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Across the Country

Michigan Lawmakers Introduce Bipartisan Juvenile Justice Reform Legislation

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

CFYJ PREAEMAIL

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 Across the Country

TX

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.

Citations
________________________________

[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.

Florida Must Protect Youth Behind Bars, Comply with PREA

By Tania Galloni Wednesday, 13 May 2015 Posted in Across the Country

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This week, governors across the country are facing an important deadline. They must let the Department of Justice know by Friday if their state is complying with the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).

All eyes need to be on Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

His response will affect the group most vulnerable to sexual violence in prison – young people. More than 2,000 of the state’s prisoners are under 21. As of today, there are more than 400 youths age 18 and under in Florida’s adult jails and prisons.

Floridians are already familiar with media reports of violence and abuse of our adult prisoners. But youths in prison don’t always report sexual assault. When they do, they often report multiple incidents.

Unfortunately, the governor hasn’t shown federal officials whether the state is keeping youths safe in its prisons. He could even remain silent on Friday. Under PREA, governors can choose to not provide information to federal officials, but their state will face a financial penalty.

If Scott chooses this route, Floridians need to let him know that this is unacceptable. There is federal money available to help states comply with PREA, but Florida must assure officials the state will reach compliance. Reaching compliance may not be an easy task, but it must be done. There is no excuse for Florida not to take every step to protect youths from sexual assault in prison. 

Tania Galloni is the managing attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Florida office.

For more information and to join Florida reform efforts, please visit: http://noplaceforachild.com/

Please visit our blog this week for updates on PREA from around the country.

Additionally, here are some sample posts for social media, please share:

Twitter:

“There’s No Excuse” national week of action to end prison rape #ImplementPREA

Prison Rape Elimination Act was passed to end sexual abuse behind bars. Act now to #ImplementPREA

PROBLEM: Jails & prisons are not equipped to protect youth from dangers of adult facilities. SOLUTION: #ImplementPREA

PREA would help the more than 2 million people behind bars including the 100K youth in jails & prisons every day  #ImplementPREA

There's No Excuse! Protect Children from Rape in Adult Jails & Prisons. Take Action TODAY#ImplementPREA

Implementing PREA will save lives. Join our efforts to protect youth behind bars #ImplementPREA

Facebook:

On any given day, over 8,000 youth are confined in adult jails and prisons. Research shows that youth are not safe in adult facilities and are at the greatest risk of sexual victimization. Youth are 36X more likely to commit suicide in an adult jail than in a juvenile detention facility. Take Action during the “There’s No Excuse” #ImplementPREA.


Prison rape is no laughing matter: More than 2million people behind bars including the 100K youth in jails & prisons are at risk of sexual abuse every day. The Prison Rape Elimination Act was passed to end sexual abuse behind bars. Its time for Governors to ensure that PREA is implemented in every state. Learn more and take action #ImplementPREA

Protecting the Most Vulnerable Prisoners in New York: PREA Matters

By Mishi Faruqee and Erin Beth Harrist Tuesday, 12 May 2015 Posted in Across the Country

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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 New York, the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision has already taken some steps to follow the law, even producing orientation videos to educate people in prison on how to avoid sexual predators inside the walls.  However, despite these important efforts, New York must still take steps to protect the most vulnerable populations from sexual victimization –transgender people and young people housed in adult jails and prisons.

Transgender people are victimized at rates nearly ten times of other incarcerated people. The Bureau of Justice Statistics recently reported that nearly 40 percent of all transgender prisoners reported sexual assault or abuse. Transgender women housed in male prisons are often at greatest risk.  New York prisons often place trans prisoners in solitary confinement for their own protection, despite the fact that PREA specifically prohibits the use of segregated housing to protect people who are considered to be at high risk for sexual assault and abuse. Placement of trans prisoners in solitary confinement is not only traumatic and harmful to mental health, it also increases the risk of assault and abuse by prison staff. New York DOCCS must do more to ensure compliance with PREA by committing to house trans people consistent with their gender identity, establishing one or more voluntary housing units for transgender people, and prohibiting the use of involuntary solitary confinement for trans people.   

New York is also leaving hundreds of young people vulnerable to sexual victimization in adult facilities.  Because New York is one of only two states (along with North Carolina) that automatically prosecutes all youth as adults when they turn 16, New York has one of the highest number of youth incarcerated in adult jails and prisons in the country.  On any given day in New York State, there are approximately 800 16- and 17-year-olds in adult jails and prisons. 

Young people in adult jails and prisons are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse. The Bureau of Justice Statistic report found  that among young people victimized by other prisoners in 2011-12, more than three-quarters experienced force or threat of force, and a quarter were injured.  At a recent legislative hearing, one mother provided powerful testimony of her 17-year-old son’s harrowing experience in an adult prison in New York:

“[My son] entered the correctional system as a mentally ill, naïve and very vulnerable 17-year-old incapable of handling prison life. He was placed in the general population even though the forensic evaluation strongly advised against this.   Within a few months, he became a target of sexual victimization. An older inmate pretended to be his friend and then threatened him unless he provided sexual favors. In response to this victimization, he was given solitary confinement, until his family intervened on his behalf. He was then transferred to another facility and placed in a unit for mentally ill inmates. He developed symptoms of PTSD, suffering from nightmares, insomnia and short-term memory loss and yet he did not receive any treatment for this.”

Under PREA’s Youthful Inmate Standard, young people under age 18 may not be housed with adults and may not be kept in solitary confinement as a way to separate them from adults.  New York has sought to comply with this requirement by housing 16- and 17-year-olds in separate units where they do not have contact with older prisoners. However, as the federal inquiry into the adolescent jail at Rikers Island found, because young people are still housed in adult facilities and subject to their punitive and violent culture, they are suffering widespread abuse behind bars. 

The only way to keep incarcerated youth safe in New York is to pass legislation to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 and remove all youth people from adult jails and prisons. The State Legislature packs up and goes home for the year in June – our elected officials must not leave Albany without raising the age of criminal responsibility and standing up for New York’s most vulnerable youth.

Erin Beth Harrist is a staff attorney at the New York Civil Liberties Union, where she focuses on statewide civil rights and civil liberties impact litigation.

Mishi Faruqee is the Juvenile Justice Policy Strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union focusing on national and state juvenile justice policy reforms.

Please visit our blog this week for updates on PREA from around the country.

Additionally, here are some sample posts for social media, please share:


Twitter:

“There’s No Excuse” national week of action to end prison rape #ImplementPREA

Prison Rape Elimination Act was passed to end sexual abuse behind bars. Act now to #ImplementPREA

PROBLEM: Jails & prisons are not equipped to protect youth from dangers of ault facilities. SOLUTION: #ImplementPREA

PREA would help the more than 2 million people behind bars including the 100K youth in jails & prisons every day  #ImplementPREA

There's No Excuse! Protect Children from Rape in Adult Jails & Prisons. Take Action TODAY#ImplementPREA

Implementing PREA will save lives. Join our efforts to protect youth behind bars #ImplementPREA

Facebook:

On any given day, over 8,000 youth are confined in adult jails and prisons. Research shows that youth are not safe in adult facilities and are at the greatest risk of sexual victimization. Youth are 36X more likely to commit suicide in an adult jail than in a juvenile detention facility. Take Action during the “There’s No Excuse” #ImplementPREA.

Prison rape is no laughing matter: More than 2million people behind bars including the 100K youth in jails & prisons are at risk of sexual abuse every day. The Prison Rape Elimination Act was passed to end sexual abuse behind bars. Its time for Governors to ensure that PREA is implemented in every state. Learn more and take action #ImplementPREA

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