Blog: Juvenile Court

What is the Real Cost of Trying Teens as Adults?

juvenile-justice-system_empty-jail-cellsThe New York Times reported March 5 that the national trend of trying teens as adults in criminal cases is reversing. Almost all states have raised, or are raising, the age teens are tried as adults. The opposition to this trend argues that it is too costly to try teens as minors.

The generally accepted assumption is that states save money by trying teens in adult criminal court, rather than in juvenile courts. But is this assumption really true in the long run? What is the real cost of trying teens as adults?

Certainly, in the short-term, the more involved and supportive approach of juvenile courts may cost more than criminal courts. Juvenile courts emphasize treatment rather than punishment. That focus can mean that more people are employed in the care and rehabilitation of offenders in juvenile court than in the adult counterpart. 
These costs, however, yield long-term benefits. Youth and society benefit from supportive rehabilitation. And states can make back the money from that initial investment. A recent study by the Vera Institute on the cost of raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction in North Carolina found that with an investment of $70.9 million a year to include 16 year olds in juvenile court, the state would accrue “$123.1 million in reoccurring benefits to youth, victims, and taxpayers over the long term.”

Roundup: Gay Teens Face Harsher Punishments

  • juvenile-justice-system_corrections-spending-graphicGrowth in Corrections Spending 1987-2007 Dwarfed Spending on Higher Ed (see image at right) - Curious about where your state stands? Follow the link and check the graph.  It would be interesting to see the same data comparing spending on the juvenile justice system with middle- and high-school spending.  (Hat tip to Jim Carlton.) 
  • Gay Teens Are Punished More Heavily in School and in Juvenile Court - From The New York Times: A national study of 15,000 middle school and high school teens published in Pediatrics found that gay, lesbian, and bisexual teens are more likely to be expelled from school than their straight peers, and more likely to be stopped, arrested, and adjudicated.  And "it's not because they're misbehaving more," says the study's lead author, Kathryn Himmelstein. (Hat tip to Dan Merrigan.)

Are You Suffering from Secondary Traumatic Stress?

juvenile-justice-system_woman-yellingWorking in the juvenile justice system, child welfare, or adolescent subsance abuse treatment can mean that you're exposed to all kinds of trauma. Every day, you might hear stories from clients of abuse, mistreatment, deprivation, and violence. That's what's known as "secondary traumatic stress." 
That stress is made worse when you have to decide whether clients you serve will be safe at home -- or if they're likely to hurt others. That's a lot to carry, even if nothing ever goes wrong.
The symptoms of secondary traumatic stress "are often indistinguishable from those found in individuals as a response to a traumatic event they experienced directly," according to Julie Collins, in her article, "Addressing Secondary Traumatic Stress: emerging approaches in child welfare," which appeared in the Mar/April 2009 issue of Children's Voice from the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA). (Hat tip to Paul Savery.)
Just what are the symptoms? They include "fatigue or illness, cynicism, irritability, reduced productivity, feelings of hopelessness, anger, despair, sadness, feelings of re-experiencing the event, nightmares, anxiety, avoidance of people and activities, or persistent anger and sadness."

Juvenile Justice System - Tips for Family Involvement from Pennsylvania

juvenile-justice-reform_family-involvement-publicationMost professionals in the juvenile justice system believe that engaging families at all levels -- from individual cases to advocacy on state and federal policy -- is critical. And research evidence appears to back this up. But in my experience, we find it tough to act on on the research for a variety of reasons. 
I recommend reviewing "Family Involvement in Pennsylvania's Juvenile Justice System," a 2009 document from MacArthur's Models for Change initiative.
While focused on Pennsylvania (obviously), its conclusions are universal. In sixteen focus groups, investigators gleaned useful, concrete ideas focused on four themes:

Census of Juveniles on Probation - Sneak Preview of OJJDP Data

juvenile-justice-system_drug-arrestsA few weeks ago, I announced here that the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) had completed its first-ever "Census of Juveniles on Probation" (CJP). Since the report's not done, however, I didn't have any data to share.
The report still isn't done, but it turns out that some preliminary data from the juvenile probation census is available online from George Mason University, where the work is being done.
Curious about the survey? You download the 2009 survey sent to juvenile probation offices in PDF format here.  Next, you can review answers to some "frequently-asked questions," such as number of youth on probation by state, or the ratio of youth on formal probation to those on informal probation. 
In addition, you can also view graphs for 18 pre-set reports based on the juvenile probation data, like the one pictured here for drug offenses. You can see nationwide snapshots of juvenile probationers broken down by age, race/ethnicity, gender and offense category, and many more. Just bear in mind that the data isn't final and may change.  (Hat tip to Lore Joplin.)

