PA Youth Cleared Almost a Decade After Killing

Jordan Brown, who was convicted nine years ago in Pennsylvania as an 11-year-old for the shotgun murder of his father’s fiancee and her unborn child, has been ordered released by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Jordan Brown, who was convicted nine years ago in Pennsylvania as an 11-year-old for the shotgun murder of his father’s fiancee and her unborn child, has been set free by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The court determined that evidence in the case pointing to Brown could just as easily have implicated an unknown assailant and, as a result, was insufficient to find him culpable beyond a reasonable doubt. That means that he has been cleared of killing Kenzie Marie Houk, who was 26 and nine months pregnant when she was shot in the back of her neck as she slept in the farmhouse near New Castle that she shared with Brown, his father, and her two young daughters.

Kenzie Houk’s father, Jack, said Brown remains the culprit. “This is crazy,” Houk said. Houk said he and his wife, Debbie, have been raising their daughter’s two girls, who are now in their teens. “We’re going through hell,” Houk said. “The system is very, very wrong, sir.” He dismissed the possibility that evidence from the crime scene might point to a different suspect — a theory supported by Mr. Brown’s defense team. “There is another person that we believe is responsible,” said Brown’s attorney, Stephen Colafella, “That person was never arrested.” Prosecutors speculated that Brown killed Kenzie Houk because he was angered by the disruption posed by the pending birth of a new sibling and grew jealous about the attention Houk’s daughters received, a theory that the Supreme Court called “wholly speculative.” There was no DNA or fingerprint evidence linking Brown to the murder, the Supreme Court said. The court found that the evidence did not prove that a shotgun retrieved from the home was the murder weapon, much less that Brown pulled the trigger.


Drug Dealing Among US Youth Down 40%: Study

The spread of marijuana legalization may account for some of the decline, say the author of the study in the Addictive Behaviors journal. But they add more research is needed to understand the role that peer pressure and behavioral problems play in substance abuse disorders among young people.

The prevalence of drug selling among adolescents has undergone a significant downward trend, falling from 4.1 percent in 2002 to 2.3 percent in 2015, according to a forthcoming study published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal, Addictive Behaviors.

At the same time, arrests of the general population due to possession and trafficking of illegal substances in 2005 have grown by three times, when compared to drug arrests in 1980, notes the study.

Subsequently, “incarceration for drug offenses (has) risen even more steeply over the past 30 years.”

To address continued youth involvement with drugs, researchers and youth workers must explore the role that behavioral problems play in  substance abuse disorders, the study says.

Adolescents’ peers are major sources of obtaining drugs, indicating the pressure teens face to become involved in usage and/or dealing, according to the authors of the study.

Drug dealing is often linked to other risky and delinquent behaviors among youth, making it an imperative topic of research and point of action in our criminal justice system, explains the study.

In order to examine these trends, the study used responses from 233,435 US youth between 12 and 17, collected between 2002 and 2015 from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), a national survey of persons over the age of 12 about substance use and abuse (tobacco, alcohol, drugs) and mental health issues.

To acquire this data, participants were asked how many times they had sold illegal drugs in the past year. It is important to note that the drug and alcohol portion of the survey were self-reported, meaning the information collected could be subjected to reporting errors due to poor memory or self-biases.

In addition to the prevalence of drug-selling among youth, the survey also recorded the respondents’ gender and ethnicity (restricted to non-Hispanic White, non-Hispanic African American and Hispanic) in order to consider additional impactful factors.

The researchers ran a statistical analysis on the prevalence of year among the general sample and then reran the measure to stratify by gender and racial subgroups.

The results found a 40 percent reduction in the prevalence of reported drug-selling among youth—which they called a significant decrease from a 4.1 percent prevalence rate in 2002 to 2.3 percent in 2015.

More precisely, this decrease in drug-selling was predominately identified in males across all racial groups. Although a significant reduction in selling was found among girls who did not use an illegal substance in the last year, were African American, or were between 15 and 17 years old, the overall trend remained stable for females.

