The justices had ruled that life-without-parole sentences for crimes committed by juveniles should be reserved for “uncommon” cases, but states like Louisiana and Michigan are retaining them in many cases. The Supreme Court may review the issue again.
The Supreme Court is considering whether to hear two cases asking the justices to ban life-without-parole sentences for juveniles categorically. It should be an easy call, the New York Times says in an editorial. For more than a decade, the court has been growing more protective of juveniles who are facing the harshest punishments in our justice system. In 2005, the court banned the death penalty for people who committed their crimes before turning 18. In 2010, it outlawed juvenile sentences of life without parole in all cases but homicide. In 2012, it barred mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles in all cases. Last year, it made that ruling retroactive for the more than 2,000 inmates already sentenced.
Every case turned on the idea that young people are “constitutionally different” from adults — less in control of their emotions and more able to change over time — and should be punished differently. In 2012, the high court said states could still impose life without parole, but only in “uncommon” cases involving the “rare juvenile offender who exhibits such irretrievable depravity that rehabilitation is impossible.” Twenty states and the District of Columbia now ban the sentence in all cases. In a few states, prosecutors are still behaving as though the last 12 years never happened, the Times says. The problem is worst in Louisiana and Michigan, which together account for more than a quarter of all juvenile lifers. Michigan prosecutors are seeking resentences of life without parole in more than half of the state’s cases. In Louisiana, the state wants life without parole for 82 of the 258 people whose mandatory sentence was struck down last year.
County’s board of supervisors is told that of 13,665 arrests and citations issued to young people in 2015, about 11,000 would have been eligible for diversion from the justice system had the new program been up and running.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously for an ambitious plan to divert thousands of the county’s youth away from the juvenile and criminal justice systems, connecting them instead to a comprehensive array of supportive services, reports the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. Speakers declared strong support for a 78-page report, “A Roadmap for Advancing Youth Diversion in LA County,” that provided the framework for the sweeping strategy proposed. “This is an historic day in the history of justice reform,” said Dr. Robert Ross of The California Endowment told the board. “We know that 80 percent of the youth now being arrested in the county could be diverted to community-based services if the plan is realized.”
The report said 13,665 arrests and citations were issued to the county’s young in 2015. About 11,000 of those 2015 arrests — “including status offenses, misdemeanors, and low-level felonies” — would have been eligible for diversion in lieu of arrest or citation had the new program been up and running. Michael Nash of the Office of Child Protection, former presiding juvenile court judge, said the program will help ensure that foster youth “have equal access” to the advantages and services of diversion. Speakers described the 18-month process of designing the proposed new strategy as an unusually inclusive one, involving law enforcement leaders, local judges, county officials, health experts, community advocates and young people who had themselves been incarcerated.
Virginia’s struggle to reform its juvenile justice system took a big step with the closure of a 127-year-old youth facility. But as the state governor’s race heats up, advocates want the focus to be on alternatives to youth incarceration.
Death and prison are common for youths in the Virginia Beach community where Jalen Mizell was born.
Mizell was locked up at the age of 14, when he was arrested for participation in two separate armed robberies—putting an abrupt end to a trajectory that seemed to promise an escape from the fate that had fallen so many of his peers. His 2010 arrest and conviction happened just as he was preparing to enter high school.
Seven years later, Mizell has been given a new lease on life. Released in August from the Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center, the state’s only remaining maximum-security juvenile prison, he is now preparing to enter the Richard Bland College of William & Mary in January.
What accounted for his turnaround? Mizell left detention with 24 college credits under his belt, thanks to an overhaul of Virginia’s juvenile justice system that, among other things, made college courses available to youth detained at correctional facilities.
The juvenile reforms, backed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) shortly after his 2014 election, have attracted national attention as well as tempered praise from juvenile justice advocates, who say the state still has a long way to go to catch up to the reforms underway elsewhere.