Roundup: Marijuana "Gateway" Effect Less Important than Other Factors - and More

adolescent-substance-abuse-treatment_News-signAdolescent Substance Abuse and Related Treatment News

  • Is marijuana a "gateway" to other drug use? Not so much, according to new research, and "over-criminalizing" its use can contribute to young adults' use of other illicit drugs. According to the study, race and ethnicity are the best predictors of whether someone will use illicit drugs besides marijuana: non-Hispanic whites are more likely to use them than are (in order) Hispanics or African Americans. Furthermore, although marijuana use in one's teen years might lead to use of other drugs, youth apparently "age out" of that when they reach 21. Unemployment is a factor too, which suggests that, as one researcher concluded, "over-criminalizing youth marijuana use might create more serious problems if it interferes with later employment opportunities." (Hat tip to Robert Ackley.) Related reading: Jeff Butts on "The Enduring Gateway Myth."
  • Teen use of alcohol and drugs can be significantly reduced with brief, school-based interventions by mental health therapists or even by teachers given minimal training, according to a new study from the U.K. Researchers evaluated their use of alcohol and drugs at six months post-intervention, so it's not clear if the effects would need to be repeated on a regular basis.


Juvenile Justice Reform: Join the Movement

juvenile-justice-reform_Join-the-Movement-sign-Motivate-Advocate-ActivateOur nation has long been a leader in economic and military might, but we have forgotten about our children, too many of whom continue to languish in adult prisons. We are behind in our efforts to decrease our incarcerated population, especially our incarcerated youth. The U.S. has the highest reported incarceration rate of any nation in the world. On any given day, more than 7,500 youth are locked up in adult jails and prisons even though the vast majority of youth prosecuted in adult court are charged with non-violent offenses.
In the 1990’s most states passed laws that made it easier to try, sentence, and incarcerate youth in the adult criminal system in response to growing fears of a new generation of so-called adolescent “superpredators.” Even though youth crime rates are the lowest they have been in two decades, an estimated 200,000 youth continue to be prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system every year. Research shows that youth incarcerated in adult jails and prisons face an increased risk of being physically, mentally, and sexually abused. Prosecuting kids as adults also increases the likelihood that they will reoffend, and youth who are transferred to the adult criminal system are approximately 34% more likely than youth retained in the juvenile court system to be re-arrested.

National Conference on Juvenile and Family Law Seeks Presentation Proposals

juvenile-court_English-judgesGot a great idea for improving outcomes for children, youth, families, and victims who come into contact with the juvenile court?  The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) wants to hear from you.
NCJFCJ will hold its annual conference next year on March 27-30, 2011, in Reno, Nevada -- and would like you to submit your presentation proposal between now and September 15, 2010. Proposals will be entertained on a broad range of topics, including child abuse and neglect, mental health, delinquency, family law, domestic violence, and substance abuse.
If you still have questions, contact Diane Barnette via email, or via phone at (775) 784-6012.

CJJ Conference on Disproportionate Minority Contact - Register Now!

You know that Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) is one of the most troubling and persistent problems with the juvenile justice system today. Now's your chance to pool your knowledge and learn from others working on the problem.
On October 23-25, 2010, the Coalition for Juvenile Justice is hosting its National DMC Conference, “Fundamental Fairness: Eliminating Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Juvenile Justice,” in Jersey City, New Jersey. The conference will be preceded by a one-day training on October 22, with the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), State Relations and Assistance Division (SRAD).

Juvenile Indigent Defense System Failing Kids It's Meant to Protect - Weekly Roundup

adolescent-substance-abuse-treatment_old-TVAdolescent Substance Abuse Treatment - News and Research Updates

  • How the confidentiality of patients who obtain substance abuse treatment will be handled under health reform (and electronic health records in particular) continues to be the focus of controversy, according to Join Together. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has issued a document covering "frequently-asked questions," and will hold a stakeholders' meeting on August 4th to provide more clarification. Last February, I posted that some health reform advocates want to do away with federal confidentiality regulations under 42 CFR in favor of relevant HIPAA regulations. They say they're concerned that the burden of complying will discourage mainstream doctors from screening patients and providing brief intervention for alcohol and drug issues. 

