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Voices

The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act: Protecting Kids, Protecting Communities – Youth Voices Call on Congress to Act

Thursday, 21 April 2016 Posted in Voices

By Anne-Lise Vray, Juvenile Justice Fellow

On April 20th, the Act 4 Juvenile Justice Coalition (ACT4JJ) hosted a briefing on Capitol Hill about the importance of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), which has been due for reauthorization since 2007. The panel, “JJDPA: Protecting Kids, Protecting Communities” primarily focused on a proposed change to strengthen one of the JJDPA’s core protections for children in custody—the phasing out the valid court order (VCO) exception to the deinstitutionalization of status offenders requirement.   A status offender is a child who is not charged with a crime, but rather someone who is arrested for childhood misbehavior such as running away from home, skipping school, or speaking back to an adult. 

Years of research on evidence based practice and new developments in brain science and adolescent development have shown that incarcerating a child for a status offense creates trauma and can increase the likelihood of future risky or even criminal behavior.  Despite this knowledge, 7,000 children are still incarcerated each year for committing status offenses. 

The panel featured Judge George Timberlake from Southern Illinois and Jerry Walsh from Arkansas who has run youth emergency shelters, group homes, and programs for serious youth offenders.  Both unequivocally called for juvenile justice systems to keep children who have committed status offenses out of youth prisons and instead keep them close to home, with supports, to more effectively address the reasons for the risky behavior.  Two young women, Ashley Jackson from Tallahassee, FL and Jhanae Burnett from Minneapolis, MN, joined the panel to discuss community based alternatives that helped them get back on the right track. Ashley Jackson is a graduate of BoysTown USA in Tallahassee.  Ashley had been in 15 foster homes before she was incarcerated for running away from several of those placements.  She says, “No one listened. Not once.  I went to detention for six months which made me aggressive, hostile and less trustworthy.  But BoysTown fought for me.  They were the first place that made me feel like they wanted me there.  They listened to me.” 

Jhanae shared, “I was never a bad child. I worked and was in school, but was having some transitions at home and got arrested”, explained Jhanae.  She said that at her first court hearing, the judge wanted to put her on probation and send her to a scared straight program at a women’s prison to teach her a lesson.  Fortunately, her family moved and the district she was moved to embraced a more community-based approach and placed her at a program at the YMCA.  This program connected Jhanae with other young women a girls-specific program.  She was matched with a mentor who helped her with education, work goals, and housing assistance.  Jhanae shared, “I got off probation and never saw my probation officer again. But Stacey [her mentor] is still there in the community with me.” Indeed, Stacey flew with Jhanae out to Washington to be part of a youth-fly in advocacy day to encourage federal support of juvenile justice programs that work.  Both Ashley and Jhanae are attending college now.  

These young women were joined by Daniel Mendoza from Oakland, CA’s CURYJ program (Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ).   Daniel met with several Members of Congress to share how working in his community helped him get on the right path.  CURYJ trains formerly incarcerated youth in community organizing and entrepreneurship.  Daniel proudly relayed how CURYJ opened a coffee shop that only employs formerly incarcerated youth—and how this community program helped him and others stay on the right track. 

What was abundantly clear from all the panelists and youth that joined the discussion that day, was that black and brown youth bear the brunt of incarceration for status offenses and that there are much more effective ways to deal with youth misbehavior than incarceration.  The speakers, urged the packed room to join the movement and reauthorize the JJDPA THIS YEAR. 