To explain the overall decrease in drug-selling prevalence, the researchers argued that youth with law enforcement was primarily effected by the spread of marijuana decriminalization.

Though all 30 states which have legalized marijuana require an individual to be over the age of 21 to partake in the benefits of the law, the change in legality and subsequent change in acceptability of society may continue to erode the prevalence of drug-dealing among youths, they said.

The study was conducted by Michael G. Vaugh and Katherine J. Holzer of Saint Louis University’s School of Social Work; Millan A. AbiNader and Christopher P. Salas-Wright of Boston University’s School of Social Work; and Sehun Oh of the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Social Work.

The complete study is available for purchase here.

This summary was prepared by TCR news intern Laura Binczewski. Readers’ comments are welcome.


Worker Laughed as FL Teen Was Attacked in Facility

This month in a treatment program operated for the state of Florida, a boy, 15, was attacked by four other juveniles. An employee was accused of facilitating the assault.

The Walton Academy for Growth and Change in the Florida panhandle is supposed to provide a “secure residential treatment program for males, ages 13 to 18,” according to law enforcement. The facility, which is run by a company called Rite of Passage for the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), was the site of a sexual attack and battery on a 15-year-old boy on July 5, the Miami Herald reports. The incident led to an investigation and the arrests of four juveniles and one adult employee, who was accused of facilitating the assault.

DJJ lockups and programs have seen a series of attacks — some of them carried out or encouraged by staff — on youths in their care. In April, Antwan Johnson, a detention officer at Miami-Dade’s juvenile lockup, was indicted on a civil rights violation after the death of Elord Revolte, 17, who was punched and kicked by a dozen detainees, allegedly at Johnson’s urging. A Miami Herald series, Fight Club, documented the beatings, often called “honey-bunnings,” after the vending machine treats that are offered as rewards. The Walton County Sheriff’s Office, which was contacted by the DJJ after Rite of Passage alerted DJJ, says the 15-year-old was grabbed off a couch by two juveniles. The juveniles dragged the teen down a hallway into another dorm room, where two other juveniles held him face down on a bed and pulled his pants down as one tried to penetrate the boy with a travel-size shampoo bottle. An employee, Antoine Davis, 27, was charged with lewd and lascivious battery and promoting sexual battery. “The clinical director of the facility advised deputies a victim had been sexually assaulted by several other juveniles. It was later discovered an employee watched and appeared to be laughing while the incident took place,” the sheriff’s office said.


‘They’re Not Monsters’: The Roots of Young Girls’ Violence

The violent behavior of some teenage girls is often both shocking and puzzling to observers. But studies suggest their actions are closely connected to the trauma and victimization they experience in early childhood.

When I was in my early teens, there were girls in the public housing project near my home who were as well known to the police as the boys who committed crimes with me. Just like us delinquent boys, these young ladies were quick to “get down” or, rather, to lash out violently.

The difference was that their target was typically a girl who was dissing them or a woman who unwittingly provoked them while they were out roaming the city.

During my frequent stays in the local juvenile detention center, I saw similar girls cycle through who were adjudicated for crimes that were just as serious as those committed by the boys who were confined.

In hindsight, I can see that social workers saw me as an at-risk youth in need of intervention; juvenile justice personnel viewed me as an offender in need of confinement; and prosecutors influenced by the Super Predator theory perceived me as a budding sociopath destined for the penitentiary.

But personally, I often wonder what lay behind the offending of the girls who—like me—were perpetually truant, ran away frequently, stole cars and used drugs, and at their worst, committed assaults and batteries.

Judith A. Ryder gives insight into such girls’ deviance in Girls & Violence: Tracing the Roots of Criminal Behavior.

