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  • Taking the Time to Make Juvenile Court Work

    A couple of weeks ago, I was in juvenile delinquency court and as often happens, a particular case got me thinking – and rethinking – about the system as a whole.

    A 14 year-old, whom I will call Sarah, was charged with misdemeanor assault. She had hit another girl at the foster care facility where the two were living. Sarah readily admitted to the charge, and the judge then moved to disposition, similar to sentencing in adult court. A counselor reported that Sarah was receiving therapy and doing well in a class at the mediation center on “conflict coaching.” Her probation officer recommended that she remain on court supervision under the same terms.

    The judge, however, wasn’t satisfied. “I’m concerned,” she said to Sarah sternly. “This is the third or fourth adjudication for assault in the past two years. What is changing to help you get in charge of your emotions?”

    Sarah stood and looked down at her hands. “I don’t know.” The courtroom was silent.

    “Your Honor,” her public defender began, standing with his client. “Sarah has experienced significant trauma. She is struggling with serious issues that are deep-seeded. This is not to excuse her behavior, but to explain that she is receiving therapy and making improvements.”

  • DC Superior Court Helps Teens with Mental Health Problems
    by LIZ WU

    A Superior Court in Washington, D.C., is redirecting minors with mental health problems from the juvenile system to treatment and rehabilitation. JM-4, a former juvenile mental health division court, is led by Magistrate Judge Joan Goldfrank, who is known for listening to families and dispensing wisdom and services to kids.

    “The message I want to give them is that they are supported,” Goldfrank told the Washington Post. “The whole point of juvenile justice is rehabilitation. How could we not do it on the kids’ side?”

    JM-4 is one of a dozen courts in the country that aims to help young people with mental health issues without incarcerating them.

    From the Washington Post:

  • No Remorse? What Happens to Youth Who Fail to Display Remorse in Court and Why Should We Care?

    Sitting behind her strikingly barren desk, with the bright, mid-winter sunlight breaking through the trees and streaming through her office windows, Martha Grace Duncan, a professor at the Emory University School of Law, in Atlanta recounts the case of nine-year-old Cameron Kocher. As she speaks her small, compact frame remains nearly motionless, betraying no emotion. But her eyes tell the story, portraying the internal mix-up of sadness, passion and nerdy intensity that she feels about the topic. Duncan may not wear her heart on her sleeve, but if you pay attention it’s not hard to find.

    In March 1989, on a cold, snowy day in the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania, Kocher fatally shot a seven-year-old playmate with a high-powered hunting rifle. He had been playing video games with the girl at her house when she told him that she was better at the game than he. Soon, the girl went outside to ride snowmobiles with other friends and Kocher, angry that his parents wouldn’t let him join them, retrieved the rifle from his father’s gun cabinet, loaded it and pointed it out the window of his home. Then, as the girl rode with a friend on a snowmobile, Kocher shot her in the back.

    Minutes later, as the girl lay dying in her living room, Kocher returned to the girl’s house telling another playmate, “If you don’t think about it, you won’t be sad.”

    As Kocher’s case progressed through the courts, many took the quote, coupled with the shooting, as evidence of a cold, remorseless child. Uttering that sentence would have severe repercussions for Kocher, beginning with the question of whether he would be treated as an adult by the courts.

    In 2002, Duncan published a lengthy article for the Columbia Law Review that explored how expectations of displays of remorse affect how children are treated in the juvenile justice system, particularly in adjudication and sentencing. Duncan, who also holds a doctorate in political science, applied elements of psychology, sociology and literature to several case studies in the article.

  • Youth Transfers to the Adult Corrections System More Likely to Reoffend

    Juveniles transferred to adult corrections systems reoffend at a higher rate than those who stay in the juvenile justice system, according to a new report from the National Institute of Corrections (NIC). The report also found insufficient evidence that trying youths as adults acts as a crime deterrent.

    Entitled “You’re an Adult Now,” the report published in December 2011 is based on the findings of three-dozen juvenile justice and adult corrections experts convened by the NIC in 2010 to identify challenges when youth are transferred to adult court.

    Highlighted in the report, written by Jason Ziedenberg, director of juvenile justice at M+R Strategic Services, was research by the Centers for Disease Control that found youth transferred to the adult system are 34 percent more likely than youth who remain in the juvenile justice system to be re-arrested for violent or other crimes.

    The safety of juveniles in adult prisons is also a serious concern, according to the report, which cites a Bureau of Justice Statistics study that found, 21 percent of the victims of inmate-on-inmate sexual violence in jails in 2005 were under the age of 18. The same study reported 13 percent were victims in 2006. However, the report notes only one percent of inmates are younger than 18.

  • A legal view: Why juvenile life without parole sentences are a mistake

    “All they want is a second chance”- Steven Watt, Senior Staff Attorney, American Civil Liberties Union’s Human Rights Program

    Bobby’s Story
    Bobby Hines was 15 when he, 19-year-old Christopher Young and 16-year-old Darius Woolfolk went to confront James Warner. Warner was accused of having stolen a jacket from a local boy as payment for drugs. When the trio came upon Warner, 16-year-old Woolfolk shot and killed him. Hines had neither touched the weapon, nor the victim, yet he was convicted of felony murder and sentenced to serve “the rest of [his] natural life to hard labor and solitary confinement.” He had just finished his eighth grade.(1)

    Bobby’s co-defendants, Young, who provided the weapon, and Woolfolk, who fatally shot Warner, were convicted of second-degree murder and are serving paroleable life sentences. These sentences and Hines’ sentence are vastly different. Why the discrepancy?

