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Youth Justice Awareness Month 2016

Marcy Mistrett Thursday, 29 September 2016 Posted in Take Action Now

Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM) is almost here, and this month we are turning Awareness into Action!.

YJAM’s goal is to bring attention to a movement that prevents youth from entering the adult criminal justice system. Nearly 200,000 youths a year are tried, convicted, and incarcerated as adults in our country annually. YJAM works to unite people to take a stand together and become the voices for the silenced, incarcerated youths of their communities. For the past 8 years, people nationwide have hosted YJAM events and fundraisers. This October, you can also bring the movement to your community!

Visit our website, www.campaignforyouthjustice.org/yjam to learn more about YJAM and access an event planning guide. Our guide will help you plan anything from a dinner party to a concert and festival! You can also donate and encourage friends to sign up for our weekly YJAM newsletter to receive news on upcoming YJAM walk/5ks, film screenings, and other YJAM events near you (Sign up now).

Make sure to follow us on Twitter (@justiceforyouth), Facebook (Campaign for Youth Justice) and Instagram (@justiceforyouth), to stay up to date on the latest juvenile justice news and happenings.

Also please,follow the hashtag #YJAM to see what others are doing for month and share your own YJAM event and pictures! We hope you are inspired to take action, and together, we can stop the prosecution of juveniles as adults!

Thank you for your continued support. Let’s get ready to YJAM!

Register, Vote, and Reform

Emily Sands & Brian Evans Monday, 26 September 2016 Posted in Take Action Now

Don’t let anyone tell you that your vote doesn’t count! Today is National Voter Registration Day, and it is vital to ensure you are able to cast your ballot on Election Day. One of the best ways to fight for youth justice is to vote for those who have the power to create legislative policy change. The children that are impacted by this legislation have to rely on the voting power of those who are of legal voting age.  You can be their advocate during this election!

The statistics on voter registration and participation are grim. The census bureau reported that in the 2012 presidential election only 65% of all citizens were registered to vote and only about 57% actually voted. The numbers for local and state elections are even lower. It is important not to get caught in this apathetic voting trap. Your vote will help choose representatives who understand the importance of creating a justice system that protects children.  

The power of voting isn’t only relevant at the national level. It is equally as significant to vote for your local representatives. Whether you are voting for judges, prosecutors, or state legislators, each vote can act as a step toward reform.  Your local representatives are going to have the greatest impact on possible policy changes, and your prosecutors and judges will have a tremendous impact on how youth are treated in practice.

Those you elect will be making vital decisions that could drastically improve the lives of kids most susceptible to being abandoned to the adult justice system. Policies such as raising the age for being tried as an adult, eliminating solitary confinement for juveniles, and creating alternatives to the traditional juvenile system are just a few of the ways we can construct a safer justice system for youth. We can no longer wait to address these issues when the risks for children in the system are so high. Don’t leave it to someone else to confront these challenges. You can play a powerful role in the campaign by casting your ballot and allowing your voice to be heard.

So don’t wait! Be part of the efforts to change the system and register to vote today!  

The American Correctional Association’s Policy Could Help Bring Adult Facilities One Step Closer to PREA Compliance

Jeree Thomas Tuesday, 13 September 2016 Posted in Federal Update

In late August, the American Correctional Association (ACA) announced its newly adopted policy on the use of restrictive housing in adult jails and prisons. In addition to the policy, they announced a set of expected practices or standards that are in the final stages of field testing.

Restrictive housing, also known and experienced by youth and adults across the country as segregation, isolation, and solitary confinement, is dangerous and often inhumane.  Youth and adults placed in restrictive housing are separated from the general population, held in their rooms for 22-hours a day with limited programming, and many times limited human contact.  According to the ACA policy statement, the goal of the policy is to encourage correctional facilities to use the practice in a “justly, humanely and… constitutionally correct manner…”  Specifically, the ACA calls for the creation of policies and procedures that “[f]orbid solitary confinement that results in isolation… [and] [p]rohibit agencies from confining offenders under the age of 18 in extended restrictive housing.” 

