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Across the Country

#YJAM: Dear Mr. President, It's time to stop the torture of solitary.

Rev. Laura Markle Downton, Director of U.S. Prisons Policy & Program National Religious Campaign Against Torture Thursday, 15 October 2015 Posted in 2015, Across the Country

solitaryWritten by Rev. Laura Markle Downton, Director of U.S. Prisons Policy & Program National Religious Campaign Against Torture Breaking Down the Box from NRCAT 

The Pope, legislators on both sides of the aisle, President Obama, and even prison officials all agree: the use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons is a human rights crisis that must be addressed.

The United States is a global outlier in its use of mass incarceration and systemic use of solitary confinement, a practice long considered a form of torture. On any given day in the U.S., it is estimated that between 80,000 to 100,000 adults and youth –disproportionately people of color– are held in solitary. That number does not include people in local jails, juvenile facilities, or in military and immigration detention. That number does not tell you their names nor their stories, but it tells the story of a moral crisis.

In solitary, people spend 23 hours a day in a cell the size of an average parking space. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has stated that solitary in excess of 15 days should "be subject to an absolute prohibition” based on scientific evidence of its psychological damage. He has called for a ban on its use for children, persons with mental illness, and pregnant women.

Our faith traditions teach us the importance of community, belonging, and connection. So it’s no surprise that isolation fundamentally alters the brain . It creates and exacerbates mental illness. Half of all prison suicides occur in conditions of solitary confinement. Such conditions are profoundly damaging for anyone, but for children, who are still developing, the experience is particularly devastating. In isolation, young people are denied access to treatment, programming and tools necessary for growth and development. Children in adult facilities across the country are subjected to solitary confinement for weeks or even months at a time.

Pope Francis has spoken out powerfully against the use of isolation, calling “confinement in high security prisons” a form of torture, and has said that torture is “a grave sin, but even more, it is a sin against humanity.” In September, the Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA) released a statement acknowledging that “prolonged isolation of individuals in jails and prisons is a grave problem in the United States.” This summer, President Obama announced that the Department of Justice will conduct a nationwide review of the use of solitary, saying, “Do we really think it makes sense to lock so many people alone in tiny cells for 23 hours a day for months, sometimes for years at a time?”

To address the moral crisis of solitary, we need these words to lead to decisive action. So earlier this month, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture joined 126 organizations, including 39 religious organizations, in delivering an open letter to the White House calling on President Obama to ensure the nationwide review outlines a clear path toward ending the torture of solitary confinement. This call included the support of more than twenty national religious organizations – including the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Union for Reform Judaism, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada, and the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church.

To address the moral crisis of solitary, we must affirm that there are no throw away people, and no throw away children. Where cycles of trauma persist, we need interventions that lead to restoration and life. Children should never be placed in solitary confinement. And our young people should not be subjected to confinement in jails and prisons designed for adults. We owe their future, the future God dreams for each of them, an opportunity to flourish. To that end, a bipartisan coalition of United States Senators recently introduced the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, which includes provisions that would largely prohibit the solitary confinement of youth in federal prisons. 

Despite widespread national momentum to confront the use of solitary, for children and adults, much work still remains to turn words into action. In California, despite calls from may including the faith community to act, legislators there have failed to pass critical legislation to prevent young people, disproportionately youth of color, from placement in solitary in the California juvenile justice system.

The time is now to face the moral crisis of solitary confinement and bring it to an end. The time is now to turn words into action, and work for a future of possibility for our communities, especially for our children.

This week, join the conversation on solitary confinement of youth by using the hashtag #YJAM. Below is sample language you can share on social media!


  • Youth in adult facilities face a “lose-lose”situation, in order to segregate them from adults, they are often placed in isolation. #YJAM
  • Solitary confinement is torture. Ask NRCAT https://vimeo.com/129764024  #YJAM
  • Girls often get placed in solitary confinement for insubordination and not violent behavior #YJAM
  • Many youth in solitary will do things they’d never do otherwise such as talk to themselves of self-harm. #YJAM
  • Solitary confinement can lead to severe depression and has shows to correlate with suicide rates. #YJAM


  • President Barack Obama has signed a proclamation declaring October 'National Youth Justice Awareness Month' and calls on Americans to "observe this month by getting involved in community efforts to support our youth, and by participating in appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs." http://sparkaction.org/content/president-proclamation-yjam #YJAM #youthjustice #JJDPAmatters

#YJAM: Solitary Confinement: Cost of Incarceration

Amy Fettig, Senior Staff Counsel & Director, Stop Solitary Campaign, ACLU National Prison Project. Thursday, 15 October 2015 Posted in 2015, Across the Country



Amy Fettig, Senior Staff Counsel & Director, Stop Solitary Campaign, ACLU National Prison Project

“Being in a room over 21 hours a day is like a waking nightmare, like you want to scream but you can’t. You want to stretch your legs, walk for more than a few feet. You feel trapped. Life becomes distorted. You shower, eat, sleep, and defecate in the same tiny room. In the same small sink, you “shower,” quench your thirst, wash your hands after using the toilet, and warm your cold dinner in a bag. I developed techniques to survive. I keep a piece of humanity inside myself that can’t be taken away by the guards . . . There’s no second chance here.