  • 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.

  • Talking back to zero tolerance

    In the year that I have worked as a juvenile defender, I have noticed patterns in the types of cases that land on my desk. For instance, now that the school year is in full swing, the overwhelming majority of my juvenile caseload arises from school discipline issues. It seems — at least here in southeast Georgia — as though schools are either no longer interested or no longer equipped to handle discipline in-house.

    Almost every public school in my rural circuit has police presence in the form of the School Resource Officer (SRO), a uniformed police officer who maintains an office on the school campus. These officers maintain such a vigilant school presence to deter criminal activity such as drug possession/sale, weapon possession and other violent or dangerous activity. The reality is quite different.

    Increasingly, local school administrators are relying on these SROs and a broad Georgia statute that criminalizes “disruption or interference with operation of public schools” to handle children with behavioral problems. What exactly are the definitions for “disruption” and “interference”? That is a great question, as the Georgia Code fails to define either term for the purposes of explaining exactly what conduct the state Legislature sought to criminalize. However, I can tell you that “disrespectful language” and “refusing to follow the commands of teacher” can land a child an invitation to juvenile court.

    A child who is found to be delinquent of “disrupting or interfering with the operation of public schools” in Georgia, is subject to the punishment of a high and aggravated misdemeanor. This likely means probation for a length of time with a litany of conditions for the child to comply with, but could also result in a 30-day stay in a Regional Youth Detention Center.

    When I was in school, disruptive children were punished by being assigned extra homework, given detention, in- school suspension or out- of- school suspension. The severity of the punishment varied with the severity of the actions; for example, talking back to the teacher might result in after-school detention, while getting into a playground fight would likely result in suspension.

  • Maryland's juvenile justice system is now a little more transparent

    Recently signed legislation in Maryland requires the state’s Department of Juvenile Services to report the recidivism rates for each juvenile in residential treatment, broken down by program and placement. This is excellent news for juvenile justice reform in Maryland.

    According to an analysis by Maryland’s Department of Legislative Services, this reporting will not cost any additional taxpayer dollars, and yet the citizens of Maryland will receive two huge benefits. First, the legislature and the public will now have easy access to data on recidivism, broken down by type of program. This is a key reform because general recidivism rates can mask the success and failures of different programs, and particularized data is necessary to make informed legislative choices.

    Second, the simple act of being required to report this data to the Maryland legislators will put the onus on Maryland’s juvenile justice stakeholders to improve their system. By having to publicly state their Department’s outcomes annually, Maryland will reach new levels of accountability in juvenile justice each year.

    This bill is win-win: no additional costs and positive returns for taxpayers and justice in Maryland.

  • Harlem Youth Court takes on juvenile justice

    It’s a familiar courtroom scene: An advocate scribbling on a notepad prepares her closing statement. A judge presides, pounding her gavel to bring the hearing to order. She turns to the offender, a young man being tried for assault, and asks,

    “Do you swear to tell the truth?”

    “Yes,” he replies.

    This is when things start to look different from a traditional courtroom. A juror stands, thanks him for attending, and says, “We just want to let you know we’re not here to judge you or criticize you.”

    The juror, named Milagros, is a high school student. Everyone participating– judge, jury, advocate, clerk and offender – is under 18. At the Harlem Youth Court, kids who have committed low-level offenses can avoid formal prosecution and instead tell their side of a story to a jury of their peers.

  • MSNBC documentary gives a voice to youth sentenced as adults

    Editor's Note: "Young Kids, Hard Time" originally aired November 20th. MSNBC will re-air it on Saturday, November 26th, at 2 pm PST / 5 pm EST.

    There are many imperfections in the nation’s criminal justice system. So many, it’s hard to know where to start.

    Take your pick: The public defender system, death row, life without parole or the whole idea of housing convicts together in hopes of rehabilitating them.

    Poke around a bit. You’ll find some disturbing problems. None, however, will shake you to the core like seeing a child doing hard time behind bars, serving a sentence twice as long as he is old.

    This is what you get in “Young Kids, Hard Time,” an MSNBC documentary premiering Sunday night at 10 p.m. EST.

    Here is a film that shines a light on a very dark side of the criminal justice system: the more than 200,000 kids who are tried, sentenced and incarcerated as adults. Sometimes busted in their early teens, these children remain in the juvenile system until they reach the age of 18. This is when they are transferred to adult population facilities where they serve the rest of their sentence with some of the country’s most brutal and hardened criminals.

    “Young Kids, Hard Time” shows what life is like for these incarcerated young people and examines the possible long-term impact on society.

  • Juvenile Justice Reform - Tell the Right Story & Keep Going!



    What a Long Way We've Come
    Almost exactly three years ago, I was asked if I would be interested in launching, writing, and editing a blog for Reclaiming Futures, focused on juvenile justice reform and adolescent substance abuse treatment.

    My answer then: Would I ever!