You too can Join the movement !  Ask Senator Tom Cotton to release the hold on the JJDPA reauthorization so it can pass the Senate and move onto the House of Representatives for a vote. Each voice counts! Here are a few tweet samples you can use:

- 70% of Americans support requiring states to reduce racial and ethnic disparities. @SenTomCotton, pass S1169 now! #JJDPAmatters

- 83% of Americans support investment in community-based alts to incarceration. @SenTomCotton should listen and help pass S1169 #JJDPAmatters

- 83% of Americans think youth SHOULD NOT be locked up for status offenses like skipping school or running away: @SenTomCotton #JJDPAmatters

- Hey @SenTomCotton: 92% of Americans think its important the JJ system help young people get back on track. S1169 would do that #JJDPAmatters

- @SenTomCotton 73% of Americans say teaching youth to take responsibility for their actions does not require incarceration #JJDPAmatters

- Two-thirds of Ark's incarcerated youth did not commit a violent offense. We can do better @SenTomCotton #JJDPAMatters

- Arkansas children are among the most likely to be sexually victimized while incarcerated. We can do better @SenTomCotton #JJDPAMatters

- The time is now to pass the JJDPA and stop incarcerating our children for skipping school @SenTomCotton #JJDPAMatters

- We need to get JJDPA through the Senate. Release the hold @SenTomCotton #JJDPAMatters

- We need a strengthened #juvenilejustice bill to protect our most vulnerable youth. Get JJDPA through the Senate @SenTomCotton #JJDPAMatters

- We need to get JJDPA through the Senate. Release the hold @SenTomCotton! #JJDPAMatters 

- Arkansas can do better @SenTomCotton and so can the US. Release the hold on JJDPA! #JJDPAMatters

- Two-thirds of Ark's incarcerated youth did not commit violent offenses. We can do better @SenTomCotton #JJDPAMatters

New National Poll Shows Americans Want A Different Youth Justice System

Thursday, 03 March 2016 Posted in Voices

By Anne-Lise Vray, Juvenile Justice Fellow

The Youth First Initiative   just released a national poll showing that across the polictical spectrum, Americans believe that the youth justice system is in need of  reform.  Ninety-two percent agree that what is most important is that the youth system does a better job of making sure youth get back on track so that they are less likely to commit another offense. The results also show that the majority of American people favor investing in community-based programs rather than in incarceration; and furthermore that they would like states to address the racial and ethnic disparities in the youth justice system.

Once again, this new poll demonstrates that our current youth  justice system does not reflect what most Americans believe is working and how they would like their own children to be treated if they were in the system.

The Youth First Initiative also released a juvenile prison inventory of the nation’s largest and oldest youth prisons, calling for the closure of 80 of the nation’s oldest and largest youth prisons.  This would reduce the youth incarceration rate in half by 2020. Among many findings, this inventory shows that 54,000 kids are incarcerated in the U.S. juvenile justice system on any given day, and that African-American youth are 5 times more likely to be incarcerated than their white counterparts.

Governors from three states, including Connecticut, Illinois, and Virginia are calling to shut down youth prisons in favor of more effective, community based programs that help set children on the path to a brighter future.

Remembering Trayvon Martin: A Death That Brought A Movement To Life

Thursday, 25 February 2016 Posted in Voices

By Aprill O. Turner, Communication & Media Director

It was four years ago on this very day that an unforeseen incident would be the catalyst to start a national movement.  On the evening of February 26, in Sanford, Fla., a 28-year-old man with a gun, got out of his truck, confronted, chased, and then shot and killed a 17-year-old unarmed Black kid. Young Trayvon Martin was merely walking home from a convenience store with a bag of Skittles and a can of Arizona Iced Tea.

We watched in agony as the nation sought to digest the death of this young man. It exposed elements of a grim reality for young black boys. American society has been conditioned to see young black men as greater threats, as more violent, and regards them as more dangerous. In effect, blackness has become weaponized in a way that elevates a normal boy into suspicious, and then transforms suspicion into threatening. This affects how authority figures from schools to law enforcement all choose to engage young black men, and what society will allow or permit as acceptable in doing so. More alarmingly, is that this carries with it real consequences for those young men who find themselves at the mercy of a flawed criminal justice system that sets a low value on their lives.
In the months and years to follow, the tragic death of Trayvon has set off a national conversation about racial profiling and the role race played in the death of this young man.  Trayvon’s death, and those of other young black men, has served as a catalyst for a new generation of activists that seek to dismantle the structures that target and criminalize black youth. New organizations have been formed, new leaders have emerged, the spirit of resistance has been given a reboot, and a new modern day civil rights movement has emerged.