Before delving into Ryder’s thesis, it is worth taking the time to highlight some vignettes from the structured interviews that she conducted with dozens of girls who were confined in a long‑term juvenile detention center. These girls were primarily black and Hispanic, their ages ranged from 14 to 16; they were raised in broken homes and foster care; and had committed assaults and robberies.

Here is Elena, age 14, sharing her theory on the pragmatic use of a knife during a fistfight:

If I’m 5’4”, if a girl was like 6’2” and I can’t really reach her face to fight her, and she just constantly punching me in my face and I’m hitting her but it’s not working, I would just pull out a blade and just stab her in her side or something like that so she’ll come down (Ryder: 136).

And here, also, is 14-year-old Adele, manifesting her need for respect when explaining why she attacked a woman on the street:

We was walking on some block…going to the train station. This lady, she was walking by, so we was like, spread out, she got to say “excuse me” to get by…. So we spreaded out and the lady had bumped me. I turned and was like, “what you doing.” She was drunk and come out of her face and was like “you black bitch.” So, I looked at her and I just swung on her (139).

Then there is vengeful 15-year-old Lisa, describing why she and her sister assaulted two small children whom they were babysitting after becoming angry at being misled by the children’s mother that she would return later that evening:

[These kids’ momma] didn’t come back for a whole weekend, so, me and my sister got mad. So we got ‘um…turned on the hot water…. We had burnt their hands…. Cause I was mad that she didn’t, she didn’t even, she didn’t even come in, she didn’t even call (144).

Undoubtedly, reading such accounts is enough to make most people queasy. Yet Ryder does not share them for shock value. These girls’ narratives are important to criminology because neither official data nor media accounts illuminate what drives such behavior.

“Calculating the number of offenses or sensationalizing individual acts fails to appreciate the context in which violence occurs or the underlying mechanisms that help propel it,” Ryder explains (4). Therefore, in order to better understand such girls’ violent behavior, one must “investigate the social and psychological contexts of the girls’ lives before they became violent criminals” and take into account “the role of families, communities, and social institutions in the production of violence” (5).

The Ingredients for Deviance

Ryder identifies four primary motivations for these girls’ violent acts: the need for respect, the desire for vengeance, self-defense or the defense of others and, to a lesser extent, financial gain.

However, the underlying factors that help propel these girls’ violent behavior is connected to their disrupted attachments and traumatic histories. In Ryder’s view, the “substantial and cumulative losses and victimizations that such girls experience…interfere with the formation of attachment relationships and diminish the capacity to think about and empathize with the mental state of others” (147-48).

This “attachment based model of female-adolescent violence” (16) is central to Ryder’s findings.

When it comes to attachment, she explains:

Children with sensitive, responsive caregivers develop secure attachment and a positive working model of themselves and others…. The early and ongoing experience of having been understood in the context of a secure attachment relationship develops within children a capacity to understand and interpret the behaviors of others in terms of the underlying intentional mental states […] If attachment is insecure, healthy behaviors…are impaired. Children whose caregivers are unable to provide a sense of security tend to view themselves and others negatively, and their ability to accurately perceive the mental states of others may be diminished […] When a caregiver’s insensitivity is pervasive, the child’s normal anger response may turn to aggression…. (27).

Worse yet, the girls in this study not only suffered from insecure attachments, they were also plagued by “a litany of victimizations and losses to which they were exposed in their neighborhoods and homes” (65).

Violence in the girls’ neighborhoods “was widespread and touched all residents” (65). It could erupt in a manner that was “public and random” (69). But even in times of calm, there was no sense of security because violence was “just beneath the surface or around the corner” (67).

The girls’ homes were also “a significant site of danger” (73). They recount “witnessing physical violence against siblings” (75), and recall parents and other adults “hitting them with fists, shoes, and baseball bats, and cutting them with razor blades, knives, and bottles” (75-76).

They spoke of “sexual abuse, and of witnessing the sexual abuse of siblings and others by fathers, stepfathers, and other male relatives” (79).

This poly-victimization—in their homes and communities—made these girls “hyper-aroused at the slightest provocation” (141).