These are the words of a young girl named Lino Silva – but this wasn’t written decades ago during a World War and it wasn’t written from a gulag in some far-off, brutal dictatorship.  A child wrote this in a youth facility in California

It is terrible to think that any child would be forced to live such an experience anywhere at any time.  But the truth is that these same words could be written by thousands of children any day in America if they are held in our criminal justice system – either in youth facilities or in adult jails and prisons. 

While in solitary, youth are locked in a cell for 20 hours or more a day with limited access to exercise, reading and writing materials, contact with family members or other human beings, educational programming, drug treatment, or mental health services. Although solitary confinement is well known to harm even previously-healthy adults, for children, who have special developmental needs, the damage is even greater. Young people’s brains are still developing, placing them at a higher risk of psychological harm when subjected to isolation and sensory deprivation. Indeed, the vast majority of youth suicides occur in isolation.

This is bad enough, but these negative effects on kids are usually exacerbated by that the fact that youth frequently enter such facilities with histories of substance abuse, mental illness and childhood trauma, which are only aggravated by the stark deprivations of solitary confinement.  Moreover, in solitary confinement access to programming and pro-social development that might facilitate a youth’s rehabilitation is virtually nonexistent. 

Why would we ever subject our kids to such treatment?  Fortunately, the public, our political leaders, doctors, lawyers, families, and enlightened corrections and juvenile justice officials across the country are increasingly asking this question and coming up with the same answer: 

We must never subject kids to solitary confinement.

Efforts are now underway to end this barbaric practice.  Legislators in some states, like New Jersey and Nevada, have passed laws to limit solitary confinement of youth in their juvenile justice systems.  At the federal level, several bipartisan bills, the REDEEM Act, the Mercy Act, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act have also been introduced to end the practice for youth held under federal jurisdiction.  And some states, for example New York and Massachusetts, have moved away from using solitary confinement in their juvenile systems.  Internationally, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has called for a global ban on the solitary confinement of children under 18.  But we need more!!  Thousands of kids are still subject to this practice in our backyards.  It’s now time for every state and community in the United States to act in the best interests of our children and STOP Solitary for all youth.

This week, join the conversation on solitary confinement of youth by using the hashtag #YJAM. Below is sample language you can share on social media!



  • Youth in adult facilities face a “lose-lose”situation, in order to segregate them from adults, they are often placed in isolation. #YJAM
  • Solitary confinement is torture. Ask NRCAT https://youtu.be/PwlPPCkr8q4 #YJAM
  • Girls often get placed in solitary confinement for insubordination and not violent behavior #YJAM
  • Many youth in solitary will do things they’d never do otherwise such as talk to themselves of self-harm. #YJAM
  • Solitary confinement can lead to severe depression and has shows to correlate with suicide rates. #YJAM


  • President Barack Obama has signed a proclamation declaring October 'National Youth Justice Awareness Month' and calls on Americans to "observe this month by getting involved in community efforts to support our youth, and by participating in appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs." http://sparkaction.org/content/president-proclamation-yjam #YJAM #youthjustice #JJDPAmatters
  • Youth are being held in solitary confinement inside adult prisons sometimes due to administrative response to not knowing how to house youth. The issue of youth incarcerated as adults has demanded the attention of the nation, especially since President Barack Obama has signed a proclamation declaring October 'National Youth Justice Awareness Month' http://sparkaction.org/content/president-proclamation-yjam #YJAM

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Michigan Lawmakers Introduce Bipartisan Juvenile Justice Reform Legislation

Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency Tuesday, 06 October 2015 Posted in 2015, Across the Country

Today, 14 state lawmakers introduced a 21-bill package with bipartisan, bicameral support to reform Michigan’s juvenile justice system.  Currently, Michigan is one of only nine states remaining in the nation that automatically prosecutes 17-year-olds as adults.  The main focus of the legislative package would be to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 17 to 18, allowing for Michigan’s youths to have greater access to age-appropriate rehabilitative services.

“It is time for Michigan to abandon this draconian practice,” lead bill sponsor Representative Harvey Santana (D-Detroit) said.  “There have been numerous studies which indicate that incarcerating youth actually increases the rate of violent crimes.  We need to ensure we are rehabilitating our youthful offenders and not simply putting them in prison, potentially throwing away their future.”

According to the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency, research has found that youth exiting the adult system are 34% more likely to reoffend, reoffend sooner, and escalate to more violent offenses than their counterparts in the juvenile justice system.    “This is a subject that touches many lives and knows no partisan bounds,” Representative Santana said.  “That is how I was able to bring together 14 different legislators from diverse backgrounds to sponsor and support this package of bills.”

