Blog: Public Policy

Public Perceptions About Crime Trends

juvenile-justice-system_crime-rate-perception-document[Although the post below focuses specifically on data from Oregon, it should resonate with communities all over the country. Drop us an email or leave a comment: do people in your community mistakenly believe crime is gong up? -Ed.]
Major violent and property crime rates have been consistently declining in the United States, but does the public believe crime is going down? 
This was the topic of “Do Oregonians Know about the Crime Drop?”, a research brief recently released by Portland State University’s Criminal Justice Policy Research Institute. 
In Oregon, like many states throughout the U.S., violent and property crime rates are at the lowest levels since the 1960’s. A steady decline in crime rates has been occurring for 15 years, with minor increases or leveling in some years, but the overall drop is significant. A national crime victimization survey also reports the same declining trend. 
Such declines should be cause for celebration. However, a recent survey of Oregonians conducted by the Criminal Justice Policy Research Institute found that:

What Do Teens in Prison Need to Be Successful?

Piper Kerman, author of Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison, has a unique perspective on what teens in prison need to be successful.
Locked up in federal prison at age 34 for a drug crime committed in her early 20s, Kerman spent a year living in close quarters with many women, including 18- and 19-year-old girls.
What were the three things she thought they needed to be successful?

  1. Positive attention. She found the teens in particular were incredibly responsive to positive attention, creating significant opportunities for change -- opportunities that were often missed.
  2. Continued connection to their families and their own children.
  3. Alcohol and drug treatment and mental health services.

But you should really hear it from her own lips. Fortunately, when she was in town earlier this week, Piper graciously agreed to be interviewed (see above).
What impact did the experience have on her?  Among other things, it has turned her into an eloquent advocate for juvenile justice reform, and addressing disproportionate minority contact in the adult and juvenile justice systems. Now that's a great outcome. 

Juvenile Pretrial Detention - At What Cost?

juvenile-justice-reform_Monopoly-money-and-game-piecesIn a recent column, I compared the costs of trying teens in the juvenile justice system and trying them as adults. Some argue that trying youth in adult criminal court is cheaper than trying them in juvenile court, and I pointed to research showing that while trying kids in juvenile court may cost more money upfront, the rehabilitative approach saves money in the long run.
One of the reasons it can cost a lot to try youth in juvenile or adult court is the need to detain some teens while their cases are resolved. And there's no question that the cost of juvenile pretrial detention is enormous. This is true whether “costs” are seen in the effects on individuals and communities, or in more cynical terms of dollars and cents.
However, both of these costs go up when kids are placed in detention at adult facilities.  
Pretrial detention in an adult facility is extremely perilous to youth. Compared to their counterparts in juvenile detention, kids held in adult facilities are 36% more likely to commit suicide. And, although youth under 18 make up less than 1% of the total population in adult facilities, they comprise 21% of the victims of inmate perpetrated sexual assault. The longer youth stay in adult facilities, the greater these risks become.

UPDATED: Illinois to Cut All Alcohol and Drug Treatment Spending - Will Other States Follow?

adolesxcent-substance-abuse-treatment_bad-news-graffittiAs of March 15, the state of Illinois is cutting its $54 million budget for alcohol and drug treatment and prevention services to zero (full disclosure: I wrote the news summary linked to here).
That's right: zero. 
According to providers, that means many of them will shut down. 
What's left, without state money? According to provider representatives, about 80 percent of their clients (or about 55,000 people) get treatment funded by the state, leaving 20 percent of their clients who are covered by Medicaid -- -- women only, though. The state will reportedly be cutting the amounts it reimburses for Medicaid services by six percent.
What's not precisely clear from news reports is the impact on youth treatment. Prevention services serving about 230,000 youth a year are definitely gone, but children's treatment can be covered by Medicaid - I'm not sure how that's handled in Illinois. However, in my experience, most treatment agencies rely on the volume of their adult treatment programs to support their youth treatment programs. Without the mix, I would guess that many youth programs -- even those billing Medicaid -- might not survive.  