    Seven hundred and eighty-six posts later -- many authored by some of the leading experts in the field -- it's time for me to lay my figurative pen down. (Fortunately, I know I'm leaving the blog in very good hands; you can count on Reclaiming Futures to remain a go-to source for information in the fields of juvenile justice and adolescent substance abuse treatment.)

    When I began, hardly anyone else was using blogging or social media to talk about juvenile justice or adolescent treatment. To say that's changed is an understatement. There's been a virtual explosion of skilled and thoughtful people disseminating news, opinion, new research, and best practices (in juvenile justice, anyway; teen treatment has a ways to go).

    I think that's great. But it's not enough.

  • Where is Due Process in Juvenile Court?

    juvenile-court_juvenile-court-hearings-room-sign“They can’t do that!”

    This quickly became my mantra when I started as a juvenile defender nearly a year ago.

    My colleagues heard it so often they joked about recording me and just playing it back while I was observing court proceedings so that I wouldn’t have to speak. Unfamiliar with the differences between how the criminal justice system treats juvenile and adult offenders, I was clearly unprepared for some of the things I witnessed when I first arrived in juvenile court.

    You see, juvenile courts are quasi-criminal, meaning many of the aspects I expected to see in a criminal court are present, but the result of juvenile delinquency proceedings is supposed to be more rehabilitative than punitive, and “in the best interest of the child.”

    What I learned this to mean is that prosecutors, judges, and a state’sdepartment of juvenile justice have much more latitude to make recommendations for a child’s “best interests.”  Because of this latitude, I have actually heard a judge say, “Don’t even think about requesting bond until you tell us where the weapon is,” at a detention hearing.

    What happened to the presumption of innocence, or the right to avoid self-incrimination?  Decidedly, this judge believed it to be in the child’s best interest to explain what had happened, even if doing so would implicate the child’s own involvement.

  • Juvenile Court, Teen Substance Abuse, and Working with Prosecutors: a Webinar

    juvenile-court_gears-meshingReclaiming Futures depends for its success on the creation of multi-disciplinary teams at the local level. We ask participating jurisdictions to begin with a judge, probation officer, treatment provider, community representative, and project director. We encourage communities to expand from there, and most do -- after all, there's usually a lot more players who need to be at the table to make significant, lasting reforms.

    But many jurisdictions -- whether they're engaged in Reclaiming Futures or some other juvenile justice reform effort -- stumble when it comes to including prosecutors. Yet their support and participation can be key.

    That's why we're offering this webinar, "Working with Prosecutors," presented by Susan Broderick, J.D., on September 22, 2011 at 11:00am PDT / 2:00pm EDT.  UPDATE: Ms. Broderick's webinar has been archived on this page - just search for her name or by the title of the webinar.

  • Juvenile Court Records: Guilty After Proven Innocent


    juvenile-justice-system_young-man-mug-shot[The following post was written for a Georgia-based publication, but I thought it likely applied to other states.  PLEASE NOTE: the fake mug shot at left was posed for by the photographer, who is not related to the author of this post. -- Ed.]

    Late one night, one of my sons was picked up by police in the parking lot at a Wal-Mart in downtown Atlanta. Video cameras showed he was with a group of young people who “forgot” to pay as they strolled out of the store with a cart full of camping equipment.

    He was waiting at the car for his friends to finish shopping and claimed he had no idea they didn’t intend to pay for their goods. Police arrested the entire group, leaving it up to the courts to sort the innocent from the guilty. After a frantic middle of the night phone call where he INSISTED he was innocent of shoplifting, we bailed him out of jail with $1,500 in cash, and about a month later the case was heard by a judge and the charges against him were dismissed.

    Despite the fact that he was never charged with a crime, his mug shot from the Fulton County Jail lives on forever and it’s the first thing that pops up when a potential employer does a Google search. Ouch! That’s when we discovered the convoluted and difficult process of getting a record expunged. Not everyone is eligible for expungement, but it’s worth the time and effort.  This kind of thing can haunt you the rest of your life as you apply for jobs, ask for financial aid or fill out a rental agreement.

    Seems like double jeopardy for the person involved.

  • Juvenile Judges Find Benchcards Helpful in Reuniting Families without Bias


    juvenile-court_quality-control-approved-stampRetired juvenile court judge Irene Sullivan reports from the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) conference, held in New York City in August, 2011: 

    Politicians use teleprompters, pilots use checklists, so shouldn’t juvenile judges use a benchcard to make sure they ask all the right questions at preliminary protective hearings regarding removing children from their homes?

    Yes, according to a study released by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) and discussed last month at a roundtable conducted by leading child welfare judges during the NCJFCJ’s annual meeting in New York City. [Right from the Start: The Courts Catalyzing Change Preliminary Protective Hearing Benchcard Study Report -- Testing a Tool for Judicial Decision-Making.]

    In fact, the judges were so impressed with the results that they wanted to move rapidly into national training on the benchcard and to utilize it to track—and hopefully reduce-- the overrepresentation of children of color in the foster care system.

  • Webinar: The School-to-Prison Pipeline

    juvenile-justice-reform_Teske-article-coverThink you can't dent the school-to-prison pipeline? The Honorable Steven Teske is here to tell you why you should and how you can.

