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Federal Update

Leading Conservative, Progressive Groups Join Forces to Launch Nation’s Largest Coalition Aimed at Comprehensive Criminal Justice Reform

Monday, 23 February 2015 Posted in 2015, Federal Update

‘Coalition for Public Safety’ to Pursue Aggressive Effort to Reform System at Federal, State, Local Levels

coalition for public safetyWashington, D.C. – Today, a new coalition of the nation’s most prominent conservative and progressive organizations has formed to pursue an aggressive criminal justice reform effort. The Coalition for PublicSafety will be the largest national effort working to make our criminal justice system smarter, fairer, and more cost effective at the federal, state, and local level.Together, these organizations reach tens of millions of Americans seeking commonsense reform, and will work to build consensus around comprehensive efforts that are designed to address some of the most pressing issues facing the nation’s criminal justice system.

The Coalition’s partners include the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Americans for Tax Reform, the Center for American Progress, the Faith & Freedom Coalition, FreedomWorks, the Leadership Conference Education Fund, and Right on Crime.

The Coalition is being funded by individuals and foundations with a broad spectrum of interests, who have come together to jointly pursue broad criminal justice reform. Supporters include Laura and John Arnold, Koch Industries, Inc., the Ford Foundation, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Christine Leonard, former associate director of legislative affairs in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy for the Obama administration and director of the Washington, D.C. office of the Vera Institute for Justice, will serve as the Coalition’s executive director.

“Our justice system needs reform. It’s simply too complicated, too big, and too expensive – and all Americans are picking up that tab,” said Christine Leonard, Executive Director of the Coalition. “We’ve brought together an amazing Coalition of prominent and diverse organizations from across the aisle to help solve the issues facing our criminal justice system. It’s inspirational to see such bipartisan support for reform, and I look forward to working with all of our partners.”

The Coalition for Public Safety will build consensus around the need for reform through educational events, national outreach, and media. The Coalition will work across the political spectrum to pursue a comprehensive set of federal, state, and local criminal justice reforms that will reduce jail and prison populations and associated costs, end the systemic problem of over-criminalization and over-incarceration – particularly of low-income communities and communities of color, ensure swift and fair outcomes for both the accused and the victims, and make communities safer by reducing recidivism and breaking down barriers faced by those returning home after detention or incarceration.

For more information on the Coalition, please visit www.coalitionforpublicsafety.org.

Criminal Justice Reform is a Bi-Partisan Effort

Kay Xiao Monday, 02 February 2015 Posted in 2015, Federal Update

The Advancing Criminal Justice Reform in 2015 briefing and panel discussion presented by the Constitution Project Right Left Justice Working Group covered a broad range of topics dealing with criminal justice reform. The panelists included David Keene, Opinion Editor, The Washington Times, Piper Kerman, advocate and author of the memoir, Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Woman's Prison, Pat Nolan, Director, Center for Criminal Justice Reform, American Conservative Union, Van Jones, President, Dream Corps Unlimited and CNN Contributor, and Mark Holden, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Koch Industries, Inc. The congressional speakers were Senator Al Franken (D –MN), Senator Rob Portman (R – OH), Representative Danny K. Davis (D – IL) and Representative James Sensebrenner (R – WI).

The panelists and congressional speakers emphasized the need for bipartisan cooperation in supporting legislation like the Second Chance Act. Goals brought up in the discussion included data-tested methods to help former inmates integrate successfully into society and recidivism reduction. The rationales for these proposed changes were grounded in arguments that criminal justice reforms are economically beneficial, morally just and safer for the community at large.

The discussion also touched upon mental health within the criminal justice system, and the potential risks of not addressing mental health issues in prisons.

Bipartisan consensus on strengthening federal law to reduce incarceration, make state juvenile justice systems more fair, improve public safety

Thursday, 11 December 2014 Posted in 2014, Federal Update

Today Juvenile justice advocates across the country applaud Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) for the introduction of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2014, to reauthorize and strengthen the Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Act of 1974 (JJDPA).
Signed into law by President Gerald Ford on September 7, 1974, and most recently reauthorized in 2002, the JJDPA embodies a partnership between the federal government and the U.S. states, territories and the District of Columbia to protect children and youth in the juvenile and criminal justice system, to effectively address high-risk and delinquent behavior and to improve community safety. 
More than seven years overdue for reauthorization, the JJDPA is the only federal statute that sets out national standards for the custody and care of youth in the juvenile justice system and provides direction and support for state juvenile justice system improvements. The JJDPA also supports programs and practices that have significantly contributed to the reduction of delinquency.
Despite a continuing decline in youth delinquency, more than 60,000 young people are held in detention centers awaiting trial or confined by the courts in juvenile facilities in the U.S.  For these confined youth, and the many more kids at-risk of involvement in the justice system, the JJDPA and programs it supports are critical. Youth who are locked up are separated from their families, and many witness violence. These youth struggle when they get out, trying to complete high school, get jobs, housing, or go to college. Aside from the human toll, the financial costs of maintaining large secure facilities have also made it vital to rethink juvenile justice in every community.
Key provisions in include:
  • Phase-out of the Loophole that Allows Status Offenders to Be Locked Up While current federal law prohibits detaining youth for status offenses (like truancy and running away from home), youth can be ordered by a court not to do these things as a condition of release through a court order. Many youth are subsequently detained for technical violations of such a valid court order. Many states have already prohibited use of this exception – known as the VCO exception – in light of research that shows it is harmful to youth development and is costly, especially when compared to community-based alternatives.  The bill calls on all states to phase out use of the VCO exception over the next three years.
  • Strengthening of Protections to Keep Youth out of Adult Jails and Prisons Research shows youth confined in adult jails and lock-ups are more likely to re-offend upon release and while confined are at pronounced high risk of suffering assault and committing suicide. The bill extends the jail removal and sight and sound core protections to keep youth awaiting trial in criminal court out of adult lock-ups and ensures sight and sound separation from adult inmates in the limited circumstances where they are held in adult facilities.
  • Supports for State Efforts to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Disparities The bill gives clear direction to States and localities to plan and implement data-driven approaches to ensure fairness and reduce racial and ethnic disparities, to set measurable objectives for reduction of disparities in the system, and to publicly report such efforts.
For more information go to www.ACT4JJ.org.

