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2016 Summer Institute: Session 3 – Solitary Confinement of Youth

Nils Franco Thursday, 21 July 2016 Posted in Voices

By CFYJ Law & Policy Fellow Nils Franco

No evidence exists to support the use of solitary confinement on youth, according to Jenny Lutz of the Stop Solitary for Kids campaign, and better alternatives would adapt to what evidence finds effective in correcting young people’s behavior. This realization, Lutz said, has offered a powerful rallying point for practitioners, advocates, and academics alike.

Lutz, a staff attorney at the Center for Children’s Law and Policy (CCLP), spoke to interns and fellows working with juvenile justice–related organizations at CFYJ’s offices Tuesday.

The lunch-hour discussion detailed the effects of solitary confinement on youth health, as well as the promising solutions proposed to address the widespread problem of isolating youth. These solutions most obviously hold promise because of the sound psychological and social-science research backing up alternative tools for behavior corrections.

But also, in an environment of gridlock and partisanship, Stop Solitary for Kids’ solutions inspire hopefulness because we can expect to see the solutions implemented relative swiftly, having found support from associations of probation officers and corrections leaders. This is no easy accomplishment.

Reflecting so many other successful areas of criminal justice reform in the past year, Stop Solitary for Kids is a coalition of strange bedfellows pushing for the same goals. This coalition – the CCLP, Georgetown University’s Center for Juvenile Justice Reform, the Justice Policy Institute, and the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators – respectfully works together to find wise solutions.

Switching to safer and demonstrably effective practices to correct the behavior of inmates, after all, improves safety in the correctional facility and would reduce challenges faced by correctional officers and other staff. The successes of states that reduced the general use of solitary confinement support this finding as well.

With these mutual interests, and with reform advocates acknowledging the struggles faced by on-the-ground staff who have spent their careers serving youthful detainees, the groups came together to build smarter policy and offer help to juvenile corrections leaders.

Of course, changing the behavior and tools of corrections staff requires a change of mindset among the staff – something no legislation could accomplish. So, without that respect and teamwork, policy change would not only be more difficult, according to Lutz: without working with practitioners, any policy change enacted would fail expectations.

Data collection must still improve to better understand how different states and facilities practice solitary confinement of youth. Systems improvement still requires courageous action by leaders in state legislatures nationwide.

But, in the meantime, the campaign has built a sturdy foundation of legislative goals and of credible publications rooted in sound technical advice and research since launching in April, winning experts’ support at a federal and state level through an inclusive and evidence-based approach.

Governors Submit Assurances for PREA Compliance

Monday, 11 July 2016 Posted in Research & Policy

Texas, Alaska, and Idaho have made assurances for the first time; Arkansas and Utah Continue to opt out of PREA

By Marcy Mistrett

Last week, the US Department of Justice released the re-certification and re-assurance submissions for Year Two of the audit for compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).

PREA, a bipartisan supported act passed more than a decade ago, was designed to end sexual violence behind bars. For youth (under age 18) who are charged and/or sentenced as adults, PREA’s Youthful Inmate Standard (115.14) offers unique protections—requiring separate housing (including common rooms and showers) from adult inmates in jails and prisons. PREA requires sight and sound separation between youth and adults outside of housing, unless the facility provides direct staff supervision when the two populations interact; that facilities must make their “best efforts” not to rely on isolation as way to meet these requirements; and finally, that facilities must offer youth large muscle exercise, comply with legally required special education services, and provide access to other programming as much as possible.

2016 Summer Institute Session 2: Sexual Violence in the Juvenile Justice System

Friday, 08 July 2016 Posted in Voices

By Francesca Sands, Juvenile Justice Fellow

On Wednesday, the CFYJ interns hosted the second session of the 2016 Summer Institute speaker series. We welcomed Tara Graham, senior program specialist at NCCD’s National PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act) Resource Center, to 1220 L to speak on PREA and sexual violence among youth in detention. In a lively and informative presentation, Tara explained about PREA’s conceptions and applications, and how sexual violence is still a pervasive occurrence, especially among youth, in correctional facilities. Her extensive knowledge of the subject allowed for a deeply constructive discussion.

