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Florida: Unprecedented Media Support for Bills Restricting the “Direct-File” system

Wednesday, 13 January 2016 Posted in Across the Country, Campaigns, Voices

By Anne-Lise Vray, Juvenile Justice Intern

In Florida, a wave of endorsements for reforming “direct-file” is rising. Local media in the sunshine state are increasingly vocalizing their support for SB 314 and HB 129, two bills that aim to reduce the scope and the impact of direct-filing on youth.

The current “direct-file” system allows prosecutors discretion to unilaterally decide that minors as young as 14 should be tried in adult court. As pointed out by the Miami Herald, this “nefarious practice in Florida continues to help ruin the lives of thousands of young offenders, and it must stop.” According to Human Rights Watch, Florida transfers more children into adult court than any other state. Yet, the Ocala Star Banner reminds us that only about 9 percent of the state’s juvenile offenders are described as “serious, violent, chronic offenders,” while the Pensacola News Journal highlights that “98% of the more than 10,000 children tried in Florida’s adult courts in the last 5 years were transferred there WITHOUT the benefit of a hearing before a judge.”

The bipartisan bill introduced in the Florida Senate (SB 314) would restrict the practice of direct-filing by requiring judicial sign-off on such juvenile-to-adult court transfers. The companion House bill (HB 129) has been amended to eliminate this central reform, but there are two months during the Florida legislative session (which begins this week) for it to be reconciled with the stronger Senate bill.

This legislation has received great support from Florida media, maybe following the lead of Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward, who proclaimed last October Youth Justice Awareness Month. The Times Union in Jacksonville and the Orlando Sentinel agree that direct-file “does not make sense,” for kids, taxpayers or public safety, while the Gainesville Sun notes that fixing the direct-file system is a crucial step in the effort to break the school-to-prison pipeline in Florida.

Here is a complete list of recent editorials and articles that were published in Florida-based media to support SB 314 and HB 129 and/or oppose the direct-file practice:

-          Palm Beach Post

-          Miami Herald

-          Ocala Star Banner

-          Times Union (Jacksonville)

-          Orlando Sentinel

-          Tampa Bay Times

-          Pensacola News Journal

-          The Gainesville Sun

-          Treasure Coast Palm

-          Tallahassee Democrat

-          Sun Sentinel

The bills have each already passed out of one committee and are awaiting further review. For more information on Florida’s efforts to end this practice, go to www.noplaceforachild.com.

ALEC Endorses Raise the Age

Tuesday, 12 January 2016 Posted in Across the Country, Campaigns, Voices

By Anne-Lise Vray, Juvenile Justice Intern

Another important voice has recently called for states to raise the age of criminal responsibility to align with brain science and youth rehabilitation. In early December, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) passed a resolution that endorses raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to include all 17 year old youth. The resolution now awaits final approval from the ALEC Board of Directors.  This is a great step towards ending the practice of youth automatically being tried, sentenced and incarcerated as adults.

ALEC, which bills itself as the US’s “largest nonpartisan, voluntary membership organization of state legislators”, and claims to comprise almost “one quarter of the country’s state legislators and stakeholders from across the policy spectrum”, is well known both for its staunchly conservative principles and for its power in state legislatures. Recognizing that “research has found that 17 year-olds are less likely to recidivate when placed in the juvenile system,” the ALEC resolution pushes for all states to pass legislation to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction, regardless of the nature of the offense. It suggests that the juvenile court step should never be skipped, even if it is eventually decided that a youth should be tried as an adult. It is also worth noticing that the resolution does not separate violent and non-violent young offenders, but applies to all 17 year-olds. This is significant, as some state legislation has sought to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction for non-violent offenders or misdemeanants only, leaving behind a large group of young people just as open and capable of rehabilitation.

Considering ALEC’s impact among state lawmakers, this resolution could have great repercussions for tens of thousands of youth, for whom the practice of being tried, sentenced and incarcerated as adults has devastating consequences. Youth housed in adult jails are more likely to commit suicide, to be sexually and physically assaulted and to be placed in solitary confinement, which is considered torture in most places across the world.  Youth who are sentenced as adults have also been found to be more likely to recidivate, as the adult system is focused on punishment, and not rehabilitation. In addition to that, youth sentenced as adults will carry their criminal record their whole life, thus diminishing their chances to find jobs, access decent housing, obtain student loans and go to college, join the military, or vote.

