Racial Inequity Hinders Juvenile Probation Reform: Study

Increasing family and community engagement with probation authorities, and addressing the system’s racial disparities are critical to keeping young people from becoming repeat offenders, according to an Urban Institute study of reforms in Ohio and Washington State.

Courts must address racial disparities in juvenile probation practices and the alienation of many families and communities from the “system,” in order to achieve a transformation of U.S. juvenile probation practices, according to an Urban Institute study.

The disproportional treatment of minority youth is a significant barrier to efforts aimed at keeping young people from becoming repeat offenders, researchers concluded in a three-year study of reforms instituted in Ohio’s Lucas County and Washington’s Pierce County.

The reforms, supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Probation Transformation Initiative, resulted in noteworthy reductions in the number of young people who re-offended. But researchers said that even in the two counties they studied, authorities were hamstrung by deep-seated resentment and distrust on the part of young people, their parents, and community leaders—many of whom felt the system treated minority youth differently.

“Neighborhood isolation and residential racism makes (things) difficult,” said one community representative quoted in the study. “There’s no outlet or jobs for these kids and there’s no hope…I think we need to look at our neighborhood investment and what’s happening [there].”

The authors of the study concurred.

“Developing ways to build trust can be hard, since families impacted by the juvenile justice system often see probation staff as representing ‘the system,’ which can inhibit progress on designing case plans for youth,” they wrote, noting that judges, probation officers and other stakeholders “must be prepared to have difficult conversations about race and equity.”

They added: “Even in Lucas and Pierce Counties, both of which have sizably reduced their placement populations, these successful reform efforts have not automatically resulted in reduced (racial) disparities.”

Lessons Learned

Nevertheless, the study also concluded that in the short time the programs had been implemented, key lessons learned about how to transform the juvenile probation system could help to inform other jurisdictions around the country.

Pierce County, for example, developed an approach called Opportunity-Based Probation (OBP), which offered incentives for youth to get off probation early. It reported that the first cohort of youth completing OBP had low re-offense rates.

Another program called Pathways to Success, described as a “family, team-based approach including a care coordinator, a probation officer, a mentoring component, and parent support,” was adapted by county authorities to improve outcomes for African-American youth.

“We try to get them as early in our system as possible, so they need to have at least one other contact with our system,” one probation supervisor told researchers.

Lucas County created a “misdemeanor services unit” that was used to divert juveniles who committed minor offenses from probation.

Both counties’ efforts emphasized greater engagement with families, and collaborative partnerships with community groups as crucial steps to help young people avoid further entanglement with the justice system.

“We can work with the youth all day, but then the youth has to go home,” said a Lucas County probation officer. “If they’re not supported there, or the family doesn’t know about the work, it’s not effective …. I’ve learned that the families love it—they love to be involved, feel included, see the changes.”

A Pierce County officer added: “We can’t sustain long-term change with these kids without the support of parents… they need to carry on the work with the kids once we step away.”

Probation is the most commonly used disposition in U.S. juvenile courts. Nearly 63 percent of delinquency cases in 2014 resulted in probation, and the number of such dispositions has been rising steadily. Between 1984 and 2014, the use of probation for young people adjudicated delinquent increased by over 5 percent.

And that has only sharpened racial disparities.

In Lucas County, for example, 37 percent of black youth with felony cases received “out-of-home placement,” such as detention facilities or group homes, compared with 7 percent of white youth.

Adolescent Development

Experts in adolescent development have found that many youth fall afoul of the rules imposed by probation because the neural networks responsible for “self-regulation and reward motivation” aren’t fully developed until age 24.

The Annie E. Casey Probation Transformation Initiative was developed in response to these findings, with the aim of finding “developmentally appropriate” means of working with troubled juveniles.

The Initiative’s twin goals were to “divert at least 60 percent of referrals including all youth with low-level offenses and lower-risk levels,” and to “use probation only as a purposeful intervention to support behavior change and long-term success for youth with serious and repeat offenses.”

The study was prepared by Sino Esthappan of the Urban Institute, Johanna Lacoe of Mathematica Policy Research, and Douglas Young of the University of Maryland.

Additional Reading: “Europe’s Rehabilitative Approach to Young Adults Worth Examining by U.S.”

A complete copy can be downloaded here.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Risk Assessment: Should Youth Be a Factor in Judging ‘Dangerousness’?

Pennsylvania’s Commission on Sentencing is weighing whether to use an offender’s age in determining the likelihood of committing a new crime, for a risk assessment tool due this summer. That flies in the face of recent juvenile justice reforms, such as Supreme Court rulings accepting adolescents have diminished responsibility, warns a Pennsylvania attorney.

This summer, the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing is expected to roll out a “risk assessment” tool for use by judges when sentencing offenders, fulfilling a mandate first commissioned by Gov. Ed Rendell back in 2010.

Incorporating risk assessments into sentencing in Pennsylvania has been a long time coming.