During McAuliffe’s four-year tenure (under Virginia’s term limits, he cannot run for reelection this year), the population of youths incarcerated at the state’s two juvenile prisons, Bon Air and Beaumont, dropped from about 600 to a little more than 200.
Until June, when Beaumont was shuttered, the two institutions were the last remaining youth facilities in the country with 200 beds or more. But even as the closure of the 127-year-old Beaumont facility was welcomed by advocates, Virginia announced it was planning to build a new one in the city of Chesapeake.
The Joint Juvenile Justice Center, scheduled for completion in 2020, would house 112 beds in a facility divided between state and city detainees. The state portion is expected to support 64 juveniles and the city 48.
Valerie Slater, an attorney and lead coordinator at RISE for Youth and a close observer of Virginia’s juvenile justice system, calls the planned new facility an “unfortunate transition.”
“We should be moving away from larger facilities as a whole,” she said.
RISE, a Charlottesville, Va.-based advocacy group, joins other youth advocacy groups around the country in advocating alternatives to youth incarceration.
Slater pointed to Massachusetts as a “cutting-edge” model, noting that the state offers some facilities with as few as 15 beds. Those smaller facilities provide much greater attention to detainees, particularly the individuals needing the most attention, she said.
The kind of punishment meted out to Mizell and other youths is almost a guarantee that they will “graduate” from juvenile detention into a criminal career.
Mizell is the first to recognize how easily his life path could have been grimly different. In a recent interview, Mizell counted at least four people he’s known who have died, and it would be impossible to tally the number of his acquaintances who have been incarcerated.
Now a polite but determined 21-year-old, he gave a talk to Bon Air’s 200-plus remaining residents shortly before his release—adding a special note of thanks to the counselors and teachers who helped him.
“I honestly feel like the only way to repay you is to be a success story, and that’s exactly what I’ll do,” he promised.
But for most of those he left behind, juvenile prison still amounts to a door shutting on their lives at a young age.
Although the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) now contracts with two service coordinators—Tampa, Fla.-based nonprofit AMIkids and Washington, D.C.-based contractor Evidence Based Associates—for social service counseling that can help at-risk youth avoid jail, advocates like Slater say the state has not yet moved far enough away from antiquated models that shuffle large youth populations into prison.
The population of juvenile prisoners is dropping across the state. In addition to Bon Air, the Virginia houses youths in 24 juvenile detention centers and 18 group homes. The state’s average daily population, according to DJJ, dwindled from 1,164 in 2003 to 406 in 2016, a 65 percent decrease.
That matches a trend across the country: juvenile arrests have declined nationally from 28,817 in 2012 to 19,620 in 2016.
There’s a similar decline in youth arrests. According to the Department of Justice, U.S. law enforcement in 2015 arrested 921,600 people under the age of 18—56 percent less than the number recorded in 2006. That 2015 figure comes out to a mean average of about 18,400 arrests per state.
Virginia remains slightly above the mean. The state recorded 20,417 juvenile arrests that same year.
Crystal Shin, an assistant law professor at the University of Virginia, said in a recent interview that the incarceration decline can partly be attributed to DJJ altering its length-of-stay guidelines, so that youths are not incarcerated beyond “the necessary time to receive appropriate treatment and services.”
Nevertheless, as Slater noted, Virginia’s African-American youths are still six times more likely to be arrested than their white counterparts. Though blacks make up about 20 percent of Virginia’s youth population, they accounted for about 71 percent of all juvenile correctional center admissions in 2016, according to DJJ.
“Black and brown children are so much more likely to be shuffled through the system and on into the adult system, where their white counterparts are often given chance after chance after chance,” Slater said. “We’ve just got to do better.”
For young people like Mizell, the combination of difficult childhood and the influence of peers is hard to overcome.
Mizell, who now lives with his aunt, said that he committed the robbery that sent him to prison because he and his mother didn’t have any money. But he also concedes that street life was a powerful pull.
