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Federal Update

Snapshot of State Reforms to Remove Youth from Adult Criminal Court

Wednesday, 24 April 2013 Posted in 2013, Federal Update

By Liz Ryan

At a recent event in New York, “In Search of Meaningful Systemic Justice for Adolescents in New York” hosted by the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, I gave an update on the trends in juvenile justice reforms as they relate to youth in adult criminal court and youth in adult jails and prisons.

During the past eight years, approximately twenty states have enacted more than thirty pieces of legislation to reduce the prosecution of youth in adult criminal court and end the placement of youth in adult jails and prisons.  These reforms have been undertaken in all regions of the country and have been led by republican and democratic policymakers.  CFYJ issued a report in 2011, “State Trends: Legislative Victories from 2005 to 2012 Removing Youth from the Adult Criminal Justice System” authored by Neelum Arya documenting many of these reforms and the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) released "Juvenile Justice Trends in State Legislation, 2001 - 2011",  in August, 2012 highlighting reforms over the previous decade.

Overall, the states have moved away from prosecuting youth in the adult criminal court and placement in adult jails and prisons, and towards providing access for children to improved rehabilitation and treatment services in the juvenile justice system.  In the past eight years, we’ve seen four major trends.

Several states have raised the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to age 18.  Connecticut was recently featured in a report, “Juvenile Justice Reform in Connecticut: How Collaboration and Commitment Have Improved Public Safety and Outcomes for Youth”, highlighting how it achieved this success.  Illinois removed 17 year olds charged with misdemeanors.  The Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission recently reported on the success of this effort and recommended that Illinois update its law in 2013 to remove 17 year olds charged with felony offenses, which can be viewed here. Mississippi also removed most 17 year olds from automatic prosecution in adult court, and Massachusetts and North Carolina’s lawmakers are considering ‘raise the age’ proposals in their 2013 legislative sessions.

More than a dozen states have changed their transfer/waiver laws to keep more youth in juvenile court.  These efforts have focused on providing judges more discretion to consider whether a youth’s case should be considered in adult criminal court and have dealt with felony cases as well as younger offenders.  States enacting these reforms include, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Nevada, Ohio, Utah, Virginia and Washington.  In 2013 legislative sessions, efforts are underway in Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada and Oregon, and Maryland has enacted a task force to examine this issue.

And, ten states have changed their laws to remove youth from pretrial placement in adult jails and/or placement in adult prisons under the age of eighteen.  These states include, Colorado, Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia.  Indiana just passed legislation in its 2013 session to remove youth from adult prisons.

Finally, a handful of states have changed their sentencing laws as they apply to youth.  These include Colorado, Georgia, Texas and Washington.  Oregon is considering legislation in its 2013 session.

As we’ve had the opportunity to work with so many allies in these states, there are many lessons learned from these successful efforts.  Here are just a few:

First, in these state reform efforts, state research and analysis has played a significant role in informing policymakers.  In a number of these states, state experts researched and wrote reports that looked at the state law and available data, and interviewed directly affected youth and their families.  These reports provided insights on the issue, identified problems and created a platform for reform.  We’ve highlighted many of these reports on our website here.

Second, the recidivism research showing that youth are more likely to re-offend when prosecuted in adult criminal court has proved invaluable.  Policymakers are most interested in the impact of public safety when they consider policy reforms on juvenile justice.

Third, the public strongly supports these kinds of reforms, seeing the issue as one of fairness and humane treatment of children.  Public opinion polling conducted by GBA strategies in 2011 shows that the public strongly supports rehabilitation and treatment over incarceration and automatic prosecution in adult criminal court, favors judicial decision-making and supports reducing racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system.  In this and other polling, the public absolutely rejects placing youth in adult jails and prisons, the polling can be found here.

Fourth, a number of these states created study commissions with all the key stakeholders, dedicated resources and staff, and a research and analysis capacity to examine the issue.  These study commissions obtain buy-in from key stakeholders, are a vehicle to create and advance policy recommendations as well as work out differences and monitor implementation of reforms.

Finally, involving directly affected youth and their families in these efforts is essential. Youth and families' voices and perspectives are the most crucial in informing policymakers and educating them on the negative impacts of prosecuting youth in adult criminal court.

