- You've probably heard this already, but the new drug czar backed away from the "war on drugs" analogy, signalling a shift in U.S. policy toward more treatment and less emphasis on interdiction and incarceration. What you might not have heard, however, is that the administration's current budget still favors interdiction over prevention and treatment, according to an editorial in The Huffington Post.
Many jurisdictions want models on how to recruit mentors of color for youth in the justice system, so here's two: the Reclaiming Futures site in Dayton, Ohio site is a great example (I plan to feature them in more detail in the near future), and so is the Seattle Reclaiming Futures site, whose 4C Coalition I featured in December.
Back in March, the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT) and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) offered $3.6 million for three new Reclaiming Futures sites. Today, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) approved an additional $2.3 million to support those three new Reclaiming Futures sites and provide technical assistance training to the existing 23 sites around the country.
Karen Carpenter, the Community Fellow for our site in Rowan County, North Carolina, let me know that her op-ed on who's responsible for ending youth violence appeared in yesterday's Salisbury Post.
A sad occasion -- the shooting death of a teen in Salisbury -- but an eloquent call for mentors for teens who need them. Good work, Karen!
This should come as no surprise to anyone who's met her, but Laura Nissen (in photo at left), who directs the Reclaiming Futures national initiative, has been named 2009 Social Worker of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Oregon Chapter. The award recognizes social workers who have made outstanding contributions to the profession and services provided to Oregon’s individuals, families and communities.
In addition to hosting Marian Wright Edelman at our Leadership Institute in New Orleans last week, we were also honored to have Mr. Shay Bilchik (seen at left with Laura Nissen, National Director of Reclaiming Futures) as our guest. Mr. Bilchik is founder and director of the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University. (The CJJR recently put out recommendations on improving services to youth transitioning out of the juvenile justice and/or child welfare systems.)
Mr. Bilchik spoke entertainingly and cogently on where he thinks the juvenile justice system needs to go to be successful. The full text of his remarks should be available in the next few weeks; in the mean time, rough notes on his speech are below. (I'm grateful to Reclaiming Futures staffer Mimmy Patterson for her extensive notes, which I've supplemented here and there. My apologies to Mr. Bilchik if we've mangled his presentation.)
There's so much going on, I had to post another news roundup this week:
- A proposal in the North Carolina legislature would raise the age at which juveniles can be prosecuted from 16 to 18 -- a welcome sign. Numerous editorials have appeared in state papers in recent weeks -- like the one published by Bart Lubow of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative -- in favor of such a change.
- Biggest news of the week: according to The New York Times, the U.S. Supreme Court is taking up the question of whether it's appropriate to sentence juveniles to life without parole, given its 2005 decision that execution for crimes committed as a juvenile is inappropriate given what we now know about their developing brains.
The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) is providing more funding for mentors of youth under the "Second Chance Juvenile Mentoring Initiative." Grantees will receive up to $625,000 for three years; awards require a 25% match (cash or in-kind); proposals are due June 15, 2009.
Today is National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). It's intended to raise "awareness of effective programs for children's mental health needs; demonstrate how children's mental health initiatives promote positive youth development, recovery, and resilience; and show how children with mental health needs thrive in their communities."
This year's theme -- "Thriving in the Community" -- is appropriate for anyone working with kids in the justice system, since it emphasizes "how high school youth who receive the services they need are more likely to have positive outcomes, such as better grades, and less likely to have negative outcomes, such as involvement with the juvenile and criminal justice systems."
Check out the SAMHSA site for more info - there's a short report on how systems of care help teens stay in school and are better-behaved, and there's also a Family Guide to Systems of Care for Children With Mental Health Needs.
Check out these recipes from a juvenile probation camp in L.A. County, Camp Gonzalez. For the past five years, 50 teens have been in the cooking class; last week, some of this year's students catered a successful event for the L.A. Commission for Children and Families. It would be nice to see more of this kind of vocational education for youth in the justice system -- it's practical, and should give the teens useful skills.
However, this editorial in The Huffington Post makes it clear that not everyone's happy with L.A.'s juvenile justice system -- or should be. The columnist argues for adopting the "Missouri Model" to lower the recidvism rate by switching from warehousing kids to addressing their underlying issues. It's cheaper, and backed by research: give me another helping of that.