2016 Summer Institute: Session 1 – Girls in the Juvenile Justice System

Friday, 01 July 2016 Posted in Voices

By Anne-Lise Vray, Juvenile Justice Fellow

Every year since 2008, the Campaign for Youth Justice has organized the Summer Institute, a series of brown bag luncheons where we invite summer fellows and interns working in juvenile justice to listen to leaders and experts from the field for a time of lecture and discussion. To kick off the 2016 edition of CFYJ Summer Institute, we welcomed Maheen Kaleem, Staff Attorney and Equal Justice Works Fellow at Right4Girls, a human rights organization focused on gender-based violence against vulnerable young women and girls in the U.S.

Maheen gave us a powerful presentation on the specific needs of girls in the juvenile justice system, and shared with the packed room several of her personal experiences and encounters with young girls who got involved in the justice system after being abused their whole life. She emphasized that despite the displayed narratives of girls being increasingly violent (which is supposedly why the number of girls in prison is increasing), the 3 biggest reasons for girls to become involved with the justice system are truancy (skipping school), prostitution (which, as Maheen stressed it out, is not a thing according to federal law, and is actually child trafficking) and running away. Girls are NOT becoming increasingly violent, she repeated. The overall problem is that girls are victimized, and instead of receiving helped, they receive punishment as a response.

Maheen also mentioned dramatic data, such a 2009 study conducted in South Carolina showing that 81% of girls involved in the juvenile justice system reported experiencing sexual abuse at least once in their lives. Additionally, girls are twice as likely as boys to report 5 or more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES, i.e emotional, physical or sexual abuse, emotional neglect, household substance abuse etc), and four times more likely to be victims of childhood sexual abuse than boys.

Maheen ended her presentation by highlighting a need of implementing the JJDPA and for a “trauma-informed juvenile justice system,” that is, a system that does not send to prison girls who are running away from abusive homes or communities.

We are excited to announce that our second session is already scheduled to take place next week, and we will be talking about sexual violence in the justice system.

INDEPENDENCE DAY: Free from what?

Friday, 01 July 2016 Posted in Across the Country

By Marcy Mistrett

As we approach our country’s 240th birthday, I am reminded of our forefathers’ preamble to the Declaration of Independence : “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

While history has uncovered the blatant shortcomings of this dictate, the rights to one’s liberty, or freedom, seem particularly important to highlight on the eve of Independence Day. With nearly 95,000 children incarcerated in adult jails and prisons each year, the vast majority of whom being children of color, we have a responsibility to question this concept of liberty in the shadow of our carceral state.

Liberty, defined as “the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one's way of life, behavior, or political views” has a long history of grotesque unequal application in our country: it certainly wasn’t a protected right for slaves, women, or children, nor was it promised to numerous other special populations--immigrants, the disabled, LGBT communities, Indigenous peoples to name a few--at the birth of our country.  Yet, as many scholars have noted, as unique populations have gained access to liberty through the Courts, other structures of oppression have emerged to stifle their ultimate achievement of freedom.  Perhaps the most well-known, yet egregious, obstruction of liberty is incarceration.

For our children who sleep in adult jails and prisons, the deprivation of liberty extends far beyond the restrictions on their movement.  Despite being treated as adults in the criminal courts, children under 18 who are prosecuted as adults are hypocritically denied the freedoms granted by adulthood (voting, serving in the military, living independent of their parents, completing compulsory education, getting married, etc.). This inconsistency begs the question, Is incarceration itself the punishment, or are we sanctioning further punishment once children are incarcerated? Sadly, the answer lies in the latter. 

Our country has become so reliant on punishing law-breakers, that we have decided that the deprivation of liberty is simply not enough.  Instead, we subject these young children to extensive punishment—to long periods of solitary confinement, repeated exposure to violence, sexual assault, and physical abuse involving pepper spray, Tasers, or prolonged shackling, and sexual assault, all on top of decades and decades of incarceration.  We prohibit them from visiting with their families if they face a long time in prison; they go to the bottom of the waitlist for school, vocational training, and mental health treatment—services that are considered necessary for those “returning back to society.”  And then, when this punishment isn’t enough, we also punish them economically: before they are legally allowed to establish credit, we set about eroding their finances.  We charge them fines; when they can’t pay, they accrue penalties. We charge them for their healthcare, for phone privileges, and for  buying a bag of Cheetos.  And then we ask, “Is this enough punishment? Have we deprived them of enough of their liberties?”