“There’s always temptation, you know,” he said. “You want to get easy money, but ultimately it’s better if you just do it legit. …
“You’ve got to know when to leave or know when to get away from all that because you can easily be sucked back into a bad situation, just being around the wrong people, so you’ve got to be smart.”
The same temptations were waiting for him when he was released, he admitted. He still sees friends from before he was incarcerated, though there are people he can’t speak to “by default.”
But, he added, “I really don’t want to go back to any kind of institution, at all, ever.”
As he contemplates his college career, Mizell is weighing a number of potential majors: sports journalism, physical therapy, sports medicine and most recently cyber security.
The military is another option: his uncle has offered to help him enlist in the Marines.
Mizell was asked what he would say to his 14-year-old self, if given the chance.
“No matter how hard the situation is, always follow your heart,” he said. “If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it; and listen to your parents.
“And stay in school, too. Please.”
Karl Herchenroeder is a freelancer based in Washington, D.C. He specializes in reporting about national issues, regional issues, crime and politics.
Bobby Hines is one of at least 99 juvenile lifers in Michigan freed under a Supreme Court ruling banning mandatory life without parole for juvenile offenders already in prison. Other teen offenders still are waiting for a chance at resentencing.
Bobby Hines left a Michigan prison last month after 28 years. Three weeks later, he embraced Valencia Warren-Gibbs, the sister of the man he was convicted of killing. He wanted to talk about the night in 1989 when her older brother, James, was shot after Hines and two others confronted him in a feud over drugs, the Associated Press reports. At 15, Hines was condemned to life in prison without parole. Now at 43, he has found work, enjoyed a meal in a restaurant and learned how to take photos with a cellphone. Hines’ release came after the U.S. Supreme Court last year extended a ban on mandatory life without parole for juvenile offenders to those already in prison, starting a wave of new sentences and the release of dozens of inmates from Michigan to Pennsylvania, Arkansas and beyond.
Other former teen offenders still are waiting for a chance at resentencing in states and counties that have been slow to address the court ruling. In Michigan, prosecutors are seeking new no-parole sentences for nearly two-thirds of 363 juvenile lifers. Those cases are on hold until the Michigan Supreme Court determines whether judges or juries should decide their fate. Hines, one of at least 99 Michigan lifers already resentenced, wasn’t the gunman. Prosecutors branded him the ringleader in the shooting of James Warren, arguing he’d provoked two other teens, saying “Pop him” or “Let him have it,” when the trio confronted him. When Hines left prison on Sept. 12, he faced the same hurdles as other released lifers: He had no money, no job history and no experience as an adult in society. For some, walking out after 30, 40, even 50 years feels a bit like time travel.
City officials say they will focus on providing rehabilitation after the Washington Post reported that hundreds of young-adult offenders who had been provided leniency under the law later went on to rob, rape or murder.
A proposal to overhaul Washington, D.C.’s troubled Youth Rehabilitation Act would limit the number of young offenders eligible for more lenient sentences and require judges to justify in writing why they are giving convicts benefits under the law, the Washington Post reports. A City Council bill would require the city to offer new treatment and services to young-adult offenders, a change that is being applauded by juvenile-justice advocates. The law now allows individuals under the age of 22 to receive shorter sentences and to have their crimes removed from the public record. Although it is called the Youth Rehabilitation Act, a study by the city’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council found that there are no programs specifically tailored to rehabilitating youth who are sentenced under the law. “For years, we’ve called it the Youth Act and left out the R,” said D.C. Council member Charles Allen, who wrote the legislation to overhaul the act. “It’s like the rehabilitation part was just forgotten.”
Mayor Muriel Bowser, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine and the council pledged to reform the law after the Post reported that hundreds of young-adult offenders who had been provided leniency under the law later went on to rob, rape or murder. The bill would require the mayor to submit a strategic plan by Jan. 1, 2019, “to provide comprehensive treatment and services to youth offenders and youth and young adults at risk of becoming youth offenders.” Seema Gajwani, special counsel to Racine, said the new legislation “honors the compassion of the original law, while protecting public safety.”
