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
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:
- The persistent poor outcomes for Black male youth related to economic opportunities, housing, education and emotional support;
- The strains caused to economic and social systems as a result of these poor outcomes;
- 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
- 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  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.
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.