This policy on restrictive housing aligns with one of the requirements of the Prison Rape Elimination Act’s (PREA) Youthful Inmate Standard.

The Youthful Inmate Standard requires agencies to make their best effort to avoid using isolation on youth in adult facilities in order to comply with requirements to house and keep youth and adults separate in adult facilities.[1] The policy also reflects the Department of Justice’s report and recommendations released in January 2016 to limit the use of restrictive house.[2]

On October 15th, Governors across the country will provide the Department of Justice with certification of compliance with PREA or an assurance that they will spend five percent of their funding to come into compliance with PREA.  The ACA’s new policy statement should be used to encourage those Governors who are not in compliance with the Youthful Inmate Standard to makes sure their state correctional policies, procedures, and practices protect youth in adult jails and prison from solitary confinement and extended restrictive housing.  It is critical that Governors hear from communities about the importance of complying with PREA, and particularly the Youthful Inmate Standard which protects one of the most vulnerable populations in adult facilities.  Call, email, write a letter, or tweet your Governor today and during PREA Action Week, October 10th-14th. 

If we want our youth to reenter communities as law-abiding citizens we must at the very least treat them like human beings and show them what it means to be law-abiding.  Tell your Governor to show youth what it means to be law-abiding by ensuring your state is in full compliance with PREA. 

[1] Youthful Inmate, National PREA Resource Center, (Last Updated Feb. 7, 2013)  http://www.prearesourcecenter.org/faq/youthful-inmates

[2] Report and Recommendations Concerning the Use of Restrictive Housing, U.S. Department of Justice (Jan. 2016) https://www.justice.gov/dag/file/815551/download

It’s Back to School Week For Most Kids

Marcy Mistrett Wednesday, 07 September 2016 Posted in Across the Country

Youth Locked Up As Adults Remain Where Punishment Reigns Over Childhood


As I scan social media this week, I’m met with many “milestone” pictures of children on their way back to another year of school.  There are many common threads among these photos,—new shoes, new uniforms, new hairstyles, new smiles with missing teeth, new teachers to learn from and new friends to meet, new books to read and new school buildings to navigate.  But to a tee—all the pictures signify the start of something new and exciting-with parents who tenderly comment on how hard it is to watch their children grow up so fast.

Interspersed among these delightful “back to school” pictures, a quieter and unhappier thread is also unspun.  It’s the stories of children who won’t be returning to school this week; those who have been locked up as adults and housed in facilities where rehabilitation and their future aren’t a priority; where punishment reigns over childhood. It’s the story of Miriam Abdullah in Arizona, who died of suicide in an adult jail shortly after her 18th birthday-she had been there since she was 16-and in isolation since March.  It’s the headline that Brendan Dassey’s case was reversed, after ten years of incarceration and being locked up in an adult facility since he was 16.  It’s the finding from an appellate court in Wisconsin that upholds the decision to try the two young girls (age 12 at arrest) as adults who acted on auditory hallucinations of a fictional character, Slenderman, telling them to harm their friend. 

Juvenile justice systems were created to rehabilitate children, which means their staff are trained to work specifically with youth.  It is a system, that when run well, balances public safety with rehabilitation—an approach that is supported by the vast majority of people across the country.  It means that children under the care of the juvenile justice system have access to education and recreation while incarcerated; that family engagement is considered part of treatment; that mental health and substance abuse treatment is provided to those youth who need it.  That the system sees their role as temporary, and understands the real work of changing lives takes place in the context of home and community.