Giving judges more information about an offender’s background and his or her propensity for future violence is thought to enhance a jurist’s ability to make informed decisions that incorporate the core elements of sentencing: appropriate punishment, public safety and rehabilitation.

The Commission’s report would include an assessment with a scale from 0 to 18 points. The higher the score, the more likely the person being sentenced will reoffend.

An offender’s criminal record has long been a part of the sentencing process. In Pennsylvania, current sentencing guidelines take into consideration an offender’s criminal record. The longer the criminal record, the more severe the range of potential sentences.

But according to PublicSource.org, in addition to the information that has routinely been available to judges—prior record, seriousness of the offense and guidelines—the Commission on Sentencing is weighing whether judges should also be provided with a report to predict the offender’s future dangerousness.

Predicting the likelihood that an offender might offend again is highly controversial.

“This would represent a shift in punishing a person for what they did do, to what a person might do,” Mark Houldin, policy director for the Defender Association of Philadelphia, told Fox43 News in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. “And we think that is incredibly dangerous.”

Adding to the concern is one of the factors that would be part of a tool assessing future “dangerousness.”

Age.

Under the proposal being considered in Pennsylvania, anyone under age 21 gets five points. Those between 21 and 25 get four. The points lessen as the offender ages until, at age 49, the offender is not assessed any points based on age.

An 18-year-old gets five points right out of the gate. If an offender scores fewer than four points on the assessment, he or she would be considered a low recidivism risk. If the offender scores 10 or more points, the offender would be considered a high risk to reoffend. An 18-year-old would never be considered a low risk, and would be halfway to being a high risk without even considering any other factors.

Using age as a measure to assess the likelihood of future criminal behavior seems to fly in the face of other recent reforms in the criminal justice system.

According to The Marshall Project, a number of state courts and lower federal courts have begun to consider whether people between the ages of 18 and 21—the period psychologists now call “late adolescence”—should have the same kind of special consideration that juveniles get before they are sentenced.

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that no person under the age of 18 shall be sentenced to death. Since then the court has also ruled that a juvenile can’t be sentenced to life without parole for a non-homicide offense, or to mandatory life without parole.

See also subsequent Court rulings in 2009 and 2011.

The Supreme Court has never extended those protections beyond the age of 18.

The status of young adults is especially confusing in Pennsylvania. A court last year considered an appeal from a woman who was sentenced to mandatory life without parole after serving as a lookout, at age 18, during a botched robbery that ended in murder.

The Superior court rejected her appeal, but called 18 an “arbitrary legal age of maturity,” and said an “honest reading” of the Supreme Court’s ruling would require courts to reconsider it. The Superior Court En Banc reheard the matter in October.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that some of the full panel of judges expressed concern that “someone a day over 18 and someone a day under 18 are treated differently,” and suggested the matter deserved closer examination.

Last year, a Kentucky court found that it was unconstitutional to sentence to death those who were younger than 21 at the time of their offense.

Earlier this year, a federal court in Connecticut found that a man, who had been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for murders committed at age 18, should be resentenced. The court ruled that “the hallmark characteristics of juveniles that make them less culpable also apply to 18-year-olds.”

In Pennsylvania, the significance of “late adolescence” appears to be very different if one is assisting a judge in sentencing as opposed to reviewing a sentence already imposed.

Matt Mangino

Matthew T. Mangino

The Commission on Sentencing has scheduled a series of hearings to get public feedback from social scientists, criminologists, practitioners and activists.

Rethinking incorporating age into the assessment tool for “dangerousness” should be part of the debate.

Additional Reading: How Race Distorts Risk Assessment for Minority Youth

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book The Executioner’s Toll, 2010 was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.

 

from https://thecrimereport.org

Is a Registry for Juvenile Sex Offenders a Form of ‘Child Abuse’?

Thomas Arrowhead, now 38, was found guilty of a sodomy charge when he was 12 years old. But because he committed the offense before a 2014 Oregon law that allowed judges discretion in requiring juveniles to register as sex offenders, he will likely have to live with the label for the rest of his life.

Thomas Arrowwood has been on Oregon’s registered sex offender list for over two decades, for an offense committed when he was 12 years old.

Now 38, Arrowwood can’t take advantage of a 2014 law that allowed judges discretion to determine whether child sex offenders should remain on the sex offenders’ registry under the supervision of Oregon State Police, or be allowed to start over.

That’s because his offense—sodomy—was adjudicated before the law took effect, with the result that he appears destined to live with the “sex offender” label for the rest of his life.

“It’s worse than being a convicted felon,” said Arrowwood. “Any job I applied to when I got out, they said, ‘Oh, I see you’ve got a record, but I can’t see what happened because it’s a juvenile case, so it’s sealed; but you are a registered sex offender so ….’

“And that was that.”

He’s not alone. Hundreds of Oregon adults who committed their offenses as children before the law was enacted are caught in the same legal limbo, with little chance of escaping.

