Involved Youth

    Justice-involved youth have complex histories that not only contributed to their delinquency but present challenges for rehabilitation. They often experience poverty, violence, familial instability, exposure to drug use and gangs, and serial relocations. These compound factors exacerbate a lack of self-confidence, learning difficulties, physical disabilities, and mental health issues.

    In the field of public health, these experiences are identified as traumatic: including a loss of safety, powerlessness, fear, hopelessness, and a constant state of alertness. In the video above, Christa Collins notes that exposure to trauma severely diminishes decision-making skills and the ability to cope with stress.

  • Delegating Authority to Improve Juvenile Justice in California

    In Judaism, congregants progress through the Torah by studying a weekly portion or Parsha, carrying a theme that facilitates reflection and broader conversation. The Torah portion titled Yitro, is rich with themes relevant to juvenile justice. Here, Moses and the Israelites stand before Mount Sinai, having escaped Egypt. Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, joins him at Sinai and advises him to delegate authority through a system of judges. Later, God reveals the Ten Commandments to Moses and the Israelite people.

    In commemoration of Yitro, San Francisco’s Congregation Sherith Israel (CSI) organized a Shabbat juvenile justice discussion on Saturday, February 2, titled Rethinking Juvenile Justice: Get Tough or Get Smart. San Francisco Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ross and USF Associate Professor Kimberly Richman moderated the discussion. Participants included:

    CSI’s Rabbi Raphael opened the panel by noting Yitro’s special significance for juvenile justice. The juvenile justice system was established under a legal doctrine that delegated parental responsibilities to the state when they could not be satisfied by community caregivers. Over the years, the state has developed its own custodial facilities to serve high-risk youth offenders.

  • Kids Demand A Plan Beyond Gun Control

    Weeks after a gunman killed 20 elementary-school students and six educators in Newtown, CT, yet another school shooting occurred at Taft Union High School in Taft, California. On January 10, a high school student brought a firearm to class and injured another student and a teacher. The shooting, which took place just hours after a staff safety training, has left many moms, like me, wondering what can be done to keep our kids safe in school.

    After spending years trying to prevent school tragedies with Peace Over Violence, it seems that I should have something profound to say. To my surprise, I was at a loss for words, and that is when I turned to the youth.

  • Coping After Shootings: Resources for Youth Workers, Families

    The tragic and devastating shootings this week in Oregon, California and Connecticut have stunned their communities and the nation. In the wake of this devastation it’s important for the families, communities and children affected to be able to find a way to cope in the aftermath of the event. The Safe Start Center has a variety of resources that can help communities manage and find a way to handle this kind of exposure to violence and trauma.

    Healing the Invisible Wounds: Children’s Exposure to Violence – A Guide for Families [pdf]
    Survivors of these types of events may have been physically and/or emotionally hurt by witnessing the violent event. Children are resilient, but if the child has been affected it may be difficult to identify when something is wrong especially if there are no clear physical signs of harm. The above guide can help in understanding how to help children cope with the “invisible wounds” affecting them emotionally and psychologically.

  • California's County-By-County Youth Crime Trends Defy Conventional Theory

    Earlier this week, CJCJ launched its California juvenile justice interactive map, displaying a plethora of data regarding local youth arrest and confinement practices by county. This is particularly pertinent given that California’s statewide trends are so extraordinary: Youth crime in California is at its lowest level since statewide statistics were first compiled in 1954.

    The county-by-county data paint a more nuanced picture of juvenile justice in California. Among its 58 counties, the application of juvenile justice policy is radically varied, and with mixed results.

    For example, San Francisco County has the highest youth arrest rate in the state, due primarily to the fact that San Francisco is the only county comprised wholly of a city. Most arrests involve youth of color from the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Despite high rates of violent crime, the county utilizes confinement infrequently, displaying very low levels of state youth correctional commitments and lower than average use of its local custodial facilities; 49% of beds in the county’s two juvenile justice facilities (juvenile hall + camp) were occupied in 2010. Driving this commitment to rehabilitate even the hardest-to-serve youth in the community is a wealth of nonprofit service providers and dedicated local government leadership.

  • California Legislation Targets School Discipline

    California Governor Jerry Brown has signed two bills that seek to reform school discipline in California schools.

    The first, Assembly Bill 1729, introduces intervening means of behavior correction prior to suspension or expulsion. Such behavior correction could include tiered interventions that occur during the school day, a parent-teacher conference, a restorative justice program, or an after-school program focusing on positive activities and behaviors.

    The second, Assembly Bill 2537, clarifies that over-the-counter medication and toy guns in schools do not immediately trigger zero-tolerance penalties. School administrators may still make such a determination, but it is no longer automatic. This permits some degree of case-by-case analysis into an individual student’s behavior and intent.



  • Longer Sentences for Youth Do Not Improve Public Safety

    Pathways to Desistance, a study of serious youth offenders, finds that long institutional commitments do not reduce recidivism and in fact can have the opposite effect. The study follows over 1,300 youth convicted of serious felonies (inc. murder, robbery, and sex offenses) across the country over a seven-year period.

    A September 2012 factsheet from the National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN) summarizes the latest findings of the study:

    • A youth’s future likelihood to re-offend cannot be predicted based on their presenting offense.
    • Placing youth in long-term confinement has no effect on their rate of re-arrest.
    • Substance abuse issues can significantly increase the risk of recidivism; however, appropriate treatment reduces this risk.

    These findings have significant policy implications for California’s juvenile justice system. For example, Proposition 21 (2000) requires that youth who commit certain serious crimes be directly transferred to adult criminal court. However, as the researchers note, this sort of blanket policy makes little sense, as the data demonstrate their offense does not determine their risk level, and sending youth to the adult system severely limits their access to rehabilitative services.

  • Teens Judging Teens

    First-time juvenile offenders in Humboldt County, California, are sometimes referred not to a judge in a black robe, but to their peers for sentencing. Part of a growing trend to infuse accountability and restorative justice into juvenile justice, teen courts involve teenagers (some volunteers, some performing court-ordered community service) who hear the facts of a case and decide on sentences for their fellow juveniles.