As New York and other states consider policies to reduce the prosecution of youth in adult court, developments in these states and the lessons learned offer much to consider.  Thanks to the dedication and hard work of so many organizations and individuals around the country, we anticipate additional reforms in 2013 and beyond.

Jonathan’s Law Receives Overwhelming Support in Missouri

Wednesday, 17 April 2013 Posted in 2013, Federal Update

By Tracy McClard

The Missouri state legislature which began its 2013 session on January 9 and concludes May 17, is giving SB36/HB541- Jonathan’s Law overwhelming support.  Jonathan’s Law was named for Jonathan McClard who lost his life in an adult facility in Missouri right after his 17th birthday.  

Jonathan’s Law gives more youth who are certified as adults, access to Missouri’s Dual Jurisdiction Program operated by Missouri’s Department of Youth Services.   In this program, which was implemented in 1995, youth are kept out of adult facilities and placed in a youth oriented facility that provides education, mental health services, drug rehabilitation, victim empathy, and family involvement all in a space that was created to give youth the services they need to become productive members of society.  

The bill, which is sponsored by Senator Wayne Wallingford and Representative Hicks, has passed the senate judiciary committee, senate floor, and house judiciary committee unanimously.  

For additional information on Jonathan’s Law, click here for our fact sheet.

National Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Coalition (NJJDPC) Releases "Promoting Safe Communities" Report and Recommendations to Congress

Wednesday, 13 March 2013 Posted in 2013, Federal Update, Take Action Now

Today, the National Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition (NJJDPC), a Coalition comprising more than 300 national, state, and local organizations working together to ensure healthy families, build strong communities, and improve community safety and well-being, released "Promoting Safe Communities: Recommendations to the Congress".

The report calls on Congress to support effective systems of justice for our youth by focusing on the following five priority areas:

  1. Restore Federal Leadership in Juvenile Justice Policy
  2. Support and Prioritize Prevention, Early Intervention, and Diversion Strategies
  3. Ensure Safety and Fairness for Court-Involved Youth
  4. Remove Youth from the Adult Criminal Justice System
  5. Support Youth Reentry

"The juvenile justice system across the U.S. is in urgent need of reform, and federal leadership is necessary to advance the pace of change. Congress has the unique opportunity to reverse this trend and promote and support evidence-based practices and policies that prevent delinquency, "said Liz Ryan, CEO and Founder of the Campaign for Youth Justice. "It is our hope that the 113th Congress accepts these proposed recommendations to create better outcomes for our youth, as well as our communities."

NJJDPC comprises more than 300 national, state and local organizations working together to ensure healthy families, build strong communities, and improve community safety and well-being.

To take action in your state:

  1. Email this full report to your members of Congress with a note asking them to support these recommendations.
  2. Share this document and the NJJDPC website, promotesafecommunities, on your Facebook page or Twitter feed.

Human Rights Commission Hears Testimony Today on Youth in Adult Prisons

Monday, 11 March 2013 Posted in 2013, Federal Update

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Today, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a regional human rights body, is hearing testimony on the issue of U.S. incarceration of youth in adult prisons.   Thanks to Cynthia Soohoo, Director International Women's Human Rights Clinic at the City University of New York Law School, who reached out to CFYJ to urge that we submit testimony, we were able to participate in the hearing through the submission of written testimony.
CFYJ’s testimony focused on the fact that the United States is an outlier among nations in its policies that allow for the trying, sentencing and incarceration of youth in the adult criminal justice system. Additional points made in the testimony centered on the research showing that trying youth as adults increases the likelihood that youth will reoffend, youth of color are disproportionately impacted by these policies, and that youth in adult jails and prisons are at high risk of violence and abuse and being placed solitary confinement and are denied education and rehabilitative services.  The testimony highlighted the fact that every national association of professionals with a policy related to housing youth in adult facilities uniformly rejects the practice of placing youth in adult facilities, public opinion polling also rejects the placement of youth in adult facilities, and that states are moving away from these policies.  The testimony concludes with recommendations for the commission to make to U.S. policymakers.

For a full copy of the CFYJ testimony, visit here.