Along with raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 17 to 18 years of age, other bills in the bill package include not allowing youth under the age of 18 to be housed in any adult correctional facility, ensuring age-appropriate rehabilitation services are accessible for all youth in the juvenile justice system, eliminating certain offenses that do not require adult sentencing from the list of specified juvenile offenses, requiring public monitoring and oversight of any youth who has entered the jurisdiction of the Michigan Department of Corrections prior to turning 18 years old, requiring equal consideration of all mitigating factors prior to waiving jurisdiction in traditional juvenile waiver cases, establishing a family advisory board within the Michigan Department of Corrections to ensure effective partnerships with families and victims, and requiring that the Department establish policies in line with Michigan’s Mental Health Code for youth out-of-cell time, including youth who are in punitive or administrative segregation.

“In Michigan you need to wait until 18 to serve our country or buy tobacco, and wait until 21 to legally buy alcohol, yet at 17 we stand ready to throw you in jail as if you were an adult,” said Representative Peter J. Lucido (R-Shelby Township). “Science has shown us the brain does not fully develop its cognitive and reasoning skills until the mid-twenties. Therefore, it makes no sense not to join the forty-one other states which treat 17-year-olds as juveniles and 18-year-olds as adults in our correctional system. Instead of just tossing a 17-year-old in jail and give up on them, we should put in the effort to help set them on a better path towards a brighter future.”

Other notable points were made when Representative Kosowski (D-Westland) said “The corrections system cost Michigan taxpayers more than 2 billion dollars per year. In fact, Michigan annually spends more on its corrections system than it does on higher education.  As legislators it is our duty to cut costs while ensuring public safety." Kosowski continued, "My bill in this package creates a monitoring system within the Department of Corrections that will allow us to ensure that best practices and greatest cost efficiency are implemented while reducing recidivism rates of youthful offenders.”

Representative Kesto (R-Commerce Township) also noted “As a former prosecutor and current representative, I work every day to improve public safety and making Michigan more efficient with our tax dollars. This bill package accomplishes two important goals - improved public safety while costing the taxpayers less money.”

“This package of bills has not been arrived at lightly,” said Representative Howrylak (R-Troy). “Rather, our Judges, Prosecutors, Counties, the Department and groups including the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency and the Mental Health Association have contributed extensively. These combined perspectives have resulted in legislation which rightly acknowledges our purposes for incarceration, the humanity of our youth, and their potential to contribute successfully in society if treated appropriately and compassionately.”

PREA’s 12th Birthday

Carmen Daugherty Friday, 11 September 2015 Posted in 2015, Across the Country

#ImplementPREAThis week marks the twelfth anniversary since Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) to address the sexual assault and victimization in prisons, jails, lockups, and other detention facilities. Some could characterize PREA’s development as being in its adolescence. Thus, we exercise patience and understanding when the law and regulations aren’t panning out as neatly as Congress could have hoped. Yet, we wait, give rational excuses as to why PREA audits aren’t going as smoothly as anticipated, and hold our collective breath for the Department of Justice to “figure it out”. "Give it time to work", we hear, and we nod our heads in agreement. We recognize that such a massive law with its substantial regulations will take time to trickle down to the states in a way that we, as a nation, feel like the law is “working” and a decrease in rape and abuse in prisons will be well documented. We unwearyingly sit down with other advocates and policy makers to figure out how to strengthen the law. While urgency exists, we focus more on getting it right so another ten years doesn’t pass with the same results.

Ironically, or not to some, we do not exercise the same level of patience, consideration, or solution focused attitudes when it comes to youth involved in the criminal justice system. On any given day, nearly 6200 youth under 18 are sitting in adult jails and prisons. Some in solitary confinement for their own “protection” and some in general population because the crime they have committed automatically makes them an “adult”. All much too young to waste away behind bars; many first time, nonviolent offenders; and none receiving rehabilitative services proven to reduce recidivism and increase public safety.

Fortunately this group of inmates was not forgotten by The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission—a group of experts brought together to provide recommendations to the Department of Justice on creating PREA standards--that made strong recommendations on the removal of youth from the adult system. The Department of Justice took these recommendations in stride and stated “as a matter of policy, the Department supports strong limitations on the confinement of adults with juveniles.”  To advance this position, the PREA regulations include a “Youthful Inmate Standard” to protect youth in adult facilities. That standard provides that youthful inmates, which the standards define as “any person under the age of 18 who is under adult court supervision and incarcerated or detained in a prison or jail,” must be housed separately from adult inmates in a jail or prison, but may be managed together outside of a housing unit if supervised directly by staff.  While not a panacea, it certainly provides a sturdy floor for which states can stand and reach higher with the support from the federal government.

The ACLU and Human Rights Watch estimate 100,000 youth in jails and prisons each year which means a staggering 1.2 million youth have cycled through an adult facility since PREA’s enactment. The vast majority of states statutorily allows the housing of youth in adult jails and prisons. Most without the full protection of what PREA can offer.  Despite these grave figures, incremental progress is documented at the state level with twelve states (CO, ID, IN, ME, NV, HI, VA, PA, TX, OR, OH, MD) passing legislation limiting the states’ authority to house youth in adult jails and prisons in the last decade. Approximately one state a year since PREA's enactment. 

