twitter   facebook   cfyj donate   amazon smile instagramlogo

Federal Update

UN Criticizes American Policies on Juveniles in Adult Courts and Prisons

Tuesday, 01 April 2014 Posted in 2014, Federal Update

By Christopher Costner
CFYJ Fellow

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

CFYJ Submits Testimony to Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Solitary Confinement

Wednesday, 26 February 2014 Posted in 2014, Federal Update

By Aprill O. Turner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To view this hearing, click here.

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

Statement from Sue Burrell, Youth Law Center, Staff Attorney

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

The Campaign for Youth Justice Applauds Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his Support of ‘Raising the Age’ in New York State

Wednesday, 08 January 2014 Posted in 2014, Federal Update

Today Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) delivered his annual, ‘State of the State’ Address in which he announced his support to ‘Raise the Age’ of juvenile court jurisdiction in the state of New York.

The Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ) applauds Gov. Cuomo for addressing this issue and urging swift action movement on the measure this year:

Advocates Gather to Discuss the History and Importance of Landmark JJDPA Legislation

Friday, 18 October 2013 Posted in 2013, Federal Update


By Jill Ward

Yesterday, advocates from the National Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition and related ACT4JJ Campaigngathered to learn more about the history of the landmark federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) and why it is still important today.

Mark Soler
The day opened with Mark Soler from the Center for Children’s Law and Policy talking about the estimated 500,000 children that were being held in adult jails across the country in the early 1970s.  A majority of these children were either status offenders who were being picked up for non-criminal offenses like truancy, breaking curfew, and running away from home, or youth detained for very minor, non-violent offenses. 

Take the story of a 15-year-old girl who was held in an upstairs cell in a county jail who hanged herself; or the story of a 17-year-old boy who was held in adult prison for not paying $73 in traffic tickets and was beaten over a 14-hour period and finally murdered by others in the cell; or the story of a 13-year-old boy in Maine who was detained for stealing a dirt bike and was raped in the same cell..  And the list went on.

Understanding that this needed to change, in 1974, as part of the JJDPA, Congress prohibited placing these youth in secure facilities and also called for young people in the juvenile system to have “sight and sound” separation from adults in the criminal justice system.  These protections reflected increasing tragedies involving young people being held in adult jails and with adult inmates. In 1980, Congress added a further protection calling for youth in the juvenile justice system to be removed entirely from adult jails and lock-ups with very limited exceptions.

While judges in many states are effectively and proactively addressing the needs of these youth without resorting to detention, too many young people are still unnecessarily finding their way into the juvenile justice system.


Liz Ryan, Marc Schindler, and Jill Ward   
Through a reauthorization of the JJDPA, Congress can strengthen the core protections by eliminating the Valid Court Order (VCO) exception, that has allowed status offenders to continue to be locked up for their second and subsequent offenses, to keep all status offenders out of jails and other secure facilities and direct them toward community-based alternatives.  A reauthorization can also further strengthen the sight and sound and removal protections to ensure that no young person under age 18 is held in adult facilities or has contact with adult inmates. 

We also heard from former Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) Administrator, John Wilson, who talked about how the agency evolved and worked to implement the JJDPA.  Attendees heard about the strong partnership between Congress and the Administration that existed in the 1970s and into the 1980s to enact the law and work on subsequent reauthorizations. 

Over lunch Bobby Vassar, former House Judiciary Committee Counsel, talked about attempts in the 1990s to amend the law to further criminalize youth and roll back JJDPA core protections for children and how those efforts were defeated.
The day ended with a discussion about the important role of the NJJDP Coalition and advocates across the country to continue to educate the public and key policymakers about how the law has helped protect children involved in the juvenile and criminal justice systems and supported state efforts to prevent youth crime and reduce recidivism.  What was clear from the day is that the JJDPA remains a critical tool to incentivize states to keep system-involved youth safe and help them more appropriately meet the needs of youth in crisis.

Currently, the JJDPA is more than 5 years overdue for reauthorization and funding levels continue to decline.  We can’t afford to turn the clock back on the advances made by the JJDPA.  Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM) is the perfect time to let your federal leaders know that the JJDPA matters and deserves their support.

Please visit the JJDPA Matters Action Center to contact your Senators and Representative and let them know the JJDPA matters to you!

To learn more about the JJDPA and the campaign to reauthorize and fund the law go to:  http://www.act4jj.org/



Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE

As Prisons Prepare for PREA, Impact on Youthful Inmates May Be Major

Wednesday, 21 August 2013 Posted in 2013, Federal Update

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange published the following article this week on the Prison Rape Elimination Act:

In 2003, the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) — a federal legislative proposal that sought to curb incidents of sexual assault in both adult prisons and juvenile detention facilities — was signed into law by President George W. Bush.