    --Okay, he's not here now, but he'll be leading a webinar about it (sponsored by Reclaiming Futures) in September. So, write the date and time down in ink, and pass this on to all your colleagues:

    The School-to-Prison Pipeline
    September 14, 2011 at 11:00am PDT / 2:00pm EDT

    In this webinar, Judge Steven Teske will share the strategies used in Clayton, Georgia to work with the local school district to reduce referrals to juvenile courts, while simultaneously developing school-based strategies to address disruptive behavior.

    This collaborative arrangement has reduced serious juvenile crime both at school and in the community, while increasing graduation rates. Judge Teske will also share the importance of making this a community effort by reaching out both to the local media and civic groups to educate them on the effects of referring teens from school to juvenile courts, and the importance of developing strategies in the best interest of our youth.

    Update September 20, 2011: You can watch the archived webinar and download the slides and other info here (search for "The School-to Prison-Pipeline," in the "Juvenile Justice Reform" section.)

  • Apply Now for Reclaiming Futures Judicial Training
    juvenile-court_judges-crossing-streetMaking change in the juvenile justice system to help teens with drug and alcohol problems requires a strong community leader who can convene diverse players, some of whom are not used to working together. Judges are uniquely placed to take on this role.
    That's why we're offering two trainings for juvenile court judges new to the Reclaiming Futures model, titled, "Leading Change in the Juvenile Justice System for Teens with Drug and Alcohol Problems." (see below for details). 

  • Youth Courts 101: A How-to Video Primer and Manual

    juvenile-justice-system_youth-courtjuvenile-justice-system_Greg-BermanGreg Berman, director of the Center for Court Innovation in New York City (seen at right), gives an excellent overview of how youth courts work in this video interview with The courts are completely teen-driven, with teens as judges, attorneys and juries who hear actual cases either referred by the police or the courts. Each teen judge, attorney or juror gets 30 hours of training and has to pass a “bar exam” to be able to serve.

    In the youth courts Berman’s center helps oversee, the kids running the courts come from a variety of backgrounds, so the offenders are being judged by their real peers. In fact, kids who once came before the court often come back later to serve as judges, attorneys and jurors, so Berman says it can be “a life changing experience.”

    Kids sent to the court have already admitted guilt and are at the mercy of their peers to design the sanctions that will be administered.

    The kids ask great questions, Berman says, and have “great BS detectors.” They listen to the individual cases and then the jury delivers a sanction that, according to Berman, tends to emphasize restoration.

    The outcome might be a letter of apology, public service work or links to anger management. It turns peer pressure on its head, he says, making it a positive rather than a negative and that is the nub of the youth court idea.

    Watch the video below for more details. You can download the manual on Recommended Practices for Youth Courts published by the Center for Court Innovation.

  • Are Teens Competent to Stand Trial? (and More) -- News Roundup

  • Survey of Juvenile Justice Stakeholders on Community Policing

    juvenile-court-community-policing_two-policemen-in-Chicago-train-stationFrom the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ):

    The Juvenile and Family Law Department of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges is applying for project funding through the Community Policing Development Program operated by the United States Department of Justice. To better inform our application, we are asking juvenile court professionals and related stakeholders to complete this short survey.
    This survey should take less than five minutes to complete, and no identifying information will be collected. If you know of someone that may be able to inform the survey further, please forward this e-mail along.
    If you have any questions regarding this survey, please contact
    Shawn C. Marsh, Ph.D. at or 775-784-8070.
    Hat tip to Christa Myers.

  • What is the Real Cost of Trying Teens as Adults?

    juvenile-justice-system_empty-jail-cellsThe New York Times reported March 5 that the national trend of trying teens as adults in criminal cases is reversing. Almost all states have raised, or are raising, the age teens are tried as adults. The opposition to this trend argues that it is too costly to try teens as minors.

    The generally accepted assumption is that states save money by trying teens in adult criminal court, rather than in juvenile courts. But is this assumption really true in the long run? What is the real cost of trying teens as adults?

    Certainly, in the short-term, the more involved and supportive approach of juvenile courts may cost more than criminal courts. Juvenile courts emphasize treatment rather than punishment. That focus can mean that more people are employed in the care and rehabilitation of offenders in juvenile court than in the adult counterpart. 

    These costs, however, yield long-term benefits. Youth and society benefit from supportive rehabilitation. And states can make back the money from that initial investment. A recent study by the Vera Institute on the cost of raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction in North Carolina found that with an investment of $70.9 million a year to include 16 year olds in juvenile court, the state would accrue “$123.1 million in reoccurring benefits to youth, victims, and taxpayers over the long term.”

  • Roundup: Gay Teens Face Harsher Punishments
    • juvenile-justice-system_corrections-spending-graphicGrowth in Corrections Spending 1987-2007 Dwarfed Spending on Higher Ed (see image at right) - Curious about where your state stands? Follow the link and check the graph.  It would be interesting to see the same data comparing spending on the juvenile justice system with middle- and high-school spending.  (Hat tip to Jim Carlton.) 
    • Gay Teens Are Punished More Heavily in School and in Juvenile Court - From The New York Times: A national study of 15,000 middle school and high school teens published in Pediatrics found that gay, lesbian, and bisexual teens are more likely to be expelled from school than their straight peers, and more likely to be stopped, arrested, and adjudicated.  And "it's not because they're misbehaving more," says the study's lead author, Kathryn Himmelstein. (Hat tip to Dan Merrigan.)