Counties Focus on Juvenile Justice Reforms, Federal Role

Monday, 04 March 2013 Posted in 2013, Federal Update


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This week, members of the National Association of Counties (NACo) were in Washington to talk about crucial issues facing counties, including juvenile justice reforms and federal funding for juvenile justice.  NACo's Subcommittee on Juvenile Justice, chaired Commissioner Nancy Schouweiler of Dakota County, Minnesota met on March 2 and heard from Act 4 Juvenile Justice campaign (www.act4jj.org) co-chairs Nancy Gannon Hornberger (Executive Director of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice) and Liz Ryan (President & CEO of the Campaign for Youth Justice).
In her remarks, Nancy highlighted the importance of the Juvenile Accountability Block Grant (JABG) and how funding has supported effective juvenile justice programs at the county level.  Additionally, she talked about efforts to pass the Youth Promise Act (YPA), legislation authored by Rep. Bobby Scott.  The YPA bill is set to be introduced in the next week and NACo members discussed how they could support this crucial piece of legislation.
Liz talked about the Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) and the importance of federal funding for the JJDPA.  NACo is a member of the Act 4 Juvenile Justice campaign to reauthorize and adequately fund the JJDPA, and Liz encouraged NACo members to take that message to congressional offices as well as invite Members of Congress to visit county juvenile justice programs to see first-hand what is working in juvenile justice.  
Bobby Vassar, Counsel to the House Judiciary Committee, joined the session to discuss the importance of the Youth Promise Act.  Both Nancy and Liz applauded his work in the House on the YPA and in ensuring adequate funding for juvenile justice programs.  NACo’s Dalen Harris, who organized the session, was also commended for his tremendous efforts to ensure NACo members were being heard on the hill on juvenile justice.
At the meeting, NACo approved a position statement on juvenile and criminal justice, including a position on the transfer of youth to adult court, "NACo opposes trying and sentencing youth in adult criminal court, except in the case of a chronic and violent offender, and then only at the discretion of a juvenile court judge."  For the full statement, visit here.
NACo released a position paper "Support Vulnerable Youth: Reauthorize the Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Act" available online at here.

For a copy of the presentation, visit here.

Maryland Lawmakers Hear Expert Testimony from Youth, Parents, Advocates on Juvenile Justice Reforms

Friday, 22 February 2013 Posted in 2013, Federal Update

Members of the Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee held hearings in Annapolis this week on juvenile justice reform measures including proposals to remove youth from adult jails and end the automatic prosecution of youth in adult criminal court. Kara Aanenson and Kevin Junior of Community Law in Action (CLIA), and Camilla Roberson of the Public Justice Center (PJC) shared testimony in support of these proposals, along with youth, families, legal experts, community members, and advocates in a packed hearing room.

"This is a failed policy," stated Camilla Roberson in her testimony on legislation to end the automatic prosecution of youth in the adult criminal court. Community member, Eileen Siple of Harford County, Maryland also testified in support of the proposal stating that, "Children should not end up in the adult system until after a judge has decided, based on all the available information, that there is nothing the juvenile system can do for that child."

A young person who'd been court involved, Kevin, shared his experiences in the Baltimore Jail. Kevin, now a youth organizer at CLIA, spent 11 months in the jail awaiting trial and then was transferred back to the juvenile court. He spoke about the differences between the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems and the need to provide opportunities, education and rehabilitation for young people.

While several attorneys and the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services testified against these bills, the bills received overwhelming support from youth and their families, community members, legal experts and advocates. Stacey Gurian-Sherman shared her testimony on these bills along with with hundreds of individuals who'd signed on to support the legislation in a strong show of support.

The next round of hearings on juvenile justice proposals are expected on March 7 in the Maryland House of Delegates.

To get involved in juvenile justice advocacy efforts in Maryland, contact the Just Kids Partnership.

Congress Convenes Experts to Respond to Newtown

Monday, 28 January 2013 Posted in 2013, Federal Update

By Leah Robertson

In the wake of the tragedy at Newtown, Congress has held a series of convenings to hear from experts on gun violence prevention, mental health, and youth violence prevention. Despite the array of topics discussed, one common theme has emerged: in order to decrease violence, we need to invest real resources in youth engagement and community development, and we must get rid of harmful zero tolerance policies funneling kids down harmful paths.