Some juvenile justice advocates say the practice of keeping child sex offenders on the sex offender registry illustrates serious shortcomings in the nationwide approach to individuals who committed such crimes as children, and amounts to a form of “child abuse.”

According to Nicole Pittman, vice president and director of the Center on Youth Registration Reform, children adjudicated for sex crimes and required to register as sex offenders are four times more likely to commit suicide and five times more likely to be approached by an adult for sex—even though national statistics suggest they only have a 2 percent rate of re-offending.

“Placing children on the registry has to stop because it’s child abuse,” Pittman said.

Oregon has 25,000 registered sex offenders, the highest number of sex offenders per capita in the nation. About 3,400 are registered for crimes committed as juveniles, about 11 percent of the total.

Before the law was changed, sex offenders had a small window of time in which they were eligible to apply for relief, a costly effort that can include hiring a lawyer, filing paperwork in court and attending hearings.

Juvenile sex offenders could apply no less than two years before and no more than five years after their adjudication, or they’d remain on the list forever.

“It was worded pretty poorly and strangely back then,” said Tim O’Donnell, Deputy District Attorney for Oregon’s Marion County. O’Donnell, who works in the county’s juvenile division, cautioned he spoke only for himself and not on behalf of the district attorney’s office.

Arrowwood said he missed that window because he didn’t know about it until it was too late.

“I’ve been registering for 18 years,” he said. “Now, I guess, they say I can never get off the list. I’ll be on it forever. I missed my opportunity, and I won’t ever be removed.”

But not everyone feels that he, or others, should be removed from the registry.

“I think oftentimes in our culture we spend a lot of time ruminating and thinking what happens to an offender and the impact that it has on them,” said BB Beltran, executive director for Sexual Assault Support Services of Oregon’s Lane County, where an estimated 187 offenders who committed crimes as children remain on the sex offenders’ registry.

“What we don’t think about is the impact it has on not just the individual survivors, but their partners and their families. … It’s a domino effect.”

Beltran added that while there is a lot of empathy or pity for a person who made a mistake as a juvenile, “I would like to see the same consideration for both sides.”

A 22-year-old Eugene man named Robert, who The Register-Guard is only identifying by his middle name because he is eligible for relief from registering in the coming months, said he hopes he will be granted a reprieve so he can garner a fresh start.

He was adjudicated for a first-degree sodomy charge at the age of 10.

“I will be the first person to say I don’t feel like anybody who would (sexually abuse) a kid, like they should know what is right and wrong, they deserve to be on that list,” he said.

“As a kid, though, we’re supposed to be in a new millennium, and I feel like there should be some other option out there than just throwing everyone under the bus and under the same label.”

“I am pretty sure that if (my case) was taken care of before I turned 18, or if it never would have happened, I would be in a house with my family, instead of living with my wife and child in a room at my mother-in-law’s house, sharing a room with my wife’s sister. I’ve lived with this label since I was 10 years old,” Robert said.

“I’d be in my own house. My boy would have his own bedroom, and I would be, well, different.”

Federal Requirements

Sex offenders have been federally required to register with local law enforcement agencies since 1994, when the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act was enacted.

The Act was named for an 11-year-old Minnesota boy who was kidnapped in 1989, molested and murdered.

Under the law, each state had discretion on what registration information was made public, but dissemination of that information was not required. Two years later, however, Congress amended the act in 1996 with the so-called Megan’s Law — which required law enforcement agencies to release information about registered sex offenders that the agencies deemed necessary in the interest of public safety.

In 2006, the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act — named for the 6-year-old boy who was abducted and murdered in Florida in 1981 — further increased federal registration requirements by categorizing sex offenders into three tiers, with Tier 3 being the most severe and with the most requirements.

Tier 3 offenders are required to update their whereabouts every three months for life. Furthermore, failing to register or update information became a felony under the law.

However, Marcy Mistrett, chief executive officer of Campaign for Youth Justice, thinks the 2006 law does not do enough to protect children who have offended.

She sees legislation that the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed with certain tweaks to the Walsh Act as flawed, in that it doesn’t exclude child offenders from proposed increased sanctions.

While some of the proposed changes benefit juvenile offenders — including a reduction in the number of years juveniles would be required to register and exempting certain adults registered as sex offenders for crimes committed as juveniles from from disclosure — the bill has been packaged with other bills that unnecessarily increase sanctions around sex offenses in general and don’t exclude juveniles, Mistrett said.

“Our concern is that teens who are sexting could get caught up in (the new proposed laws). We are working to pull Adam Walsh from the rest of the package,” Mistrett said.

 Consequences of a Lifetime Label

There are real consequences for living with the label for the offender and the public.

A 22-year-old Eugene, Ore., man who asked to be identified by his middle name of James in order to keep his employment, which is a condition of his probation, was adjudicated for inappropriately touching and exposing himself to a family member at the age of 14.