The fact that their violent acts manifest “the need for action over reflection” (143) is evidenced by 14-year-old Adele’s decision to swing on a woman for simply bumping into her on the street.

These girls have learned that they “must be in a constant state of readiness, prepared to act quickly to any perceived hostility” (30).

With respect to the losses the girls experienced, again, they too produce traumagenic effects.

All of the girls in the study suffered loss at an early age. Namely, the physical absence of a loved one, often due to incarceration or abandonment.

The lack of the emotional support necessary to ensure their psychological wellbeing.

The loss of their homes, typically due to eviction or a change in foster care placement.

And the death of a loved one.

While it is not uncommon for youth to experience a loved one’s death due to injury or illness, Ryder emphasizes that these girls’ loved ones often died under socially stigmatized contexts (e.g., AIDS, drug overdose, homicide). Furthermore, their losses were compounded by the lack of “any adult assistance or support in comprehending the death” (90).

Ryder highlights that these traumas resulted in the girls’ employment of “a variety of maladaptive behavioral strategies” (109) to defend against physical and emotional distress because, unfortunately, they never developed the coping strategies they would have had if they had received the “support and guidance of adults to assist in the bereavement and adjustment processes” (109).

Not having a shoulder to cry on has consequences for a child, it seems.

And for society.

Ryder notes, “The accumulation of such losses can reinforce beliefs that life is short and violence inevitable; defensive responses may include antisocial behavior and, for some, fatalistic violence” (96). Through this lens, one can see why 14-year-old Elena would find it expedient to stab a taller girl in the side to bring her down to size.

They’re Not Monsters

Returning to 15-year-old Lisa and her sister, who saw fit to scald the hands of two small children, in hindsight one can see that the perpetrators were victims, too. They “were victims of neglect and violence in their homes, on the streets of their neighborhoods, and in the care of social institutions created to address their needs” (148).

This is not an excuse. It is just the reality.

As with other girls in the study, Lisa and her sister “had been beaten and abused, sexually violated, and then ignored, stigmatized, and penalized” (148). They require “supervision and control but, as human beings, they primarily need consistent, psychologically attuned, and loving relationships,” according to Ryder (168).

In the end, Ryder makes a plea for there to be less “social control in the form of monitoring and punishment” and more social support in the form of “adult acceptance, affection, and guidance” (168).

I wish the same for girls such as this.

Still, reflecting on the ones who used to roam the public housing project that was our former territory, I cannot imagine where any of us could have found acceptance, affection, and guidance. It was nowhere to be seen.

It is not surprising, then, that 25 years later there is a new generation of girls in that community who are perpetually truant, who run away frequently, steal cars, use drugs, and at their worst, commit assaults and batteries.

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 welcomes comments from readers.


VT Law Puts Some 18 and Older In Juvenile System

A new law allows anyone 21 or younger charged with a nonviolent crime to be eligible for juvenile offender status. Another law will begin placing those under 19 in the juvenile justice system by 2020 and will raise the age again to those under 20 in 2022.

Vermont hopes to place fewer young adults in the adult criminal justice system using a first-in-the-nation law that will place some teenagers 18 and older in the juvenile justice system, the Associated Press reports. A law signed by former Gov. Peter Shumlin took effect July 1. It allows anyone 21 or younger charged with a nonviolent crime to be eligible for juvenile offender status. In May, a bill was signed into law by current Gov. Phil Scott that will begin placing those under the age of 19 in the juvenile justice system by 2020, and raise the age again to those under 20 in 2022.