  • Are You Suffering from Secondary Traumatic Stress?

    juvenile-justice-system_woman-yellingWorking in the juvenile justice system, child welfare, or adolescent subsance abuse treatment can mean that you're exposed to all kinds of trauma. Every day, you might hear stories from clients of abuse, mistreatment, deprivation, and violence. That's what's known as "secondary traumatic stress." 

    That stress is made worse when you have to decide whether clients you serve will be safe at home -- or if they're likely to hurt others. That's a lot to carry, even if nothing ever goes wrong.

    The symptoms of secondary traumatic stress "are often indistinguishable from those found in individuals as a response to a traumatic event they experienced directly," according to Julie Collins, in her article, "Addressing Secondary Traumatic Stress: emerging approaches in child welfare," which appeared in the Mar/April 2009 issue of Children's Voice from the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA). (Hat tip to Paul Savery.)

    Just what are the symptoms? They include "fatigue or illness, cynicism, irritability, reduced productivity, feelings of hopelessness, anger, despair, sadness, feelings of re-experiencing the event, nightmares, anxiety, avoidance of people and activities, or persistent anger and sadness."

  • Juvenile Justice System - Tips for Family Involvement from Pennsylvania

    juvenile-justice-reform_family-involvement-publicationMost professionals in the juvenile justice system believe that engaging families at all levels -- from individual cases to advocacy on state and federal policy -- is critical. And research evidence appears to back this up. But in my experience, we find it tough to act on on the research for a variety of reasons. 

    I recommend reviewing "Family Involvement in Pennsylvania's Juvenile Justice System," a 2009 document from MacArthur's Models for Change initiative.

    While focused on Pennsylvania (obviously), its conclusions are universal. In sixteen focus groups, investigators gleaned useful, concrete ideas focused on four themes:

  • Census of Juveniles on Probation - Sneak Preview of OJJDP Data

    juvenile-justice-system_drug-arrestsA few weeks ago, I announced here that the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) had completed its first-ever "Census of Juveniles on Probation" (CJP). Since the report's not done, however, I didn't have any data to share.

    The report still isn't done, but it turns out that some preliminary data from the juvenile probation census is available online from George Mason University, where the work is being done.

    Curious about the survey? You download the 2009 survey sent to juvenile probation offices in PDF format here.  Next, you can review answers to some "frequently-asked questions," such as number of youth on probation by state, or the ratio of youth on formal probation to those on informal probation. 

    In addition, you can also view graphs for 18 pre-set reports based on the juvenile probation data, like the one pictured here for drug offenses. You can see nationwide snapshots of juvenile probationers broken down by age, race/ethnicity, gender and offense category, and many more. Just bear in mind that the data isn't final and may change.  (Hat tip to Lore Joplin.)

  • Roundup: Marijuana "Gateway" Effect Less Important than Other Factors - and More

    adolescent-substance-abuse-treatment_News-signAdolescent Substance Abuse and Related Treatment News

    • Is marijuana a "gateway" to other drug use? Not so much, according to new research, and "over-criminalizing" its use can contribute to young adults' use of other illicit drugs. According to the study, race and ethnicity are the best predictors of whether someone will use illicit drugs besides marijuana: non-Hispanic whites are more likely to use them than are (in order) Hispanics or African Americans. Furthermore, although marijuana use in one's teen years might lead to use of other drugs, youth apparently "age out" of that when they reach 21. Unemployment is a factor too, which suggests that, as one researcher concluded, "over-criminalizing youth marijuana use might create more serious problems if it interferes with later employment opportunities." (Hat tip to Robert Ackley.) Related reading: Jeff Butts on "The Enduring Gateway Myth."
    • Teen use of alcohol and drugs can be significantly reduced with brief, school-based interventions by mental health therapists or even by teachers given minimal training, according to a new study from the U.K. Researchers evaluated their use of alcohol and drugs at six months post-intervention, so it's not clear if the effects would need to be repeated on a regular basis.


  • Juvenile Justice Reform: Join the Movement

    juvenile-justice-reform_Join-the-Movement-sign-Motivate-Advocate-ActivateOur nation has long been a leader in economic and military might, but we have forgotten about our children, too many of whom continue to languish in adult prisons. We are behind in our efforts to decrease our incarcerated population, especially our incarcerated youth. The U.S. has the highest reported incarceration rate of any nation in the world. On any given day, more than 7,500 youth are locked up in adult jails and prisons even though the vast majority of youth prosecuted in adult court are charged with non-violent offenses.

    In the 1990’s most states passed laws that made it easier to try, sentence, and incarcerate youth in the adult criminal system in response to growing fears of a new generation of so-called adolescent “superpredators.” Even though youth crime rates are the lowest they have been in two decades, an estimated 200,000 youth continue to be prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system every year. Research shows that youth incarcerated in adult jails and prisons face an increased risk of being physically, mentally, and sexually abused. Prosecuting kids as adults also increases the likelihood that they will reoffend, and youth who are transferred to the adult criminal system are approximately 34% more likely than youth retained in the juvenile court system to be re-arrested.

  • National Conference on Juvenile and Family Law Seeks Presentation Proposals

    juvenile-court_English-judgesGot a great idea for improving outcomes for children, youth, families, and victims who come into contact with the juvenile court?  The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) wants to hear from you.