- The Bureau of Justice Assistance is looking to fund nonprofits to provide mentors for individuals 18 or older leaving incarceration -- a great opportunity to help "transition age" youth 18-24 ...
- A recent study showed that online alcohol and drug treatment is effective; I'd like to see it replicated for teens, as online approaches hold tremendous possibilities for engaging and reaching youth who have no transportation to get to care.
The Reclaiming Futures initiative was honored to host Marian Wright Edelman (seen on the right in the photo at right, with Laura Nissen, National Director of Reclaiming Futures). Mrs. Edelman is founder and president of the Childrens' Defense Fund (CDF) and is a renowned advocate for America's disadvantaged children.
A couple of highlights from her inspiring speech (quotes may not be word-for-word):
In part because of research that indicates that the human brain doesn't fully mature until about age 25, we now know that youth who are "connected by 25" -- have sufficient education, employment skills, and a positive social network -- are likely to be successful in life. But youth without such preparation are likely to struggle, at great cost to themselves and to society.
We know that young people in the justice system need constructive activities and positive adults to work with them, right? Treatment's important, but they also need opportunities to learn and practice new skills that will that help them be successful when they leave the justice system, get off probation, and leave treatment.
So here's three inspiring examples of jurisdictions that have taken on the challenge:
I’m heading to the airport … along with representatives from every Reclaiming Futures community. We’re meeting in New Orleans (see photo at left) this week for our bi-annual Leadership Institute.
These meetings mark times for both reflection and growth. Anyone who’s been part of the initiative from the beginning can’t help but burst with pride to see what’s been sustained; challenged to see the losses; and deeply humbled by how much remains to be done.
But Reclaiming Futures is not only still here, we’re still growing. We’re now an unprecedented size -- 23 communities representing 15 states and tribes, and excited to welcome three new sites to the RF family this fall.
Our Leadership Institute will feature two keynote speakers who will surely inspire and fuel us for the significant challenges and opportunities ahead: Marian Wright Edelman and Shay Bilchik. Both are visionaries and accomplished change agents by any measure.
- Mississippi Security Police, the private company that runs the juvenile detention center for the Missisippi county sued earlier this week by the Southern Poverty Law Center, held a press conference yesterday vigorously denying all allegations. The lawsuit charges that youth offenders were physically and emotionally abused and kept in verminous, unsanitary living conditions without access to mental health care. Here's video of the press tour of the juvenile detention facility and details of the company's responses to the suit. (It should be noted that the county is the defendant in the lawsuit; the private company is not named.)
- The St. Petersburg Times has thorough coverage of decades-old horrors and abuses at the Florida School for Boys that came to light late last year, when former students at the reform school, now in their 60s, found each other on the internet and went public with their accusations. UPDATE: In its weekly roundup, Youth Today reported that an investigation is "going nowhere," according to the former Florida state employee who pushed for an investigation into the scandal and the school's 32 unmarked graves.
[The following post is courtesy of Ashley Nellis, Ph.D., Research Analyst at The Sentencing Project. -Ed.]
Despite the federal mandate to address it, minority overrepresentation has persisted in nearly every state’s juvenile justice system for decades. Racial and ethnic disparities often mount as youth move through the system, from referral to secure confinement. To demonstrate, note that African American youth represent 15% of the general population, yet they represent 28% of youth arrests, nearly 40% of those in juvenile residential placement, and as much as 58% of those entering adult prison.
Back in February, I mentioned the ACLU's description of a juvenile detention center in Wyoming as "a lawsuit waiting to happen," and a class-action lawsuit against the detention center in New Orleans, where youth are often locked in their cells for 20+ hours a day, and rats and mold are present.
Now, Harrison County, Mississippi, has been sued because of conditions in its privately-run juvenile detention center. Allegations include staff abusing youth emotionally and physically, and squalid, overcrowded living conditions, including insect infestations, "widespread" scabies and staph infections, 23-hour-a-day lockdowns, and no access to mental health care.
We'll see what happens -- a representative of the firm that runs the Harrison County detention center denied there were major issues -- but the overall trend is not encouraging. Why do we think we can -- or should -- treat children this way?