A close look at studies of why and when gang members leave their groups offers clues to the types of interventions that can divert young people from further criminal involvement, according to a Journal of Crime and Justice paper.
How can the research on gang-leaving improve gang intervention and help practitioners?
With over 30,000 gangs in the U.S. and over 800,000 members, gangs represent a serious concern for schools, families, cities, and the nation. Gang membership clearly enhances criminal involvement, increasing both the frequency and seriousness of offending and victimization.
Years of research on testing interventions seem to suggest that very little beyond incarceration can be done when youth are already embedded in a gang.
Nearly three decades of research about gang intervention and gang behavior have not yielded sufficient knowledge about how best to terminate gang membership. The lack of knowledge about effective gang intervention is due to many reasons, including the scarcity of sound programs with a logic model to evaluate, difficulty conducting rigorous evaluations, and a disconnect between studies that examine the motivations and correlates of gang-leaving— but do not explicitly link the findings to on-the-ground practices and programs.
To address this quandary, we drew together the key findings from three large multi-site studies of gang leaving (or disengagement, as it is sometimes called) and applied them to promising gang programs.
The goal of our recent study published in the Journal of Crime and Justice was to identify how the key research findings can contribute to the ways that such programs can facilitate gang leaving. The separate research projects together included 784 former gang members from 13 cities.
Three findings stand out across the studies. First, disengaging from the gang was the result of multiple rather than single factors. Individuals who successfully left their gang didn’t do so based on one reason, such as the pregnancy of a wife or girlfriend, or after arrest or imprisonment. Rather, multiple factors (including pregnancy plus getting a job, or moving plus enrolling in a GED program) were more strongly associated with gang disengagement.
The factors or “motivations” for gang leaving can be classified as pushes or pulls. Push factors are internal to the gang and often suggest a negative action—such as getting shot or injured, arrested and incarcerated, or simply growing tired of the gang life.
Pull factors can be viewed as potentially prosocial opportunities and include things like getting a job or moving to a new neighborhood or city.
Over three-quarters of gang members in two of the three studies reported both push and pull factors in reasons for leaving. In the third study, where the average age of the gang member was much younger, almost half reported both push and pull factors
Second, push factors include disillusionment with the gang (e.g. “it wasn’t what I thought it would be,” “the gang did something I didn’t like,” “I grew out of the lifestyle”) were the most salient factors reported by gang members across all studies. Another push factor, victimization (of the gang member or a close friend or family member), was reported by a third or more of gang members in each of the studies as a key reason for disengaging from their gang.
Based on these findings, our advice is to leverage pull factors when push factors are heightened, and vice-versa. We suggest the timing may be critical.
For example, immediately after a gang member is shot or arrested (push factors), interventions that emphasizes pull-factor opportunities may be more successful than interventions that are implemented later.
Likewise, after finding a new job or having a baby, an intervention that emphasizes focused-deterrence messaging may be more likely to encourage leaving.
Finally, the motivations to leave a gang appear to change over the life course. These motivations are age-graded and increase in complexity with age. Many younger gang members—most of them still juveniles at gang exit—told the researchers that they just grew out of the gang and developed other friendships or interests.
Leaving the gang was not so straightforward for older gang members. Many of them had many years of involvement and were more deeply embedded in their gangs. Most of the older gang members clearly needed the pulls and the pushes to work together to lead to their exit.
Based on these findings, we recommend the following interventions: street outreach, therapeutic programming, building family support systems and parenting skills.
Looking across the research literature of promising interventions, we believe a number of strategies and programs fit the bill and are worthy of expansion, investment, and further testing to assess crime reduction outcomes:
Family-based therapeutic interventions such as FFT and MST, although the jury is still out on whether these well-respected programs would work with gang members.