The question at the center of this movement is, “What does the world look like when Black Lives Matter?” Not just in terms of policing, which has become a major focus in the wake of the killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in New York City, Tamir Rice in Cleveland, or Freddie Gray in Baltimore, but in all areas of our society. What does education look like when Black lives matter? What does economic opportunity look like when Black lives matter? What does the criminal justice look like when Black lives really matter?
It is a question those of us that advocate for criminal justice reform and ensuring that young black men and boys are treated fairly, ask ourselves daily. The racial and ethnic disparities that exist in our criminal justice system do not measure up to the standard of treating everyone equitably. Research has shown that this is fact. According to a report issued by the American Psychological Association, and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers reviewed police officers’ personnel records to determine use of force while on duty and found that those who dehumanized Blacks were more likely to have used force against a Black child in custody than officers who did not dehumanize Blacks. Dehumanization is the belief that a certain group should be treated as less than human.The study described use of force as takedown or wrist lock; kicking or punching; striking with a blunt object; using a police dog, restraints or hobbling; or using tear gas, electric shock or killing. It should be noted that dehumanization and not just police officers’ prejudice against Blacks — conscious or not — was linked to violent encounters with Black children while in police custody, according to the study.
The same study also found Black boys as young as 10 may not be viewed in the same light of childhood innocence as their white peers, but are instead more likely to be mistaken as older, be perceived as guilty and face police violence if accused of a crime. There is a national crisis, and across the country our justice system is marked by disparate racial outcomes at every stage of the process -- especially for those that are most vulnerable, young black boys. This is exemplified by more frequent arrests for youth of color and ending with more frequent secure placement.
The anniversary of young Trayvon's death and the other tragedies, which have unfolded in the last several years should serve as a clarion call for anyone, committed to justice reform.Our youngsters of color are much more likely to be profiled-- and then subsequently, prosecuted, sentenced and incarcerated as adults than their white counterparts.
Young men who experience similar profiling by their local police, prosecutors and judges will not be seen for what they often are, young boys. Children.Unfortunately, Trayvon and so many others had to lose their lives in order for America to pay attention. But if Trayvon's death, their deaths, serve as a catalyst for change in the justice system, and more specifically the juvenile justice system, then their deaths will not have been in vain.
We remember Trayvon on this day because his death should serve as a daily reminder of the very real work left undone. His memory serves as our invitation to help fix a broken system. It will become better when we all become involved: What can each of us do that is different than what we have been doing to create a more equitable system for black men and boys, and therefore a system more just for all young people?

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. 

Staring at the Wall

Curtis, an inmate in solitary Friday, 23 October 2015 Posted in Voices

A Poem Written About Solitary Confinement

This is poem written by an inmate named Curtis. He was 16 when he was charged as an adult, and was 22 when he wrote this. He is serving a 40 year sentence. Curtis wrote the poem earlier this year about being in solitary. As of this week, he is still in solitary. 

 

I was warned there’d be times like these

But nothing could’ve prepared me for Dr. Swartz

Who comes around once a week

Peeking in my cell like he knows me better than I know myself



I’ll bet he gets a kick out of seeing a 22 year old

Who has been locked away in a cell since he was 16

Who has 30 more to go if a blessing doesn’t come through this damn wall

That he’s been staring at for the past 6 hours



I often come to this wall to somewhat free my mind

Or to drown out my annoying cellie

Who can’t stop talking about his boring relationship with his girlfriend he can’t seem to stop fighting

Even though she calls the cops on him every time



Or sometimes when the lights go out and the prison raucous is done for the day

I guess to seek mental refuge from this place

Other times just to reflect on what life was like before 23 and 1

When it was cookouts, huggies and hamburgers



Yeah, that always brings a smile to my face

Lately that’s been the routine

I start reflecting and end up with this smile

Staring at this damn wall!

