Blog: Juvenile Court

What’s in a Number? Age Considerations in Justice Decisions

Research shows that adolescents have a high propensity for engaging in risk taking activities given the significant changes in neurology, biology, and other developmental issues (e.g., social; cultural; familial) they experience. Specifically related to decision-making, science shows the pre-frontal cortex region of the brain is underdeveloped until a young person is well into their 20’s.  With these findings in mind, how should this influence the way we think about key juvenile justice policies and practices like the age of juvenile jurisdiction?

October 2016 is Youth Justice Awareness/Action Month

Reclaiming Futures is proud to support Youth Justice Awa​reness Month. As such, we asked Mr. Brian Evans, the State’s Campaign Director at Campaign for Youth Justice to tell us about its history and purpose. Mr. Evans told us:

Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM) started back in 2008, when Tracy McClard, a mother from Missouri who lost her son to suicide in an adult jail, organized a 5K race in October to raise awareness about the harmful practice of treating children as adults in the criminal justice system. Each October since then, YJAM has seen more activities and more events highlighting what is wrong with trying kids as adults. Film screenings, panel discussion, art exhibitions, and more ambitious endeavors like Tracy’s bike ride across the state of Missouri last year, have all drawn attention to and helped build a growing consensus that we need to reform the way we approach youth justice.

As President Obama said this year in his second annual proclamation of Youth Justice Awareness Month: “When we invest in our children and redirect young people who have made misguided decisions, we can reduce our over-reliance on the juvenile and criminal justice systems and build stronger pathways to opportunity.”

Since the first YJAM in 2008, we have seen increased awareness lead to concrete action. Over the past decade around 30 states have passed legislation keeping young people out of the adult criminal justice system. So this year, we YJAM is being re-branded as Youth Justice Action Month. More and more it has become apparent that we know what the problems are. Now, it is time for advocates, legislators, and governments to take action

The Solution to a 27.47 Ton Problem

April in Dayton, Ohio generally means the winIMG_4366ter weather is starting to break. Snow showers and subzero temperatures are replaced with rain showers and flowers. For some neighborhoods in Dayton, Ohio the break in the weather brings light to a major issue. The issue of illegal dumping is highly visible once the piles of snow have melted away. In some instances, neighborhoods have been left with tons of trash and debris.  For several blocks certain alleyways can be found with couches, mattress, appliances and construction waste.

On April 1, 2015 Montgomery County Juvenile Court hosted its fourth annual community cleanup in the Fairview Neighborhood. This was a community effort, with multiple partners coming together to improve the appearance of one of our city’s neighborhoods.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.
>>Take the survey.
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.