Neighborhood-based comprehensive case management programs (Cure Violence) that address the multiple needs of individuals but simultaneously work to change community norms that support violence.
Although we don’t discuss in our study the larger multi-component programs like the Comprehensive Gang Model, we do believe that with careful attention to targeting the right individuals and matching the services to the needs is of great importance. The case review process—where multiple stakeholders familiar with the gang-involved individual work together to deliver to most appropriate services—is a key feature of the Comprehensive Gang Model.
Success is not simply crime reduction. After all, that could be achieved by locking up the most active gang members.
Success is helping to re-route the lives of these youth and young adults toward prosocial paths that will result in sustainable improvements in individual welfare and community health. Gang programming should identify and address the needs of individuals disillusioned with their gang and offer sustained opportunities to engage in prosocial networks and relationships. Engagement in prosocial activities translates to a number of different gang interventions.
Gang membership waxes and wanes, even for the most embedded gang members. Finding times when they are vulnerable (after the death of an individual they were close to, being shot, learning of pending parenthood) to provide interventions is almost as important as the intervention itself.
We believe that the knowledge gained from the disengagement research about the importance of multiple factors in disengagement, leveraging both the pushes and pulls, and that older members require greater social supports and opportunities is useful for practitioners.
These findings can be generalized across a variety of programs. In addition, they can be integrated into a variety of gang intervention programs with the explicit goal of beginning or enhancing the process of disengaging from a gang.
Such disengagement pays dividends in reduced crime as well as increased prosocial involvement.
Scott H. Decker, PhD, is Foundation Professor of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice and Director of the Center for Public Criminology at Arizona State University (ASU).
Caterina Roman, PhD, is Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at Temple University.David Pyrooz, PhD, is Assistant Professor of Sociology and Faculty Associate in the Institute for Behavioral Study at the University of Colorado. Readers’ comments are welcome.
The Trump-era Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has issued employees a page with a dozen items of “language guidance” — a table listing “language to avoid” and “language options to use instead.” Among the disfavored words and phrases: reform, summit, and underserved youth.
The agency has issued employees a page with a dozen items of “language guidance” — a table listing “language to avoid” and “language options to use instead” — now that the new administration is overhauling many of the programs and practices of the Obama presidency.
It’s no secret that Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ anticrime priorities differ from those of his predecessors.
What has not been obvious until now is that at least in one part of the sprawling Department of Justice (DOJ), there has been a broad shift in the way DOJ employees are supposed to talk about what their agency is doing.
Take the word “reform,” an admittedly imprecise term that is widely used in the criminal justice field to discuss modernization of justice practices.
The guidance issued by the Trump administration says the juvenile delinquency agency, which is known by its initials OJJDP, is to avoid “reform (in the context of juvenile justice)” and instead use “improvement (or similar rewording).”
Similarly, the department is not using the term “summit” to describe gatherings to discuss criminal justice issues. Rather, employees are told to refer to “conference, meeting, etc.”
The Trump Justice Department, perhaps not surprisingly, doesn’t want to talk about the “Smart on Juvenile Justice Initiative,” which, according to an Obama-era press release, was started in 2014 as part of a “comprehensive review of the criminal justice system to identify and implement reforms to ensure federal laws are enforced fairly and efficiently.”
Instead, employees are told to talking about the program “generally as system improvement work.”
Among other items on the list, employees are told to avoid talking about “underserved youth” and instead should refer to “all youth,” to avoid “substance abuse disorder” and use “substance abuse issue,” and to avoid the phrase “overrepresentation of minorities (in the juvenile justice system” and refer to “disproportionate minority contact.”
The new administration doesn’t want to call crime problems a “public health issue” or “public health concern,” preferring the simpler descriptions “public issue” or “public concern.”
While it is common for a new presidential administration to stop calling attention to initiatives started under the previous presidency, the rationale for all of the Trump administration’s guidance for the juvenile crime agency was not clear.
That is because the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs, where OJJDP is located, declined to talk about it. A spokesperson would say only that the guidance was an “internal document.”