This is not so in the criminal justice system, that was created to punish adults for breaking the law.  Youth who are transferred to criminal court do not fare well.  Beyond their exposure to violence and vulnerability to sexual and physical assault or lengthy isolation, children in adult facilities lack access to even basic education.   In the rare case that education is offered (11% of jails offer education opportunities) in the months or years that youth are pending trial, it is often only GED preparation; while if they were held in a juvenile facility, they could continue earning high school credits.  For those who managed to finish high school before their arrests, they could use PELL Grants to take a college class if detained in a youth facility—outside of a small handful of pilot programs, this opportunity would not be provided to youth in the adult system.  Despite the fact that research has shown that access to education is a key factor in reducing recidivism, youth who sit in adult jails and prisons receive no such benefit.  

In December 2015, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which includes new provisions to strengthen correctional education for youth in juvenile facilities and eligible adult correctional institutions.    Under ESSA, State Education Agencies will receive federal funding if they submit a complete state plan with procedures to evaluate the educational needs of youth in these facilities, better coordinate the transfer of student records and credits, improve reentry planning, and help youth re-enroll back into school or an alternative program upon release.  Unlike juvenile facilities, adult correctional facilities are a lot less likely to meet ESSA eligibility requirements, because far fewer adult facilities provide at least 15 hours of educational programs to youth. 

So, as we start another school year, I ask state governors and legislatures to review their transfer and certification laws in order to serve youth in the juvenile justice system where they are guaranteed greater access to appropriate services.  I also ask citizens to contact their State Education Agency and their State Board of Education, and demand a strong education plan and sound procedures for incarcerated youth under Title I Part D of ESSA.    Research shows that keeping justice-involved youth engaged in their academics reduces recidivism and results in better reentry outcomes. Not only will action on this issues keep your communities safer, but you will provide a second chance to a young person.  In the famous words of the UNCF, “a mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

2016 Tribal Juvenile Code: Youth Don’t Belong in Adult System

Tuesday, 16 August 2016 Posted in Research & Policy

By Nils Franco, Juvenile Justice Fellow

The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) expressly denounces the trial of youth under age 18 as adults in a draft model juvenile justice code published earlier this year as a template for tribal law. Tribal governments face unique challenges in juvenile justice, with systems of overlapping jurisdictions spurning confusion and threatening tribal rights as well as children’s rights. The juvenile code helps American Indian and Alaskan Native tribes develop codes of their own for operating tribal judicial systems.

The BIA’s draft of the Model Indian Juvenile Code does not provide for an adult-system transfer under any circumstances. A sidebar explaining the decision succinctly explains:

“Trying children as adults has not been shown to reduce crime, facilitate rehabilitation, or make communities safer.”

Citing research compiled by the Department of Justice (as well as by the Centers for Disease Control), the explanation details how transfer has “little deterrent effect on would-be juvenile offenders” while in fact having “the unintended consequence of increasing recidivism … and thereby promoting life-course criminality.”

BIA’s statements to that effect are noncontroversial in the criminological community, but rarely does an authority – a state legislature, for instance – have an opportunity to rewrite the juvenile code from top to toe to reflect evidence-based practices. This model code presents just such an opportunity for BIA.

Congress mandated the code with legislation in 1986, and the first version published in 1988; however, BIA has not issued an update since. The update, co-developed with American Indian groups and tribal law scholars, brings together evidence-based and developmentally appropriate practices, approaching juvenile delinquency from more of a public health perspective. BIA oversees U.S.-tribal relations with more than 500 federally recognized American Indian tribes.

The update to the 1988 model code assists “federally recognized tribes in creating individual codes focused on juvenile matters,” according to a BIA press release. The code, along with other advancements from the BIA and Department of the Interior (which oversees BIA), represents bolstered support for tribal sovereignty through the oft-criticized Bureaus of Indian Affairs and Indian Education.

Administrators from the Department of Justice and Department of the Interior as well as advocates in tribal sovereignty and juvenile justice herald the new code. DOJ Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) Administrator Robert Listenbee called the update “an important step forward in ensuring tribal courts have the resources they need to respond effectively to at-risk and delinquent youth in Indian Country,” noting that the revision attends to the OJJDP mission of “safeguarding the fair and equitable treatment of all youth in the juvenile justice system.”