    NCJFCJ will hold its annual conference next year on March 27-30, 2011, in Reno, Nevada -- and would like you to submit your presentation proposal between now and September 15, 2010. Proposals will be entertained on a broad range of topics, including child abuse and neglect, mental health, delinquency, family law, domestic violence, and substance abuse.

    If you still have questions, contact Diane Barnette via email, or via phone at (775) 784-6012.

  • CJJ Conference on Disproportionate Minority Contact - Register Now!


    You know that Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) is one of the most troubling and persistent problems with the juvenile justice system today. Now's your chance to pool your knowledge and learn from others working on the problem.

    On October 23-25, 2010, the Coalition for Juvenile Justice is hosting its National DMC Conference, “Fundamental Fairness: Eliminating Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Juvenile Justice,” in Jersey City, New Jersey. The conference will be preceded by a one-day training on October 22, with the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), State Relations and Assistance Division (SRAD).

  • Juvenile Indigent Defense System Failing Kids It's Meant to Protect - Weekly Roundup

    adolescent-substance-abuse-treatment_old-TVAdolescent Substance Abuse Treatment - News and Research Updates

    • How the confidentiality of patients who obtain substance abuse treatment will be handled under health reform (and electronic health records in particular) continues to be the focus of controversy, according to Join Together. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has issued a document covering "frequently-asked questions," and will hold a stakeholders' meeting on August 4th to provide more clarification. Last February, I posted that some health reform advocates want to do away with federal confidentiality regulations under 42 CFR in favor of relevant HIPAA regulations. They say they're concerned that the burden of complying will discourage mainstream doctors from screening patients and providing brief intervention for alcohol and drug issues. 

  • Transferring Juveniles to Adult Court: New Research on What Works

    juvenile-court_bricked-up-gate-to-juvenile-court-in-England[The authors provided a summary of the landmark Pathways to Desistance study on serious juvenile offenders here last April. - Ed.]

    The option to transfer an adolescent offender to adult court has been a feature of the juvenile court since its inception. There has always been a recognition that certain, usually older, adolescents may commit very serious offenses for which the juvenile system cannot provide a substantial enough penalty to satisfy the public’s demand for punishment (Zimring, 2000). There may also be adolescent offenders who, despite the best efforts of the juvenile system, continue to offend, and for whom more of the same services seem to serve little purpose (Bishop and Frazier, 2000). In policy reforms during the 1990s and 2000s, nearly every state in the nation toughened laws governing criminal prosecution and sentencing of juveniles (Griffin, 2003).  Expansions of the transfer statutes have made it easier for a broader group of adolescents to be processed by the adult court.

    Most research done to date regarding juvenile transfer has focused primarily on the negative effects of current policies, with little consistent and rigorous work on the variation among the adolescents transferred to adult court and their later adjustment in the community. Using a sample of 193 transferred youth from Arizona enrolled in the Pathways to Desistance study, we consider how certain individual characteristics are related to four post-release outcomes (antisocial activity, re-arrest, re-institutionalization, and gainful activity). We find considerable variability in outcomes, with adjustment significantly and consistently related to certain legal and risk-need factors (Schubert et al. in press). 

  • Juvenile Justice Reform: Improving Outcomes for Status Offenders

    juvenile-justice-reform_status-offenders-article-photoOne of the four core principles of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) is that juvenile status offenders not be placed in secure detention. ("Status offenders" are minors who do things that would not generally be a offense if they were adults. For example, truants, runaways, and curfew violators are status offenders.)

    However, an exception to the law was made in 1980 to allow courts to detain young people who had committed status offenses if they had also violated a "valid court order" -- the so-called "VCO exception."

    As Nancy Gannon Hornberger writes in, "Improving Outcomes for Status Offenders in the JJDPA Reauthorization," which appeared in the summer 2010 issue of Juvenile and Family Justice Today from the National Council of Family and Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ), "The nation is split. Twenty-five U.S. states and territories do not allow or do not use the VCO exception; in 30 states [including the territories, and Washington, D.C.], the VCO exception is allowable."

    Approximately 12,000 non-delinquent status offenders are locked-up with delinquent youth each year. Serious concerns have been raised about whether such detentions do more harm than good. Juvenile justice practitioners, advocates and members of Congress have responded to these concerns with an amendment to the JJPDA to eliminate the VCO exception.

  • 10 Things Every Juvenile Court Should Know About Trauma and Delinquency

    juvenile-court_10-things-coverIt's not a secret that many youth in juvenile court struggle with symptoms related to trauma, but it can be hard to remember in court, when faced with a defiant youth who's been repeatedly delinquent. 

    So it's great to see a new publication from the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, 10 Things Every Juvenile Court Judge Should Know about Trauma and Delinquency. (Even though it seems to be aimed only at judges, it's useful for all staff who work with or in juvenile court.)

  • Tribal Juvenile Justice Fellowship Program from OJJDP: Apply Now!

    juvenile-justice-system_OJJDP-logoFrom the press release: the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) invites qualified individuals to apply under its fiscal year (FY) 2010 Fellowship Program on Tribal Juvenile Justice.

    The fellowship represents an opportunity for professionals, practitioners, researchers, or trainers with expertise in tribal youth justice to assist OJJDP in strengthening its partnership with federally-recognized tribes to enhance juvenile justice and serve tribal youth and their families.