Upcoming Cases in U.S. Supreme Court Could Alter How the Constitution Affects Kids

juvenile-justice-system_US-Supreme-Court-detailThe Unites States Supreme Court is set to hear a number of cases this month that look at how the Constitution applies to children.  In each of the cases kids were questioned behind closed doors at their schools with no attorneys present and without being read their Miranda rights.
In one of the cases an Oregon family is suing a case worker and deputy sheriff for “badgering” their 9-year old-daughter into accusing her father of molestation. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th District ruled that the girl’s questioning violated the Fourth Amendment’s ban on “unreasonable search and seizure,” according to a story in The Washington Post.
Advocates say that the courts should treat children differently than adults.
[Editor's Update 3/23/11: Youth Today examines the "three key questions" at the heart of one of the cases before the court: (1) Is age an objective or subjective criteria? (2) Does the school setting matter? (3) Do state trends matter?]

States Cut Juvenile Justice Budgets: Who Wins?

juvenile-justice-system_dark-stairwayIn low-income communities already reeling with double-digit unemployment, news that your state plans to trim several million dollars from juvenile corrections might not cause much outcry except for the loss of jobs. But consider the implications.
With states from Florida to California closing youth prisons, thousands of young people needing jobs, education services or drug treatment will be coming home. Yet little of the savings will go into funding such programs. Instead, youth advocates across the country fear that teens-in-trouble will be essentially cut adrift. This could add new pressures to already-stressed communities and leave many to balance public safety against the needs of young offenders and their families. 
Certainly, the $5.7 billion spent each year to lock up some 90,000 kids could be better spent. Recidivism rates are miserable – in many cases, worse than adult corrections – despite costs that can top $200-a-day for each incarcerated youth. What works with most court-involved teens, experts say, is a combination of family therapy, drug or mental health treatment, and employment. None of those things, however, are on the books.

National Juvenile Justice Network Launches Fiscal Policy Center; Seeks Applicants for Budget Analyst

In December, I met with Sarah Bryer, Executive Director of the National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN), and asked her what it was planning for the coming months. You can see her answer in the video above -- tools for local sites to help them push juvenile justice reform during the fiscal downturn. 
Now, the NJJN is about to launch a new Fiscal Policy Center. Here's what they say about it: 

Is the Juvenile Justice System "Improving Lives or Devastating Them?" and More: a Roundup

  • juvenile-justice-system_old-TVIs the Juvenile Justice System "Improving Lives or Devastating Them?" U.S. Attorney General Asks
    Attorney General Eric Holder wants to see the juvenile justice system shift from prosecution and punishment to prevention and intervention, as he made clear in a March 7th speech to the National Association of Counties Legislative Conference. Among other things, he pointed to the evidence showing that "scared straight programs" are ineffective, and the high rate of sexual victimization of detained youth. 
  • States Try Fewer Youth in Adult Court  
    Only a few states -- New York and North Carolina among them -- continue to treat 16-year-olds as adults when it comes to the justice system. Money's an issue, because it's more expensive to try them in the juvenile justice system. However, a new analysis from the Vera Institute of Justice finds that the fiscal benefits outweigh the costs.
  • States Back Away From Punitive Drug Laws
    The high cost of imprisoning low-level drug offenders is adding momentum to efforts to reform punitive drug laws that incarcerate people without addressing their underlying treatment problem.

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.”

Georgia Could Become “Asylum State” for Juvenile Delinquents

juvenile-justice-system_FenceGeorgia is set to become the go-to state for delinquent juveniles trying to escape the system.  If legislation is not passed in this session of the General Assembly, Georgia will become the only state without pending legislation to enact the new Interstate Compact for Juveniles (ICJ), an agreement that allows for the transfer of delinquent juveniles and runaways between states.

