North Carolina Governor Announces Statewide Expansion of Reclaiming Futures to Help Teens Break Cycle of Drugs, Alcohol and Crime
Raleigh, N.C. (September 14, 2011) -- North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue today announced a partnership between state agencies and two North Carolina foundations that will expand the successful Reclaiming Futures program from a model to a statewide initiative that helps youths in the juvenile justice system beat problems with drugs and alcohol. This tested and proven program will help put teenagers on a path toward finishing high school ready, for a career, college or technical training.
"This program takes my priority of making government more efficient, taps into the expertise and resources of the private sector and uses them for the most important purpose imaginable - protecting the future of our young people," Governor Perdue said. "This is an investment in turning young lives around."
Recognizing All Victims of Crime
Over the last few decades, the victims' rights movement has been effective in highlighting the needs and concerns of victims of crime. This movement –- born out of the women’s right era of the early 1970s -– continues to pick up steam as states amend laws and policies to give victims more defined rights and services. However, as the victims' right movement has evolved, so must its recognition of and treatment of victims.
When you hear the word “victim,” seldom do you associate that with young African American men. Society, through sensationalist media reporting, scapegoating and rhetoric-laden politicking, has done a thorough job of painting what a “perpetrator” and a “victim” look like. One of those paintings uses more color than the other.
The irony of such mischaracterization is that young black males are victimized at a higher rate than any other demographic. According to the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2008, blacks are victimized at a personal crime rate of 26.6 percent in comparison to whites, who are victimized at a personal crime rate of 18.6 percent –- yet when victims are talked about, this population doesn’t enter the discussion.
Going into my senior year in high school, I worked an entire summer from sun-up to sundown to save enough money to help my mother buy me a car. When I finally got that car, it was broken into not long afterward. I felt angry, stranded, violated, sad and a whole host of other emotions, but for whatever reason, I never felt like a victim.
Why not? I had obviously just been victimized.
A Primary Issue for Juvenile Justice: Who is a Juvenile?
In July, Mississippi began restricting the process for charging 17-year-olds, by requiring that almost all juveniles under age 18 charged with a misdemeanor or non-violent felony be tried in juvenile courts. Violent felonies committed by juveniles still are permitted to be handled by the adult justice system.
This policy is facing opposition from those within the state who feel it will reduce effective treatment of juvenile offenders. In reality, however, Mississippi is joining 38 other states which include 17-year-olds in the class of those treated as juveniles—and which reap the benefits of such a classification.
The first benefit is that it is generally a better idea to minimize (or even avoid) incarceration for misdemeanors and minor non-violent felonies. Costly jail cells should be reserved for those who pose a risk of violence to the public. Sending 17-year-olds guilty of minor crimes to juvenile courts, where they are more likely to receive probation or non-residential treatment, will reduce unnecessary criminal justice costs without jeopardizing public safety.
Secondly, 17-year-olds are still amenable to reform and rehabilitation in the way that younger juveniles are—and to a greater degree than adult offenders. Juvenile courts are the best option for recognizing reform methods applicable to each juvenile offender and ensuring comprehensive, successful treatment. These options are far more accessible to juvenile courts, and they increase the likelihood that a 17-year-old offender may become a law-abiding, productive citizen in the future.
Juvenile Court Records: Guilty After Proven Innocent
[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
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.
Three Strategies for Changing Juvenile Justice: Which Is Most Likely to Last?
A recent report from the National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN), titled, "Bringing Youth Home: A National Movement to Increase Public Safety, Rehabilitate Youth and Save Money," documented the extraordinary number of states and jurisdictions (at least 24) that are closing or downsizing their youth correctional facilities, due to budget cuts, legislation, lawsuits, and pressure from reformers. (Download the report for tips on ways to downsize wisely.)
This is a good thing, because it means taxpayers can save money or avoid the high cost of incarceration, and reallocate those monies to community-based programs that are more effective at helping young people turn their lives around.
Right on the heels of the NJJN report comes a new report from Jeffrey A. Butts and Douglas N. Evans from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice's Research and Evaluation Center in New York, titled, Resolution, Reinvestment, and Realignment: Three Strategies for Changing Juvenile Justice. In it, they ask:
- Do these reforms represent a permanent shift in policy and practice, or are they merely a temporary reaction to tight budgets and low rates of violent crime?
- Will policymakers maintain the reforms if and when crime rises and budgets rebound?
Juvenile Justice: A Different Kind of Commencement
[Now that school's about to start, it seems like a great time to reprint this post, which originally appeared on Beacon Broadside and in the Huffington Post. It is appears here with the permission of the author. --Ed.]
Now that all the high school graduations are over and the backyard barbecues celebrated, I'm finally coming down from the contact high of all that youthful exuberance and optimism.
It's easy to get swept up into those good feelings. But now as I move into summer's quieter months, I can't help thinking about the high school students I taught in a county penitentiary and what "commencement" meant for them.
Success never came easily to my students. Why should it? They came from lives wrecked by poverty and discrimination. It tried to wreck their spirit, but it never could, not completely. In that way my students weren't any different from the kids at our local high schools -- like their peers, they believed that life was there for the shaping. That faith in success, though, didn't always translate onto the streets. So they got caught up in crime, got arrested, did their time.
Addressing the Collateral Consequences of Convictions for Young Offenders
Two million juveniles are arrested each year, and the collateral consequences they could face begin at this first point of contact with the system, regardless of whether charges are subsequently applied and the individual is convicted. People involved in the justice system encounter substantial challenges in gaining employment, civic participation, finding housing, applying to college, and accessing medical and mental health care. Placement on public registries such as sex offender registries are an increasingly common policy tools,, despite lack of evidence of effectiveness and mounting evidence of harm.
A popular area of focus among advocates, practitioners, law enforcement and right-minded policymakers over the past decade has been to strengthen reentry support so that the odds of recidivism and return to the system are minimized. Less attention has been paid to the consequences that accompany a juvenile conviction but young people as well as adults face system-imposed obstacles to success based on a delinquent or criminal record.
The philosophical beginnings of the juvenile justice system rested on the notion that young people who became delinquent were amenable to reform and the system should respond by providing ample rehabilitation services. It was also emphasized that youth should be spared from the stigma of involvement with the adult criminal justice system and not be branded as “criminals.” Matters that were dealt with in the juvenile justice system were to be done so in an informal, non-adversarial, and highly confidential manner.
California’s Broken Juvenile Detention System
In 1858, the San Francisco Industrial School, California’s first large juvenile facility opened its doors and ushered in a new era of large dormitory-style institutions that would plague California to the present day. Rife with scandal, abuse, violence and a significant deficit of programming, congregate care institutions have proven a failed model since the 19th century. While Missouri and Washington have abandoned this broken system and rebuilt their juvenile justice systems anew, focusing on smaller therapeutic regional facilities; California continues to fixate on an archaic system with large training schools that cannot be repaired.
Currently, California operates a dual system of juvenile justice — probation, group homes, ranches and camps are provided by its 58 counties, while the state provides youth prisons reserved for adolescents who have committed a serious or violent offense as defined in the state’s Welfare and Institutions Code.
All parole and reentry services are provided by the counties. Currently, there are only 1,193 youths housed at the state level, approximately 190 of them are juveniles tried as adults but who are too young to be housed in adult prison.
Webinar: The School-to-Prison Pipeline
--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.)