As states continue to work towards full PREA compliance, we should start seeing new policies and regulations that reflect the way states treat young offenders in their facilities.  Ideally, this will lead to the full removal of youth from adult jails and prisons to really see the success of PREA.  Indeed, several states have used the advances in brain research paired with the costs of PREA compliance and falling crime rates to argue for removing youth under 18 from criminal court jurisdiction altogether (e.g. Massachusetts and New Hampshire both raised the age of criminal responsibility to 18, in part to comply with PREA).  

Later this month, Campaign for Youth Justice will release a report that examines the ways that states regulate the housing of youth in adult prisons in the PREA-era. We combed through state statutes and state Department of Corrections' policies to see how youth under 18 are housed. The results are not surprising and reiterate how we punish youth who sometimes make terrible decisions; no second chances. As we recognize in so many other facets of society,  adolescence is a time of mistakes and lessons learned. And when it comes to policymakers, we recognize that the enactment of laws often times require a few years to see results so we exercise patience and have a willingness to tweak where beneficial to society. Shouldn't we do this for some of our most vulnerable youth as well?

Back To School

Marcy Mistrett Friday, 04 September 2015 Posted in 2015, Across the Country

It’s back to school time in the nation’s capitol and a buzz is in the air—traffic is picking up, parents are excited to get back to the routine of school days, and kids can’t wait to meet their new teachers and reconnect with old friends.  It’s a time for fresh starts and new beginnings—of opportunity to overcome academic challenges of the past and embrace the possibilities of the future.

However, children that we have charged as adults in the criminal justice system, don’t get to be part of this routine. While detained in adult jails—they receive little—if any-- formal education.   In adult prisons, these youth have been barred from receiving PELL grants since 1994, unlike youth in the juvenile justice system. We tell this to 100,000 children a year who spend months, years, and even decades, in adult jails and prisons.

Our country doesn’t educate children that we have prosecuted as adults because we have already told them their lives don’t matter. That they have lost the opportunity for a second chance.  That punishment for what they have done (or been accused of doing) is valued more than the opportunity to get services and turn their lives around. We tell them this despite polling that shows that 78% of the American public believes in second chances for youth, and favor rehabilitation over incarceration.  In the past year, we have sent this message to 10 year olds in Pennsylvania,  12 year olds in Wisconsin,  14 year olds in Mississippi,  and 15 year olds in Florida that are sitting idle in adult jails and prisons, “doing time”—but not mastering their times-tables.

We don’t educate them because we likely locked them out of their schools before we locked them up in adult facilities.  An estimated 65% of incarcerated children meet the criteria for a disability, three times higher than the general population according to the National Disability Rights Network.  Children with learning and emotional disabilities are more than twice as likely to receive an out of school suspension than those without disabilities. For disabled children of color, these numbers are even more disparate—1:4 boys and 1:5 girls of color with disabilities are suspended from school.

We also don’t educate them despite knowing that education while incarcerated is one of the most affordable ways to ensure that when they go home, they stay home. Yet, most youth are denied educational and rehabilitative services that are necessary for their stage in development when in adult facilities. A survey of adult facilities found that 40% of jails provided no educational services at all, only 11% provided special education services, and a mere 7% provided vocational training. This lack of education increases the difficulty that youth will have once they return to their communities.

On Capitol Hill and in the White House, policymakers are just starting to question these tactics with the (re) authorization of new laws and pilot programs that benefit incarcerated youth. Unfortunately, most have limited application to youth in adult facilities. For example: 

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is up for reauthorization.  Title 1 Part D of ESEA addresses prevention and intervention programs for neglected, delinquent, or at-risk youth, requiring that schools facilitate the re-enrollment, re-entry and proper education for youth returning from juvenile justice system placements; that educational records and credits earned during placement in the juvenile justice system are transferred back to the youth’s community-based school; and that some of the  funds are allocated toward youth re-entry and re-enrollment into high quality educational settings.  These supports do not apply to youth returning from adult facilities.

The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) is also up for reauthorization.  It has four core protections for incarcerated children including the removal of youth from adult jails, so they can receive developmentally appropriate services (including education).  Both the Senate Bill (S1169) and House Bill (HB2728) increase opportunities for incarcerated youth to transfer educational credits received while incarcerated back to their home high school.

Finally, the PELL grant program, which helps low income students pay for college does extend to youth incarcerated in juvenile facilities and adult jails. However, those in adult prisons have been barred from using PELL grants to pay for college credits since 1994.  Just this past July, the Obama Administration launched a pilot program, Second Chance Pell Pilot, in which incarcerated individuals who are eligible for release in the next five years can apply for PELL grants.

Education remains the great equalizer in our country in terms of long-term positive outcomes for children and families. Access to education should be a requirement for children who have come in contact with the law, to help them prepare for a successful future.  All children deserve the right to a quality education, even those we consider adults before their age determines them to be.