There are only 9 states left in the United States who set the age of criminal responsibility below the age of 18, resisting to the wave of change that has been taking place for the past several years to end this practice that does much more harm than good.  In North Carolina and New York, all 16-year-old youth are automatically tried as adults. In Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Louisiana, South Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin, 17 year-old youth are all tried as adults. Hopefully the initiative taken by an organization as powerful as ALEC, with strong credibility among conservatives, will convince these states to side with the other 41 states that have already chosen to follow scientific evidence and data to change their legislation, and hence create a better future for youth as well as a safer society. 

Treating Youth as Youth: New Jersey Reforms How Kids are Waived to the Adult System

Jose Andres “Shea” Rosario - New Jersey Parents Caucus, Inc. Monday, 17 August 2015 Posted in Campaigns

By Jose Andres “Shea” Rosario - New Jersey Parents Caucus, Inc.

By raising the minimum waiver age, narrowing the offenses that a young person can be charged for as an adult, creating a reverse waiver procedure, establishing the presumption that a waived and convicted youth will serve his sentence in a juvenile facility, and creating other safeguards for youth in the justice system, New Jersey has taken a small, but important step in protecting our young people from the trauma of the adult criminal justice system. The bill, S2003, was proposed by Senator Pou and signed into law by Governor Christie on August 10.

Originally, youth arrested and charged in New Jersey could be waived into adult court using different criteria, depending on their age and circumstances of the offense. While the waiver age has only increased by one year, from 14 to 15, prosecutors now only have a limited list of offenses to waive. Prosecutors must also clearly state, in writing, the facts that support the waiver application. Courts can deny those waiver motions if they are clearly convinced that the prosecutor abused their discretion in considering waiver factors such as special education status, involvement in child welfare, mental health disorders, and the nature and circumstances of the alleged offense(s).

The list of offenses that a youth can be waived for has also been narrowed. No longer will a non-violent offense such as a computer crime be used to waive a 16-year-old. Adding more protection for youth, if they’re acquitted on their waived charge but convicted for something else, they will be sentenced in a juvenile court where they will only be subject to the penalties under the juvenile code. In addition, there is now the presumption that, unless good cause is shown, detention is to be served in a juvenile facility, as well as any sentencing up to age 21.

While not a true reverse waiver, it is now possible to have the youth’s case sent back to family court, which is a mechanism that unfortunately has not existed in the state. Not only will S2003 decrease the flow from juvenile to adult court, but it will also allow us the ability to reverse that flow. If there is consent from the prosecutor and defense, the court may send the case back to juvenile court if the interests of the public and the best interests of the youth require access to programs or procedures uniquely available to family court, and the interests of the public are no longer served by waiver. Ideally, consent from both parties should not be required, but a form of reverse waiver is absolutely better than no reverse waiver at all. This is another way that the law has created new safeguards for youth to avoid being tried and convicted in adult criminal court.

S2003 is not without its faults. For example, the waiver age is still too low. It sets a higher age limit for those disposed/sentenced to juvenile facilities, but it’s still relatively low given what we know about adolescent brain development. Prosecutors still have too much discretion and do not have to face a high standard of proof in regards to waivers. While some additional burdens have been added on the prosecutor, it still remains the duty of the youth to provide information on things such as their mental health history.

These new, complicated safeguards could be avoided by following other states which have eliminated their waiver system all-together. We need to be reminded that we are still dealing with children who are still in their formative years, who don’t always act out rationally, and who rely on adults to guide them into adulthood. Guiding them into prisons does more harm than good, to the youth, their families, their communities, and society-at-large.

Maryland: Gov. Hogan Signs Bill Removing Youth From Adult Jails

Thursday, 14 May 2015 Posted in Campaigns

MDBillSigning

This week in Annapolis, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan signed House Bill 618 into law. With his signature, Hogan ended Maryland's practice of holding young people ages 14-17 who are automatically charged as adults in adult jails. Passage of the new law is a major victory for the statewide youth-led advocacy Just Kids Campaign, which is an initiative of the Baltimore nonprofit Community Law in Action (CLIA). 

