Blog: Massachusetts

Reclaiming Futures Judge South Coast Woman of the Year

Congratulations to Judicial Fellow Bettina Borders, recently recognized by The Standard-Times in Massachusetts as South Coast Woman of the Year for her contributions to the community as a judge and activist.
Judge Borders has been helping young people her whole life, and for the last few years, implementing the Reclaiming Futures model to help teens in trouble.
By working with the City of New Bedford, Bristol County Sheriff's Office, and Bristol County District Attorney Office, Judge Borders and her team are working with the community, treatment providers and social service agencies to provide better intervention, substance abuse treatment and mental health services to young people in need.
We are proud of Judge Borders and salute her committment to her community!

New York City, Massachusetts Launching First Social Impact Bond Programs in United States

Now that the 2012 election is over, attention in Washington, D.C., will at last shift to other important subjects, including the impending “fiscal cliff” and the priorities of the “lame duck” Congress. But the refocus on policy also presents an opportunity to think seriously about how to direct government funds toward smart initiatives that deliver real-world results.
One way to do that is by funding “what works” initiatives such as social impact bonds. This new type of bond is an innovative financing tool for social programs in which government agencies contract external organizations to achieve measurable, positive social outcomes on key issues, such as homelessness or juvenile delinquency. Payment by the government is made only after the results have been achieved, and the government doesn’t spend a dime on programs that don’t deliver results.
While there are other outcome-based financing tools that governments can—and should—consider, 2012 has already been a blockbuster year for social impact bonds, with both New York City and the state of Massachusetts announcing details of the first two agreements to be inked in the United States. And as states and cities struggle with the current fiscal and political climate, achieving measurable results with limited means will become even more attractive.

Changing Lives, One Theater Performance At a Time

Reclaiming Futures Judge Bettina Borders has a terrific op-ed in the South Coast Today on the positive impact theater performances have had on troubled teens in Massachusetts. Thanks to the generosity of the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center, teens in the juvenile system are attending plays and sharing the experience with their families.
She writes:

For most of these youth and their families, this is an extraordinary experience. First, they are having a wonderful experience together, one that most of us take for granted. The probation officers who accompany these youth have watched while the demeanor of these kids transforms as the evening unfolds. They are indistinguishable from the rest of the audience; polite, engaged, attentive, well behaved, well dressed, inquisitive, mesmerized by the magical extravaganzas they are watching. They are out of their "comfort zone" and yet "belong" in this new environment. It is wonderful to hear about as the probation officers report back to the court.
But the transformation does not end there. The youth are asked to write about their experiences or discuss them in groups. Each youth is excited, energized and articulate when dissecting the play or gushing over the virtuosity of dancers or musicians. Many "thank yous" by letter and by mouth are sent by the youths. Another lesson learned. These are experiences we want for all of the youth in our community and Ms. Knowles and the Board of the Z must be commended for making them accessible to those teens least likely to find their way to the beautiful Z.

Disruptive Behavior Sends Students to Court Instead of Principal's Office

Actions that once sent students to the principal’s office to be handled by teachers and faculty are now getting Massachusetts students pulled from school entirely and sent to juvenile court in handcuffs, according to a recent report by Citizens for Juvenile Justice. Research shows that police officers are increasingly stepping in to handle behavior such as foul language, hallway misconduct and disrupting public assemblies, which has led to a significant spike in student arrests.
Data from Springfield, Boston and Worcester, three of Massachusetts’s largest school districts, shows children as young as 11 were subject to arrest and were faced with criminal records for minor offenses during the 2007-08, 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years. Although students should be held accountable for their actions, using police and court resources instead of existing school disciplinary practices could pose severe consequences for their future. One alarming statistic noted by the report states that, “students who are arrested at school are three times more likely to drop out than those who are not.”
Criminalizing children for these minor offenses not only limits their educational and career opportunities, but it is also costly for schools and taxpayers. Springfield schools have armed officers permanently stationed at selected schools for the entire duration of the school day, contributing to a hefty payroll percentage that could be spent on staff leadership and disciplinary training.

Harvard Law School Colloquium Explores How Recent US Supreme Court Decisions Have Affected Youths’ Rights in the Justice System

Harvard Colloquium
On March 26, 2012, Harvard Law School’s Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, with Juvenile Law Center and the Milbank Foundation, sponsored a colloquium on constitutional law in the wake of three recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions involving the rights of youth involved in the justice system. All three cases suggest that the country has turned a constitutional corner—that youth matters in the interpretation of the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.
Roper v. Simmons (2005) held that the death penalty was unconstitutional for youth who were under age 18 at the time of their crimes. Graham v. Florida (2010) held that a sentence of life without parole was also unconstitutional for youth under 18 who were convicted of non-homicide crimes. J.D.B. v. North Carolina (2011) held that a “reasonable child” standard should be used to determine whether a youth would have believed he was “in custody,” a requirement that triggers Miranda warnings.
Panelists—who wrote or co-wrote articles that will appear later this year in Volume 47 of the CR-CL Law Review—predicted what lay around the bend.

Changing Young Lives in Massachusetts

The Reclaiming Futures model is used in 29 communities (in 17 states) across the country. As National Executive Director Susan Richardson often says, "if you've seen one court, you've seen one court," meaning that while every Reclaiming Futures court implements the same six step model, there are often differences in the program based on what works in each community. In Snohomish County, Washington, troubled teens work with local artists to learn glass blowing and creative writing. In Oklahoma's Cherokee Nation, youth learn about their heritage and partake in cultural events. And in Bristol County, Massachusetts, the focus is on building teens' self-esteem and self-worth. One model with many different approaches -- and all with great results. 
The South Coast Today recently wrote about the success of Reclaiming Futures in Bristol County. From the article:

Weighing the Cost of School Suspensions in Massachusetts

The New England Center for Investigative Reporting recently reported findings detailing disciplinary trends within the public education system of Massachusetts.
According to the analysis, almost 200,000 school days were lost to out-of-school and in-school suspensions and expulsions during the 2009-2010 school year.
The organization said that days lost to suspension or expulsions during the timeframe were equal to about 10 percent of the 172 million school days accumulated by the state’s nearly 1 million public school students.
The analysis reports that while the Boston school system is more likely to expel students permanently, the Worchester school system ultimately totaled up more lost school days due to disciplinary actions, with approximately 5,000 lost school days compared to the capital city’s estimated 2,765.
The analysis also found that more than 2,000 students, some as young as age 4, were suspended from the state’s early elementary programs, which entails pre-kindergarten to third grade classes.