    The sentences in these courts can be unique and varied—and often involve the teens’ perceptions of what the juvenile offender must do to make society whole and repair the damage done for his or her crimes.

    In Humboldt County, teens sentenced their peers in 341 cases between 2001 and 2012, and only 28 youth were charged with a new crime within a year after their stint in the teen court.

  • California Gives JLWOP Kids Second Chance
    by LIZ WU

    On Sunday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed the Fair Sentencing for Youth Act to give some kids sentenced to life without parole an opportunity to earn a second chance. California currently has 309 inmates who could be affected by this.

    KPCC explains:

    Under the new law, people who were convicted of murder or other serious crimes as juveniles can petition a judge for reconsideration of their sentences. They can only do that after they’ve served 15 years. An inmate must show remorse and be enrolled in rehabilitative programs.

    If an inmate meets the criteria, a judge could decide to shorten his or her sentence to 25 years to life with a chance for parole. The inmate would then go through the same vetting process that all offenders undergo when they’re up for parole.

    While the US Supreme Court recently struck down mandatory JLWOP sentences, California was not affected by the ruling, as the state's judges already have sentencing discretion.

  • Phoenix House Uses the West Side Story Project to Disrupt the Cycle of Youth Violence

    In September 2011, Phoenix House, one of the nation’s leading non-profit providers of substance abuse treatment, received a two-year grant from the Department of Justice to address the issue of youth violence using a curriculum called the West Side Story Project. For the past year, Phoenix House has been working with young adults at six of our program sites to deconstruct cultural stereotypes, build relationships with members of law enforcement, and promote peaceful conflict resolution – using themes and content from the musical West Side Story.

    Funded via the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), the West Side Story Project got its start in Seattle in 2007, with the goal of increasing the capacity of law enforcement agencies to positively interact with at-risk kids through community partnerships. Phoenix House is fortunate to have had the project’s creator, Anna Laszlo, guiding our implementation of the grant across the country. Our work would not be possible without the participation of police departments in Arlington, Virginia; Dallas, Texas; Los Angeles and Santa Ana, California; and New York City and Suffolk County, New York.

  • Most Popular Juvenile Justice Blog Posts of August
    by LIZ WU

    We realize that many of our readers spent at least part of August traveling and spending time away from the computer. So, we've put together a little recap of our most popular juvenile justice blog posts of August 2012.

    10. A Look Back on 11 Years of Juvenile Justice Reform
    Earlier this summer, the National Conference of State Legislatures published a report detailing the progress made in the juvenile justice arena at the state and national levels.

    9. Funding Opportunity: Improve Outcomes for Boys of Color
    The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation announced a new call for proposals for 10 grants of up to $500,000 each. The Forward Promise initiative is looking for innovative, community-based projects working to strengthen health, education and employment outcomes for middle school and high school-aged boys and young men of color.

  • From Incarceration to Fighting Fires: Teens Preparing to Reintegrate into Society

    Driving into the wooded campus of Pine Grove Youth Conservation Camp feels like arriving at a summer camp – until you see the road signs warning that you are entering a correctional facility.

    The mint green office, school, kitchen and dorm buildings are relics from their Civilian Conservation Corps days. The only hint that something unique is happening here is the large garage with red and white ambulance-looking vehicles marked CAL FIRE parked inside.

    At this camp, about 60 young men aged 18-25 serve the last year of their sentence with the California Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) fighting wild land fires and responding to other emergencies on a CAL FIRE crew. There are no fences, the doors are unlocked and wards are regularly left unsupervised.

    “We give them opportunities to screw up,” says Camp Superintendent Mike Roots. “We hope they don’t—but sometimes it takes a while.”

    The main goal of the camp is to prepare wards to return to their communities with a work ethic and job skills that will help them be productive members of society. But after a decade of juvenile realignment, Roots says that goal is getting harder to achieve.

  • CA Supreme Court Prohibits Lengthy Sentences for Teens Convicted of Non-Homicide Crimes

    The California Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling last week in People v. Caballero, holding that a term of years sentence that is effectively a defacto life without parole sentence for a juvenile in a non-homicide case violates the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Graham v. Florida. In Graham, the Supreme Court ruled that juveniles convicted of non- homicide offenses could not be sentenced to life without parole under the Eighth Amendment. In its unanimous decision, the California Court wrote: “We must determine here whether a 110-year-to- life sentence imposed on a juvenile convicted of nonhomicide offenses contravenes Graham’s mandate against cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. We conclude it does.”

    Rodrigo Caballero was represented by California attorney David Durchfort. Caballero was 16 years old when he opened fire on three teenage boys who were members of a rival gang, injuring one of the teens. Caballero was found guilty on three counts of attempted homicide and was sentenced to a term of 110 years, making him eligible for parole consideration in 2112 – a century from now. “For the first time, a state Supreme Court ruled that very lengthy prison terms for juveniles who did not kill are unconstitutional if the sentence does not afford a meaningful opportunity of release,” said Durchfort. “Rodrigo Caballero’s family is grateful that he will now have that opportunity.”

  • National Leadership, Local Models for Juvenile Justice Reform

    Last Thursday, Los Angeles City Councilman Tony Cárdenas traveled to San Francisco to meet leading juvenile justice policy experts from Northern California at the San Francisco State University Downtown Campus. Councilman Cárdenas is running unopposed this November in a new Congressional district in Los Angeles and will be sworn into office in January 2013 as one of California’s newest members of Congress.

    Mr. Cárdenas was very explicit with the policy advocates that his number one issue priority as a member of Congress will be juvenile justice reform. The purpose of the meeting was to obtain California-based expertise in developing a broad reform platform, and to better understand the federal policy landscape and where reform trends in California intersect.