The head of BIA, Lawrence Roberts, says the 2016 model code “improves decades-old guidance to aid tribes in developing their own codes that will serve and protect” justice-involved youth. The National Council of American Indians and the Center of Indigenous Research and Justice both provided technical and community input to support the drafting of the code.

Childhood Mental Illness - Morgan's Story

Friday, 12 August 2016 Posted in Voices

By Alyson Showalter - This story was originally published here.

Morgan Geyser ( affectionately nicknamed Mogo while in utero) was just 12 years old when her life changed forever due to the consequences of mental illness and the justice system. Before her mental illness took it's toll on her, her mother Angie is quoted as saying "Morgan loved animals and was always gentle and kind. She enjoyed reading, writing, drawing, anime, and playing with her American Girl dolls. She was an excellent student and her teachers always loved having her in class. She used to stay after school to help her English teacher clean up the classroom. She was always a quirky kid who marched to the beat of her own drum. She was intensely creative and had a silly sense of humor. She was a loving and affectionate member of our family." 

Morgan is diagnosed with early onset schizophrenia or psychosis, she did not tell her parents she was experiencing symptoms . She was diagnosed in December 2014.Schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders are medical illnesses that result in strange or bizarre thinking, perceptions (sight, sound), behaviors, and emotions. Psychosis is a brain-based condition that is made better or worse by environmental factors - like drug use and stress. Children and youth who experience psychosis often say "something is not quite right" or can't tell if something is real or not real. It is an uncommon psychiatric illness in young children and is hard to recognize in its early phases.

The appearance of symptoms of psychosis before age 12 is rare (less than one-sixtieth as common as the adult-onset type), but studying these cases is important for understanding this disorder. For those who might develop psychotic disorders or schizophrenia as adults (adult-onset), it is not uncommon for them to start experiencing early warning signs during puberty or adolescence. The period of time when an adolescent experiences the early warning signs of psychosis is called prodrome. During this time, youth recognize that their experiences (hearing or seeing things that are not there) are strange or concerning. They may not easily admit these problems unless asked. Being aware of the early warning signs and offering support is crucial.
Childhood-onset - Most children with schizophrenia show delays in language and other functions long before their psychotic symptoms (hallucinations, delusions, and disordered thinking) appear. In the first years of life, about 30% of these children have transient symptoms of pervasive developmental disorder, such as rocking, posturing, and arm flapping. Childhood-onset of psychosis may present with poor motor development, such as unusual crawling, and children may be more anxious and disruptive compared to those with later onset. 

Feeling like their brain is not working
Feeling like their mind or eyes are playing tricks on them
Seeing things and hearing voices that are not real
Hearing knocking, tapping, clicking or their named being called
Confused thoughts
Vivid and bizarre thoughts and ideas
Sudden and bizarre changes in emotions
Peculiar behavior that seem unusual
Increased sensitivity to light, sounds, smells or touch
Concept that people are “out to get them”
Fearfulness or suspicion that isn't warranted
Withdrawal from others
Severe problems in making and keeping friends
Difficulty speaking, writing, focusing or managing simple tasks 

Treatments- Early diagnosis and medical treatment are important. It is especially important that children and youth with the problems and symptoms listed above receive a complete evaluation. These children may need individual treatment plans involving other professionals. A combination of medication and individual therapy, family therapy, and specialized programs (wraparound services, early psychosis treatment) is often necessary. Changes in life style (keeping stress low, taking fish oils), additional supports (therapy and school support) and psychiatric medication can be helpful for many of the symptoms and problems identified.
Making the choice about whether or not to use medications can be difficult. Second-generation (atypical) antipsychotic drugs are usually tried first because they may cause fewer side effects than standard drugs. Serious side effects of second-generation antispychotic drugs can include weight gain, diabetes and high cholesterol. Currently, the Food and Drug Administration approves the use of two second-generation drugs in children ages 13-17, Risperidone (Risperdal) and Aripiprazole (Abilify). Source; mental health America