“There is an outside impact of treating everyone with the ‘sex offender’ label the same,” said James, who can apply for relief in a year.

“They’re treating everyone as predatory, when I didn’t go out and attack someone. I was curious, and I broke rules that I didn’t know existed. I am deeply regretful of what I did to this day, but I can’t change that.”

Nationwide, more than 200,000 of the roughly 900,000 people currently listed on sex offender registries were added to those lists as children, some as young as 8 years old.

Dr. Elizabeth LeTourneau, a researcher and expert on child sexual abuse, testified to the Oregon Legislature in 2013 that the registration of juveniles “fails, in any way, to improve community safety.”

Among the evidence she cited were rates of re-offense for juvenile sex offenses, as measured by arrests, charges or convictions.

Those rates are very low across the country, whether or not youth are required to register, LeTourneau said, adding that “the vast majority — 88 percent to 98 percent, depending upon the study — of registered youth do not reoffend.”

But it does happen, which is why some authorities say even the relatively small number of individuals who re-offend is an argument for continued monitoring.

“I don’t think sex offenders can be fixed, period,” said Springfield, Ore., police sgt. Dave Lewis. “It’s strictly my opinion, but having worked my entire career around this, I don’t think sex offenders can be rehabbed.

“One of the only things we can do besides incarceration is to monitor them in some way. And any time someone repeats a sex offense, from a community safety standpoint, we’ve let the people down. I come at it from the side of the victims.

“They are stigmatized forever by what has happened to them. Why shouldn’t the perpetrator be stigmatized in some way?”

Chelsea Deffenbacher, a staff reporter for the Register-Guard in Eugene, Ore., is a 2018 John Jay/Tow Juvenile Justice Reporting Fellow. This is a condensed and edited version of an article prepared as part of her fellowship project. The complete story, along with sidebars and videos, can be accessed here.

from https://thecrimereport.org

How Race Distorts Risk Assessment for Minority Youth

Tools used by courts to judge whether an individual will re-offend rarely address the specific interaction of race and criminogenic risk, writes a University of Cincinnati researcher. She found that young African Americans have been especially shortchanged.

When Oliver Washington became head of the Edgecombe County Detention Center, in Tarboro, N.C., last July, he pledged that tackling recidivism—particularly among younger inmates— would be one of his top priorities.

“I always tell these young guys you have something to offer to the community when you leave here,” Capt. Washington, a 30-year veteran of the state’s penal system, said in an interview published in  the Rocky Mount (NC) Telegram..

While his priorities are right, the challenge for him and for others on the front lines of the justice system may be more complex than they imagine.

One of the primary ways that court and prison officials use to address and predict recidivism is through risk assessment tools, which analyze the key factors and data points from an offender’s background that are believed to make an impact on the likelihood of reoffending, according to the Congressional Research Service.

These factors can include, for example, anti-social behavior, anti-social peer relationships, problems in school, and involvement in substance abuse.

But addressing recidivism also requires understanding the role that race plays in accurately predicting who is at risk to reoffend.

And that is especially important in the case of youth offenders, for whom accuracy in the use of risk assessments is critical to determining whether they can avoid becoming ensnared in a cycle of criminal justice involvement as an adult, according to the New York Times.

One decision that juvenile courts frequently face when assessing an offending youth is whether that juvenile should be diverted through dismissal or into service learning programs, mental health treatment or advocacy/mentoring programs, especially when he or she has been arrested for relatively minor offenses.

The specific interaction of race and criminogenic risk, however, is rarely addressed with juvenile offenders.

Recent research conducted by myself and colleagues at the University of Cincinnati School of Criminal Justice, titled “Risk Assessment: An Interaction Between Risk, Race and Gender” showed that relationship between risk score and recidivism differed significantly for African-American and white youth, with the scores significantly less predicative for black juveniles.

Although a commonly used risk assessment instrument significantly predicted recidivism for all youth in the study, the risk-recidivism interaction was even more present for males and ethnic minorities.

More specifically, while there were no differences in the types of crimes committed and no difference in the proportion of low, moderate and high-risk African-American and white youth in the study, black males were more likely to receive a new court petition following their initial involvement with the juvenile court, compared to their white counterparts.

This means that there were factors beyond criminogenic risks as measured by risk assessment tools that led to recidivism. And it was the implementation of a risk assessment tool that allowed researchers to uncover this disparity.

These findings are not new, nor are they unique to the United States.

New Zealand’s Strategy

New Zealand faced a similar disproportionality problem regarding race and recidivism. In the 1980s, members of the country’s indigenous Maori population were six times more likely to enter the criminal justice system than whites, according to the Pacific Standard.

New Zealand also had difficulties with reducing repeat offending, despite an increased economic investment in prison resources, according to a March 2018 research paper “Using Evidence to Build a Better Justice System” by Prof. Sir Peter Gluckman, chief science advisor in the office of the New Zealand Prime Minister.