    He described how many of his childhood friends from the Pacoima area in Los Angeles had contact with the juvenile justice system and had little access to rehabilitative services or treatment options. Mr. Cárdenas was adamant that systemic shifts need to occur in order to direct federal and state funding towards those community-based models that demonstrate results.

  • Nation's First Philanthropic Initiative Targeting Black Male Youth in the Juvenile Justice System Begins in Los Angeles

    In November 2011, the California Community Foundation implemented a new $5 million, five-year initiative, BLOOM, aimed at helping Black male youth, ages 14-18, who are or have been involved with the L.A. County probation system, to find new paths to education and employment and away from the juvenile justice/delinquency system. BLOOM, which stands for "Building a Lifetime of Options and Opportunities for Men," is the only major philanthropic initiative in the nation that is focused specifically on Black male youth in the justice/delinquency system. BLOOM's ultimate goal is to contribute to a 10 percent reduction in Black male youth supervised by the county probation system - approximately 480 youth.

    Why This Initiative
    The Community Foundation developed the BLOOM initiative in based on several underlying factors:

    1. The persistent poor outcomes for Black male youth related to economic opportunities, housing, education and emotional support;
    2. The strains caused to economic and social systems as a result of these poor outcomes;
    3. A growing awareness both locally and nationally among philanthropy, human and social service professionals and policy experts about the need to address the ongoing crisis facing Black men and boys; and
    4. An understanding that there are sufficient counter examples to suggest that the life chances of this population can be positively altered through effective policies and direct service interventions.

  • Helping Youth Feel Safe, Cared For Key to Breaking School-to-Prison Pipeline

    Editor's note: This story is part of a 10-part investigative series: Lessening the impact of incarceration in Oakland.

    Nick Smith was shuttled from high school to high school in recent years, whenever a relative died or was shot.

    When his mother died of cancer three years ago he moved from San Ramon Valley High School to San Leandro High so he could live with his older brother. When his brother was shot and killed, he moved to Oakland to live with another brother. By the time he got to Oakland Technical High School his senior year, he discovered he hadn't taken enough core academic courses to graduate. Nobody had counseled him to take the right classes; indeed he did not have any adult in his life he could turn to for advice.

    “Teachers can’t interpret a student’s situation," Smith said of what it was like to be in school during all the rocky and sad events of the past few years. "They didn’t know what was going on.”

    Adding to the wounds, staff at some of the high schools did not seem to expect much from him or care one way or another what happened to him.

  • Beating the School-to-Prison Pipeline by Focusing on Truancy, Absenteeism

    Editor's note: This story is part of a 10-part investigative series: Lessening the impact of incarceration in Oakland.

    Judge Gloria Rhynes leveled with the young Oakland mother whose third grader had missed two months of school.

    "Did you know, the California Department of Corrections looks at who is absent in the third grade to figure out how many prison cells they are going to need when those children are adults?" Judge Rhynes, an Alameda County Superior Court judge, asked her as the mother’s case was heard in Truancy Court one morning in early May.

    "The correlation is that strong," between missing school in the elementary years and winding up in jail, she said, between not learning third grade skills of reading and multiplication to falling so far behind in middle school that by high school the student drops out, the Judge continued. "I just convicted a 19-year old to 30 years to life. Do you think he had an education? Heck no."

    Two out of three kids who drop out of Oakland public schools come into contact with the criminal justice system, according to an Oakland Unified School District report. And the dropout rate is 37 percent among Oakland public high school students. In some of Oakland's poorest neighborhoods, more than half of high school students do not graduate.

  • Prison or Prevention: Maltreated Children and the Juvenile Justice System

    Over the last 20 years, numerous studies have confirmed that children who experience maltreatment are more likely to be referred/arrested for delinquent offenses. Maltreated children have also been found to more likely become involved in the adult criminal justice system. In fact, a 2004 National Institute of Justice study found maltreated children to be 11 times more likely than a matched control group to be arrested, and 2.7 times more likely to be arrested as an adult.

    In 2011, the California Senate Office of Research released findings about the foster care experiences of California prison inmates who were scheduled to be paroled within eight months of June 2008. This research found that of the 2,549 polled inmates, 316 men and 40 women (14%) had been in foster care sometime during their youth and half of this percentage had been placed in group homes.

    As a result of these studies, several child protective service (CPS) agencies, including the Department of Children and Family Services in Los Angeles County (LA), have joined forces with their counterparts in the juvenile justice system to collaboratively service youth who were concurrently involved in both of these systems. These youth are commonly referred to as “crossover” youth. While LA was observing some initial positive outcomes from these teaming efforts, two leaders [1] involved in the effort wondered if it was possible through research to identify which of the maltreated children were the most likely to become delinquent. If this was possible, then perhaps new practices could be adopted to prevent these youth from becoming delinquent, thereby increasing the likelihood that these most at-risk youth would become productive adults versus adult criminals.

  • San Francisco's Community-Focused "Wraparound" Approach Reduces Recidivism

    Last month, members of CJCJ’s Wraparound team had the honor of presenting to juvenile justice leaders from select California counties at the Sierra Health Foundation’s Positive Youth Justice Initiative (PYJI) Speaker Series. Juvenile Justice Clinical Supervisor, Margaret Hitchcock and Wrap Rehabilitation Counselor, Randell Lewis, were joined by CJCJ’s Executive Director, Daniel Macallair, San Francisco Deputy Director of Juvenile Probation, Allison Magee, and Statewide expert on EPSDT and Wraparound funds, Joseph Harrington. As one of California’s model counties, the San Francisco collaborative was invited by Sierra Health Foundation to discuss its community-based wraparound approach toward serving high-needs youth.

    (Sierra Health Foundation’s Positive Youth Justice Initiative - Applying a Community‐Based Wraparound Approach from Youth Empowerment Studios on Vimeo.)

    This wraparound model would not be effective without the collaboration between the San Francisco Probation Department, Public Defender’s Office, other county departments and community-based nonprofits. As a result of this collaboration, San Francisco has seen a dramatic reduction in recidivism since implementation of the Wraparound program in 2009.