And still, the answer is NO.  For the vast majority of youth who come home after a period of adult incarceration (95% will be released by the time they are 25), they continue to face “oppressive restrictions” to their liberty.  As we cite in our collateral consequences report, children who return home from a period of adult incarceration retain that conviction for the rest of their lives.  This can (and does) prevent them from furthering their education, securing housing, finding a job, serving in the military, voting, and thousands of other activities that define the “liberty” of adulthood. Furthermore, as conditions of their release, they are often told that they can’t congregate on certain community blocks, or interact with certain people (including members of their family). They are restricted from using alcohol, and are under surveillance for anywhere from one to five years, or, in some cases, for the rest of their lives. We have heard others refer to this as “perpetual punishment,” but it can also aptly be referred to as “loss of liberty.”

And, because we have found it acceptable to treat not only adults this way, but also children who are younger than 18, we have effectively undone a core tenant of our country’s founding principles.

Marcy Mistrett is CEO of the Campaign For Youth Justice, a national initiative focused entirely on ending the practice of prosecuting, sentencing and incarcerating youth under the age of 18 in the adult criminal justice system

New Alarming Report on PREA Data

By Anne-Lise Vray Friday, 01 July 2016 Posted in Research & Policy

The Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 is a crucial law on many fronts, including for the safety of youth involved in the justice system. One of its provisions is a yearly data collection requirement, carried out by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. This year’s comprehensive statistical review and analysis of the incidence and effects of prison rape was just released, and it contains some pretty alarming numbers.

According to the report, “The number of youth held in state juvenile systems declined sharply, from 38,580 at year end 2006 to 19,095 at year end 2012. As a result, the rate of sexual victimization allegations per 1,000 youth held in state juvenile systems more than doubled, from 19 per 1,000 youth in 2005 to 47 per 1,000 in 2012.” Despite a significant decrease in the number of youth in the juvenile justice system and the tireless efforts made to widely and properly implement PREA, sexual victimizations have dramatically increased. Additionally, the report cites that 45% of the 9,500 allegations of sexual victimization reported between 2007 and 2012 involved staff-on-youth sexual victimization.

The report also highlights that LGB youth are much more vulnerable to be sexually assaulted while in custody.  LGB youth (10.4%) were more than seven times as likely as heterosexual youth (1.4%) to be assaulted by another youth.

Overall, this document shows that there is still a long way to go in the fight to end prison rape, and that one of the best tools with have to do so is the Prison Rape Elimination Act, which has surfaced the increasing prevalence of the rape and sexual assault of children in custody.  While PREA was passed in 2003, it is unfortunately not fully implemented, though it has become the new standard of care for children in custody. 

The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) is a federal statute focused on sexual assault and victimization in juvenile facilities, prisons, jail, lockups, and other detention facilities. The goal of PREA is to prevent, detect, and respond to sexual abuse in detention and correctional facilities.  BJS will issue a second report on PREA in November/December 2016 that will report on the safety of youth in adult facilities.

LGBT youths especially vulnerable in adult jails

Tuesday, 28 June 2016 Posted in Voices

By Rick Mula

The visitation room at the Alabama county jail was tiny. The beige cinderblock walls pressed in on the public defender and me as we waited for the guards to escort our 17-year-old client into the room.

J.W. had already spent four months confined to an adult jail cell. He hadn’t even been tried for a crime yet. But in Alabama, as well as other states, children as young as 16 can be automatically tried as an adult for certain crimes. They can also be held in adult jails as they await trial.

And that’s why J.W. was now sitting in this tiny room.

He’d been swept up in the adult criminal justice system, like so many other kids. An estimated 250,000 youth are tried, sentenced, or incarcerated as adults every year across the U.S. What’s more, LGBT youths are vastly overrepresented. Despite making up no more than 7 percent of the overall youth population, they make up about 20 percent of the youths in the juvenile justice system. Most of these young people, like J.W., are children of color.

J.W. tells me that he used to identify as bisexual. He says that after he disclosed his sexual orientation, a corrections officer assumed he was promiscuous and called him a “ho.” The message was loud and clear: Bisexual individuals would be singled out. J.W. says he now identifies as straight. As someone who works to educate LGBT youths about their legal rights, I can’t help but wonder if he is avoiding identifying as bisexual to protect himself from more mistreatment.