On Tuesday, January 22, Representative Bobby Scott hosted the Youth Violence Prevention Summit. Panelists Dr. Dewey Cornell, Dr. Peter Scharf, Chief Judge Chandlee Kuhn, Dr. Aaron Kupchik, Sheriff Gabe Morgan, Rashad Burns, and Brian Bumbarger spoke about the importance of focusing on communities to provide places where youth can feel safe, comfortable, and connected to adults who can help them stay on a positive track.  Of note, they focused on the need to pass the Youth Promise Act, a cost-effective, prevention-based, and most importantly, effective program.


Video of Representative Scott's Introduction 
to the Youth Violence Prevention Summit

Panelists detailed programs and pathways to reducing violence in communities and strongly reinforced the importance of diminishing school pathways to the juvenile and criminal justice system. Recognizing that school safety must be our highest priority, it is essential that every possible effort is made to ensure our kids are safe. However, as stated directly by Dr. Kupchik, we must think critically about the effects of policies we implement and do what works, not what feels right. We are too quick to listen to our gut, saying “More cops in schools can’t hurt.” But the data shows that it can, and it has. There is substantial evidence that cops and school resource officers (SRO) in schools increase delinquent behavior and decreases educational achievement by changing the school atmosphere from one that inspires pathways to success to one that expects, and unknowingly encourages, violence and failure from the kids.

Furthermore, we have an alternative. We know that prevention-based programs work. Mr. Bumbarger detailed a strong community-based initiative in Pennsylvania - based on the "Blueprints for Violence Prevention" initiatives in Colorado - that effectively decreased juvenile crime, increased educational achievement and consequently resulted in the closure of a 100-bed juvenile correctional facility.

Immediately following the Youth Violence Prevention Summit, Representatives Mike Thompson and Napolitano co- hosted a briefing on Mental Health in America. Panelists emphasized that, despite the widespread effect of mental disorders and the numerous warning signs, society too often stigmatizes mental health issues, leaving people suffering and, on rare occasions, at risk of violent behavior. They emphasized that if society focused on a preventative model, teaching parents and teachers to notice patterns of behavior that indicate mental disease (which usually appear between the ages of 14 and 24 but usually go untreated for almost a decade) without stigmatizing kids, we could save countless people – both those directly affected and those affected by their actions while unmedicated - from the pain associated with untreated mental disease.

Panelists (from left): Gaspar Perricone, James Cummings, 
Dr. Robert Ross, Jeannie Campbell, 
Marc LeForestier, and David Chipman 

Finally, on Wednesday, January 24, Congressman Thompson held a Gun Violence Prevention Summit with 20 Members of the House. Witnesses included: Gaspar Perricone, president of the Bull Moose Sportsmen's Alliance; David Chipman, former special agent at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF); Jeannie Campbell, executive vice president of the National Council for Behavioral Health; Marc LeForestier, deputy attorney general at the California Department of Justice; Dr. Robert Ross, president and CEO of The California Endowment; and James Cummings, hunter, sportsman, gun owner and NRA member.

Dr. Robert Ross with Chief Counsel Bobby Vassar

Despite their diversity of backgrounds and beliefs, each panelist agreed: more guns and more law enforcement in schools is NOT the answer. Mr. Cummings, a sportsman, gun owner and NRA member, stated outright, “The worst thing I can see is my 2nd or 3rd grade teacher carrying a gun.” Instead of arming schools, Dr. Ross emphasized the need for community investment, showing a video of 33 kids demanding, “Don’t lock down our schools” and asking for a plan that involves comprehensive health services and gets rid of zero tolerance policies that only make our schools more dangerous. The conclusion is obvious. Law enforcement, especially SROs, in schools are not part of the solution. They are part of the problem. Community-based programs save money, protect communities, and lead to a safe and productive society. The universal heartbreak after Newtown is just another example that every community is our community, and every child is our child. We need to do what is right for them, not what feels right. There is no other solution

For more information on keeping our communities safe, visit: http://www.promotesafecommunities.org

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