The newly formed National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC) was then tasked with establishing PREA standards; ultimately, nine years would pass before the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) approved the final standards set forth by the NPREC.

Read more here.


Invest in Youth Justice Day

Tuesday, 09 July 2013 Posted in 2013, Federal Update

Today is Invest in Youth Justice Day! Time to tell Senate and House Appropriators to protect juvenile justice funding.

The Senate and the House Appropriations Committees will begin consideration of their respective versions of the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill in the next few weeks. The CJS appropriations bill provides federal funding to support state juvenile justice systems and reforms.

This funding is critical to implementing policies and practices that keep youth out of the justice system and help states decrease the number of youth incarcerated. We must protect it!

Juvenile justice dollars are at risk for FY14 and we must act now to preserve these important funding streams.

Act4JJ is asking all allies to participate in Invest in Youth Justice Day today to promote safe communities and improve outcomes for youth!    

What You Can Do Today:

  1. Sign the petition to protect funding for juvenile justice programs.
  2. Share this action alert with your Facebook and Twitter networks by clicking on the facebook and twitter links below.

Let’s make sure week keep our communities safe for our children tomorrow by investing in them today.

Investing Smarter: Why We Cannot Afford to Shortchange Juvenile Justice

Thursday, 27 June 2013 Posted in 2013, Federal Update

By Leah Robertson

The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) provides funds to states that follow a series of federal protections, commonly known as the “core protections,” to address the care and treatment of youth in the justice system.  It is a modest, targeted investment that not only helps children but also saves money.  Unfortunately, funding for this law has drastically declined over the last decade and continues to be threatened by spending cuts.


This is why a wide array of organizations have been sending letters three days a week for the last eight weeks as part of a Letter-A-Day campaign to urge Senate and House Appropriations Committees to maintain funding for key JJDPA and and related juvenile justice programs.  More than XX letters have been sent so far, and other organizations will continue to send their letters throughout the summer. The diversity and number of organizations dedicated to advocating for this funding demonstrates just how far these monies go and their importance to so many communities.

What do these critical federal dollars support?  The funding being advocated for helps states  protect children at risk of unnecessary damage by the justice system, and save money by reducing crime and keeping youth from entering the far more costly justice system. The value added by investing in our youth for tomorrow is far greater than the price tag today. Meanwhile, the cost of inaction is high. According to a Vera Institute study of 4/5 of states’, taxpayers gave $39 billion to corrections in FY2010, and that number continues to climb nonsensically every year. By supporting a modest federal investment through programs like those supported by the JJPDA monies, we will save money both now by reducing the cost of corrections and in the future by reducing incarceration rates.

Diverting children with little risk of future delinquent behavior to community-based programs where they can participate with their peers in positive behavioral model is right and makes sense. We commend all of the groups that have taken action and those that will take action in the coming weeks to maintain this funding and invest in a smarter and brighter tomorrow.

If you are affiliated with an organization interested in participating in the Letter-A-Day campaign, please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

If you are an individual who would like to get involved, please sign the House and Senate petitions and share these with your family and friends.

We will continue to update you on this critical effort.

Progress on the U.S. Attorney General's Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence

Tuesday, 11 June 2013 Posted in 2013, Federal Update

By Liz Ryan

Six months ago this week, the U.S. Attorney General's Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence released recommendations after an exhaustive year-long examination on best practices and approaches to reducing childrens' exposure to violence.  Through extensive public hearings, the Task Force heard from directly affected youth and their families about the violence children are exposed to in the justice system.  Among the extensive set of recommendations, the task force report included a chapter on reducing exposure of children to violence in the justice system with a recommendation to abandon policies that prosecute, incarcerate or sentence youth under 18 in adult criminal court. 

According to the Task Force's report, "We should stop treating juvenile offenders as if they were adults, prosecuting them in adult courts, incarcerating them as adults, and sentencing them to harsh punishments that ignore their capacity to grow."  This recommendation impacts an estimated 250,000 youth under the age of 18 who are prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system and the nearly 100,000 youth who are cycled through adult jails and prisons each year.
The Task Force's recommendation reflects the policies of all the major professional associations representing juvenile and adult criminal justice system stakeholders that highlight the harm youth are subjected to in the adult criminal justice system. And the recommendation is consistent with the research across the nation undertaken by the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlighting the ineffectiveness of juvenile transfer laws at providing a deterrent for juvenile delinquency and decreasing recidivism.

The Task Force's recommendation also builds on the latest state law reforms according to an August, 2012 report, "Trends in Juvenile Justice State Legislation 2001 - 2011" released by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), showing that numerous states have undertaken policy reforms in the last decade to remove youth from the adult criminal justice system and from adult jails and prisons.  