The potential implications are enormous.  Without an agreement with other states, Georgia will have no mechanism for sending delinquent kids from other states back home or for registering teen sex offenders who cross the border into Georgia, according to Rick Masters, General Counsel for the Interstate Commission for Juveniles, in Lexington, Ky., the governing body of the ICJ,

The ICJ replaces and updates a compact established in 1955 that Georgia was a member of.   Currently, Georgia still operates under the framework for the old compact, but the transition period expires on June 30, 2011.  After that date, Georgia will no longer be able to do business with member-states of the ICJ.

The Bond Market and Public Safety

[The following column on using social impact bonds to promote effective programs in juvenile justice (and adult criminal justice) has been republished with permission from The Urban Institute website. --Ed.]


At least 40 states face swelling budget deficits. Likely targets for reductions include the discretionary social programs that protect public safety. Rather than jeopardize the public's safety and well-being with imprudent cuts, a different and better way out of the financing crunch is explained by two criminologists: the social impact bond.

State and local governments are in trouble. At least 40 states face swelling budget deficits. While few details of next year’s budgets are available, likely targets include the discretionary social programs that protect public safety.

Often, programs that serve criminal offenders, at-risk youth, people with mental illness and drug addictions, and prisoners returning home are the first to get hacked when budgets are cut. In a preview of what is likely to come, governors in Virginia, Texas, and New York have proposed cutting funding for at-risk youths, increasing the chances of future crime increases.

Rather than jeopardize public safety and well-being with imprudent cuts, here’s a different and better way out of the financing crunch: the social impact bond (or SIB).

"Scared Straight" Programs on Hold in Two States

juvenile-justice-reform_thank-you-signPrisons in Maryland and California have put their "Scared Straight" programs on hold in the wake of warnings from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) that federal funding could be cut for states using the discredited intervention.
Two DOJ officials, including Jeff Slowikowski, the Acting Director of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), wrote in an editorial published last week that the "Scared Straight" program was "scary -- and inffective," and that it "could run counter to the law."
They cited studies showing that  "Scared Straight" youth are more likely to commit new crimes.

U.S. Department of Justice: Scared Straight is "Scary and Ineffective"

juvenile-justice-reform_young-woman-with-scissors-at-her-eye"Traumatizing at-risk kids is not the way to lead them away from crime and drugs,"write Laurie O. Robinson and Jeff Slowikowski of the U.S. Department of Justice in a January 31st editorial published in The Baltimore Sun responding to A&E television network's reality show, "Beyond 'Scared Straight.'" (Hat tip to the Justice Policy Institute on Facebook.)
Robinson is assistant attorney general for the federal Office of Justice Programs (OJP), and Slowikowski is acting administrator of the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP).
They point to the research showing that "scared straight" programs actually make youth more likely to commit new crimes, not less. They go on:
"The fact that these types of programs are still being touted as effective, despite stark evidence to the contrary, is troubling. In the decades following the original scared straight program, states across the country developed similar models in the hopes that this get-tough approach would make an impact on their impressionable youth. As it turns out, the impact was not the one they had hoped for.
"Fortunately, in recent years, policymakers and criminal and juvenile justice practitioners have begun to recognize that answers about what works are best found in sound research, not in storytelling. Evidence from science provides the field with the best tool for sound decision-making. This 'smart on crime' approach saves taxpayer money and maximizes limited government resources — especially critical at a time of budget cuts."
We applaud them and the rest of the leadership at the Department of Justice for adding their voices of opposition to scared-straight programming for youth in the justice system. Their voices now join the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, the National Council of Juvenile and Famliy Court Judges (NCJFCJ), the Campaign for Youth Justice, and of course Reclaiming Futures -- we're glad to see so many arrayed publicly against an intervention that wastes money and lives.

Update August 2011: in spite of overwhelming research evidence and opposition from juvenile judges, federal officials, and juvenile justice experts,  A&E Television is airing a new series of episodes of Beyond 'Scared Straight.'