  • Helping Teens with Incarcerated Parents lead Successful Lives

    Editor's note: This story is part of a 10-part investigative series: Lessening the impact of incarceration in Oakland.

    Eunique is a vibrant 18-year-old African-American student at Oakland’s Fremont High whose Dad was incarcerated when she was seven years old.

    “I’ll be honest with you,” she said as her broad smile stopped in its tracks. “I didn’t get any help from anybody during all of the years that my Dad was in prison. No one ever asked me how I was doing.”

    During the nine years that her Dad was away, Eunique said she felt like an outcast.

    “I felt like I was all alone and different than all of the other kids and families,” she said. ”It was awful.”

    Studies show stories like Eunique's are the norm.

    Teens face unique challenges, according to "Children on the Outside: Voicing the Pain and Costs of Parental Incarceration," a Justice Strategies report published in 2011. Like other children of incarcerated parents, they often face separation from siblings, having to move from place to place and increased poverty. Teens have an increased risk of delinquent behavior and an increased likelihood of school failure along with a sense of stigma and shame that impacts on their sense of who they are in the world.

  • Teens in Juvenile Justice System Creating Hope and Opportunity through The Beat Within's Writing and Art Program

    For the better part of the last two decades, The Beat Within has been committed to a mission of providing incarcerated youth with a forum where they can write (and draw) about the things that matter most to them, explore how they have lost connection with those things they value, and consider how they might re-connect to positive situations in their lives through the power of the written word.

    This is a program that started small, in the Bay Area, with a commitment to provide detained kids between the ages of 11 to 18 with a safe space to share their ideas and experiences while promoting literacy, self-expression, some critical thinking skills, and healthy, supportive relationships with adults and their community.

    That modest local effort has grown into a nationwide program that touches the lives of more than 5,000 youth in detention. Today, you can find weekly Beat workshops going on in 12 California county juvenile halls, from Alameda to San Diego. We are partnering with universities from U.C. Berkeley to the University of Hawaii. Meanwhile, the workshop model for The Beat is being replicated in Arizona, Texas, Alabama, New Mexico, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, D.C., and, thanks to the JJIE, Georgia.

  • San Bernardino Rethinks Approach to Juvenile Justice, Focuses on Education and Jobs Training

    An Inland Empire-based program launched in 2008 is proving that new thinking about keeping juvenile offenders out of state and county facilities can lead to dramatic results within just a few years.

    In California, San Bernardino's Gateway Program takes each juvenile offender, or "ward," and tailors a specific program to match each of them. Every single one who passes through contributes to a database that allows the county to conduct quarterly reviews and change course where ncessary.

    "The Gateway Program focuses on education and vocation, combined with quarterly assessment of outcomes," said Brenda Perez, the program's director.

    The numbers speak for themselves. The program's flexibility and constant evolution has made it incredibly efficient, slashing taxpayer costs by 20 percent compared to housing the same wards in state facilities.

  • Troubled Teen Trades Violence for Camera
    by LIZ WU

    A young woman in South Los Angeles is trading her violent past for a video camera in order to break the cycle of violence in her neighborhood.

    When she was 12, Claudia Gómez lost her sister to a violent ex-boyfriend. Her grief became anger which led to violence and she hurt people. But everything changed when she became pregnant and had a daughter. She turned her life around and began working at FREE L.A. High, a charter school that educates students who've spent time in the correctional system. In addition to a traditional education, students at FREE L.A. High learn about social justice and community organizing. 

    Now, Claudia is working with documentary filmmaker Jennifer Maytorena Taylor to film and produce thoughtful and honest interviews with former teen offenders about their lives.

    From KQED's California Report:

  • Misconceptions About High-Risk Youth Offenders

    The High Desert Daily Press featured a three-part story last week exploring how San Bernardino County prosecutes, supervises, and rehabilitates their juvenile offenders. Daily Press reporter Beatriz E. Valenzuela looked at patterns of juvenile crime and arrest reductions, the unbridled powers of local district attorneys to “direct file” juveniles into adult court and the impact of adult realignment and Governor Brown’s juvenile realignment plan on local corrections systems.

    The facts highlighted by the Daily Press are well known to criminal justice experts, but also demonstrate the many contradictions that exist in county and state-level juvenile justice practices. The third article also includes some unfortunate misinformation.

    Ms. Valenzuela quotes San Bernardino County Probation spokesman Chris Condon saying, “The state continued to take 707b offenders, or those who committed serious or violent felonies, and we at the county level housed the lower-level 707a offenders.” Mr. Condon argues that counties cannot handle more serious 707b youth offenders and that, “there are certain offenders who even with some rehab will not do well.”

    Yet San Bernardino County’s own local practices contradict this statement. San Bernardino County Probation manages the Gateway Program, a secure facility for high-needs youth. The probation department’s evaluation of the program shows that serious 707b offenders comprise 36% of the juvenile offenders in the Gateway Program.*

  • The Case for Phased Juvenile Justice Realignment in California

    California is embarking on an ambitious and deep-rooted reform of its corrections system, an effort that has come to be know as realignment. Gov. Jerry Brown’s main aims in this undertaking is to reduce dramatically high costs, as well as overcrowding and recidivism rates by transferring non-serious adult offenders and parolees from the state to the counties.

    But concurrent to this effort, many reform-minded criminal justice advocates also propose a full devolution of the state juvenile system to local counties. Full juvenile realignment is a historic opportunity to end a failed system, while addressing county-level discrepancies in sentencing and services. California’s 58 counties already manage much of the juvenile system, including total responsibility for supervising probation.

    Amid growing acceptance, the conversation around juvenile justice realignment in California stands to enter a new phase. In addition to Gov. Brown, Department of Finance, Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO), Little Hoover Commission, and various stakeholders are now publicly calling for empowering counties to assume full responsibility for serving their youthful offenders.