An expert witness revealed that Geyser's father had suffered from a similar mental illness as an adolescent and was hospitalized at least four times when he was 14. Matthew Geyser later went on disability because of his schizophrenia, said Deborah Collins, a forensic psychologist, who said she interviewed him and reviewed his medical records as part of her work for the defense."There is a genetic component in psychiatric disorders," Collins said. "If a parent has a history, there can be a higher rate of incidence among offspring." (Source; JSOnline)

Both Morgan and Anissa were twelve years old at the time of the stabbing, as was the victim. All three were classmates, enrolled in the same middle school and had been at a sleepover at Morgan's home the night before. Morgan and Anissa had discovered Slender Man on the Creepypasta Wiki, a website that hosts creepypasta, or Internet horror stories. Morgan and Anissa at the time believed that Slender Man was real, and that they wanted to become his "proxies", or followers, to prove their loyalty to him, prove his existence and to prevent him from harming their families. Morgan and Anissa believed that the only way they could become Slender Man's proxies was to sacrifice someone.After they carried out the assault, Morgan and Anissa believed they would become servants of Slender Man and be allowed to live in his mansion, which they believed was in Nicolet National Forest. (source;wikipedia)

Morgan and Anissa planned to carry out the attack Saturday morning in a bathroom at a local park. However, they actually carried out the attack in a nearby forest while playing a game of hide-and-seek. The victim was stabbed nineteen times. The girls then fled. Law enforcement conducted a mass search for Morgan and Anissa. Morgan and Anissa were found walking by a Waukesha County Sheriff's Deputy.(source;wikipedia)

Morgan and Anissa have been charged with attempted first-degree intentional homicide in adult court. Children's brains don't develop fully until their 20's. Longitudinal neuroimaging studies demonstrate that the adolescent brain continues to mature well into the 20s. Current studies demonstrate that brain structures and processes change throughout adolescence and, indeed, across the life course. These findings have been facilitated by imaging technologies such as structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging (sMRI and fMRI, respectively). Much of the popular discussion about adolescent brain development has focused on the comparatively late maturation of the frontal lobes, although recent work has broadened to the increasing “connectivity” of the brain.
Throughout childhood and into adolescence, the cortical areas of the brain continue to thicken as neural connections proliferate. In the frontal cortex, gray matter volumes peak at approximately 11 years of age in girls and 12 years of age in boys, reflecting dendritic overproduction . Subsequently, rarely used connections are selectively pruned  making the brain more efficient by allowing it to change structurally in response to the demands of the environment. Pruning also results in increased specialization of brain regions; however, the loss of gray matter that accompanies pruning may not be apparent in some parts of the brain until young adulthood. In general, loss of gray matter progresses from the back to the front of the brain with the frontal lobes among the last to show these structural changes.
Neural connections that survive the pruning process become more adept at transmitting information through myelination. Myelin, a sheath of fatty cell material wrapped around neuronal axons, acts as “insulation” for neural connections. This allows nerve impulses to travel throughout the brain more quickly and efficiently and facilitates increased integration of brain activity. Although myelin cannot be measured directly, it is inferred from volumes of cerebral white matter . Evidence suggests that, in the prefrontal cortex, this does not occur until the early 20s or later.
The prefrontal cortex coordinates higher-order cognitive processes and executive functioning. Executive functions are a set of supervisory cognitive skills needed for goal-directed behavior, including planning, response inhibition, working memory, and attention. These skills allow an individual to pause long enough to take stock of a situation, assess his or her options, plan a course of action, and execute it. Poor executive functioning leads to difficulty with planning, attention, using feedback, and mental inflexibility, all of which could undermine judgment and decision making.
Synaptic overproduction, pruning and myelination—the basic steps of neuromaturation—improve the brain’s ability to transfer information between different regions efficiently. This information integration undergirds the development of skills such as impulse control . Although young children can demonstrate impulse control skills, with age and neuro-maturation (e.g., pruning and myelination), comes the ability to consistently use these skills. (source; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)