    The application deadline is July 19, 2010.

  • Juvenile Justice Reform: Building Support with Good Communications

    juvenile-justice-reform_communications-toolkit-coverWant to get the word out about your juvenile justice reform initiative to key stakeholders and to the public? The Center for Court Innovation has your back: it's just released "Building Support for Justice Initiatives: A Communications Toolkit," in cooperation with the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA).

    From their press release: "The publication is a manual to help justice practitioners communicate about their work with the public and key institutional stakeholders. Includes 10 key steps for effective communication, extensive links to on-line resources, and guides offering sample logos, brochures, and flyers as well as practical tips for communication strategies like 'Crafting a Core Message.'"

    Bonus: The Reclaiming Futures blog is listed as one of the online resources. We're flattered!

  • Juvenile Justice Reform: Helping Families in Crisis

    juvenile-justice-reform_doorwayI don't get to talk to families on their best days.  Rather, I mostly talk to people when they are in the midst of crisis - a crisis having arisen because their child has been arrested or is somewhere on the short road to being tried, sentenced, or incarcerated as an adult even though they are still a child.  I feel inadequate and find myself lacking answers. I feel scared for them knowing that they are powerless and the full range of consequences of these practices will not reach them until years down the road.  Truly, it is the families and the children that will carry years of devastating burdens far longer than I.  

    As an organizer, I want to see the reform that will end these harmful practices, but as a family organizer, I want to provide answers to folks who have a right to understand every aspect of what is happening to their children in these circumstances.  I keep wondering whose job it is to give families the information they need during this difficult time.

    Many families seek legal advice from the attorneys that represent their children.  Providing this advice, however, can be difficult for the attorneys because they represent the child, not the family.  While families can and should take an active role in the defense of their child and communicate relevant information to the attorney, such as if the child has been in trouble before or was a good student, this still ultimately means that the care and concern of the child falls back to the family.  Yet, the family often lacks the information necessary to help make decisions in the best interest of their child.  How are families to make decisions without adequate information?  

  • Still More Funding for the Juvenile Justice System from OJJDP

    juvenile-justice-system-funding_smarties-with-dollar-signsThe Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) has announced four more funding opportunities for 2010.

    • Juvenile Indigent Defense National Clearinghouse - deadline June 24, 2010. From the RFP: "This program‘s purpose is to provide resources to maintain a national clearinghouse on juvenile indigent defense. The successful applicant will operate a national clearinghouse to address the deprivations of due process for indigent youth in the justice system and to improve the quality of juvenile indigent defense representation. The clearinghouse will provide technical support and training, publications and resources, policy development, and leadership opportunities to the juvenile indigent defense bar."

  • BJA Funds for Careers Training and Research on Improving Education for Teens in the Juvenile Justice System

    The National Reentry Resource Center recently sent out the following announcement for not one but two grant opportunities through the Second Chance Act that apply to juveniles.

  • Starting and Maintaining a CLTL Juvenile Program: An Interview with Michael Habib

    [The following post is about the Changing Lives Through Literature (CLTL) program. It originally appeared in different form on the CLTL Blog, Changing Lives, Changing Minds, and is reposted here with the permission of the author and the publisher. You can learn more about Bristol County, Massachusetts’ experience with the program here. -Ed.]

    positive-youth-development_teens-readingRecently, I had the chance to interview Michael Habib, who facilitates the Changing Lives Through Literature (CLTL) program for teens in Fall River, MA. Because I volunteer with young offenders in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, I wanted his advice on a few questions:
    • What tips do you have for other juvenile reading programs?
    • How do you get kids to open up?
    • What do you do when they don’t do their assigned work?

  • Positive Youth Justice Report and the CJJ Youth Manual

    Positive Youth Justice Report

    juvenile-justice-reform_Positive-youth-justice-report-coverAccording to a new report that my organization, the Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ), just published, the future for youth involved with the justice system could be dramatically improved by applying the principles of positive youth development (PYD) practice to the juvenile justice system and its services.

    The report -- Positive Youth Justice: Framing Justice Interventions Using the Concepts of Positive Youth Development, written by Jeffrey A. Butts, Gordon Bazemore and Aundra Saa Meroe -- explores the tremendous potential of helping court-involved youth develop their pro-social strengths and attributes, and increase their abilities to contribute to healthy, safe family and community life.




  • Juvenile Urine Drug Testing: the Importance of Observed Collections
    by PAUL L. CARY M.S.

    adolescent-substance-abuse_drug-test-kitsThe importance of witnessed collections (for urine drug testing) cannot be over-emphasized. Urine collections that are not witnessed are of little or no abstinence assessment value because of the propensity of juvenile substance abusers not to provide a legitimate sample (denial, efforts to hide relapse/use).

    The definition of “witnessed collections” is direct, full-frontal, line-of-sight observation -- basically, staring at a participant‘s genitals while he or she produces a urine sample.

    Difficult? Yes! Uncomfortable? No doubt! Necessary? Absolutely critical!