However, one promising step New Zealand has made involves focusing on the potential impact of delinquency prevention. Early intervention programs were more cost-effective than prisons and helped lower their recidivism rate.

Both the New Zealand examples and the findings from our study should inform U.S. practice and policies concerning issues of disproportionality in three primary ways:

1. Pay Attention to Sentencing Decisions that Exacerbate Risk

Court practitioners, like juvenile court officers and judges, should pay special attention to sentencing decisions that exacerbate criminogenic risk and increase adherence to treatment and program success.

Since risk assessment can provide an overview of responsivity, learning styles, personality, strengths, and motivations of the offender that promote program success, there are great opportunities to better match youth with appropriate services and treatment.

2. Leverage Risk Assessment Tools to Check for Bias

There’s an opportunity to leverage the use of risk assessment to evaluate implicit and explicit biased practices and procedures.  For example, court officers and service providers should implement policies that require tracking how risk assessment information is used in the decision-making process.

This can include placing a stronger emphasis on the need to document dosage and severity of programming, supervision level, sentence type, and length of juvenile dispositions.

3. Monitor Changes in Risk

 The use of reassessments to monitor changes in dynamic criminogenic risk is necessary. As society evolves, so will the issues that face individuals involved in the criminal justice system, and reassessments will help address racial disparities in the criminal justice process.

While these solutions could greatly help lesser recidivism and inequalities among minority offenders, there are forces that have stopped them from being immediately implemented.

Convincing court officials to adopt these new and strength-based approaches to reducing criminogenic risk is a timely procedure. Plus, offenders involved in corrections often face environmental risks like limited resources and poor social/economic conditions, requiring more questions to be asked about how environment plays into the reduction of recidivism.

Not implementing these solutions could cause more damage in the long run. Failing to acknowledge or address the potential gaps in recidivism among minorities will only perpetuate problems and violate human rights.

New Zealand’s example shows that the use of strength-based approaches like restorative justice programs and diversion are both economically beneficial and help out society in the long run vs. investing more money in residential facilities and prisons.

Christina Campbell

Christina Campbell

These types of approaches are just a few alternatives to decreasing court involvement that place less emphasis on the punishment and the use of courts, and more emphasis on building healthy youth and communities.

Christina A. Campbell, Ph.D.is a professor at The University of Cincinnati’s Online Master of Science in Criminal Justice. Her primary research interests include delinquency prevention, risk assessment, juvenile justice policy, and neighborhood ecology. She welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

The ‘Womb-to-Prison Pipeline’

Justice reformers focus on preventing schools from employing disciplinary approaches that send troubled youths into the justice system. But a Washington State inmate argues that for many young black males, the so-called school-to-prison pipeline begins a lot earlier.

It is interesting how researchers conceive phrases and terms that capture their findings in readily accessible ways that resonate in the mind of the public. They capture a phenomenon that makes their conclusions marketable to policymakers and officials—even if the findings later prove to be (at best) misleading, or (worse yet) erroneous.

Take the bogus “superpredator theory.” Officials saw fit to prosecute me as if I were an adult when this theory was in its infancy and sentenced me to life without parole when I was only 14 years old, under the fiction that I was irredeemable and beyond reform.

Today, I often read about a “School-to-Prison Pipeline.”

Most often, it is cited by policymakers and proponents of both education and criminal justice reform. For those unfamiliar with the research behind the theory, here is a brief summary.

The necessary materials and ingredients for building a School-to-Prison Pipeline are black boys, bureaucrats, and overt and implicit bias. With this, one can create environments within schools where the “students who are most in need of support and attention from the public education system are most harmed by its impersonal mechanisms,” according to Breaking the Chains, The School-to-Prison Pipeline, Implicit Bias, and Racial Trauma.

For instance, a black male student with an intellectual, emotional or physical disability “has a 33.8 percent chance of being suspended in a given school year compared to only a 16.2 percent chance for similarly situated white males,” explain the authors of Breaking the Chains.

The authors also say that “black boys are seen as older and less innocent” than their White same age peers. So, when “black students do indeed misbehave in class, teachers [are] more likely to see these actions as the product of a pattern when compared with White students,” and this “negative stereotyping of a black student’s disobedience has been associated with the black escalation effect.”

This educational experience, or escalation effect, according to this line of thinking, pushes many young black males out of public schools and into the juvenile justice system and eventually— if they are as unlucky as me—into the penitentiary.

This is the School-to-Prison Pipeline theory. I do not doubt any of these findings. However, while the outflow of the pipeline is apparent, I disagree with where it actually begins.

Allow me to present the “Womb-to-Prison Pipeline,” and highlight the missing materials and ingredients for funneling Black boys to state institutions.

The essential components for building this section of the pipeline are black children who were exposed, in utero, to drugs and alcohol, maternal stress, and malnourishment; then come to suffer traumatic experiences at the hands of caretakers who abuse and neglect them.