In August 2014, Morgan was ruled incompetent to stand trial.Morgan had been diagnosed by state psychiatrists with Childhood Onset schizophrenia, and was remanded to the Winnebego Mental Helath Institute. In December 2014, both girls were ruled competent to stand trial.They have been set to be tried as adults because Wisconsin law states, "all murder and attempted-murder charges for children older than 10 start in adult court." A conviction on first-degree charges in adult court could result in a sentence of up to 45 years in state prison, whereas a conviction in juvenile court could lead to three years incarceration, better mental health treatment and then supervision until the age of 18. Bail was set at $500,000 each. Morgan's parents have appealed the decision to remain in adult court several times and lost the appeal. 

Morgan is held in the state hospital currently and is allowed contact visits daily. She had no windows in her room and no access to the outdoors at the juvenile detention center, she was only allowed contact visits twice a month and non-contact visits twice a month. Morgan's parents are allowed to visit daily at the hospital. Morgan was sexually assaulted while in custody by her roommate and her roommate was simply moved to another room. Morgan did not receive treatment for her schizophrenia for 19 months. Morgan's family and medical team have seen a steady decline in her mental state since returning to Juvenile Detention.

The impact of being detained instead of rehabilitated will forever make its mark on Morgan and her family.
Families that lose a loved one to the justice system and mental illness can also be traumatized. The loss of a loved one has been said to feel like death in the family. It can cause major depression, PTSD, financial problems, personal attacks by society and much more. Angie Geyser states "It feels like a death. The sense of loss is impossible to describe. I had the highest of hopes for Morgan, and now I just hope to bring her home."

After thoughts: I chose to write this article because I could be Morgan's mother, anyone could be Morgan's mother. The mass incarceration of mentally ill youth in America has ballooned. We are no longer focusing on rehabilitation, our society would rather lock them up and throw away the key. We are charging children as adults now and it has a major impact on our society. With the right treatment and therapy those with serious mental illness CAN be rehabilitated and I will touch on this later in my series on the mass incarceration of our mentally ill youth. I am deeply touched by Morgan's story due to my own struggles with mental illness and my children's struggles with mental illness. It can happen to anyone and until we wake up and begin to treat it as a illness our prisons will continue to have overcrowding and mental illness will progressively get worse. I am blown away by Angie Geysers strength to continue to fight for Morgan and to provide her with the support and unconditional love she needs despite everything and everyone that is against her, Angie is attacked daily as is her family. But then when I put myself in her shoes I know I would do the same for my child. We don't have to support crime but we can choose to change the cycle and give those in need of help the help they deserve. We are our children's biggest advocates, no matter the crime a child deserves the love and guidance of their parents, after all that is our responsibility as a parent so why are we giving up on the most vulnerable people in America? 

If you would like to support Morgan and her family please check out: 


Fighting for justice

Friday, 12 August 2016 Posted in CFYJ Updates

By Ashley K. Speed, William & Mary Alumni Association

This story was originally published on the William & Mary Alumni Association's blog

From the courthouse to the jailhouse to the General Assembly, Jeree Harris Thomas ’08 is an advocate for children’s rights. It’s a passion so imbedded in her DNA that she self-designed her undergraduate major while at William & Mary to ensure her future advocacy work.

Thomas, an attorney, was recently named the recipient of the inaugural Youth Justice Emerging Leader Award given by the National Juvenile Justice Network. The award was given to Thomas for her advocacy work on issues related to the school to prison pipeline and reforming Virginia’s juvenile justice system. 