Then here comes this Dr. wanting to know why I’m sitting here smiling at the wall

I give him the usual “nothing”



But to be honest

I smile to keep from crying

 

 

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 Illustration by JP Trostle

#YJAM: Family Engagement During Youth Justice Awareness Month

Keela Hailes Thursday, 22 October 2015 Posted in Voices

keela2

 

My name is Keela Hailes and I am a mother and juvenile justice advocate and I am sharing my story during Youth Justice Awareness Month in hopes that it will help other families.

A few years ago, while living in Washington, D.C., my son was incarcerated hundreds and hundreds of miles away from me and the rest of his loved ones. Every day in Washington, D.C., parents are being separated from their children because they are being sent to adult prisons in other states. All too often, these adult prisons are very far from home. Because Washington D.C. is not a state, and does not have a Federal facility, our children are sent to remote and often times inaccessible Federal adult prisons all across America. As a woman who has always prided herself for being a stickler for self-accountability, I'm not suggesting that my son should've gotten away with a slap on the wrists. However, research has shown that placing children in adult prison's, rather than juvenile facilities makes them highly susceptible to repeat criminal behavior, negative influence from adult prisoners, and physical and sexual abuse.
 
Typically, I don't go around discussing brain development, but it goes to the heart of an issue that's near and dear to me, as well as thousands of other parents, across the country. Brain science is crucial in understanding how teenagers make decisions and act upon them. The Myelin Sheath is essential to brain development; it covers nerve cells that allow impulses to travel fast and efficiently.  It’s not fully developed until the age of twenty-five with the frontal lobe being the last area of the brain to be myelinated.  The frontal lobe houses the area of the brain where we process higher brain functioning like reasoning, problem solving, planning and executing behavior, and impulse control. 
 
Because we know this about the brain, society is very careful about the things that we allow kids to do before the age of 18. For example, youth cannot buy cigarettes or alcohol. They cannot get a driver’s license or even vote for the President of the United States. These decisions take a higher level of reasoning and analytical skills that have not been properly developed in the teenage brain. If we know this is true, then why does it seem rational to treat kids with adult sanctions when they engage in unlawful behavior?
 
I think about these things because one day I received a call that my sixteen-year-old son was arrested for armed robbery.  I sat stunned on the other end of the phone and wondered if the caller had the right number or right mom for that matter.  After the initial shock, thousands of questions flooded my mind, “Why in the world would he do something this stupid?”  “What was he thinking?” or “Was he thinking at all?”  I was an involved parent who monitored my son’s friendships and education, what was going on?
 
After the details of the robbery were laid out on the table, I was no longer in denial about my son’s involvement. I wanted him to not only be held accountable but soundly rehabilitated.  I knew nothing about the juvenile justice system and had assumptions about what a juvenile judge would offer as next steps, which in my mind would include programs, counseling and therapy.
 
My world was rocked again when I learned that my son would be charged as an adult and sent to the DC jail. Again, those same questions permeated my mind, “Why in the world would the government do something so stupid as to send a child to spend even one second in a jail?” “What in the world are they thinking?”, or “Are they thinking at all?” 
 
Unfortunately, my questions were never answered because my son was swiftly sent to the DC jail, even before having a hearing.  He sat unproductively on the juvenile unit of the DC Jail waiting where he was physically assaulted by a Correctional Officer, received zero services, and was finally shipped 1,500 miles away to Devils Lake, North Dakota to serve out his 3 year sentence.
 
The negative effects of this experience are still felt today. In my eyes, my son went from a sixteen-year-old-child to a thirty-year-old-man overnight, absent the completed brain development.  In his own eyes, he had no other choice but to go from a child to a man overnight to cope with his new surroundings.  He served out his sentence, came home and tried to be a productive member of society; however, two years later, he reoffended and was sent back to jail.
 