Cookhorne v. Fischer Settlement Provides Beneficial Reforms for Youth in Solitary Confinement

Courtney Thomas, Northeastern University School of Law: CFYJ Intern Tuesday, 28 October 2014 Posted in 2014, Federal Update

Prisoner’s Legal Services of New York (PLS) reached a landmark settlement with the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) in the case of Cookhorne v. Fischer which will result in significant and positive changes regarding the use of solitary confinement as a disciplinary sanction for 16 and 17 year old inmates in DOCCS custody.

The settlement agreement contains several amendments to DOCCS policies and prohibits solitary confinement of youth for disciplinary purposes by limiting the maximum hours of confinement per day. The agreement mandates that a youth may be confined for no more than 18 hours a day, five days per week, and no more than 22 hours the other two days of the week. It further establishes a minimum number of hours for programming and recreation during this out-of-cell time. The settlement agreement also requires that regulations be amended to state that age is a mitigating factor in disciplinary proceedings where a youth has been accused of misconduct and requires a written statement of how the age affected the disposition.

Advocates are a Powerful Voice at DC Council Hearing

Monday, 27 October 2014 Posted in 2014, Federal Update

On Wednesday, October 22nd, the DC Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety held a public hearing on Bill B20-825, the Youth Offender Accountability and Rehabilitation Act of 2014 (YOARA). The hearing was chaired by Councilmember Tommy Wells, Chairperson of the Committee. Wells began the hearing by highlighting the main provisions of the bill and the positive changes this would have for youth charged as adults in the District of Columbia. DC supporters of the bill made sure to have a strong presence, and with the leadership of the JOY Campaign team, over 100 people attended the hearing.

What the YOARA bill does:
1) Prevents most youth from being held in adult jail while they are awaiting trial.
2) Allows youth who have been charged as adults to have the adult court judge review all the available facts to determine if adult prosecution serves the public interest. If not, the judge can transfer the case down to juvenile court.
3) Ends the practice of automatically charging all youth with a prior conviction in adult court, even for minor offenses and if local prosecutors think the case would be more appropriately handled in juvenile court.

Building Safe & Strong Communities

Samantha Phillips Friday, 19 September 2014 Posted in 2014, Federal Update

Kids Don’t Care What You Know, Until They Know That You Care: Building Safe & Strong Communities

 This month on Capitol Hill, National experts came together to discuss community-based alternatives to incarceration that improve public safety and support youth.  The panelist all had one definite thing in common: each panelist believes in providing cost-effective, community-based alternatives to institutional placement.  

New York Governor Forms Commission on Youth, Public Safety & Justice

Friday, 11 April 2014 Posted in 2014, Federal Update

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By Christopher Costner

CFYJ Fellow

On April 9, New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, announced the members for his Commission

on Youth, Public Safety & Justice. This Commission will generate recommendations and policies regarding youth in New York’s criminal and juvenile justice systems. The Governor indicated that New York’s laws are archaic and in desperate need of improvement. New York is currently one of only two states (North Carolina being the second) that automatically charges 16 and 17 year olds as adults. In 2013 alone, New York State had 33,000 cases handled in the adult court system involving children only 16 and 17 years old. Due to this, thousands of children were denied the proper services and help that they would be offered in juvenile courts and detention facilities. Members appointed to the commission include several justice focused groups such as: the Albany Chief of Police, NYC Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, Executive Director of the Children’s Defense Fund, and Executive Director of the Correctional Association of NY.

This Commission is a great step towards justice for New York youth, and the Campaign for Youth Justice will be eager to follow the work of this prestigious commission. For more information see this press release from the Governor’s Office, which outlines the Commission’s goals and all the participating members.

Governor Rick Perry Refuses to Protect Vulnerable Populations in Texas Jails and Prisons

Monday, 07 April 2014 Posted in 2014, Federal Update

The Campaign for Youth Justice in continuing our mission to protect children and youth incarcerated throughout the United States, condemned a recent statement by the Texas governor that he will not certify whether Texas’s prisons and jails are in compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), which was enacted by a unanimous vote of Congress and signed in to law by President George W. Bush in 2003.  