    Sacramento understands the exorbitant costs for maintaining a dual juvenile justice system, both in fiscal terms and as detrimental to effective rehabilitation. Per a recent report from the LAO, the state-run Division of Juvenile Facilities (DJF) spent $179,000 per youth for 2011-2012. Yet this spending does not temper the widespread culture of violence in the facilities, nor does it treat and educate our youth. As such, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) recently found an 80% re-arrest rate within three years of a youth’s release. DJF facilities remain in a condition of continued disrepair. Nevertheless, California is legally bound to spend enormous sums for their replacement and upkeep, as a result of an ongoing lawsuit.

  • Homeboy Industries: Changing Lives and Creating Opportunity in East Los Angeles
    by LIZ WU

    I really wanted to attend the Homeboy Industries and teen substance abuse interventions panel at JMATE, but didn't make it to the session. So I missed learning about Homeboy Industries' Project STAR program that works with recently released juveniles with a history of the substance abuse. They offer in-house, trauma-informed treatment that is sensitive to the unique needs of formerly gang-involved youth. Mental health services are a central part of the program, as are job trainings and academic and life skills classes.

    Started as an alternative to gang violence in Los Angeles, Homeboy Industries trains and hires at-risk, recently released and former gang involved young people with the goals of transforming troubled youth into productive members of their communities. They provide free counseling, education, tattoo removal, substance abuse and addiction assistance, job training and job placement services.

    Fast Company has a terrific piece on Homeboy Industries, its founder (Father Gregory Boyle) and the key people in charge of running the nonprofit.

    Father Gregory Boyle moved to East Los Angeles 26 years ago, and began walking and biking the neighborhood. He became friendly with the community and even visited gang members in the hospital. And one day, he realized that he could help residents escape the pervasive cycle of violence.

  • A New Perspective on CA's Juvenile Realignment Proposal from a Reformed Teen Offender
    by LIZ WU

    Joaquin DiazDeLeon is a college student, youth justice advocate and a Mayoral Appointee to the San Francisco Reentry Council. He's also spent time in the juvenile justice system.

    Joaquin was recently featured on KQED's "Perspectives" program, where he discussed his time in juvenile detention and California Governor Brown's realignment proposal:

    The whole point of juvenile incarceration should be about reform, preparing young people to re-enter society. Too often though, I felt like nothing more than a paycheck for guards whose sole job it was to lock and unlock doors...At 16, I was sent to two different state facilities that were more than 100 miles from my hometown. Gangs dominated the culture, and egos raged out of control. I was in a fight on my very first day.

    Separated by a two-hour drive from my mom, my town and everything I knew, I spent a long time believing that I was labeled for life. I couldn't imagine a day when I would be anything other than my crimes, when people could see me as a human again.

    I think people are missing the point when they debate whether or not counties should re-take control of juvenile justice, because I'm shocked communities ever gave teenagers away to the state in the first place. Rehabilitation happens when teenagers are forced to connect to their communities and confront their mistakes. Teen offenders need to understand that they're defecating where they eat. They need community support, instead of being locked up far away.

  • California Senate Hears Arguments for Juvenile Justice Realignment

    On Thursday, the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Public Safety heard testimony on Governor Brown’s proposal to close California’s remaining youth correctional facilities and shift supervision of the remaining 985 youth to the county-level. Strong public testimony was offered by the Department of Finance, the Legislative Analysts Office, the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ), and the Commonweal Foundation arguing for complete juvenile realignment from a variety of angles.

    Dan Macallair, Executive Director of CJCJ, argued that the state can no longer afford to maintain dual systems for youthful offenders, especially with costs estimated at $1 million per cell to replace the three remaining decrepit DJF facilities in Stockton and Ventura. He pointed out that many counties are already serving high-need youth offenders with a wide array of secure facilities and community-based services at their disposal for youth rehabilitation.

    David Steinhart, Juvenile Justice Program Director at Commonweal, presented ideas for staggered options for full juvenile realignment. He mentioned the “buy-back and opt-in” idea that was discussed in negotiations last year where counties receive a certain level of funding per youth ward, but can then purchase bed space at DJF if they desire.

  • Former Teen Offender Honored as Local Hero for Inspiring Incarcerated Youth

    In a juvenile detention center there is dedicated teacher who refuses to let students fail. He knows their hardships. He knows how to help them succeed. He’s been through it himself.

    “We try to help our students realize their potential and let them know they can achieve,” said East Mesa Detention Facility teacher JiAel Brownell.

    Brownell, 32, was recently honored by Union Bank and KPBS as a Local Hero in celebration of Black History Month. KPBS sent a camera crew to interview him on the job last month about his work with juvenile offenders.

    Brownell teaches English, Social Studies and U.S. History to the longer-term offenders.

    “He’s not giving up on me or just watching me fail,” said Sergio Ramirez Fuerta, 18, one of Brownell’s students. “I tell him, ‘I can’t do it’ and he tells me, ‘Don’t give up’ and I trust him.”

    Fuerta said he needs special help at times because he wasn’t attending school before he got in trouble. Since experiencing some success in Brownell’s classroom, he said he now plans to get his diploma when he finishes his sentence.

  • Humboldt County's Regional "New Horizons" Program Delivers Impressive Results

    Humboldt County's Probation Department is leading the way in utilizing innovative funding streams for serving California's highest-risk, highest-need youthful offenders. The department utilizes innovating funding streams in their New Horizons program to provide mental health in-facility and aftercare treatment in a way that puts rehabilitation at the center of their department's mission.

    From Humboldt’s County Probation Department's website:

    New Horizons, an intensive in-custody Mental Health treatment program, is offered within the secure environment of the Northern California Regional Facility. Treatment services include a combination of medication support, individual, group, and family counseling, alcohol/drug assessment and counseling, skill development training focused on anger management, moral judgment, the correction of thinking errors, social skills, and victim awareness.