  • Roundup: No, Girls Aren't Getting Meaner and Kids Entering the Justice System Aren't Getting Younger

    juvenile-justice-system-news_old-TVNews - Juvenile Justice System and Alcohol and Drugs

  • Tribal Youth in the Juvenile Justice System: 4 Grants from OJJDP

    juvenile-justice-system-funding_Ute-Tribal-Police-decalI wasn't kidding when I said yesterday that the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) is putting out a lot of grant opportunities for kids in the juvenile justice system.  Here's four more, this time focused on tribal youth:

  • Juvenile Justice Reform: DOJ Report on Delays in Case Processing

    juvenile-justice-reform_delays-in-youth-justice_skeletonDid you know that juveniles don't have the right to a speedy trial under the U.S. Constitution? (Adults do.)

    But given teens' developmental need for a clear connection between their behavior and its consequences -- not to mention the importance of addressing the needs of victims -- it's important for their cases to be processed as quickly as possible. 

    Yet the time it took juvenile courts to process cases went up by 10% between 1995 and 2004, even though the number of cases dropped eight percent during the same time period. Obviously, that's not good. 

    What's going on? For answers, check out a new Department of Justice (DOJ) report, Delays in Youth Justice, by Jeffrey Butts, Gretchen Ruth Cusick, and Benjamin Adams. It was produced under the auspices of the Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago.

  • Positive Youth Development: The World of Learning, Imagination, and Entertainment
    juvenile-justice-system_book-artwork[The following post is by an attorney who works with the Changing Lives Through Literature (CLTL) program at the Reclaiming Futures site in Bristol County, MA. It's reposted with permission of the author and publisher from the CLTL Blog, Changing Lives, Changing Minds. You can learn more about Bristol County's experience with the program here. -Ed.]
    A former colleague (an assistant district attorney) recently asked me if I was still involved with Judge Kane’s “bleeding heart book club.” We both laughed. In a more serious vein, he went on to ask whether I thought he might enjoy it, because he was approaching retirement and might have some time to – and it sounds like a cliché but really isn’t – “give back to the community.”

  • Juvenile Justice Reform Video: Reclaiming Futures Works

    Click on the video above to hear the story of one teen struggling with substance abuse in juvenile court at the Reclaiming Futures site in Montgomery County (Dayton), OH, and how Reclaiming Futures made a difference in her life.

    Watch it now and share it with your colleagues! It's moving, informative, and extremely well-done.

    We're grateful to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) for making the video. Congratulations to Judge Anthony Capizzi and Reclaiming Futures project director Charlotte McGuire and their entire team for all of their great work. 

  • Families in Power: a Guide to Organizing on Juvenile Justice Reform

    [The following column appeared in the February 2010 Campaign for Youth Justice e-newsletter, and is reprinted with permission. It has been edited slightly to incorporate hyperlinks into the text. - Ed.]

    juvenile-justice-reform-family-organizing_CFYJ-GuideThe Campaign for Youth Justice recently released a guide for families who want to do something to change the foolish and ineffective practice of trying our children as adults. Our new guide is entitled, "Families in Power: Family Guide to Networking, Coalition Building, Organizing and Campaign Building."  The guide provides basic information about how families and allies can begin to organize themselves and others to change  transfer practices and other overly punitive policies that negatively affect our children and our communities. 

    Here is one highlight from this new guide:

    The first step in creating powerful families and organizing others is developing a way to talk about your issue with a wide variety of audiences.  Many organizers refer to this as your "rap."  Your rap about the transfer of children into the adult correctional and court systems should be your 30-second commercial that is designed to open up dialogue with others.  It should include: a fact or two about youth transfer in order to educate people who may not know about transfer laws, why this is issue is important to you, and what you need from the person you are talking to.  Be sure you have your facts down and that they are accurate.  There are several fact sheets on the Campaign's website that can help you easily identify important facts.  The best fact sheet to use summarizes the findings of CFYJ's Jailing Juveniles report and speaks to the danger children face in jails every day in this country.   

  • Roundup: Justice Department Launches Indigent Defense Program; Justice Policy Institute Slams Obama's Justice Budget; NIDA "Blending" Science and Service Conference; and More

    juvenile-justice-system-news_old-TVJuvenile Justice System and Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment News

  • Representing Juvenile Status Offenders - A Guide from the American Bar Association

    juvenile-court_juvenile-status-offenders-reportEvery year, thousands of kids (disproportionately girls and youth of color) end up in the juvenile justice system not because they've committed a crime, but because they're runaways, skipping school, or are simply hard to control. While these "status offenders" and their families need services -- and it can be tempting to detain them in order to protect them -- it's important to minimze their contact with the juvenile justice system, as research has shown that contact with the juvenile justice system can increase their risk to  recidivate.

    But despite the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), which has a core requirement focused on discouraging detention of juvenile status offenders, status offenders are handled differently by each state, and sometimes quite aggressively. Now, the American Bar Association (ABA) has published Representing Juvenile Status Offenders, an excellent resource for attorneys who represent them. 

  • BJA Grants for Collaborative Projects between Juvenile Justice and Mental Health

    Want to address mental health issues in your juvenile court?

    The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) is seeking applications that demonstrate a collaborative
    project between criminal justice and mental health partners from eligible applicants to plan,
    implement, or expand a justice and mental health collaboration program.

    Grants will be targeted at anyone -- juvenile or adult -- who:

    • Has been diagnosed as having a mental illness or co-occurring mental health and substance abuse disorder; and
    • Has faced, are facing, or could face criminal charges for a misdemeanor or nonviolent offense.