Juvenile Justice Reform: Improving Outcomes for Status Offenders

juvenile-justice-reform_status-offenders-article-photoOne of the four core principles of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) is that juvenile status offenders not be placed in secure detention. ("Status offenders" are minors who do things that would not generally be a offense if they were adults. For example, truants, runaways, and curfew violators are status offenders.)
However, an exception to the law was made in 1980 to allow courts to detain young people who had committed status offenses if they had also violated a "valid court order" -- the so-called "VCO exception."
As Nancy Gannon Hornberger writes in, "Improving Outcomes for Status Offenders in the JJDPA Reauthorization," which appeared in the summer 2010 issue of Juvenile and Family Justice Today from the National Council of Family and Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ), "The nation is split. Twenty-five U.S. states and territories do not allow or do not use the VCO exception; in 30 states [including the territories, and Washington, D.C.], the VCO exception is allowable."
Approximately 12,000 non-delinquent status offenders are locked-up with delinquent youth each year. Serious concerns have been raised about whether such detentions do more harm than good. Juvenile justice practitioners, advocates and members of Congress have responded to these concerns with an amendment to the JJPDA to eliminate the VCO exception.

10 Things Every Juvenile Court Should Know About Trauma and Delinquency

juvenile-court_10-things-coverIt's not a secret that many youth in juvenile court struggle with symptoms related to trauma, but it can be hard to remember in court, when faced with a defiant youth who's been repeatedly delinquent. 
So it's great to see a new publication from the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, 10 Things Every Juvenile Court Judge Should Know about Trauma and Delinquency. (Even though it seems to be aimed only at judges, it's useful for all staff who work with or in juvenile court.)

Tribal Juvenile Justice Fellowship Program from OJJDP: Apply Now!

juvenile-justice-system_OJJDP-logoFrom the press release: the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) invites qualified individuals to apply under its fiscal year (FY) 2010 Fellowship Program on Tribal Juvenile Justice.
The fellowship represents an opportunity for professionals, practitioners, researchers, or trainers with expertise in tribal youth justice to assist OJJDP in strengthening its partnership with federally-recognized tribes to enhance juvenile justice and serve tribal youth and their families.
The application deadline is July 19, 2010.

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!

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?  

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."

Starting and Maintaining a CLTL Juvenile Program: An Interview with Michael Habib

[The following post is about the Changing Lives Through Literature (CLTL) program. It originally appeared in different form on the CLTL Blog, Changing Lives, Changing Minds, and is reposted here with the permission of the author and the publisher. You can learn more about Bristol County, Massachusetts’ experience with the program here. -Ed.]
positive-youth-development_teens-readingRecently, I had the chance to interview Michael Habib, who facilitates the Changing Lives Through Literature (CLTL) program for teens in Fall River, MA. Because I volunteer with young offenders in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, I wanted his advice on a few questions:

  • What tips do you have for other juvenile reading programs?
  • How do you get kids to open up?
  • What do you do when they don’t do their assigned work?

Positive Youth Justice Report and the CJJ Youth Manual

Positive Youth Justice Report

juvenile-justice-reform_Positive-youth-justice-report-coverAccording to a new report that my organization, the Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ), just published, the future for youth involved with the justice system could be dramatically improved by applying the principles of positive youth development (PYD) practice to the juvenile justice system and its services.
The report -- Positive Youth Justice: Framing Justice Interventions Using the Concepts of Positive Youth Development, written by Jeffrey A. Butts, Gordon Bazemore and Aundra Saa Meroe -- explores the tremendous potential of helping court-involved youth develop their pro-social strengths and attributes, and increase their abilities to contribute to healthy, safe family and community life.

Juvenile Urine Drug Testing: the Importance of Observed Collections

adolescent-substance-abuse_drug-test-kitsThe importance of witnessed collections (for urine drug testing) cannot be over-emphasized. Urine collections that are not witnessed are of little or no abstinence assessment value because of the propensity of juvenile substance abusers not to provide a legitimate sample (denial, efforts to hide relapse/use).
The definition of “witnessed collections” is direct, full-frontal, line-of-sight observation -- basically, staring at a participant‘s genitals while he or she produces a urine sample.
Difficult? Yes! Uncomfortable? No doubt! Necessary? Absolutely critical!