    The transition to the aftercare phase of the program, offered to both participants and their families, includes linkage to the Mental Health System of Care Services, out-patient counseling and/or medication support, and case management services. Individualized strength-based child and family case plans are developed using the Family Unity process followed by the integration of wraparound services to support the minor and his/her family throughout community care programming.

  • What Realignment of CA's Juvenile System Could Mean for Families
    by LIZ WU

    Last month, California's Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO), joined the growing momentum for Governor Brown's juvenile realignment proposal with a report explaining the potential financial incentives. While advocates and pollicy groups continue to call for realignment and the de-incarceration of the juvenile system, it's important to take a step back and hear from the families with children in the system. 

    In an interview with Turnstyle News, Sumayyah Waheed, director of the Ella Baker Center's Books Not Bars campaign, explains why the current system is making it difficult for families to stay connected with their kids, which in turn makes it more difficult for the kids to rehabilitate:

  • EMT Training Program Builds a Pipeline from Jail to Job

    About two years ago, the director of an Alameda County’s juvenile justice residential program known as Camp Sweeney asked the County’s Emergency Medical Services Agency to come to career day at the camp. The agency pulled out some stops to impress the kids: they flew in a helicopter. Firefighters and paramedics volunteered to talk to the 70 or so youth serving time.

    Afterwards, the kids were asked what they wanted to be when they grew up.

    “Historically, they said police or probation officers, because those were the adults they had positive experience with,” said Alex Briscoe, director of the Alameda County Health Care Services Agency.

    But this time, 15 young men said they wanted to be Emergency Medical Technicians.

    The result has been an unusual collaboration that is changing the lives of many troubled youth.

    Responding to that initial interest, a few EMS staff volunteered to provide a free first responder training at the camp. When that program was successful, they offered free EMT training classes Monday and Wednesday evenings at the Health Care Services Agency building. The classes were open to anyone in the community, and many graduates of the program at Camp Sweeney got involved.

  • Inside the Juvenile Justice System: A Look at How the System Works

    You have no doubt gotten a glimpse at the criminal justice system through the news and the plethora of crime shows on television. But, when the person accused of committing a crime is a minor, the process may be less familiar to people, since the law provides strict guidelines for protecting a juvenile’s rights and privacy in the juvenile justice system.

    The County plays an important part in the juvenile justice process. The Probation Department serves as the screening agency for most law enforcement referrals to the juvenile justice system and works with police, the District Attorney and the Juvenile Court to determine the best way to provide rehabilitation for a young person while protecting community safety, which is the overriding principle of the system. Here’s a brief look at how the system works.

    When a juvenile is arrested by police, the police submit an application for petition to Probation outlining the circumstances of the crime. Probation then assesses the petition and decides how the case should be handled. The assessment is very thorough, considering the crime, family circumstances, psychological factors, and any other details that may have an impact on the most appropriate option for referring the case. When Probation believes the juvenile is in need of formal intervention from the juvenile court, the case is submitted to the District Attorney who makes the decision as to whether charges will be filed.

  • California's Legislative Analysts Office Calls for Completing Juvenile Realignment

    Last week the LAO released a report entitled "Completing Juvenile Justice Realignment." The report supports Governor Brown's juvenile realignment proposal and calls for a staggered closure of DJF facilities while transferring funding and supervision responsibilities to the county level. The LAO notes that the state's current two-tier system where the state supervises just 1% of incarcerated youth limits county responsibility, limits coordination of community-based rehabilitative services for youth, and restrains counties from innovation and efficiency in delivering treatment services to serious youth offenders.

    The report also notes that county practices and county capacity to serve serious youth offenders varies greatly and that sustained funding and technical assistance provision is critical to a successful realignment.

    Moving forward, the LAO recommends that the Governor's administration follows the SB 81 "weighted" funding formula in allocating resources to counties based on current DJF commitments as well as juvenile felony arrest rates. The LAO also notes that there is approximately $68 million of unspent state funding for juvenile facilities that could be used for upgrading county camps and ranches for long-term detention and rehabilitation of youth offenders.

    The LAO follows many of CJCJ's recommendations in our "Juvenile Realignment in 2012" report, including setting a concrete closure date for DJF in 2015, and calling for a more intensive role for the new Board of State and Community Corrections in coordinating technical assistance for counties, evaluation of effective treatments, and monitoring conditions in county juvenile facilities.

  • Budget Crises, High-Needs Kids and Juvenile Justice Reforms

    As California and the nation continue to struggle with budget crises, creative and cost-effective approaches in the provision of services for high-needs youthful offender populations are becoming increasingly necessary.

    Leaders in California, Georgia and New York have recently called for reform or “realignment” of their out-of-date state-run juvenile justice systems. While the urgency for reform in many states is a result of strained state budgets, it serves as an opportunity to engage juvenile justice stakeholders to restructure their juvenile justice systems in a more efficient and effective manner.

    One population to pay particular attention to when planning for juvenile justice realignment is the disproportionate number of youth with mental health needs in juvenile facilities, known as the “crossover caseload.”

    These highest-needs youth have historically been neglected during times of reform, when in fact they are the youth most in need of quality, individualized care. As a result of 1980s mental health system reform, juvenile justice systems, in effect, replaced public psychiatric hospitals in the care of mentally ill youth; despite the fact that the juvenile justice system lacks the resources to provide adequate services for this population.

    Although rates of juvenile incarceration have been declining, a disproportionate number of youth in this crossover caseload are still being confined, between 50-70 percent nationally and 42 percent in California, according to conservative estimates.

  • Report Highlights Racial Disparities in California's Juvenile Justice System

    A recent report by the W. Haywood Burns Institute indicates that while California’s current corrections policies appear to be race-neutral, data shows that many young people of color are being incarcerated at higher rates than white youth for non-criminal acts rather than being treated for mental health and behavioral health needs. The report, titled “Non-Judicial Drivers into the Juvenile Justice System for Youth of Color,” highlights multiple studies that point to the same conclusion:

    “Using locked cells to change the behaviors of teenagers is ineffective, expensive, and more likely to increase crime.”