Since the report was released, several states have moved forward in 2013 by reducing the prosecution of youth in adult court and removing children from adult jails and prisons.  Illinois’ legislature passed legislation this spring to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to age 18, and Massachusetts’ House has approved similar legislation. Missouri’s legislature has approved “Jonathan’s Law” to give more youth an opportunity at rehabilitation in the juvenile justice system instead of the adult criminal justice system. The Maryland General Assembly has created a task force to examine the issue of automatic transfer, and the Nevada and Indiana legislatures have approved legislation to keep kids out of adult jails and prisons.

As the Attorney General continues to consider the Task Force's report, we look forward to working with the AG to ensure that the recommendation to remove youth from adult criminal court and other recommendations impacting youth in the justice system are fully implemented.

Implementing the Youthful Inmate Standard: Lessons from the County and State Level in Oregon

Thursday, 06 June 2013 Posted in 2013, Federal Update

By Mackenzie Tudor

On Thursday, May 16th, the Vera Institute of Justice in collaboration with the National Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) Resource Center held the first webinar of their “PREA in Action” series on implementing the Youthful Inmate Standard. The Youthful Inmate Standard requires all prisons, jails, lock ups, and detention facilities to provide sight and sound separation between youth and adults while restricting the use of solitary confinement and isolation practices.

In this interactive web conference, Juvenile Custody Services Program Manager Craig Bachman, Multnomah County Department of Community Justice Director Scott Taylor, and Oregon Youth Authority Assistant Director Philip Cox discussed the county- and state-level changes that have been made in Oregon to keep young people who are being charged as adults in juvenile facilities.

Oregon's facilities found that the juvenile placement of youth sentenced as adults:

  • Meets the developmental needs of the youth.
  • Offers them age-appropriate education services.
  • Provides staff trained in adolescent development.
  • Allows for cognitive behavioral skill-building program tailored to youth.

Professionals from local and state correctional and juvenile corrections agencies, criminal justice and correctional nongovernmental organizations, and advocates are encouraged to watch this webinar, now archived here.

Learning from Oregon’s success and working towards successful implementation of the Youthful Inmate Standard is critical because:

  • youth are 36 times more likely to commit suicide in an adult jail than in a juvenile detention facility;
  • and to “protect” the youth in adult facilities, some jails and prisons keep youth in solitary isolation for upwards of 23 hours a day, a practice that has been proven to have destructive effects on mental health especially for children and adolescents.

Watch the webinar now.

Register for the second webinar in the “PREA in Action” series, “Implementing the Youthful Inmate Standard Part II: Spotlight on Indiana and Pennsylvania” on June 25th at 3pm - here.



Jonathan’s Law Unanimously Clears Legislative Hurdle in Missouri

Friday, 24 May 2013 Posted in 2013, Federal Update

By Tracy McClard

The Missouri legislative session ended in victory for Senate Bill 36 - Jonathan’s Law - which was truly agreed upon and finally passed on the evening of Thursday, May 16, after garnering unanimous votes in the House and Senate.  Jonathan’s Law was named after Missouri youth, 17 year- old Jonathan McClard, who after being accepted into Missouri’s highly touted Dual Jurisdiction Program by the Missouri Department  of Youth Services (DYS), was denied entry by the judge and given a 30 year maximum prison sentence instead.  Seven weeks later and 3 days after his 17th birthday, after losing all hope, Jonathan gave up his life.

The Missouri Dual Jurisdiction Program, created in 1996,  by then DYS state director Mark Steward, is one of a kind in the nation and has received accolades from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Harvard University.  It was created specifically for youth who are tried as adults in Missouri.  The youth within the program are housed in a youth-oriented, home-like facility.  Rehabilitation is the goal and youth can remain within the program until their 21st birthday.  Youth receive services for education, mental health/counseling, drug treatment, victim empathy, and restitution with an emphasis on family involvement.  Youth who complete the program have extremely low recidivism rates compared to youth who are placed in the Missouri Dept. of Corrections.  The latest research places the program at an 83% success rate.

Jonathan’s Law opens the dual jurisdiction program up to more certified youth across the state in a couple of ways. First it addresses the issue of awareness and accountability of the courts by requiring   judges to consider dual jurisdiction as a sentencing option for certified youth and issue findings if they go against the DYS recommendation to accept a youth into the program.  Second, it allows the courts an additional six months to complete the eligibility process for the dual jurisdiction program.  Currently the process has to be complete by the youths 17th birthday, Jonathan’s Law extends the process to 17 years and 6 months.  In Jonathan’s case, if the judge had to issue findings, and if his case could have extended an additional 6 months, it most likely would have saved his life. 

The fact that Jonathan's Law passed the senate judiciary committee with a unanimous vote speaks to the great desire to bring our children out of the adult system and once again treat our youth as children and not adults.

<<  1 2 3 [45  >>