In both cases, the change in procedure does not apply to a dozen violent offenses, including murder and armed robbery. Lawmakers said increasing the age in the juvenile system may prevent young offenders from committing future crimes. A U.S. Sentencing Commission study found those under 21 have the highest rate of recidivism, but the hope is that by placing them in the juvenile system and placing a greater emphasis on rehabilitation, the criminal justice system can help them age out of criminal behavior. Lael Chester of the Emerging Adult Project at Columbia University’s Justice Lab said reevaluation of how the criminal justice system deals with young adult offenders is motivated by research in the past decade that shows the brain is not typically fully developed until the mid-20s. While 18 is the age of majority in Vermont and most other states, Chester said current law recognizes people under 21 should not buy alcohol, and car rental companies generally require customers to be 25. Massachusetts, Connecticut and Illinois have also considered legislation that would raise the age in the juvenile justice system.


Rise in Juvenile Sexting Spurs Calls for New Strategies

The justice system is moving away from charging young people with sexting offenses. Attorneys and advocates say it’s a good move, but warn education and counseling is even more critical as the rise in teen cellphone use coincides with an increase in the practice.

Sexting, usually defined as sending sexually explicit messages or photographs by mobile phone, continues to be a prevalent behavior among young people, and even appears to be increasing, particularly among older youth, according to a study from JAMA Pediatrics.

But fewer young people are being hauled into court for the practice—a trend welcomed by juvenile justice advocates who argue strategies of counseling, education and prevention are more productive and less harmful.

The authors of the Jama study, using a meta-analysis of 39 studies with over 110,000 participants, found the mean prevalences for sending and receiving sexts were 14.8 percent and 27.4 percent, respectively, “with prevalence rates increasing in recent years and as youth age.”

The prevalences of forwarding a sext without consent and having a sext forwarded without consent were 12 percent and 8.4 percent, respectively, the study said.

The study authors noted that existing research suggested that “sexting is a predictor of sexual behavior and may be associated with other health outcomes and risky behaviors,” but the lack of consensus about its prevalence impeded intervention and policy development.

Underage sexting is a criminal offense, but the legal system is now focusing more on prevention and rehabilitation than on punishment and detention, experts told The Crime Report.

“Lately I have seen much less police involvement [in terms of] actually charging kids with possession of child pornography and distribution of child pornography,” said Laura Sutnick, a New Jersey criminal trial attorney, in an interview.

“Instead, I think schools are talking to the kids, and juvenile police officers are talking to the kids.”

Not all states have specific teen sexting laws, but those that do typically target pictures sent between two teenagers, according to attorney Mark Theoharis. Sexting with a minor falls under child pornography laws, even if both people involved are underage.

Sutnick has seen more recent collaboration between police officers and schools in terms of educating young people about sexting laws. She also has seen schools intervene if they find prohibited images or texts on a student’s phone.

Bringing juveniles into a police station, Sutnick added, would be “a nightmare for the school and the community.”

According to Marsha Levick, deputy director and chief counsel for the non-profit public interest law firm Juvenile Law Center, there is less criminal stigma attached to sexting than there was a decade ago.

“The conversation was elevated because of the risk that some of these arrests might result as some sort of registered offense, which was a very important issue for us,” said Levick, who co-authored a 2010 report on sexting and child pornography.

Federal law considers any sexual images of a minor child to be pornography, but individual states vary in their punishment for juveniles found to be in possession of those images. Levick said the legal community’s sense of urgency about the need to take criminal action has considerably diminished since 2010.

“There was a lot of zeal to prosecute, but there was also an enormous amount of pushback from certain members of the community,” Levick said. “Parents and some wiser school administrators recognized that criminalizing this behavior was crazy.”

Although laws still remain in place, even when a minor appears before a juvenile court, he or she is more likely to be offered diversion program or at least a minor sentence.

“No matter what a kid is charged with, I think when you have a case in the juvenile justice system, the prosecutor, the judge and the defense attorney have a different focus,” Sutnick said.

Former prosecutor Susan Broderick echoed Sutnick, saying diversion programs are plentiful in juvenile courts nationwide.

“It’s in that awareness of knowing we’ve all been teenagers and have all done stupid things,” Broderick said. “It’s recognizing if it’s not something egregious or very severe or violent, we should give the kids the benefit of the doubt.