The agency gives out many grants to outside organizations, but it was not clear whether the language guidance was provided to all grantees. Some of them have it, which is how The Crime Report obtained it. It also was not obvious whether other units within DOJ were given similar instructions.
Some non-government juvenile justice organizations that have seen the guidance expressed dismay.
For example, one item in the guidance sheet advises staff members to avoid using the terms “system-involved or justice-involved youth,” instead referring to “youth in the system,” “offender” or “at-risk youth.”
Marcy Mistrett of the Campaign for Youth Justice, an advocacy group in the field, said, “We are concerned about [the language guidance] and the changing direction of the agency.”
Mistrett said the law creating the juvenile justice agency “is clear, as is the department’s mandate to serve all justice-involved youth.” Her group works to end prosecuting youths under 18 in the adult criminal justice system.
Referring to another item in the language list, the avoidance of talking about “overrepresentation of minorities,” Naomi Smoot, executive director of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ), a non-profit advocacy group, said, “Unfortunately, I don’t believe that we can do this work in any genuine sort of way and ignore the fact that young people of color are over represented at nearly every point of contact with the justice system.”
She added that, “CJJ has been, and will remain committed to, combating disproportionate minority contact within our justice systems.”
Former OJJDP head Robert Listenbee. Photo by David Kindler via Flickr
In the last half of the Obama administration, OJJDP was headed by Robert L. Listenbee, Jr., a former juvenile public defender in Philadelphia who had co-chaired then-Attorney General Eric Holder’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence.
The Trump administration has not appointed an administrator of the agency. Since Trump took office, it has been headed by Eileen M. Garry, a career employee who joined ODDJP in 1995, and then served between 2001 and 2016 in another DOJ agency, the Bureau of Justice Assistance, before rejoining OJJDP last year.
Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau Chief of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.
Young people growing up in foster homes begin offending earlier, spend more time incarcerated and experience more frequent arrests than children from traditional home environments, according to a forthcoming study in the Journal of Criminal Justice.
Children and youth in foster care are 2.5 times more likely to continue a pattern of chronic offending between adolescence and emerging adulthood than those not in care, according to a forthcoming study.
The Canadian study, to be published in the November-December issue of the Journal of Criminal Justice, found that children and youth in Canadian foster care began offending earlier, spent more time incarcerated, and committed offenses at a frequency that was 1.5 times greater than young people who did not experience foster care.
Children and Youth in Care (CYIC) averaged a significantly greater number of convictions for violent offenses than non-CYIC youths, said the study, conducted by Raymond R. Corrado, Evan C. McCuish, and Jennifer Yang of Simon Fraser University’s School of Criminology in Vancouver.
By age 23, the total number of violent convictions incurred by CYIC youths represented about 24 percent of all convictions incurred.
More specifically, when compared to male non-CYIC, male CYIC were at a 2.55 higher odds of being in the chronic offending group. However, females in foster care were not associated with offending pattern.
The direct correlation between CYIC and chronic offending was found after controlling for other risk factors such as demographic characteristics, family problems, school behavior problems and negative self-identity.
Foster-care youth also spent more time incarcerated than peers who came from more traditional home environments.
They “may be more likely to be convicted of an offense, or once convicted, be given a greater number of conditions while on probation and thus more likely to be convicted of administrative offenses,” according to the researchers.
A common belief is that CYIC enter foster care because of their deviant behavior; however, the authors cited a 2015 United Kingdom study showing that only 5% of children had entered care due to their own behavior or disability, while 61% had entered due to abuse or neglect.
Secure placement and strong, long-lasting relationships with a foster parent can divert a child from criminal behavior, according to the British study. However, between 20% and 50% of foster care placements in England during 2015 were disrupted.
The Simon Fraser University report used data from the Incarcerated Serious and Violent Young Offender Study in the province of British Columbia, Canada, which has been ongoing since 1998. The data consists of one cohort interviewed between 1998 and 2003 as well as a second cohort interviewed between 2005 and 2011.