In a letter sent to Attorney General Holder on March 28, 2014, Texas Governor Rick Perry stated that he will not provide the Department of Justice with information on Texas’ compliance with PREA. The purpose of the Act is to “provide for the analysis of the incidence and effects of prison rape in federal, state, and local institutions and to provide information, resources, and recommendations and funding to protect individuals from prison rape.”

“Prison rape is not a bargaining chip. Thousands of children under 18 are placed in Texas jails and prisons each year with real potential of victimization. Governor Perry is behind the times and should be ashamed at the potential harm he will cause to thousands of inmates in Texas,” said Carmen Daugherty, Policy Director for the Campaign for Youth Justice.

For CFYJ's full press release, click here.

UN Criticizes American Policies on Juveniles in Adult Courts and Prisons

Tuesday, 01 April 2014 Posted in 2014, Federal Update

By Christopher Costner
CFYJ Fellow

On Wednesday, March 26, 2014, the United Nations Human Rights Committee issued statements in regards to U.S. policies of incarcerating youth in adult prisons and also trying youth as adults. While the Committee applauded the recent efforts of the U.S. Supreme Court in banning mandatory life-without-parole sentences for youth in Miller v. Alabama, they were openly critical of state policies that exclude 16 and 17 year-olds from juvenile court jurisdictions and cause them to be tried and convicted in an adult court. The Committee also expressed disapproval of the fact that many youth are placed in adult prisons and jails, exposing them to a risk of physical and/or sexual abuse due to their immaturity and lack of development.

CFYJ Submits Testimony to Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Solitary Confinement

Wednesday, 26 February 2014 Posted in 2014, Federal Update

By Aprill O. Turner

On Tuesday, Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) held a second hearing on the use of solitary confinement in American prisons, jails and detention centers.

The hearing was held before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, entitled "Reassessing Solitary Confinement II: The Human Rights, Fiscal, and Public Safety Consequences," examined the widespread use of solitary confinement  for federal, state, and local prisoners and detainees.

Leaders of the panel called on federal and state prison authorities to ban the use of solitary confinement for juveniles, pregnant women and the mentally ill as part of a national reassessment of the harshest method of incarceration. Citing the country's extensive use of solitary confinement since the 1980s, Durbin said the extreme conditions contribute to the gradual deterioration of prisoners' mental health. Durbin said more than half of prison suicides take place in solitary.

The United States now holds far more prisoners in solitary than any other nation. Researchers estimate that roughly 250,000 youth are prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system every year and on any given day, approximately 10,000 youth are held in adult jails and prisons. The policy of many jails and prisons to “protect” youth from these conditions is solitary confinement.  Many children who are placed in isolation experience harmful consequences, for some children this has meant death.

Youth are frequently locked down 23 hours a day in small cells with no natural light.  These conditions can cause anxiety, paranoia, and exacerbate existing mental disorders and put youth at risk of suicide.  In fact, youth housed in adult jails are 36 times more likely to commit suicide than are youth housed in juvenile detention facilities.

Among the speakers was Damon Thibodeaux, a former Louisiana death-row prisoner who spent 15 years in solitary confinement, for 23 hours a day, before being exonerated in 2012. His cell in a  jail was 8-by-10 feet with three solid white walls, a toilet, sink, a bed, desk, and chair. Thibodeaux says he had five total visits in his 15 years in solitary.

"I do not condone what those who have killed and committed other serious offenses have done, but I also don’t condone what we do to them when we put them in solitary for years on end and treat them as subhuman,"  said Thibodeaux.  “We are better than that. As a civilized society, we should be better than that.”

Rick Raemisch, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections also testified.  Raemisch spent more than 20 hours locked down in Colorado's administrative segregation unit and published an account of the "mind-numbing'' experience.

"This isn't a way to treat an American, we are failing in this area of our mission,'' he said.
Piper Kerman, the author of the memoir-turned-Netflix-hit,  Orange is the New Black, testified that though she never spent time in solitary confinement during her 13-month stint in federal prison, women behind bars describe it as a “prison within a prison.”

Prison staff, Kerman told the senators in attendance, could keep inmates in solitary confinement for as long as they wanted. Kerman offered the account of a female inmate who did spend time in solitary in her testimony. The woman, Kerman said, felt remorse for her crimes, but "most of all I felt sorry that there wasn't a rope to kill myself, because every day was worse than the last."

Other testimonies were given by: Charles E. Samuels, Jr., Federal Bureau of Prisons; The Honorable Craig DeRoche, Justice Fellowship; and Marc Levin, Center for Effective Justice Texas Public Policy Foundation.

The hearing explored developments since the 2012 hearing, and what more should be done to curb the overuse of solitary confinement while controlling costs, protecting human rights, and improving public safety.

To view this hearing, click here.

Written testimony from the Campaign for Youth Justice can be found here.

Statement from Sue Burrell, Youth Law Center, Staff Attorney

Statement from Grace Warren, Advocate for Juvenile and Adult Criminal Justic

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