What is certain, and worth remembering during Pride month, is that there are many LGBT youths in adult jails across this country. High rates of family rejection, hostile teachers and classmates at school as well as inappropriate foster care placements take their toll on LGBT youths. They may run away from home, skip school or abuse substances to cope – all activities that increase their chances of a brush with the law. LGBT youths are also more likely to be prosecuted for age-appropriate consensual sexual activity than their peers.

Once in adult jails, there’s little opportunity for rehabilitation or education that can get a young person’s life back on track, whether they are LGBT or not. I learned, for example, that J.W. attended a GED class sporadically for a couple months, but the class ended without warning or explanation.

Of course, one of the greatest concerns about placing a child in an adult jail is the threat of physical and sexual abuse. The problem is particularly acute for LGBT youths. Bureau of Justice Statistics data show that 6.3 percent of LGBT youths reported sexual victimization compared to 1.7 percent of heterosexual youths.

Authorities may point out that federal law requires facilities to maintain “sight and sound separation” between young people and adults, but solitary confinement is often the only way to accomplish this goal. Confining a child or teen to a small four-walled cell for hours on end raises a host of other dangers – depression, anxiety and psychosis, for example – particularly for kids because of their developmental vulnerability.

It’s clear that jail is no place for young people, such as J.W.

The statistics and stories may be grim, but the situation is not hopeless. There are a number of steps that can be taken to reduce the number of juveniles in the criminal justice system and help youths in adult facilities. Consider the following possibilities:

  • Promote family acceptance interventions, which can help a youth avoid rejection that can put him or her on a path into the criminal justice system.
  • Urge your senators and representatives to support reauthorizing the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.
  • Promote the development of LGBT-inclusive policies and procedures throughout your community to prevent LGBT youths from feeling isolated.
  • Learn more about campaigns to raise the age a juvenile can be tried as an adult – an important step toward preventing children from ending up in adult facilities.


As I think back to my visit with J.W., I remember how he beamed. He was so happy to have a visitor. Despite his situation, he eagerly chatted about Ariana Grande’s greatest hits and talked about his favorite movies and TV shows. J.W. may be behind bars, but he’s not that different from other kids his age. He’s just doing his best to survive an environment that was never meant for any child.

We need to do our best to keep kids like J.W. out of adult jails.


Rick Mula is an attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center where he is an Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by the Mansfield Family Foundation.

Want to maximize your impact? Partner with the Campaign for Youth Justice.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016 Posted in Voices

By Kara Aanenson

For the past five years the Just Kids Campaign partnered with Campaign for Youth Justice to end the automatic prosecution of youth as adult in the state of Maryland.  During those 5 years we:

  • Stopped the construction of a youth jail in Baltimore,
  • Passed five pieces of legislation,
  • Built our statewide membership to over 5,000 members, and
  • Created a statewide coalition.

None of this would have been possible without technical assistance from the Campaign. They were with us every step of the way from organizing to legislative sessions. We adopted their theory of change, including working with youth who were charged as adults and their families. Working together with youth and their families multiplied our output and provided credibility to our work.

The Campaign helped us organize by hosting strategy sessions where we hashed out our action plans. They provided insight on what worked in other states and helped us brainstorm how to implement those strategies in Maryland. They created Youth Justice Awareness Month, uniting all states working on adultification of youth, and increased our fundraising efforts. The Campaign provided spokesperson training to enhance our messaging.

During Maryland’s 90 day legislative sessions we checked in weekly and they provided a sounding board for legislative strategy.  If amendments were added to a bill they would help us review them to determine our next steps. If we needed help finding a national expert to be a member of our taskforce or testify at a bill hearing, they would reach out to all their contacts to help make sure we got someone there.

The Campaign can maximize state impacts because they practice what they preach. They have run their own campaigns in D.C. and have assisted so many other states. They understand when you are frustrated because your coalition is fracturing, they know what it’s like to have a bill fail in committee, and they know what it feels like to get a victory. This work is rewarding, but it is also exhausting. Some days you feel like you are on top of the world and others days it feels like you are pushing a huge boulder up a hill in the rain, and on those days the Campaign is there standing beside you and helping you push. That is what makes them the best partner.    