I believe kids should be held accountable and am advocating for common sense measures that hold youth accountable and give them an opportunity to rehabilitate. Studies have shown us that this can, and should happen in the juvenile justice system.
 
Keela Hailes is a Program Manager for Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop and a spokesperson for the Campaign for Youth Justice, and is committed to ending the practice of trying, sentencing, and incarcerating youth under the age of 18, in the adult criminal justice system.
 
 
Below is some sample language that you can use to help spread awareness of National Youth Justice Awareness Month. 
 

TWEETS


  • To help their children, families need information about juvenile rights and responsibilities. #YJAM

  • Children charged as adults, are still children who need the support of their families. #YJAM

  • Families lack basic information about the process of the courts, and their legal rights, and the role of various players in the system. #YJAM

  • Without family engagement, effectively addressing any treatment needs of the child is difficult. #YJAM

  • Many inmates say that their success upon re-entry to society can be attributed to their strong family connections. #YJAM

FACEBOOK


  • President Barack Obama has signed a proclamation declaring October 'National Youth Justice Awareness Month' and calls on Americans to "observe this month by getting involved in community efforts to support our youth, and by participating in appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs." http://sparkaction.org/content/president-proclamation-yjam #YJAM #youthjustice #JJDPAmatters

  • Children don’t grow up in systems, they grow up in families. Help youth incarcerated as adults by finding resources and joining advocacy groups for youth. #YJAM
 
YJAM FB families 01 1

#YJAM: The Story of Jabriera Handy - Juvenile Justice Advocate

Tuesday, 20 October 2015 Posted in Voices

jabriera

 

This theme for this year's Youth Justice Awareness Month is, "The Power of Sharing Stories". All month long CFYJ will share stories of youth and family members that have been impacted by the adult criminal justice system. This week we share the story of juvenile justice advocate, Jabriera Handy 

Jabriera grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. When she was 16, she got into an argument with her grandmother. As Jabriera’s grandmother was disciplining her, Jabriera tried to get her off her. Jabriera left the house, and later that day her grandmother died of a heart attack because of the argument. She was tried as an adult for second degree murder, second degree assault and first degree assault. When she went to court for a hearing, she was two days away from turning 18, so she plead guilty to the charges for fear of the trial dragging out longer and her punishment being worse. She was taken to a juvenile facility initially where she received resources such as education, group time, and mental health help. This was short lived however. She later was taken to an adult facility where she had to shower with women twice her age and was shamelessly exposed to a squat and cough in front of everyone while menstruating. She was placed on lockdown three times, once for misconduct, once with no reason, and the last time was because of a fight. The last lockdown was supposed to last two weeks but ended up being 36 days. When in lockdown, there was no contact with prison staff, only being housed in the same area as other inmates. 
 
When she was released she was denied many opportunities. She asked for vouchers for food and services that other inmates receive upon release, but she was denied those too because felons don’t receive them. She wanted to attend University of Baltimore College, but was automatically rejected due to her felony charges. She had no place to stay. Then she met the Just Kids Maryland Campaign who assisted her and worked to get her record expunged. Now she works with Just Kids as an Assistant Youth Organizer where she has been working for four years. Now she works to share the stories of other youth such as herself because she knows too well that the issue of youth incarcerated as adults needs to be addressed. While also being a single mother of a 2-year old, she has been a mentor to youth and has been an advocate and a catalyst for change.

#YJAM: The little conversation about luck

Shawn Kelly, Intern with the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, a project of the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights. Thursday, 15 October 2015 Posted in Voices

Shawn Kelly Intern4

So what can I write about from my perspective? I mean I am not a lawyer. I’m not a judge or politician. I am just an intern in the New Orleans juvenile public defender’s office. But I am young black male. I am 20 now but only three years ago, I could have been in the same place a lot of the kids in the system are in. See I came from a lower income area, I went to public school, and I also did my fair share of juvenile misbehaving. The only difference between my story and so many of the kids we see on these streets…I got lucky.