Liberty and Justice for All--Except You

Marcy Mistrett Monday, 06 July 2015 Posted in 2015, Across the Country

July fourth is the 239th birthday of the United States of America.  While the country gathers to commemorate the vision of the founding fathers’ as they signed the Declaration of Independence, I can’t help but to think about populations who were excluded from the founding documents.  The Bill of Rights, for example, extended to only those who were governed—at the time that meant only white men.  The enslaved, women, First Nation persons, and children were among those individuals exempt from the promises of freedom and liberty protected by the Bill of Rights.
More than two centuries later we have made progress in terms of extending these protections to more of our citizens.  Youth, however, are not one of those groups.   One hundred years after the establishment of a separate juvenile court, we are still depriving children of their liberty, incarcerating more than 60,000 youth per year, the vast majority for non violent crimes including truancy and running away from home.  More egregiously, we continue to lock up nearly 100,000 children charged as adults in adult jails and prisons each year, many for property and drug offenses.  We persist in implementing and supporting these harmful policies despite the lowest juvenile crime rates in 30 years.  The youth crime rate has fallen approximately 43% since the 1990’s, and the most serious crimes have fallen even more rapidly—the number of murders involving a juvenile fell by 67% over a similar time period.  
Youth prosecuted as adults forfeit their rights to a childhood and are expected to take on the responsibilities of adults. Below find rights of childhood that youth tried in the criminal justice system forfeit:
1.Right to be seen as a child who is capable of making mistakes; even egregious ones. 
Despite brain research and Supreme Court findings that adolescent brains are different from adults, youth tried as adults are no longer afforded the rehabilitative presumption of juvenile court; instead they are punished as adults with a focus on retribution. 
Furthermore, an abundance of research shows that most serious youth offenders will age out of criminal behavior, and that harsh punishment experienced in the adult system actually leads to an increase in re-offending, making communities less safe. 
2 .Right to equal treatment.
Children are not all treated the same in the adult criminal justice system.  African American, Latino, and Tribal youth are between 2-9 times more likely to be prosecuted in adult court than their White counterparts.  These disparities grow even larger by sentencing, with African American young men receiving the harshest sentences for their actions.
3. Right to safety.
Children in the adult criminal justice system forfeit their rights to safety.  Housed in adult facilities, they are much more likely to be sexually, physically, or emotionally victimized by other inmates and correctional officers.
4. Right to be part of a family.
Youth in adult facilities often lack access to their families.  Frequently held far away from home, in facilities that often prohibit in-person visits or charge exorbitant rates for phone calls, youth often lose touch with their families when they are in adult facilities. 
Unlike in youth facilities, where best practices encourage family engagement in the rehabilitation of a young person, youth in adult facilities are presumed to be independent of their families.
5. Right to learn.
Many adult facilities don’t offer education opportunities. Those that do are limited in their scope, and aren’t aligned with state education standards, so many youth don’t earn credit for the schoolwork they completed while detained.  Only 1 in 10 children who have been incarcerated continue their education after release. 
6. Right to repair their wrongs.
 Youth prosecuted as adults aren’t able to make amends to their victims and communities. The voices of victims matter. Too often the government assumes victims want retribution and punishment, and exclude them from the lengthy court process. Research shows that some victims favor restorative justice practices which allows for the victims to be heard and have a voice in determining outcomes. Restorative justice practices increase the chances of a young person being rehabilitated and staying away from future criminal behavior.
7.Right to respect and dignity as a human being.
Violent security tactics, pepper spray, shackles, and other abhorrent practices become all to normal for youth in adult jails and prisons. Not only do youth lose their right to safety through these conditions, they lose their right to compassion and humanity.
Far too many youth enter the adult criminal justice system only to come out as uneducated, unskilled adults--far from being able to declare any independence from the system or their families. As we reflect upon our nation's independence, let's not overstate how far this country has come  in regards to the rights of our young people.

Raising Awareness for LGBTQ Youth in the Juvenile Justice System

Monday, 01 June 2015 Posted in 2015, Across the Country

 LGBTQ 28129

Resources and legislation that help and protect LGBTQ youth, a marginalized and vulnerable group within the juvenile justice system, are lacking. June is dedicated to raising awareness of the unique challenges that LGBTQ youth face in the system and the path forward to creating reform.

Research conducted by The Equity Project has shown that LGBTQ youths are more likely to confront certain barriers and environmental risk factors connected to their sexual orientations and gender identities. For example, compared with their heterosexual classmates and peers, LGBTQ youths are more likely to experience bullying at school   more likely to experience rejection or victimization perpetrated by their parents/caregivers (often resulting in youths’ running away from home)   more likely to face homelessness   twice as likely to be arrested and detained for status offenses and other nonviolent offenses, and at higher risk for illicit drug use. Available research has estimated that LGBT youths represent 5 percent to 7 percent of the nation’s overall youth population, but they compose 13 percent to 15 percent of those currently in the juvenile justice system.  Schools, law enforcement officers, district attorneys, judges, and juvenile defenders are ill equipped to deal with the challenges that these young people face. As a result, the system often exacerbates previous damage by unfairly criminalizing LGBTQ youth—imposing harsh school sanctions, labeling them as sex offenders, or detaining them for minor offenses, in addition to subjecting them to discriminatory and harmful treatment that deprives them of their basic civil rights.