Scared Straight -- or Just Scared? Judges Speak Out Against "Beyond 'Scared Straight'"

juvenile-justice-reform-line-of-young-menThe National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) is calling on A&E television network to stop misrepresenting the facts about  the effectiveness of "Scared Straight" interventions with young people involved in the justice system. "Scared Straight" exposes youth in the juvenile justice system (from runaways to violent offenders) to adult prisoners, who intimidate, harrass, and humiliate the teens in an effort to scare them into "going straight." The intervention is now the subject of a reality show , "Beyond 'Scared Straight,'" on the A&E network.
In a statement published January 27, 2011, NCJFCJ wrote:
Although advertisements for the show claim Scared Straight! is "an effective juvenile prevention/intervention program," social science research clearly demonstrates the opposite. In fact, research strongly suggests Scared Straight! and similar programs have a harmful impact on youth and are associated with increased risk for continued delinquent/criminal behaviors. Further, it is clear these types of interventions as portrayed are neither developmentally appropriate nor trauma-informed.
The judges want "A&E to provide a meaningful opportunity to present the facts around Scared Straight! and similar programs." They have joined Reclaiming Futures, the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, the Campaign for Youth Justice, and many other juvenile justice advocates in their opposition to the program.
NCJFCJ's research arm, the National Center for Juvenile Justice (NCJJ), has also released a position statement, "Scared Straight or just Scared? The False Promise and Potential Danger of Scared Straight Programs for Youth." NCJJ takes the reality show to task because it "falsely claims that “Scared Straight” will result in better outcomes and less delinquency among youth participants" when research shows the opposite.

National Juvenile Justice Experts: Invest in Proven Strategies, Not "Scared Straight"

[The following position statement was released by the Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ) in response to the A&E television network's decision to air "Beyond 'Scared Straight,'" a reality TV show about teens being yelled at and shamed by adult prison inmates in an attempt to scare them "straight." Be sure to check out CJJ's fact sheet, Scared Straight: Don't Believe the Hype, and Laura Nissen's editorial, "Beyond 'Scared Straight' – Moving to Programs that Actually Work." --Ed.]
juvenile-justice-reform_CJJ-logoWashington, D.C. – The Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ), a national association of Governor-appointed state advisory groups on juvenile justice and allies, questions the value of the A&E series, “Beyond Scared Straight,” scheduled to begin airing on Thursday, January 13, 2011. The planned series highlights an intervention that purports to turn children and youth away from delinquent and criminal behavior. In fact, such approaches, explains CJJ, are shown to have the opposite of the desired effect and to increase delinquency.
“Started years ago with good intentions, ‘Scared Straight’ approaches have now been well-evaluated and shown to have a damaging rather than positive impact,” according to David Schmidt, CJJ National Chair and President of New Mexico Council on Crime and Delinquency. “Research makes it clear that youth exposed to adult inmates, particularly in prison or jail settings, are at heightened risk of emotional harm and anxiety and receive harmful messages that lead to increased potential for them to commit delinquent offenses.[1] Intentionally exposing youth to these risks, even for a short period of time in a controlled environment, is profoundly counterproductive.” 

Beyond "Scared Straight" – Moving to Programs that Actually Work

juvenile-justice-reform_youth-in-hoodieIn the last couple of decades, we've seen an explosion of research that tells us what works in adolescent substance abuse treatment and in helping kids caught in the juvenile justice system turn their lives around. As a result, foundations and lawmakers have raised their expectations: quite rightly, they want to fund "what works."
Which is why it's maddening to see "Scared Straight" held up as a model for juvenile justice on national television in "Beyond 'Scared Straight,'" a multi-episode series on A&E that premieres on Thursday, January 13, 2011.
The original "Scared Straight" program, in which a group of adult prison inmates attempted to terrify a group of teen offenders into "going straight," was the focus of a television special in 1978. Since then, the authors of "'Scared Straight' and other juvenile awareness programs for preventing juvenile delinquency (Review)," a 2002 meta-analysis of relevant research on nine such programs, found that "not only does it fail to deter crime, but it actually leads to more offending behavior."
That's right: "Scared Straight" increases the chance that youth will reoffend, compared to doing nothing. This is retro-programming that went out with other ill-advised approaches years ago. We need to move forward on this issue – not backwards. 

Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment: a Groundbreaking Dialog with Young People

adolescent-substance-abuse-treatment_recovery-meeting-slidesOn Monday, December 13, 2010, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), along with many other partners, sponsored 38 young people from around the country to be part of “The Young People’s Networking Dialogue on Recovery (YPNDR).” All of the young recovery advocates volunteered their time to travel to Baltimore and have a very important dialogue.
I have been around many thousands of young people in recovery in various places over the past 9 years, but never before did they have a platform like this. At times during that meeting in Baltimore, I couldn’t help but step back and realize that this conversation was different … something special was going on.
Quite literally there was a million-dollar question (perhaps a billion-dollar question) on the table: What is needed to help more young people enter and sustain long-term recovery?

Roundup: Decriminalizing Teen Prostitution

  • juvenile-justice-system_old-TV-newsShould Teen Girls Be Arrested for Prostitution? The median age for girls entering prostitution in the United States is 12 to 14; they often come from histories of abuse and are frequently coerced into prostituting themselves. Several states have moved to decriminalize the offense.  What do you think?  Leave a comment. (Hat tip to the Campaign for Youth Justice.)
  • New York Times: Close More Juvenile Prisons. After reforms have left 10 of New York state's 25 juvenile prisons half-empty, the Times called for Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo to shut more down for being wasteful and ineffective.

Efforts to Eliminate Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Connecticut: Q&A with Christine Rapillo

[Disproportionate minority contact (DMC) remains a serious problem in many communities. But getting broad support to address it can be a problem. In response, juvenile justice advocates in Connecticut have developed JUST.START, an excellent, accessible website and campaign on the topic. How it came about is the focus the interview below, which is reposted with permission from The CJJ e-Monitor, the newsletter of The Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ). --Ed.]

juvenile-justice-reform_Just-start-DMC-logoEarlier this month, CJJ caught up with Christine Rapillo, Esq., a member of the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee (JJAC, the Connecticut State Advisory Group), to discuss the launch of JUST.START, a new, JJAC-supported website and educational campaign that aims to promote racial and ethnic fairness in Connecticut’s juvenile justice system.

In addition to her SAG membership, Attorney Rapillo is Chair of the Connecticut Juvenile Training School Advisory Committee, and co-chairs the Steering Committee for the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance (CTJJA), where she takes part in the efforts to raise Connecticut’s jurisdictional age from 16 to 18. She is Director of Juvenile Delinquency Defense for the Connecticut Office of the Chief Public Defender, previously served as the supervisor of the Hartford Juvenile Court Public Defender’s Office for 12 years, and has practiced in adult felony trial courts in New Haven and New Britain.

Q. What is the history of disproportionate minority contact (DMC) in Connecticut? Are there issues that are unique to the state?

A. Connecticut is a relatively small state and has a statewide juvenile justice system, as opposed to a county system, as is the case in larger states. This fact made it easier for us to identify and analyze DMC, and we also hope that it will help us more readily bring about statewide change that will eliminate DMC.

Q. What is the purpose of the JUST.START website?

A. So often, states conduct studies, find DMC and yet can’t convince anyone DMC is real. The purpose of the website and public campaign is to raise public awareness. Our goal is to explain what DMC is and what we’re doing to eliminate it in an easy-to-understand, non-jargon, non-judgmental way.

Roundup: Where I'd Put My Money in Juvenile Justice

juvenile-justice-reform_old-TV-newsAdolescent Substance Abuse Treatment - Related News