Blog: California

Teen Drug Overdose Death Rate Doubles Over Last Decade; News Roundup

Every week Reclaiming Futures rounds up the latest news on juvenile justice reform, adolescent substance use treatment, and teen mental health. 

Teen Drug Overdose Death Rate Doubles Over Last Decade (Psychiatry Advisor)
Trust For America's Health released a new report with findings that the American drug overdose mortality rate has more than doubled over the last ten years, and especially among young men between the ages of 12 to 25 years old. Prescription drugs were found to be responsible for many of the overdoses, and were also found to be connected to heroin addictions in young people.

Leadership Institute Videos, Now Available

Screen Shot 2015-09-04 at 4.14.28 PMVideos from Reclaiming Futures’ annual Leadership Institute held this past June in La Jolla, California, are now available online!

The event, entitled “Public Health and Justice: A Partnership to Promote Equity and Well-being for Youth and Families,” brought together experts in juvenile justice and behavioral health to discuss equity and restorative justice in schools.

Possible Implications for Public Schools: Addressing Complex Trauma

The Washington Post,  LA Times and Aces Too High posted stories regarding the lawsuit filed against the Compton School district for allegedly not responding to students’ learning and mental health needs specifically related to complex trauma. The statutory framework for this lawsuit is Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and American Disabilities Act. The Washington Post article provides the actual lawsuit and all three articles offer synopses of the trauma experienced by youth named in the lawsuit.  The lawsuit describes and alleges that these young people experienced numerous traumas both on and off school propfile0001681273132erty such as homelessness, physical and sexual abuse, violence, witnessing shootings, unsafe school conditions, and familial behavioral health issues.  Three Compton School district teachers are named for the prosecution alleging that their requests to provide youth with the appropriate behavioral health services were ignored by the district.  For those of us that work in the juvenile justice or behavioral health fields these stories seem all too common. Decades of research and practice have shown that trauma has profound negative effects on an individual’s overall health (e.g., neurological, biological, psychological, social).  One of the more well-known studies, which is being used to support this lawsuit, is the Adverse Childhood Experiences ( ACEs) study. The major findings from the ACEs study show trauma can impair an individual’s social, emotional, and cognitive abilities and functioning.

But, what is complex trauma?

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

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

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.