The Equity Project, guided by experts on juvenile court processing and LGBTQ youth in the justice system, released Hidden Injustice; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth in Juvenile Courts (Fall 2009) to help inform justice professionals about the experiences of LGBT youth in the juvenile justice system. Many of the issues that affect all youth in the justice system — incarceration for misdemeanors, increased time in detention, and disparate impact on minority youth just to name a few—are augmented for LGBTQ youth. The report also identifies key issues specific to LGBTQ youth and makes recommendations for juvenile justice professionals to implement moving forward.

Please join CFYJ this June in learning more about this issue and raising awareness for reform. Follow the Equity Project on Twitter and Facebook.

Request NJPC's new data brief, entitled "The Incarceration of Children & Youth in New Jersey's Adult Prison System

Tuesday, 26 May 2015 Posted in 2015, Across the Country

Youth Suffer Long Term Solitary Confinement, Gross Racial & Ethnic Disparities, Justice by Geography, and Lack of Due Process

A local study by the New Jersey Parents's Caucus (NJPC) of 472 children and youth, ages 14 to 17, who were waived, sentenced and incarcerated in New Jersey's adult prison system between 2007 - 2015, showed:

  • Justice by geography: Rates of incarceration in the adult prison system vary significantly across counties in New Jersey, suggesting that justice depends on where one lives, not on the facts of a given case.
  • Youth are regularly deprived of due process: Approximately 30% of the 472 youth waived to adult court during the study period spent more than 2 years incarcerated, between their arrest date and their sentencing date, violating their right to a speedy trial.
  • Youth are regularly put in solitary confinement - especially youth with mental health disorders: Although solitary confinement is known to be psychologically damaging, especially to children, 53% of these youth spent a total of approximately 15,359 days (42 years) in solitary confinement between 2010 and 2015; 5 percent spend over a year there, and about 4 percent spent 2 years or more in solitary.  Nearly 70 percent of those placed in solitary had a mental health disorder, with nearly 37% having two or more diagnoses.
  • Youth suffer abuse while in adult prison: once incarcerated in an adult prison, one in four youth surveyed reported physical abuse; 5% reported sexual abuse.

These disturbing statistics appear in NJPC's new data brief, entitled "The Incarceration of Children & Youth in New Jersey's Adult Prison System: New Jersey Youth Justice Initiative ." The brief is comprised of comprehensive state data which NJPC gathered from the New Jersey Department of Corrections (NJ DOC) on 472 children incarcerated in the adult prison system. The data largely covers the period 2007 - 2015, though some information gathered dates back to 2003. In addition to the data retrieved from the NJ Department of Corrections, NJPC has compiled additional data from a subset of the same population (120 youth) by means of a survey provided to incarcerated youth and their parents, caregivers and family members

"These data show how broken our system is," said Kathy Wright, executive director of the NJPC, a parent of a justice-involved youth, and a fellow in the National Juvenile Justice Network's Youth Justice Leadership Institute. "We should not be sending youth to the adult system, where their rights are violated, they are unsafe, and their mental health needs go unmet. New Jersey's juvenile justice system was created because as a society, we realized our children, due to their age, can be rehabilitated, and they should be given the opportunity to do so.

Results from the data brief highlight a myriad of injustices that continue to plague New Jersey's justice system. Most blatant are the gross racial and ethnic disparities that exist in justice system. Youth of color are disproportionately represented among those waived to the adult prison system in New Jersey, making up approximately 90% of youth included in NJPC's data set; 72% are African American males, exceeding all other ethnic groups and genders. Furthermore, rates of youth incarceration in the adult prison system vary significantly across counties in New Jersey, suggesting that justice depends on where one lives, not on the facts of a given case. For example, in Camden County, 14 to 17 year olds make up 5.8% of the population of children between the ages of 0-17, but make up 15.3% of our data set between 2007 and 2015. In comparison, in Hunterdon County, where youth 14 to 17 make up 6.3% of the population of children between the ages of 0-17, exactly 0% were incarcerated in the adult system between 2007 and 2015.

Once incarcerated, children and youth are frequently subject to long-term solitary confinement, even though solitary confinement is known to be psychologically damaging, especially to children. Worse, one in four youth surveyed reported physical abuse, and 5% reported sexual abuse. Finally, and most disturbingly, the needs of New Jersey youth are not being met in their communities. Almost three out of four (71%) of youth waived to the adult system were known to at least two child-serving agencies prior to their involvement in adult court, with the majority having been involved in the mental health system. Of those youth, more than two out of three children have two or more mental health diagnoses.