    The Burns Institute highlights the “non-judicial drivers” that result in high rates of incarceration among youth of color. An example of a non-judicial driver is school referrals for disorderly conduct accounting for 40 percent of annual juvenile arrests in California. The authors also highlight cases where low-risk youth with high mental health needs are placed in long-term detention with no treatment of the underlying trauma that is contributing to their delinquent behavior.

  • Momentum Growing for Juvenile Realignment in California

    Consensus is growing in the Capitol that California’s youth correctional facilities need to be closed, with funding and supervision responsibilities realigned to the counties.

    Building on Past Policy Recommendations
    In 2008 the Little Hoover Commission recommended that the state's Division of Juvenile Facilities (DJF) close its doors and for California to move towards a county-based juvenile system.

    In early 2011, the Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO) concluded, “Less than 1 percent of juvenile arrests result in commitment to DJF, and counties have recently taken on responsibility for DJF parolees. Thus, under the Governor’s proposal, funding and responsibility for all juvenile offenders would be maintained at one level of government."

    Moving Toward the Future
    Governor Brown's office and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) are calling for DJF closure and full juvenile justice realignment. Governor Brown again called for a closure of DJF in his 2012-13 budget proposal released in January. Law enforcement groups blocked his juvenile realignment efforts last year. His proposal states, "The Budget proposes to expand on previous successful efforts to reform the state’s juvenile justice system by eventually transferring the responsibility for managing all youthful offenders to local jurisdictions. The Budget proposes to stop intake of new juvenile offenders effective January1, 2013.”

    CDCR Secretary Cate was quoted in an Oakland Tribune and Contra Costa Times article last month:

    Matthew Cate, California's corrections chief, predicted Brown's plan would be a boon to public safety. "The biggest benefit is it keeps wards close to home," Cate said.  "The evidence shows, especially with young people, that it eases the return to communities and reduces victimization."

  • After a decade of expensive reforms, California's youth detention centers could close

    Henry Hernandez served half of his two years in the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice at the Preston Youth Correctional Facility. The initial intake dorm he stayed in was overcrowded with more than 60 youth from rival gangs fighting everyday, he said. Fights of more than five guys at a time broke out almost every week. The guards would use pepper spray or gas bombs to get things under control.

    “There would be so much tension,” Hernandez said.

    Pictures of kids in cages at what was then called California Youth Authority facilities adorned the front pages of California newspapers in the early 2000s. Media stories in the first half of that decade charged the Youth Authority with a range of abuses, including unlicensed medical and mental health treatment, and extreme use of force and solitary confinement.

    Reforms to the juvenile justice system then reduced the population of the Youth Authority, now called the Division of Juvenile Justice, by 88% over the past decade.

    Today, DJJ handles less than one percent of the 225,000 youths arrested in California each year.

    Almost all the youth left in DJJ, about 1,200 people, are serious violent juvenile offenders or serious sex offenders, according to DJJ reports.

    Last Thursday Gov Brown suggested eliminating DJJ altogether in his proposed budget plan. If the Legislature passes the plan the responsibility for these youth would shift back to the counties.

    But even if the budget doesn’t pass as proposed there is a possibility that DJJ will close, and these serious juvenile offenders will be sent to state prison with adults.

  • Fewer youth in California state detention after juvenile realignment

    Michael Bryant has been in and out of Juvenile Hall in Santa Cruz since he was 13 years old, when he started drinking alcohol everyday. Now 17, Bryant is doing time in a treatment center after plea-bargaining on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon.

    Some counties would have viewed this crime as a second strike and sent Bryant to a state facility. But Santa Cruz rarely sends youth to the state for supervision. In part, that’s because the county is a participant in the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, a program of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

    But like all California counties, Santa Cruz was also forced by state legislation to come up with new ways to keep youth out of detention facilities. For the past decade, county and state personnel have been “realigning” the juvenile justice system, in a process similar to the realignment of state prisons that started this October.

    Bryant is relieved that he’s been diverted to treatment.

    “Everyone that’s been says its pretty much getting you ready for prison,” he said of California Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ).

    Instead of preparing for a life in prison, Bryant is working on a life without alcohol. “I can’t put alcohol in my system if I don’t want to get locked up again,” Bryant said. He has an apartment and a job lined up for when he finishes his treatment program in three to five months.

    California counties could learn from the decade-long juvenile realignment process as they struggle to incorporate adult inmates from state prisons into their county jails and reduce overall inmate populations following the passage of AB 109. The state reduced the juvenile population by 88% since 1996 – and did it with no increase in juvenile crime.

    The number of youth in DJJ facilities peaked in 1996 at 10,112. The population had steadily risen since the 1970s. A recent study released by the Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice attributes the increase to factors including decreased state funding for local programs, which essentially made it cheaper for counties to send kids who break the law to state facilities.

  • California’s Governor Sends Wake-Up Call to the State’s Counties

    In his first move of 2012, California’s Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal for FY 2012-2013 appears to be part compromise, part wake-up call to the state’s counties, indicating he is serious about closing the state’s youth correctional system, the Division of Juvenile Facilities (DJF) once and for all.

    Ideally, this proposal should provide some relief for counties because now there is the opportunity for funding of local juvenile justice programs. The proposed budget will postpone the “budget triggers” and allocate an initial $10 million to counties to plan for juvenile justice realignment, followed by approximately $100 million each year. The catch? No new commitments will be made to DJF as of Jan. 1, 2013 and counties will have no choice but to handle their high- needs and high- risk population locally.

    In the last week of 2011, Gov. Brown proposed a measure to deter counties from sending youth to DJF. These “budget triggers” agitated many counties, more specifically those sending disproportionately high numbers of youth to DJF, rather than serving them locally. These counties and related special interest groups were obviously frustrated with Brown’s measure because they were forced to either pay $125,000 annually to keep a youth in DJF or handle them locally without funding.