The characteristics of the award recipient are described as “an advocate for youth justice who embodies passion, boldness and perseverance, and who is committed to raising up the voices, experiences and expertise of system-involved youth and people of color to ensure that those most directly impacted by injustice are at the forefront of the youth justice movement.” 

“It was a huge surprise, but a really big honor,” Thomas said. “To be held in such high regard was really an honor.” 

Thomas, is a former fellow of NJJN’s Youth Justice Leadership Institute. She was one of 10 juvenile justice fellows selected nationwide. Thomas was previously an attorney with the JustChildren program of the Legal Aid Justice Center in Richmond, Va. Thomas began her work at JustChildren in 2011, with a two-year award from the Skadden Fellowship Foundation. 

“I worked with kids who experienced educational or mental health issues to make sure they had the services they needed while incarcerated and services they needed when they reentered their community,” said Thomas, whose work also entailed drafting legal briefs to show a child’s progress in hopes of swaying judges to lighten an imposed sentence. 

Thomas is currently the policy director at the Campaign for Youth Justice in Washington, D.C. Her role is to advocate for youth who are tried as adults. She works with state advocates to change laws that push youth into the adult criminal justice system. 

“In some states, it’s about giving youth an opportunity to have a hearing in front of a judge to determine what is appropriate instead of youth ages 16 or 17 being automatically treated as adults, and in other states it’s about keeping youth, some as young as 13 and 14 from being incarcerated in adult facilities,” Thomas said.  

While at William & Mary, Thomas earned an interdisciplinary degree in social justice and community advocacy. 

“My degree at William & Mary focused on the intersection of race, education, gender and poverty and how those things impact people,” Thomas said. “I was very happy to be able to create a degree around my interests. That helped me leverage that knowledge when I went to law school.”

Thomas also said her involvement with the university’s Sharpe Community Scholars Program shaped her career path and influenced her focus on child advocacy work.  

“I decided to do a self-designed major in social justice and community advocacy as a result of the Sharpe Program,” Thomas said. "As a result of my major and a real commitment to service-learning, the College created a “Community Studies” minor program."

Thomas doesn’t know what the future holds for her professionally, but is committed to being a lifelong learner.

“I honestly thought my last job was my ultimate career goal, and it was incredibly fulfilling work,” Thomas said. “But I realize now that I have to leave myself open to learn about new opportunities and to continue to push myself to grow professionally and do as much good as I can.”

Raising the age of criminal jurisdiction beyond 18

Thursday, 11 August 2016 Posted in Research & Policy

By Anne-Lise Vray & Jessica Sandoval

Over the past few years, voices asking to raise the age of criminal responsibility beyond age 18 have emerged. As a leader in the youth justice field, the Campaign for Youth Justice plays an important role in ending the prosecution, sentencing, and incarceration of youth in the adult criminal justice system. CFYJ accomplishes this in three ways, through (1) state and federal advocacy, by providing technical assistance and training support, (2) strategic communications, by lifting the voices of those most impacted, and (3) research, by serving as a clearinghouse of information and effective alternatives. As the only national organization dedicated to this issue, we were interested in finding out what raising the age to 21 practically and logistically imply, especially in order to address the concerns of many stakeholders in the field – particularly those who fear that it is dangerous to house youth over 18 with younger children.

To determine current practice on the ways states with extended juvenile court jurisdiction beyond age 18, we interviewed juvenile justice department administrators in the states who have extended age of juvenile court jurisdiction 21 and up to 25.  From these interviews, the following themes emerged:

  • Programming looks the same across populations;
  • Housing youth up to age 25 in juvenile facilities does not add any extra challenges to behavior and safety;
  • The average length of stay in committed facilities ranges from 7.5 months to 37 months for 18-25 year-olds;
  • Risk assessment is always used, regardless of age; Re-entry programs are not different for older youth; Housing separation based on age is not necessary; and
  • The juvenile justice system is where this older population of youth belongs.