According to Wright, "Given the large number of New Jersey youth involved in multiple child-serving systems prior to their incarceration in the adult system, this data brief serves as a call to action for state officials, child-serving systems, community-based organizations, legislators, and other interested stakeholders throughout the state of New Jersey to revisit the way in which we view and provide services to all children and youth, regardless of their race, ethnicity or geographical location, and the way in which services are provided to them and their families.Somehow, we have lost our way. The institution of racism has reared its ugly head and we are funneling kids of color who need our help into the juvenile justice system where, unlike the schoolhouse, there is no eject button, and they cannot say no."

NJPC's The Incarceration of Children & Youth in New Jersey's Adult Prison System: New Jersey Youth Justice Initiative  was recently posted on the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice (NCMHJJ) on their homepage and the National Black Disability Coalition.  The data brief is also available for download on the New Jersey Parents' Caucus website at at http://www.newjerseyparentscaucus.org.  

A Call to Action: Dear Governors, Protect Our Children from Rape in Adult Jails and Prison Today. There's No Excuse.

Carmen Daugherty Friday, 15 May 2015 Posted in 2015, Across the Country


Last year, Gov. Rick Perry, refused to complete a process to bring Texas into full compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), saying it would result in unfunded mandates for local sheriffs and a reduction in prison guards. The actual gap between where Texas is and where it needs to be is relatively small, but the problems that remaining noncompliant will create for the state- including increased possibility for litigation and a loss of federal grant money - could be substantial.

Gov. Perry is just one example, in one state that magnifies a larger problem.

Over a decade ago, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approved PREA, a bill designed to end sexual violence behind bars. The passage of PREA was a bipartisan effort, signed into law by President George W. Bush, also a former governor of Texas.  U.S. Department of Justice officials worked tirelessly to write and issue regulations in 2012 to implement PREA through several comment periods.  

Now is the time to ensure that all states are in compliance and the U.S. Attorney General and the nation's governors need to devote their attention to enforcing this law. Today, Governors from across the country will once again provide information to the Department of Justice as to whether the state will be in compliance, or continue working towards full compliance.

What's at stake if PREA is not enforced? 

For starters, the safety and well-being of the approximate 100,000 children placed in adult jails and prisons every year.  

These children include Ameen, incarcerated in adult prison as a teen, who wrote CFYJ a letter stating that he witnessed a 14 year old being sexually assaulted by three other inmates, and Antonio, sent to adult prison at age 17, who wrote to us about his experiences stating that, "I came to prison so young; sexual advances were made toward me. I had to defend myself the best way I knew how, which was to fight."  And these children include Rodney Hulin, sent to adult prison at 16, repeatedly raped and died by suicide. Unfortunately these stories are more common than we recognize and youth are 36 more times more likely to commit suicide in an adult jail than in a juvenile detention facility.

To protect children, the PREA regulations include the Youthful Inmate Standard that bans the housing of youth with adults, prohibits contact between youth and adults in common areas, and ensures youth are constantly supervised by staff.  At the same time, the regulations limit the use of solitary confinement in complying with this standard. Enforcement of the Youthful Inmate Standard is just the baseline for safety, and we need to encourage our jurisdictions to go further to ensure that no child is victimized in a detention facility.

Governors and local officials should implement the best practices to fully protect youth in the justice system.  Best practices include removing youth from adult jails and prisons, and instead placing them in juvenile detention and correctional facilities where they are more likely to receive developmentally appropriate services, educational programming and support by trained staff. 

States that need assistance should consult other states that have already adopted policies to keep children out of adult jails or prisons, such as Colorado, Indiana, and Virginia.  States can also seek federal technical assistance through the U.S. Department of Justice sponsored centers such as the National PREA Resource Center and the National Center for Youth in Custody and apply for federal grants from the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA).

Thousands of individuals and organizations in nearly every state have called on the U.S. Attorney General and the nation's governors to ensure that children are protected from the dangers of adult jails and prisons through the PREA. 

Since PREA was passed, an estimated one million children have cycled through adult jails and prisons.  Unfortunately, the PREA came too late to impact these childrens' safety and well-being. Now is the time for the U.S. Attorney General and the nation's governors to fully implement this law and protect our children.

Raise the Age Leads to PREA Compliance in Texas

Elizabeth Henneke Thursday, 14 May 2015 Posted in 2015, Across the Country


This Friday, May 15, governors across the country will once again certify that their states are following the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) and protecting people in prison from sexual abuse.

In Texas, this issue has sharply divided the corrections community.  On March 28, 2014, then Governor Rick Perry announced that Texas would not comply with the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).  Since that time, Texas sheriffs — custodians over the thousands of Texans housed in local county jails — have made clear that Governor Perry’s statements did not reflect their own views on PREA.  The vast majority of Texas Sheriffs have made clear that they intend to comply fully with PREA standards because these standards reflect best practices for keeping those in their care safe.  These Sheriffs have asked the Texas Legislature to help them comply by raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 17 to 18. 