“I think sexting fits very well in the diversion category because it gives an opportunity to raise awareness about the dangers of sexting.”

Broderick said there has been a stronger emphasis among educators, parents and schools to prioritize prevention, including through disseminating information about the harm it can do to students’ peers.

Many young people appear to have got the message. A forthcoming study in the Computers in Human Behavior journal says most juveniles are aware of the illegality of sexting, and most view it as a criminal, non-normal and infrequent part of today’s youth culture.

Over 80 percent of the juveniles surveyed correctly knew that sexting under the age of 18 was a crime, and more than 50 percent thought sexting could result in both school trouble and trouble with police. Nevertheless, Yet fewer than 30 percent answered yes to a question about whether they were extremely likely to report sexting to a parent or teacher. This number was even higher when the question focused on reporting to a parent alone—at 39 percent.

Children were also less likely to report sexting as they got older. Boys were less likely than girls to report sexting, and less likely to try and prevent their friends from sexting.

Meanwhile, sexting has increased with the rise in cell phone and smartphone usage among teenagers.

“Juveniles say the most inappropriate things on text messages that they would never say to somebody face-to-face,” Sutnick said.

“They would never go in front of all their friends and pull their shirt down. But they would take a picture of themselves and send it to somebody.”

Around 71 percent of teens had a cellphone in 2008, which jumped to nearly 90 percent in 2015. As cell phone usage becomes more normalized, conversations about how teens are using phones have shifted.

“(In 2010) it really felt like there was an adult and parental fear about what kids are doing with technology,” Levick said. “It feels like that moment has passed. From an incredibly personal perspective, I’m not seeing it as much.”

The Computers in Human Behavior (CHB) study emphasized the importance of youth voices when discussing sexting, and argued that young people’s perspectives should be part of the development of prevention strategies.

“They need to consult with children when they create education and prevention programs and they need to evaluate the programs to make sure they are beneficial,” the authors wrote.

When discussing prevention, Sutnick thinks parents and educators should be transparent with kids about the consequences of sexting and resources available to them in the courts.

“Kids are supposed to make mistakes,” Sutnick said. “I think the juvenile justice system is more forgiving because of that.”

The CHB study was prepared by Ateret Gewirtz-Meydan, Kimberly J. Mitchell, and Emily F. Rothman.

The JAMA Pediatrics study was prepared by Sheri Madigan, Anh Ly, Christina L. Rash, Joris Van Ouytsel, and Jeff R. Temple.

Marsha Levick’s 2010 study was co-authored by Kristina Moon.

Marianne Dodson is a TCR news intern. She welcomes comments from readers.


Trump Youth Crime Official Questioned on Minorities

Juvenile justice advocates say Caren Harp, President Trump’s administrator of the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, fails to recognize the problem of the anti-minority prejudices of adults in the juvenile justice system.

Caren Harp, President Trump’s administrator of the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, is getting questions about a policy statement that, “We are committed to reducing [disproportionate minority contact] while maintaining public safety,” reports the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. After Harp spoke at last Friday at the annual conference of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, nearly all questions from the audience focused on that one phrase. Many questioners said Harp failed to recognize that the problem with disproportionate minority contact, one of the key problems that the federal law on juvenile justice is designed to correct, is not the behavior of children, but the prejudices of adults in the juvenile justice system.

Harp seemed to defend the notion that she wasn’t going to let a fear of arresting minorities get in the way of encouraging law enforcement, the courts and probation from doing their job without apology, echoing tough-on-crime rhetoric that has emanated from her boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Audience members made the point that “disproportionate minority contact” is about children who end up in the system who shouldn’t be there due to biases of law enforcement or because minority youths encounter wildly different outcomes than their white counterparts once in the system. It was not one Harp seemed to agree with. Amy Donofrio of the Florida-based EVAC, a juvenile justice group for African-American young men, said she asks police officers about statistics that show black young people getting charged with crimes for the same thing for which whites get civil citations for. “We ask …why is that,” Donofrio said. “And without fail no one has an answer. The answer is racism.” Donofrio was disappointed that Harp didn’t address that issue.