Overall, our interviewees agreed upon the fact that these older youth were better served in the juvenile justice system, where they can – unlike in the adult system - receive educational programs, appropriate treatments, and actually be rehabilitated. They also addressed the concerns about these young adults having a bad influence on younger children, and asserted that putting them together could actually have a positive effect, while no particular additional behavioral challenges could be observed. “There are 15 year olds housed with 24 year olds. The kids go where their needs are best met, regardless of their age. Instances of victimization are very rare because of the big brother mentality that develops between older youth and younger kids,” one of the interviewees told CFYJ.

According to adolescent brain science, a young person’s brain is not fully developed until they reached their mid-20s. The interviewees were aware of the research, and many of them used it as a base to defend the system in place in their state. “Brain development science shows that the juvenile justice system is still the appropriate setting for this older population, regardless of crime, based on culpability, etc…,” a juvenile justice department leader told us. The evidence presented by brain development science is indeed what one the main reasons to raise the question of extending juvenile jurisdiction to this older population in the first place.

This piece of research conducted by CFYJ modestly contributes to informing the field about the pros and cons of raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction beyond 18, what factors may be present, and if it’s the appropriate time to consider this option.

2016 Summer Institute: Session 5 – Mentoring Incarcerated Youth

Monday, 08 August 2016 Posted in Voices

By Francesca Sands, Juvenile Justice Fellow

Last week, the CFYJ interns wrapped up the 2016 Summer Institute series with one last discussion led by Penelope Spain, CEO of Open City Advocates, an organization that trains law students to be mentor-advocates for youth who have been sentenced in the juvenile system both during and after incarceration. With an air of genuine passion for her work, Penelope shed light on the most important components of mentorship.

Visiting the Youth Services Center: A reminder of why youth should never be incarcerated in an adult facility

Monday, 01 August 2016 Posted in CFYJ Updates

By Anne-Lise Vray and Francesca Sands

Last week, the CFYJ interns, new CFYJ Policy Director Jeree Thomas, and other summer interns from the juvenile justice field went to visit the Youth Services Center, an 88-bed secure residential facility for detained male and female youth. Our group was welcomed by a well-trained staff that shared with us their experiences working at the facility, and reminded us once again why it is so important for incarcerated youth to serve their time in juvenile facilities rather than adult prisons. The staff told us about the facility’s broad range of programs, activities, and treatments available for the kids, but most importantly, they told us about the kids themselves. They gave us a glimpse of the personal relationship they work every day to build with each child, and explained to us how they learn to respond to each specific, individual need. Some kids are so young that they are still afraid of the dark, and need to sleep with the light on. Some have never left their parents or community/neighborhood before, and are completely lost and scared when they first come in. “They are like our own children,” one of the staff members told us. When our group explained to another staff member that our work mainly consists in advocating  against trying, prosecuting and incarcerating youth under 18 in the adult justice system, she thanked us and encouraged us to continue, because “it is so important for the kids,” she said.

The facility focuses its efforts on rehabilitation, and not only do staff provide schooling for children in their absence at their regular schools, but they also teach the kids how to positively contribute to society and fulfill their duties as community members. This is achieved by designing age-appropriate programming that includes activities as serious as short-term goal setting and journaling to as fun as having spa days with the teenage girls. Children respond positively to such attention and care, and will internalize the lessons implicit in such practices. A child, whose experience in society is so limited, will certainly not receive such individualized attention and age-appropriate treatment in an adult facility. Adult facilities don’t allocate any time, money, or thought to child- or adolescent-specific needs. In such facilities, the fragile stage unique to young people is disregarded, leaving kids floundering in a world for which they are neither developmentally prepared nor mentally equipped to handle. As a humanitarian, civil rights, and public safety concern, it is crucial to treat all prisoners as human beings. But it is equally as dire to treat incarcerated kids appropriately as kids.

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