Among other things, PREA requires all offenders under 18 to be housed separately from adults in correctional facilities.[1]   Research has shown that adult correctional facilities are a breeding ground for violence and abuse.  Youth are over eight times as likely to have a substantiated incident of sexual violence while in state prisons than adults in these same facilities.[2]  Moreover, 17-year-olds who are held in adult correctional facilities are subject to isolation, which poses a severe danger to their mental and physical health.[3]  Because PREA defines a “youthful inmate” as anyone under the age 18, 17-year-olds MUST be kept “sight and sound” separated from the rest of the adult population.  Unfortunately, county jails (where the majority of youth are held) are not equipped to segregate 17-year-olds without isolating them.[4]

This Youthful Inmate Standard (examined more fully below) has greatly impacted adult county jails, forcing them to expend extra costs to comply, and leaving many counties unable to comply due to architectural constraints.  For example, Dallas County spends approximately $79,850 per week to separate 17-year-olds from adults.[5]  Harris County has had to evacuate entire floors to move one or two 17-year-olds to the shower.[6]  Smaller counties are logistically unable to provide “sight and sound” separation and/or avoid placing youth in insolation without retrofitting facilities at tremendous expense.[7]  Simply put, Texas county jails cannot continue housing 17-year-olds with adult inmates or in isolation cells without financial cost and/or liability risk. 

Yet another county concern is lawsuits: PREA exposes counties to increased civil liability,[8] with the potential for substantial litigation costs.  While the Department of Justice maintains that “[t]he standards are not intended to define the contours of constitutionally required conditions of confinement,”[9] it is highly likely that the PREA standards will inform future civil litigation surrounding prison conditions.  In Farmer v. Brennan, the United State Supreme Court set forth the standard for determining if prison conditions violated the Eighth Amendment.[10]  The two-part test adopted by the Supreme Court required the plaintiff to prove (1) that the conditions were cruel and (2) that the government was deliberately indifferent to the conditions facing the inmate.  Prior to PREA, this second prong—deliberate indifference—narrowed the class of claims that litigants were able to bring, because it is extremely difficult to prove that a government entity was deliberately indifferent to the conditions facing inmates. 

PREA has the potential, however, to change the way this litigation proceeds in the future by providing national standards—supported by extensive evidence-based research, correctional administrator input, public commentary, and other documentation—that suggest what governments must do to provide safe environments for inmates.  Thus, failure to follow these PREA standards could be seen as prima facie evidence of deliberate indifference and may result in plaintiffs succeeding past the initial stages of litigation, substantially increasing litigation costs to facilities that fail to comply with PREA.  One ex-inmate of Travis County has sued, alleging that county and sheriffs’ officials displayed deliberate indifference to his safety by failing to comply with PREA; he is seeking $2 million in damages as compensation for the rape he sustained while in the Travis County jail.[11]

Because protecting and serving 17-year-olds in adult custody is a challenge for local jails, a risk to long-term public safety, and a burden on taxpayers, many Sheriffs have chosen to support “raising the age” of juvenile jurisdiction.

All eyes are now on the Texas Legislature, a bill authored by Chairman Harold Dutton of the House Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Committee winds its way through the Legislative process.  HB 1205 would raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 17 to 18. If the Legislature fails to act on this important bill, it will have left Texas youth in a vulnerable position, subjected local counties to threats of expensive litigation, and failed to recognize what every parent knows:  17 year olds are still children and should be treated as such. 

Elizabeth A. Henneke is the Policy Attorney at Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.


[1] Ibid.

[2] National Standards to Prevent, Detect, and Respond to Prison Rape, 77 Fed. Reg. 37106-01, 37128 (Jun.20, 2012)

(amending 28 C.F.R. pt II5); see also, Lacey Levitt, “The Comparative Risk of Mistreatment for Juveniles in Detention Facilities and State Prisons,” International Journal of Forensic Mental Health 9 (2010): 44-54, http://www.prearesourcecenter.org/sites/default/files/library/riskofjuvenilemistreatment.pdf (Youth in adult prisons are “five times more likely to report being sexually assaulted by other inmates than in a juvenile commitment facility.”).

[3]  Deitch, et al., "Conditions for Certified Juveniles,” 25-26.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Sheriffs Adrian Garcia, Christopher Kirk, and Lupe Valdez, “Sending 17-Year-Olds to Adult Jails Costly to Teens and Taxpayers, “Dallas Morning News, May 19, 2014, http://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/latest-columns/20140519-sending-17-year-olds-to-adult-jails-costly-to-teens-and-taxpayers.ece.

[6] Deitch, et al., "Conditions for Certified Juveniles,” 25.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Deitch, et al., "Conditions for Certified Juveniles,” 25-26.

[9] Ibid, 2.

[10] 511 U.S. 825 (1994).

[11] Farzad Mashhood, “Ex-Inmate Sues Over Travis County Jail Rape Claim,” Austin American-Statesman, March 14, 2014.

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