Why Do We Keep Our Aging Prisoners Behind Bars?

We spend an incredible amount of money warehousing older and sicker low-risk people, while not spending what we should on intervention and re-entry resources for young people. A smarter approach to incarceration would do the reverse, write two justice experts.

The evolving figures on US prison populations represents both good news and bad news. The good news is that US incarceration rates are no longer increasing, and have even declined slightly.

The bad news is that we still far outpace the rest of the world in unnecessarily locking people up.

We don’t lock up more people because the US is a more dangerous place, we lock up more people primarily because we’ve made policy decisions over the last 30 years that give prosecutors enormous discretion and we have succumbed to cultural and political will for punishment that is closely linked to our continuing struggles with institutional racism and implicit bias.

Our incarceration rates also demonstrate an unwillingness to meaningfully discuss and change our approach to people charged with violent crimes.

But a new report on recidivism data recently released by the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) suggests that there are two places we could be making a significant difference, simultaneously reducing future crime and the costs of mass incarceration. The report shows a clear pathway that could create a significantly less expensive system that is fairer, and keeps everyone safer.

While young adults under age 24 are at high risk of recidivism, adults age 55 and above are at low risk for recidivism. We currently spend an incredible amount of money warehousing older and sicker low-risk people, while not spending what we should on effective intervention and re-entry resources for young people.

If we inverted that ratio, releasing the significant portion of older incarcerated people who can safely be released and putting those savings into strategies that would help reduce crimes committed by young adults, we would be much more successful in making society safer and healthier for today and tomorrow.

Marc Schindler

Marc Schindler

We know that young adults account for a disproportionately high percentage of violent crime, and the BJS data show that young adults also have the most difficulty returning to the community, with 51.8 percent being arrested in just the first year. In the Justice Policy Institute’s Improving Approaches to Serving Young Adults in the Justice System, we explore the tailored community-based services that build on the strengths of the young person to provide the best chance of success.

If we chose to implement developmentally appropriate prevention programs and provide research-based reentry approaches to successfully get youth beyond their first year of release, we would do much a much better job of preventing young adults from committing crimes. By tailoring services that provide sufficient education, employment opportunities, and health and mental health supports, states would not only lower recidivism rates, but also save a substantial amount of its budget.

Estimates show that each young adult who avoids returning to the justice system saves taxpayers $ two million. That’s something both the right and left can get on board with.

Contrary to young adults, older individuals, particularly those 55 and older, were re-arrested at much lower rates. This is consistent with previous research in the field. For example, in New York, only four percent of people age 65 and older were re-convicted; while in Virginia, only 1.3 percent of people older than 55 were re-convicted.

The research is clear: there is minimal negative impact on public safety from releasing older people from prison.

These findings are also consistent with an organic experiment playing out in Maryland. In what is known as the “Unger” case, almost 200 people who had been convicted of violent crimes and sentenced to life were released following a 2012 court ruling that jury instructions in their cases were constitutionally flawed.

Jeremy Kittridge

Jeremy Kittridge

With an average age of 64 upon release, and having served an average of 40 years, they have had a recidivism rate of less than one percent.

Part of the Unger defendants’ achievement can be credited to the re-entry support provided before and after their release. Their overwhelming success has been acknowledged by both legislators and prosecutors, who have said “the Ungers are a perfect example that you can age out of violent crime.”

Despite the incredible success rates among older people safely released from prison, we continue to annually spend approximately $16 billion to incarcerate this population. The financial impact will increase substantially with population projections for elderly incarcerated people to hit 400,000 by 2030. We have barely touched the surface of the potential savings that could be reinvested by safely returning older incarcerated individuals to the community.