The presence of any of these conditions increases the risk for delinquency and serious youth violence, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Other factors identified by the Department of Justice as having a cumulative effect on the risk for delinquency and violence are: a family history of criminal behavior and substance abuse; family management problems; family conflict; extreme economic deprivation; exposure to media portrayals of violence; community disorganization; and low intelligence, hyperactivity, and attention-deficit disorders.

These are the adverse experiences that define the lives of countless black children who enter the public-school system. They learned to disassociate or be aggressive in order to survive their traumatic experiences and environments. Then, as explained in Breaking the Chains, those behaviors become “maladaptive in the school setting” and are “misinterpreted by school staff” as evidence of “ill-intentioned misbehavior.”

Through this lens, one can see that our problems began in the home rather than in a school setting. Teachers are then left to corral and educate what have become, in essence, defective units.

Few liberals would dare to express such a thing.

For good reason, they are cowed by those who would cry that such a view is both politically incorrect and vacuous because it gives credence to the notion that black folks are responsible for everything that has befallen them throughout American history: From slavery—as evidenced by literature trumpeting the complicity of West African rulers—to a Bell Curve implying that the educational deficits of blacks stem from their immutable characteristics as opposed to America’s history of racism.

It is well-nigh heresy for a black prisoner to believe that the home front was the proximate cause of our predicament. I know this from personal experience.

In the past, I have provoked consternation and irritation by expressing these sentiments during meetings of the Black Prisoners’ Caucus. How dare I cite our shortcomings during a discussion on mass incarceration or miseducation—especially in the presence of bright-eyed white guests from the community who are our allies and potential advocates.

The implicit message is that we must always blame the system. This is the script to follow if one wishes to be accepted by their brethren and not be labelled a fool or sellout by those who are “woke.”

As a result, I have long since refrained from attending these gatherings. My absence enables the group to collectively absolve the childhood caretakers whose abuse, neglect and ignorance greased the walls of the School-to-Prison Pipeline.

To be clear: I believe that mass incarceration is a product of historical antecedents, contemporary policies and practices, and overt and implicit bias against African Americans by those with the power to subjugate us. Furthermore, I accept the notion that reforming the public school system can ameliorate (or at least, stop facilitating) mass incarceration.

Yet the power that lords over us initially is parental authority, and the School-to-Prison Pipeline seems to ignore this reality.

It is the abuse of this authority that leaves Black children at the mercy of the system, whether that system endeavors to educate or incarcerate. If reducing mass incarceration is the objective, the focus should be on repairing the Womb-to-School section of the pipeline to prison.

Then again, I have to remember that a catchy phrase like School-to-Prison Pipeline is simply a marketing strategy.

Jeremiah Bourgois

Jeremiah Bourgeois

At the end of the day, if ignoring the man in the mirror and absolving our kin of culpability furthers criminal justice reform, so be it. I have no problem falling back and letting others articulate the raison d’etre for narrowing the pipeline to the penitentiary.

I am willing to do whatever is necessary to reduce the likelihood that my nephew finds himself in prison with me.

Jeremiah Bourgeois is a regular contributor to TCR, and an inmate in Washington State, where he has been serving a life sentence since the age of 14. He is currently petitioning for release from the Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Readers who wish to support him are invited to sign up here.

from https://thecrimereport.org

The Juvenile Lifers Who are Stuck in Limbo

Of the more than 2,600 juvenile lifers serving time in 2016, following a series of U.S. Supreme Court rulings limiting life-without-parole sentences, only about 400 have been freed. The court gave states leeway to decide how to review sentences, leading to inconsistencies.

A series of U.S. Supreme Court rulings between 2010 and 2016 banned mandatory life-without-parole sentences for teenagers, giving thousands of juvenile lifers around the country a shot at release. But, Mother Jones reports, only about 400 have been freed from more than 2,600 juvenile lifers serving time in 2016.

Among those who have not been helped are the 600 people serving discretionary life sentences with no chance of parole. For instance, people like Cyntoia Brown, who killed a middle-aged man when she was 16 after he brought her to his Tennessee home for sex. A federal judge ruled her mandatory life sentence was constitutional because it included the option of parole—a state court recently decided she’ll be locked up for at least half a century.

As a result of the high court’s decisions, the number of states banning life without parole for children in all cases, not just in mandatory sentencing schemes, has quadrupled since 2012.

Of the more than 2,600 juvenile lifers in 2016, about 1,700 have been re-sentenced. The court gave states leeway to decide how to review lifers’ cases, leading to inconsistencies across the country.

In Pennsylvania, home to the nation’s second-biggest juvenile lifer population, prosecutors are required to “prove beyond a reasonable doubt” that a defendant can never be rehabilitated if they want to deny the option of parole during resentencing; otherwise, the presumption is he should be given a second chance.