Now that’s not to take away from my own hard work but it’s the truth. I got lucky to have good parents who are still married and raised me the best they could even with financial struggles. I was lucky enough to go to a really good public high school (The real purple and gold, Warren Easton). I was lucky enough that I never got caught when I misbehave and when I did misbehave I had people behind me to check me whenever I stepped out of line. But for a lot of kids in this city, they don’t have that luck.

See, their reality is going to schools that don’t teach them. Their reality is growing up in single parent homes where their mother has to struggle to provide. Their reality is much different than mines but it’s close enough where I can feel it and understand that could have been me. But for many of the people in this juvenile system, they don’t know that reality. They just see black bodies committing crime. That’s all they see and they stand on their high horse. We have judges that chastise young men for sagging their pants. But do they ask if that young man even had enough money to buy a belt? People chastise young women for selling their bodies in these streets. But do they ask if that young woman has been sexually abused like so many others?

So when I think of my story of how lucky and blessed I am, I get upset a little bit. I think of my accomplishments like graduating high school and going to college and I think why can’t others achieve this? I don’t think it’s because they didn’t pull themselves up by the boot straps and work hard. I don’t think it’s because they have terrible parents and terrible schools. No, it’s none of that. It’s so much bigger and terrible than that. It’s so many combinations of things that these young people will never understand. We can’t teach them all about inequalities that are so deep in this country. I still don’t understand it and I am a sociology and African American studies student. We can’t tell them to stop selling drugs when getting a job at McDonald’s is only paying $7.25 an hour and you need a high school diploma to work there in some places.

As a wise man once said, “the streets are always hiring”. We can ask for many things from youth but I think we need to start asking the question that I ask myself.  I ask myself, what can I do? What can I do so more people make it in this world? People need to ask that question. Especially those in our juvenile system that didn’t need the luck and were privileged and now send those unprivileged to jail. What can you do to help more make it and less fail? Once you ask that question and have a honest discussion in your mind, then maybe just maybe, we all can have a discussion about this system and see how we can help people.

Join LCCR, the Joan Mitchell Center, and community co-sponsors as they bring the Juvenile-in-Justice exhibition to New Orleans as part of National Youth Justice Awareness Month.

Created by acclaimed photographer and advocate for juvenile justice reform Richard Ross, Juvenile-in-Justicedocuments the experiences of children in prisons around the nation through powerful photographs and personal narratives. The traveling exhibit brings viewers into spaces normally hidden from view to tell the stories of the most vulnerable members of our society. Exhibit Runs Oct. 23- Nov. 20.

Written by Shawn Kelly, Intern with the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, a project of theLouisiana Center for Children’s Rights. Shawn is 20 years old and currently attends Loyola University in New Orleans, where he is the President of the Black Student Association. He is one of our paid interns, funded through the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), through its Young Men’s Voices have Power in New Orleans (YMVP-NOLA) program.

 

juvenile in justice

#YJAM: Racial and Ethnic Disparities, Reflections from Defenders

Wednesday, 14 October 2015 Posted in Voices

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Police reports, witnesses, special needs, poverty, illegal searches, inadmissible evidence—these are just some of the case components defenders must juggle when defending youth. A defender is trained to understand and maneuver around such obstacles yet, what becomes more difficult to understand and articulate to a client is a barrier so high in our juvenile justice and criminal justice systems, that despite recognizing it, there is no way over, under, or through it. Racial injustice. In 2010, African American youth made up 17% of the juvenile population but 33% of the delinquency caseload. How does a defender explain that while the “perception of innocence is a central protection afforded to children” such a consideration “may not be given to the children of dehumanized groups, such as Black Americans”? Today we hear from a few defenders across the country and their perspectives on race.

California Bay Area Juvenile Defender: "Hope for the best, prepare for the worst." This the mantra that I make my clients repeat back to me at the end of every meeting, especially the ones in juvenile hall. Because what those clients hope for, more than anything, is to just go home. I promise to stop smoking pot, they tell me. I promise to go to school. I'm not a bad kid. I just made a mistake.... Why, they ask me, why won't the judge let me out?

