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Juvenile Justice Reform: What Happens When You Lose a Team Member?

juvenile-justice-reform_moody-picture-of-treesOn Monday, April 19th 2010, Nassau County’s Family Court Deputy County Attorney’s Office was advised that the county was restructuring the department. Our Juvenile Treatment Court prosecutors, Gregg Roth and Arianne Reyer, were advised their services were no longer needed as of Friday, April 30th. Arianne was later given a temporary reprieve, but Gregg is gone.

This move was devastating to the treatment court and to the Reclaiming Futures initiative here, which had built a cohesive working group over the last three years. Just as when I was younger and my brother left home for the military, it had never occurred to me that anyone would ever leave our team. I am left feeling abandoned and alone with Gregg’s departure, just like I did when my brother went off to the Army. Our Nassau County Juvenile Treatment Court/Reclaiming Futures Change Team is family, and one of us is no longer here.

Good for You!

[The following post is reprinted with permission from the blog at the Pongo Teen Writing website. The author has recently posted "Writing from Kids in the Juvenile Justice System: In My Blood to Be a Drunk" and "Poetry as Treatment for Youth in the Juvenile Justice System" on this blog.  Photo by hojusaram. -Ed.]

juvenile-justice-system-writing_99-blue-balloonsThough Pongo is completely focused on the youth in the program, there have been a few surprising times when the teens have taken care of me. I appreciate it, but I also think it shows a talent in them.

I remember working with a young man in juvenile detention who was gang involved. He wrote about feeling forced to be a man, in the gang way, by carrying a gun on the streets and dealing drugs. He wrote about not knowing any other life. On a deeper level, he wrote about not having a dad, about struggles with loneliness.  He had been suspicious of the writing at first, and we talked for a long time before we began. But when we were done, as he was leaving, he turned to me and said, “It’s very nice of you, sir, to take your time to help young people.”

Once I was leading a poetry workshop with a large group of youth at the state psychiatric hospital. After a nice beginning, they wanted to move on from the writing activities that I had brought. They wanted to write on their own, about issues that were very much on their minds. They worked quietly. And as they finished I would call individuals forward to read. While each person read, the other youth would pause, listen, and applaud, and then continue with their own work. Though I rarely become emotional while working with kids, the writing in this session was so poignant, dealing with suicidal feelings, that I started to cry. The group was calm and quiet, and one teen walked to the back of the room to get me a box of tissues. And we carried on.

Roundup: "Igniting Change in Juvenile Justice" Webinar and More

Juvenile Justice System and Adolescent Behavioral Health News

Juvenile Justice System Funding - More from OJJDP for 2010

juvenile-justice-system-funding_smarties-with-dollar-signsThe good folks at the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) simply don't quit -- and for that, we should be glad. Once again, they've announced more funding opportunities: 


Juvenile Justice Reform - More on U.S. Supreme Court Ruling Prohibiting Life Without Parole for Youth Who Have Not Committed Homicide

[The following is reposted in its entirety from an e-newsletter sent out by the National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN) and is reprinted with permission. -Ed.]

juvenile-justice-reform_Supreme-Court-buildingThe National Juvenile Justice Network commends the May 17, 2010 holding by the Supreme Court of the United States that it is unconstitutional to sentence youth who did not commit homicide to life without the possibility of paroleGraham v. Florida broadly condemns the sentence of life without parole for youth who have not committed homicide, finding the punishment to be cruel and unusual. The opinion draws upon our national evolving standards of decency demonstrated in part by the fact that only 129 non-homicide youth offenders are currently serving life without parole sentences in only 12 states. 

The strongly worded opinion affirms the fact that youth have lessened culpability than adults, and that youth’s developing brains make it impossible to determine if they are beyond rehabilitation. Reiterating many of the findings from Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005), regarding youth’s lack of maturity, underdeveloped sense of responsibility and vulnerability to outside, especially peer, pressure, the Court states that youth cannot be “classified among the worst offenders.” Furthermore, “no recent data provide reasons to reconsider” the Court’s observations in Roper, and “developments in psychology and brain science continue to showfundamental differences between juvenile and adult minds.”

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!

Supreme Court Restricts Life Without Parole Sentences for Juveniles

juvenile-justice-reform_open-doorwayJuveniles may not be sentenced to life without parole for crimes short of homicide, according to a 5-4 Supreme Court decision. While teens may be given life sentences, the court ruled that they must have the opportunity to apply for eventual release. In doing so, the court recognized the unique developmental stage of adolescence, and the possibility of young people's maturation and redemption.

I would argue that the ruling should be extended to include homicides as well -- at least on a case-by-case basis.  But what do you think? 

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?  

Roundup: Input Needed on Federal Strategic Plan on At-Risk Youth Policy - and More

juvenile-justice-system-adolescent-substance-abuse_old-TVJuvenile Justice System News

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."