But in Michigan, where 363 juvenile lifers were serving mandatory sentences in 2016, there is no such requirement, and prosecutors have argued that nearly two-thirds of juvenile lifers are those rarest offenders who should be kept in prison for good. “Justice in this country is largely based on where you live,” says Jody Kent Lavy, director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, an advocacy group.

See also: “WA Court Halts Juvenile Life Without Parole Terms”

from https://thecrimereport.org

Juvenile Justice Law Update Finally Passes Congress

The House followed the Senate in approving a five-year reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), handing a win to youth advocates who have fought to update the legislation for 16 years. “It’s huge,” says Marcy Mistrett of the Campaign for Youth Justice.

The House followed the Senate in approving a five-year reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), handing a win to youth advocates who have fought to update the legislation for 16 years, reports the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.  The law sets core safety standards for juvenile offenders that states must follow to qualify for federal grants. It also aims to prevent delinquency and curb racial and ethnic disparities in juvenile justice systems. Naomi Smoot of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice said, “It’s been a long, hard-fought battle, but we’re incredibly excited … to have a reauthorization.”  Advocates say reauthorization will help increase funding for JJDPA and improve the treatment of youth in the juvenile justice system, because experts have more information on adolescent behavior now than they did 16 years ago. The law was enacted in 1974.

“It’s a really, really big deal,” said Marcy Mistrett of the Campaign for Youth Justice. “It’s an incentive for states to improve their justice systems to reflect best practice … and to create a minimum standard on how we treat children.” She said, “The biggest improvement for us is the fact that youth who are charged as adults now have to be out of adult jails,” said Mistrett. “It’s huge.” The law encourages authorities to be more vigilant at screening children who might have been sexually trafficked or who suffer from mental illness or drug or alcohol abuse and requires states to phase out the shackling of pregnant girls and support continuing education for detainees. States receive a formula grant for complying with the act. Wyoming, Connecticut and Nebraska are the only states that do not participate in JJDPA.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Juvenile Justice Law Update Finally Passes Congress

The House followed the Senate in approving a five-year reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), handing a win to youth advocates who have fought to update the legislation for 16 years. “It’s huge,” says Marcy Mistrett of the Campaign for Youth Justice.

The House followed the Senate in approving a five-year reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), handing a win to youth advocates who have fought to update the legislation for 16 years, reports the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.  The law sets core safety standards for juvenile offenders that states must follow to qualify for federal grants. It also aims to prevent delinquency and curb racial and ethnic disparities in juvenile justice systems. Naomi Smoot of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice said, “It’s been a long, hard-fought battle, but we’re incredibly excited … to have a reauthorization.”  Advocates say reauthorization will help increase funding for JJDPA and improve the treatment of youth in the juvenile justice system, because experts have more information on adolescent behavior now than they did 16 years ago. The law was enacted in 1974.

“It’s a really, really big deal,” said Marcy Mistrett of the Campaign for Youth Justice. “It’s an incentive for states to improve their justice systems to reflect best practice … and to create a minimum standard on how we treat children.” She said, “The biggest improvement for us is the fact that youth who are charged as adults now have to be out of adult jails,” said Mistrett. “It’s huge.” The law encourages authorities to be more vigilant at screening children who might have been sexually trafficked or who suffer from mental illness or drug or alcohol abuse and requires states to phase out the shackling of pregnant girls and support continuing education for detainees. States receive a formula grant for complying with the act. Wyoming, Connecticut and Nebraska are the only states that do not participate in JJDPA.

from https://thecrimereport.org

When Kids Kill

The Florida Times-Union spent more than 20 months examining the causes of juvenile homicide in Jacksonville. A central finding based on listening to the people who committed the crimes, was the critical role played by trauma and other adverse childhood experiences.

Two were only 13 years old. Three were just a few months shy of turning 18.

Four committed their crimes in this decade, and just as many have spent more than 30 years behind bars. At least two sold sex for money. One witnessed his father being shot. Another was given beer for the first time when he was four years old.

All but four had been arrested before. For most, they’d lost count of exactly how many times.

These Florida inmates and dozens more have much in common: They played a part in ending someone’s life; and those crimes happened when they were still children.

Duval County, known for years as Florida’s murder capital, also leads the state in kids who kill.

In the last decade, 73 Duval County children have been arrested in cases of murder and manslaughter.

Only one other county has more: Miami-Dade, which has nearly three times the youth population. Taking into account population differences, no other large county in Florida has a higher rate of minors arrested on these charges than Duval.

Last year here, four teenagers were arrested and charged as adults with second-degree murder. Two more kids — ages 11 and 14 — were charged in juvenile court with manslaughter, each in connection with the shooting deaths of other children. So far in 2018, two more teens have been charged in homicides.

Why is this happening? What leads kids and teens to kill?

And what, if anything, can be done about it?

To learn more, The Florida Times-Union spent more than 20 months examining juvenile homicide in Jacksonville. A major component of the reporting: listening to the people who committed the crimes.