This current study focused on a sample of 364 participants—309 males and 55 females—who were followed into emerging adulthood, defined as between the ages of 18 and 23.
Offending was measured using the British Columbia Corrections’ computerized system, Corrections Network (CORNET). Criminal convictions were coded for the entire sample from ages 12 to 23. The average number of charges for this sample which resulted in convictions between those ages was 17.60.
According to the researchers, “early interventions specifically targeting the needs of CYIC in the transition to adulthood may be warranted, given their over-representation in the justice system and the associated financial and societal costs, due to their likelihood of continued chronic offending.”
Child advocates have pressed for an investigation for at least two years, said Susan Dunn of the American Civil Liberties Union. An investigation is critical to ensure the safety of staff and juveniles involved in more than 15,000 cases each year, she said. The probe will include the incarceration of youth with disabilities.
The U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has opened an investigation into the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) that will include probing the evaluation and incarceration of youth with disabilities, the Charleston Post and Courier reports. About 40 percent of juveniles sent to DJJ’s Columbia detention center qualify for special education services. Child advocates have pressed for an investigation for at least two years, said Susan Dunn of the American Civil Liberties Union. An investigation is critical to ensure the safety of staff and juveniles involved in more than 15,000 cases each year, she said. “This is a system that really needs assistance,” Dunn said. “It seems like we have avoided an objective evaluation of the place.”
The news comes less than a week after the Post and Courier published an investigation into the state’s wilderness camps that exposed a web of secrecy that shrouds deaths and assaults at the camps and the agency’s failure to track them. DOJ officials will look at security issues at the Broad River Road prison and at centers where thousands of youth are locked up each year to undergo court-ordered evaluations. That likely will include probing the number of youth placed in solitary confinement and the length of time they spend there. The state’s Legislative Audit Council issued a sharp rebuke of the state agency this year. Auditors wrote that they “did not find convincing evidence that [the state] is adequately prepared to respond to major disturbances in its facilities.” They faulted the state for not investigating allegations of foul play after a teenager died at one of its wilderness camps, among other criticisms. The agency director resigned the next day. Riots at the main state prison in 2015 and 2016 raised lawmakers’ alarm.
The Miami Herald, examining problems in Florida’s juvenile justice system, reports on how New York State changed its own system after criticism.
A New York state group home run by a century-old human services agency with roots as a charity for sick children has virtually nothing in common with the razor-wire fortresses that house many of Florida’s youthful offenders. Juvenile justice administrators designed it that way, the Miami Herald reports. “The deprivation of liberty is the punishment,” said Gladys Carrion, retired commissioner of New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services and former head of the state system. Contrasting youth justice programs such as New York’s with most others, a National Institute of Justice report last year said of the latter: “Whether they are called ‘training schools’ or ‘youth centers,’ nearly all of these facilities are youth prisons.” It added: “This ill-conceived and outmoded approach is a failure, with high costs and recidivism rates and institutional conditions that are often appalling. Every youth prison in the country should be closed, and replaced with a network of community-based programs and small facilities near the youths’ communities.”
Neither New York City nor other reform-minded youth justice systems have embraced so sweeping an approach. The detainees who represent the greatest risk still are housed in prison-like institutions, and the most dangerous often are charged and incarcerated as adults. That’s especially true in Florida, which has one of the nation’s highest rates of charging and trying juveniles in adult court, a practice called “direct file.” New York state faced a series of tragedies and struggles before reform. In 2006, an emotionally troubled 15-year-old died during a physical restraint at a youth prison, leading to a $3.5 million lawsuit settlement. Three years later, the Justice Department concluded an investigation into New York State’s youth justice effort, finding an unnecessarily “high degree of force” throughout the system, leading to “an excessive number of injuries.” At the same time, almost two-thirds of youths released from custody were rearrested within two years.