We’re currently operating secure nursing homes for people who pose almost no threat to public safety; we should, instead, be better utilizing those resources by targeting services for a higher risk young adult population and thereby reducing crime.

Marc Schindler is executive director of the Justice Policy Institute (JPI). Jeremy Kittridge is a research and policy associate with JPI. They welcome comments from readers.


Study Calls for ‘Repurposing’ Youth Prisons as Social Services Centers

A study released by the Urban Institute Tuesday suggests turning youth prisons, which have been slowly closing over the past decade, into places where the community can access social services, business growth, and neighborhood revitalization.

As the number of incarcerated youth in America continues to decline, and as youth detention facilities close, policymakers should utilize unused youth prisons for job creation, social services, business growth, and neighborhood revitalization, suggests the Urban Institute in a report released Tuesday.

The authors of the report, entitled “Transforming Closed Youth Prisons:  Repurposing Facilities to Meet Community Needs,” warn that if youth prisons are left vacant and unchanged, they could be re-opened as prisons.

“The vacant facilities bring a range of public health and safety concerns to communities and can be physical reminders of the harmful impact of incarceration,” the report said.

“If left vacant and unchanged, youth facilities are susceptible to being reopened as correctional facilities, missing the opportunity to contribute to positive local development and meet demonstrated social needs.”

According to the report, between 1999 and 2015, the number of youth detained or placed out of home declined by more than half, leading to hundreds of facility closures.

The authors interviewed 41 stakeholders involved in re-purposing efforts across the country, and made the following recommendations and conclusions:

∎ Consider the costs and missed opportunities of unused, vacant facility land, including costs to municipalities and the impact on local property values and crime rates;

∎ Be intentional about priorities for the property early on, and clearly articulate requirements for potential occupants;

∎ Consult with the community to identify local needs;

∎ Facilitate partnerships with key stakeholders early and often;

∎ Streamline the approval process for transferring land;

∎ Educate and partner with community members.

The report was written by Hanna Love, Samantha Harvell, Chloe Warnberg, and Julia Durnan.

A full copy of the report can be found here.

This summary was prepared by Megan Hadley, a staff writer at The Crime Report. She welcomes comments from readers. 


Fourth Escape This Year from LA Juvenile Prison

Four teenage inmates escaped from a Louisiana juvenile prison over the weekend in a jailbreak so violent one guard was airlifted for medical treatment. The escape marked the second in a week — and at least the fourth in 2018 — from the Swanson Center for Youth, an understaffed facility that has become a cauldron of violence and dysfunction.

Four teenage inmates escaped from Louisiana’s juvenile prison in Monroe over the weekend in a jailbreak so violent one guard was airlifted for medical treatment, The Advocate reports. The escape late Friday marked the second in a week — and at least the fourth in 2018 — from the Swanson Center for Youth, an understaffed facility that has become a cauldron of violence and dysfunction. The state Office of Juvenile Justice scrambled to bolster security at the prison’s porous perimeter, which youths have repeatedly breached by overpowering guards and using dormitory mattresses to scale the exterior razor-wire fences.

The agency said those “enhancements” will be complete within the next two weeks, adding officials also are boosting mental and behavioral health programs to deter “criminogenic and violent behavior” among incarcerated teens. All four of the escaped youths had been captured by Saturday morning, said the agency”s Beth Touchet-Morgan. The latest escape raised new questions about the state’s ability to secure its juvenile prisons — troubled facilities that have seen alarming rates of turnover and staffing levels that at times have run afoul of federal laws intended to protect inmates from jailhouse assault. Swanson was the site of an inmate riot less than a year ago in which inmates reportedly escaped from their dormitory, flipped a security desk and began punching guards in their faces. Currently, “Additional physical security changes have been implemented to assure that the campus is secure,” Touchet-Morgan said. “Staff are essential to security within the facility, so as always we are continually hiring and training staff, particularly on the proper levels of supervision needed on campus and basic operating procedures concerning safety.”