The newspaper wrote letters to 103 of these inmates from Duval County. Fifty-seven wrote back. Of those, 25 answered an extensive survey about their lives developed by the newspaper in consultation with experts in mental health and criminal justice.

What these inmates reveal in hundreds of handwritten pages is wrenching in its repetition: Their fathers were absent. Their mothers and caregivers did the best they could, but struggled. They fell in with the wrong crowd. They slid into crime. They needed help they never received.

The reason so many kids commit murder in Jacksonville is not because they are murderers, but because they are everything else: drug dealers, robbers, thieves, rapists and a bunch of other types of criminals whose crimes of choice has a great likelihood of leading to a murder.”

The Times-Union’s research revealed four overarching contributing factors that are well known. What the newspaper’s research showed with stark clarity was the number of children who face many or all of these challenges:

Trauma. Most of the Duval County kids who end up convicted in a slaying have a history of distressing events happening around them and to them. It’s typically not just one or two bad things; trauma is often a constant companion in their homes, neighborhoods and schools.

Family dysfunction.The strain in families is often generational. Parents who were never parented appropriately will struggle to appropriately discipline and set expectations for their children. Eighty-four percent of survey respondents had divorced or separated parents, and just as many lived with someone who abused drugs or alcohol. More than half said they felt unloved or unimportant at home.

Violent environment.Violence is nothing new to most of the teens who end up in prison for killing. Eighty-four percent said they’ve been shot at and 72 percent had witnessed someone get shot. More than a third said a close family member had been murdered. 

Dangerous peer influences.When kids commit crimes, they’re more likely to do so with a friend or in a group. That’s true for 84 percent of the kids who took the Times-Union’s survey. Devoid of good role models and constructive things to do, teens will follow the stronger influence, not necessarily the positive one.

When these stressful and traumatic things happen early in life, they’re called adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs. Study after study have linked having more ACEs to a variety of worse outcomes in a person’s life, including illness, substance abuse, behavioral problems, criminality and even early death.

What are these adverse childhood experiences? They are: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical neglect, emotional neglect, exposure to domestic violence, household substance abuse, household mental illness, parental separation or divorce, and incarceration of a family member.

Among the inmates who participated in the Times-Union’s survey, the average number of ACEs was more than 5; and 18 of the 25 men and women had four or more.

Many of those inmates contacted by the Times-Union expressed doubts that they had anything worthwhile to say, because, they asked, aren’t their stories all alike? Weren’t their experiences typical? How would that actually help anyone? No one had wanted to understand them before, some said.

“All the other prisoners you are writing to may have the same story as I do,” wrote Keith Shawn Hanks. He’s serving a life sentence for a murder committed at age 17, back in 1992. “So, do you really want to do a story on me?”

To them, their highly abnormal experiences were normal.

“We should be heartbroken,” said Carly Dierkhising, an assistant professor in the school of criminal justice at California State University, Los Angeles. “It is profoundly sad, and it also says a lot about our society and how we treat our youth.”

Jason Cooper put it another way.

“In the community of Jacksonville, kids (are) growing up thinking it’s all about street credibility, and (that) silly image along with gun play are mandatory in that life,” wrote Cooper, who was 17 when he shot and killed Wilson Sakudya in an Arlington apartment in 2007.

“If nothing happens to grab hold of that mindset, what you see now will always continue to be the same.”

This is a condensed version of a story written as part a project for the University of Southern California Center for Health Journalism’s National Fellowship, in conjunction with the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Tessa Duvall, a staff writer for The Florida Times-Union, also served as a 2018 John Jay/Tow  Justice Reporting Fellow. The full series can be read here: http://gatehousenews.com/whenkidskill/home/site/jacksonville.com

from https://thecrimereport.org

After 16 Years, Senate OK’s Juvenile Justice Law

The federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act has not been reauthorized since 2002. The Senate finally approved a new measure that Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) says will “improve accountability measures in the federal juvenile justice grant program.”

It took 16 years, but the U.S. Senate on Tuesday approved a reauthorization of the landmark Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, says Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA). Grassley said the legislation, which is expected to be approved by the House soon and sent to President Trump, will provide “new protections for minors and improve accountability measures in the federal juvenile justice grant program.” Grassley commended Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) for his help in getting the bill passed.

Grassley said the measure includes “important new accountability measures that protect taxpayer dollars and prevent states from being rewarded when failing to provide the minimum standard of protections for minors.” It also will help reduce the unnecessary incarceration of youth, improve safeguards for minors who enter the justice system and strengthen services that encourage a smooth transition back into society. Other major provisions, according to Grassley, will improve treatment for juvenile offenders with mental illness and substance abuse issues, encourage states to report and reduce racial and ethnic disparities for youth in the juvenile justice system and support alternatives to incarceration, such as problem-solving courts. The U.S. Justice Department recently cut back its oversight of state monitoring of “disproportionate minority contact” in the juvenile justice system under the federal law being reauthorized.

from https://thecrimereport.org