    Handling youthful offenders at the local level is what juvenile justice reformers nationwide have been advocating for years. Extensive research has documented that large institutional settings, when compared to rehabilitative alternatives with family-like settings, are far less effective in changing youth behavior or reducing recidivism. In California, the numbers speak for themselves. On average, more than three quarters of youth recidivate from DJF versus county-based rehabilitative options where recidivism rates are less than 40 percent.

  • What happens to adults with juvenile records?

    Adolescence is a challenging time for most people. Teenagers undergo significant developmental, physical, psychological, and social changes during a condensed decade of time. We have all done embarrassing things as adolescents; however, we are comforted by our coming of age and the slow regression of those memories. According to a recent study, while 1 in 3 Americans have some contact with the juvenile justice system – most are cited for infractions. Youth who commit crime are in the minority (never more so than now), and even then, the infrequent contact they have is typically for a low-level misdemeanor (such as petty theft or vandalism) that often results in a community-based remedy and the dissolution of their delinquent record upon reaching adulthood.

    But what of the teenagers who embark on more serious delinquent careers? An October 2011 blog by the Criminal Justice Degrees Guide, catalogues 8 different celebrities with juvenile records who have a successful and illustrious adult life. These celebrities include among others: Mark Wahlberg, Allen Iverson, Danny Trejo, all of whom where arrested for serious violent offenses as youth. In addition, both Merle Haggard and Danny Trejo served time as adolescents in California’s notorious Youth Authority (the state’s institutional system for juvenile offenders).

    While most juvenile offenders do not continue on to an adult life of crime, including even the most serious offenders (as above), there can still be real-life consequences for adults with juvenile records. In California, for example, a juvenile court record is not automatically sealed upon reaching age 18. In fact, to have your juvenile court records sealed you must affirmatively file a petition with the juvenile court in the county where the conviction occurred. But not all juvenile records are sealable. Since the passage of Proposition 21 (2000), certain serious juvenile offenses committed by a 14-year-old or older are barred from sealing.

  • Does more "youth on the streets" mean more crime?
    by LIZ WU

    With a growing youth and immigrant population, one could expect an increase in local crime rates. However, this is often not true. In this short video, CJCJ senior research fellow Mike Males explains why California's crime rate is going down (even with increasing diversity and a large youth population) and why he is optimistic for the future of the golden state's juvenile justice system.

    In a recently release policy brief, Dr. Males goes into more detail on the actual numbers of incarcerated youth in California: 

  • The De-Incarceration of California’s Juvenile Justice System

    The juvenile justice system in California has been evolving faster than most other parts of the country. While Missouri, Texas and other states have reduced their youth prison populations, California has made the most drastic reductions. At its peak in 1996, California housed more than 10,000 adolescents in its youth prisons. Today there are 1,096 youth held in just four facilities with one of those scheduled to close in a little more than a month.

    The idea of de-incarceration is not new. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the closure of Massachusetts’ youth training schools. Dr. Jerome G. Miller, then commissioner of youth corrections in Massachusetts implemented sweeping reforms, transferring more than 1,500 adolescents out of youth prison and into community-based alternatives. Subsequent research revealed that when youth are not subject to the harsh conditions of institutional prison environments, they are less prone to serious and violent behavior upon release. We’ve known since the late 1970s, then, that well- implemented community- based treatment alternatives are more effective at reducing recidivism.

    Today, after decades of de-incarceration, juvenile crime is at an all time low both nationally and in California. Contrary to popular belief, the streets and our communities are safer when more adolescents are present. This is great news for society, and signals an opportunity to end the use of institutional monolithic structures such as California’s youth prisons for good.

  • Are teen curfews necessary?

    Recently, the Oakland City Council deferred voting on a proposed juvenile curfew, titled the "Juvenile Protection Act." Is it a good idea to enact such curfews, and what is their effect on crime?

    Some evidence, including this paper by Patrick Kline, suggest that youth curfews overall are effective in reducing crime for the juveniles below curfew age, but have no spillover effects above the curfew age. The study's population was that of cities with a 1990 population greater than 180,000, and compared cities with municipal codes that included youth curfews. The focus was on serious felonies, as other offenses could be attributed to police behavior rather than to youth criminality. The arrest data, he says, 

    suggest that being subject to a curfew reduces the number of violent and property crimes committed by juveniles below the curfew age by approximately 10% in the year after enactment, with the effects intensifying substantially in subsequent years for violent crimes.

    The magnitude of any biases in the estimates due to spillover effects is difficult to assess. The data do not provide evidence of any spillovers, though given the imprecision of the estimates we also cannot reject modest sized effects. It does seem safe to say that there are probably not any large spillover effects, meaning that curfews do not seem to reduce crime in general, but rather only for the targeted age-groups. This suggests that cities designing curfew legislation should choose the statutory curfew age carefully according to which age-groups are in greatest need of intervention.

    However, for Oakland and San Francisco specifically, there are reasons to be skeptical. A recent piece by Mike Males in the San Francisco Chronicle was a good reminder of the fact that the U.S. seems to be the only country where its citizens, "can shop happily only when everyone under 18 is under house arrest. Not even in London during recent riots - and certainly not in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Rome, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, Toronto or other major cities - do police forcibly sweep young people off the streets."

  • Juvenile justice practice in California at a crossroads

    With the decline in the use of state youth prisons, California counties must develop and implement evidence-based strategies that address the needs of youth with special needs who once were committed to the state. This position is supported by findings contained in Renewing Juvenile Justice, a 2011 report commissioned by Sierra Health Foundation and written by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.

    In the report, the researchers provide a comprehensive historical account of California’s juvenile justice system that illustrates the origins of the current system’s most concerning challenges. More importantly, it provides a direction for establishing a model 21st century juvenile justice system designed to improve outcomes for youth, their families and caregivers.

    Designed to be a helpful tool for local jurisdictions to renew juvenile justice practice, the report offers policy recommendations to return practice to a restorative, rehabilitative approach and expand culturally responsive, community-based services for high-risk youthful offenders.