Kara Aanenson is the Director of Family Engagement at the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services since April 2016. Before that, she was the Director of the Just Kid Campaign for 5 years. 

This post is part of the CFYJ #IMPACT Blog Series, a project celebrating CFYJ's 10 years of commitment to juvenile justice reform.

Oregon Considers “Age and Sophistication” of Youth before Treating As Adults

Monday, 20 June 2016 Posted in Across the Country

In May, the Oregon Supreme Court made an exemplary decision when they reversed a 2015 ruling made by the state’s Court of Appeals in the State v. J.C.N.-V. case. In State v. J.C.N.-V., the appeals court upheld the initial decision to transfer a 13 year old, J.C.N.-V, who was charged with aggravated murder, from juvenile court to circuit court for criminal prosecution. State law in Oregon permits the juvenile court to waive its jurisdiction and hand over cases to the jurisdiction of the circuit court if it finds the youth to be of “sufficient sophistication and maturity to appreciate the nature and quality of the conduct involved.” This happened to J.C.N.-V., whose case was originally transferred to the circuit court for criminal prosecution, and whose transfer was affirmed by the Court of Appeals.

Enter Marsha Levick, Deputy Director and Chief Counsel at Juvenile Law Center, and Angela Sherbo, J.C.N.-V.’s attorney from Youth, Rights, and Justice. They successfully argued a reversal of the transfer in the state’s Supreme Court, which responded with an avowal that the “sophistication and maturity” of a child is too simplistic a measure for determining whether a transfer from juvenile court to circuit court is warranted. The Court urged the legislature to use a more nuanced approach in dictating the guidelines for any potential transfers.

A couple weeks after this decision, District Attorney of Oregon’s Multnomah County, Rod Underhill, announced that his office will no longer automatically prosecute teens ages 15 to 17 in circuit court for certain Measure 11crimes. Unlike the defendant in State v J.C.N.-V., children charged with Measure 11 crimes do not have the benefit of a hearing before a juvenile court judge; instead they are automatically prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system.  Furthermore, if convicted, they serve the same mandatory sentences that would apply to adults; however, they can begin serving their sentence in a youth prison until they are age 25.

District Attorney Underhill has agreed that if certain considerations are met, his office will be willing to start some Measure 11 cases in juvenile court.  Examples of these considerations include: Whether the teen has no past criminal record, whether he or she didn’t seriously hurt anyone, or whether he or she wants to get treatment or turn his or her life around.  Cases that will now originate in juvenile court would then be bound by the ruling in J.C.N.-V, and judges would have to consider the “sophistication and maturity” of the child before determining whether or not to transfer the child to the adult system.

While the Campaign for Youth Justice advocates that all children’s cases should originate in juvenile court, these are still steps in the right direction, and nice examples of the ways that litigation and practice interface forpositive reforms.  All these efforts combined will hopefully set an example for other states to come around on this issue.

June is Children’s Awareness Month

Monday, 20 June 2016 Posted in Across the Country

By Anne-Lise Vray, Juvenile Justice Fellow

June is Children’s Awareness Month. One would typically think of a child as a 10 year-old in the prime of his/her life, happily going to school, swinging on the playground with friends, helping parents around the house, growing and learning more every day. Unfortunately, for many American children this is not the reality. In 22 states and the District of Columbia, children as young as 7 can be prosecuted as adults. In fact, fourteen states have no minimum age for trying children as adults. Some states set the minimum age at 10, 12, or 13, which is still way too young.  As the U.S. Supreme Court has found 5 times in the past decade, children are not the same as adults, and Courts need to ensure they are considering the age, maturity, and brain development before issuing adult punishments.  

Children’s Awareness Month is a great occasion to remember these too often forgotten children, and to act on their behalves in order to end the harmful practice of trying, sentencing and incarcerating youth as adults. Instead we should invest in age appropriate approaches that work and tend to the underlying trauma that so many of these youth are exposed to before they ever come in contact with the law. This failed policy of treating children like adults is contradicted by neuroscience leads to poor outcomes for public safety, since youth prosecuted as adults are 34% more likely to recidivate than those handled by the juvenile justice system.

All children deserve to be children, and provided the opportunity to correct bad decisions and afforded second chances.

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