In Maryland, young people between the ages of 14-17 are automatically charged as an adult if they are accused with one of 33 offenses. Many of these youth have the opportunity to ask for a transfer hearing to send their case from adult court to juvenile court. 

The law, which goes into effect on October 1, 2015, requires that the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services holds every transfer eligible juvenile automatically charged as an adult in juvenile detention centers and not adult jails while they await their transfer hearing. The law also outlines the exceptions to the policy. The exceptions are when a young person is released on bail, recognizance or other conditions of pretrial release, when there is no capacity at a Department of Juvenile Service Detention Center, or when a judge finds that detention in a secure juvenile facility would pose a risk to the child or others. 

In 2013, the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services implemented a policy of holding qualified Baltimore City juveniles who have been charged as adults in juvenile facilities, ending the practice of holding those youth in the city's adult pre-trial detention center. With the passage of House Bill 618 into law, this practice now becomes the policy statewide. 

Holding youth charged as adults in secure juvenile facilities across the state is important for many reasons. First, it ensures that juveniles will immediately receive mental health and educational services that are considered appropriate for such youth while they await trial. Youth held in adult jails are not required to receive these services. Second, it protects youth regardless of their geographic location.Each county jail treats youth charged as adults differently. The majority of youth are either held in solitary confinement or in the general population with adult inmates while they await trial. Third, it decreases the likelihood that a young person will return to the criminal justice system. Youth held in adult facilities are more likely to reoffend and reoffend more violently than those treated in juvenile facilities. Finally, it protects young people from harm. Studies show youth held in adult jails are at a higher risk of physical and mental harm from other inmates and guards.

Ninety-three percent (93%) of the pretrial population of youth charged as adults is male, and 80% is African American. Between 2012-2014, the largest population of juveniles charged as adults and held in detention were in Baltimore City, followed by the Central Region (Baltimore County, Howard County, Harford County, and Carroll County).

 "This is an important first step in removing youth from the adult criminal justice system," says Kara Aanenson, CLIA's Director of Advocacy. 

Community Law In Action (CLIA) cultivates the leadership skills of Baltimore City's youth to elevate the unique voice of young people to advocate for positive community change.  In addition to leading the Just Kids Campaign, CLIA runs the Law & Leadership Academies program in four Baltimore City public high schools. 

Just Kids Campaign is a statewide advocacy campaign working to change the way youth charged as adults are treated in the Maryland justice system though policy changes, community organizing and public education.  The mission of the Just Kids Partnership is to stop the automatic prosecution of Maryland juveniles as adults.  The campaign trains young people and families who have been directly impacted by the criminal justice system to become advocates for statewide systems change.  

Thank You! Advocates are a Powerful Voice at MO Council Hearing

Tracy McClard Friday, 13 February 2015 Posted in Campaigns

FORMJ

On Tuesday, February 10th, the Missouri Consumer Affairs Committee held a hearing on Missouri’s “Raise the Age” bill, House Bill 300. The bill was introduced by the bill champion, Representatives Ron Hicks (R) who began the hearing by highlighting the main provisions of the bill and the positive changes this would have for 17 year olds in the state of Missouri.

He shared with the Committee the fact that treating 17 year olds automatically as adults has been the law since 1905. Today, youth arrests and detention are down in Missouri and the overwhelming majority of youth are arrested for misdemeanor offenses. 

Supporters of the bill made sure to have a strong presence, and with the leadership of FORJ’s Tracy McClard, the room was packed with supporters to remove 17 year olds from the adult system in Missouri.

What HB 300 “Raise the Age” accomplishes:

1)  Raises the age of juvenile court jurisdiction from 17 to 18: Missouri is currently one of nine states in which a child is automatically charged in the adult criminal system before the age of 18.

2)  Prevents most youth from being held in adult jail while they are awaiting trial.

Nearly a dozen individuals representing several organizations provided testimony at the hearing in favor of the bill. While the testimony covered a wide range of issues associated with youth exposure to the adult criminal justice system, there were a few common themes among the testimonies.