This question when posed by my African American clients - the why - is particularly heartbreaking. If I tell them the truth - that black youth are overrepresented in the system, that implicit and explicit historical and present racial biases have led to them getting kicked out of school, overcharged, detained, incarcerated longer - that the color of their skin has largely defined this whole juvenile justice experience - how could they possibly have hope?

Instead, I tell them not to worry. Concentrate on yourself, keep doing well. It's my job to fight for you. Little do they suspect that when I say fight, I don't just mean the battle that is their case, but the larger war against racial injustice.

Robert Mason, Jacksonville, Florida Juvenile Defender: I’ve worked as an Assistant Public Defender in Jacksonville, Florida for more than twenty-five years.  I’ve worked in Juvenile, County (Misdemeanors), Circuit (Felonies), Repeat Offender Court, and the Special Defense Unit. Doesn’t really matter which division I’ve practiced in...I always see a higher proportion of people of color than the composition of the local community. And it all begins in Juvenile. 

Children of color get swept into the system, often stemming from school arrests.  Frequently the thought process is that these arrests are to help a child and provide services.  Well, arrests certainly don’t help these children in the future, and as for services, we’re in a state that keeps the purse strings pretty tight.  Sorry kid.

The school arrests occur disproportionately in certain zip codes.  Somehow the elite schools manage to avoid these arrests.  Go figure.

The irony is never lost on me when I’m heading to court and I jaywalk or walk against the light in the presence of law enforcement.  I have an important hearing on probable cause or I’m challenging a case because of an illegal stop.  Anyway, I’m exempt from being stopped; I’m an old white guy in a suit.

Eric Zogry, North Carolina State Juvenile Defender: ¨As an in court defender, my enlightenment regarding “the system” arrived when I simply looked around me.  Not at my clients, or the other black and Latino juveniles that made up the vast majority of our caseloads – that was obvious.  What I recognized was that, even though we had a black prosecutor, black juvenile justice workers, and even a black judge, my client was still getting buried under the system.  While individual discrimination and implicit bias remains, it was then I knew that the juvenile justice system, itself, was a root cause of racial bias.

As a state-wide director, it was no surprise that most juvenile defenders could recognize the problems of overrepresentation, racial disparity and institutionalized racism.  But the true hard work as defenders is recognizing and accepting that we are part of the problem.  What decisions do we make when we first see our clients of color?  Do we afford them the same benefits we do our white clients?  Or do we cut corners, relax efforts, and fail to attack the system itself for fear of inevitable defeat? Our practice, our profession needs to reach inward first to honestly address our contribution to this state of discrimination.

This week, join the conversation on racial and ethnic disparities by using the hashtag #YJAM.  Below is sample language you can share on social media:

TWEETS
During arrests, hearings, sentencing, and even treatment while incarcerated, youth of color are treated worse than whites. #YJAM

Racial disparities in the justice system are tied to many issues including income inequality, racism, and lack of opportunity. #YJAM

Many youth of color who are charged with felonies can't vote, can't find employment, and can't find housing. #YJAM

African-American youth are 9 times more likely that white youth to receive an adult prison sentence #YJAM

Latino children are also 40% more likely than white youth to be admitted into adult prison #YJAM

FACEBOOK
President Barack Obama has signed a proclamation declaring October 'National Youth Justice Awareness Month' and calls on Americans to "observe this month by getting involved in community efforts to support our youth, and by participating in appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs." http://sparkaction.org/content/president-proclamation-yjam #YJAM #youthjustice #JJDPAmatters

Youth of color prosecuted and incarcerated as adults are disproportionately over-represented in the justice system. The issue of youth incarcerated as adults has demanded the attention of the nation, especially since President Barack Obama has signed a proclamation declaring October 'National Youth Justice Awareness Month' http://sparkaction.org/content/president-proclamation-yjam #YJAM

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