Several witnesses focused on the substantive differences between the services offered at youth facilities and adult facilities and the impact that intervention with the appropriate services can have on these individuals.  The impact on public safety of charging and housing youth in adult facilities was another popular topic. Several witnesses emphasized that these youth will return to society one day and that services in the juvenile system better prepare these youth for reintegration in the community. Multiple witnesses identified research showing recidivism rates were higher for youth held in adult facilities including findings that, “youth prosecuted in the adult system are 34% more likely to reoffend than those in the juvenile system.” Witnesses also noted that charging and holding youth in adult facilities does not deter crime.  

Several witnesses in favor of the bill, including a local sheriff, testified that the recent Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) requirements of sight and sound separation for all youth under 18 in adult facilities provides more motivation to pass this bill now. Otherwise, states will lose precious federal dollars in unable to meet the stringent requirements.

No groups or individuals testified in opposition of the bill further paving the way for passage.

The full text of the bill can be found HERE.  To receive more information about Missouri’s Raise the Age efforts or get involved, please go to FORJ-MO.

YJAM 2014: Advocates Making Waves in Youth Justice Reforms

Sunday, 19 October 2014 Posted in Across the Country, Campaigns, Voices

As we reflect on this year and in commemoration of Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM), we have seen the pursuit of many youth justice reforms across the country. Efforts to improve the lives of our youth come in many forms - whether it's pursuits to improve laws, efforts to change the hearts and minds of the public, or working to empower youth and their families - the Campaign for Youth Justice applauds the daily efforts of advocates who take a stand for youth. Today, we highlight what many say can't be done: change for the better. Our youth, our communities, and our nation have all felt the positive impact of your efforts. Thank you for all that you do.

"Raise the Age" Victory in New Hampshire: More Kids Treated as Kids

John DeJoie Thursday, 21 August 2014 Posted in Across the Country, Campaigns

 By Guest Blogger, John DeJoie
NH Kids Count
NH CAN Coordinator/Policy Consultant 

Are 17 year olds really old enough to be sent to adult prisons? In NH, since 1995, the answer has been YES. Over the past decade, as states across the US have recognized that 17 year olds are still children, NH was unwilling to change. Since 2000, Representative David Bickford (R ) attempted to “Raise the Age” without much support, that is until this year. Following on the heels of a successful restoration of the CHINS (Children in Need of Service) statute and funding, the same group of advocates set their sights on modernizing the juvenile justice system in NH, including Raising the Age.

JOY Campaign and Allies Raise Awareness on the Criminalization of DC Youth

Thursday, 03 July 2014 Posted in Across the Country, Campaigns, Voices

On Thursday, June 26, Judge Our Youth (JOY) Campaign advocates - Campaign for Youth Justice, DC Lawyers for Youth, and other allies, joined Black Youth Project 100, the DC chapter of the Black Youth Project, for a peaceful demonstration at the District's Central Detention Facility. The event focused on raising awareness of the criminalization of black youth in DC and is part of BYP’s larger campaign, the #CriminalizedLives Project, which seeks to collect stories from people that have been impacted by the criminal justice system, and specifically, the experiences of youth with law enforcement.

CFYJ is Bringing Reform to the District of Columbia!

Thursday, 05 June 2014 Posted in Across the Country, Campaigns

In May 2014, Campaign for Youth Justice, working in partnership with DC Lawyers for Youth (DCLY), published a report titled, Capital City Correction: Reforming DC's Use of Adult Incarceration Against Youth.  The report explains how youth enter the adult system in DC, summarizes data on the number of youth tried as adults each year, and provides policy recommendations that would restore balance to the District's process for trying youth as adults.

Maryland Adds Another Win for Youth Justice

Friday, 18 April 2014 Posted in Across the Country, Campaigns

Last week, Just Kids Partnership wrapped up its legislative session, passing two reforms that help youth charged as adults in Maryland. After a quick 90 day session, Maryland advocates built on the momentum from the 2013 legislative session, by getting two bills passed based on recommendations from the Task Force on Juvenile Court Jurisdiction which studied the issue of charging youth as adults in Maryland last year.

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