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Articles tagged with: Across the Country

Request NJPC's new data brief, entitled "The Incarceration of Children & Youth in New Jersey's Adult Prison System

Tuesday, 26 May 2015 Posted in 2015, Across the Country

Youth Suffer Long Term Solitary Confinement, Gross Racial & Ethnic Disparities, Justice by Geography, and Lack of Due Process

A local study by the New Jersey Parents's Caucus (NJPC) of 472 children and youth, ages 14 to 17, who were waived, sentenced and incarcerated in New Jersey's adult prison system between 2007 - 2015, showed:

  • Justice by geography: Rates of incarceration in the adult prison system vary significantly across counties in New Jersey, suggesting that justice depends on where one lives, not on the facts of a given case.
  • Youth are regularly deprived of due process: Approximately 30% of the 472 youth waived to adult court during the study period spent more than 2 years incarcerated, between their arrest date and their sentencing date, violating their right to a speedy trial.
  • Youth are regularly put in solitary confinement - especially youth with mental health disorders: Although solitary confinement is known to be psychologically damaging, especially to children, 53% of these youth spent a total of approximately 15,359 days (42 years) in solitary confinement between 2010 and 2015; 5 percent spend over a year there, and about 4 percent spent 2 years or more in solitary.  Nearly 70 percent of those placed in solitary had a mental health disorder, with nearly 37% having two or more diagnoses.
  • Youth suffer abuse while in adult prison: once incarcerated in an adult prison, one in four youth surveyed reported physical abuse; 5% reported sexual abuse.

These disturbing statistics appear in NJPC's new data brief, entitled "The Incarceration of Children & Youth in New Jersey's Adult Prison System: New Jersey Youth Justice Initiative ." The brief is comprised of comprehensive state data which NJPC gathered from the New Jersey Department of Corrections (NJ DOC) on 472 children incarcerated in the adult prison system. The data largely covers the period 2007 - 2015, though some information gathered dates back to 2003. In addition to the data retrieved from the NJ Department of Corrections, NJPC has compiled additional data from a subset of the same population (120 youth) by means of a survey provided to incarcerated youth and their parents, caregivers and family members

"These data show how broken our system is," said Kathy Wright, executive director of the NJPC, a parent of a justice-involved youth, and a fellow in the National Juvenile Justice Network's Youth Justice Leadership Institute. "We should not be sending youth to the adult system, where their rights are violated, they are unsafe, and their mental health needs go unmet. New Jersey's juvenile justice system was created because as a society, we realized our children, due to their age, can be rehabilitated, and they should be given the opportunity to do so.

Results from the data brief highlight a myriad of injustices that continue to plague New Jersey's justice system. Most blatant are the gross racial and ethnic disparities that exist in justice system. Youth of color are disproportionately represented among those waived to the adult prison system in New Jersey, making up approximately 90% of youth included in NJPC's data set; 72% are African American males, exceeding all other ethnic groups and genders. Furthermore, rates of youth incarceration in the adult prison system vary significantly across counties in New Jersey, suggesting that justice depends on where one lives, not on the facts of a given case. For example, in Camden County, 14 to 17 year olds make up 5.8% of the population of children between the ages of 0-17, but make up 15.3% of our data set between 2007 and 2015. In comparison, in Hunterdon County, where youth 14 to 17 make up 6.3% of the population of children between the ages of 0-17, exactly 0% were incarcerated in the adult system between 2007 and 2015.

Once incarcerated, children and youth are frequently subject to long-term solitary confinement, even though solitary confinement is known to be psychologically damaging, especially to children. Worse, one in four youth surveyed reported physical abuse, and 5% reported sexual abuse. Finally, and most disturbingly, the needs of New Jersey youth are not being met in their communities. Almost three out of four (71%) of youth waived to the adult system were known to at least two child-serving agencies prior to their involvement in adult court, with the majority having been involved in the mental health system. Of those youth, more than two out of three children have two or more mental health diagnoses.

According to Wright, "Given the large number of New Jersey youth involved in multiple child-serving systems prior to their incarceration in the adult system, this data brief serves as a call to action for state officials, child-serving systems, community-based organizations, legislators, and other interested stakeholders throughout the state of New Jersey to revisit the way in which we view and provide services to all children and youth, regardless of their race, ethnicity or geographical location, and the way in which services are provided to them and their families.Somehow, we have lost our way. The institution of racism has reared its ugly head and we are funneling kids of color who need our help into the juvenile justice system where, unlike the schoolhouse, there is no eject button, and they cannot say no."

NJPC's The Incarceration of Children & Youth in New Jersey's Adult Prison System: New Jersey Youth Justice Initiative  was recently posted on the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice (NCMHJJ) on their homepage and the National Black Disability Coalition.  The data brief is also available for download on the New Jersey Parents' Caucus website at at http://www.newjerseyparentscaucus.org.  

A Call to Action: Dear Governors, Protect Our Children from Rape in Adult Jails and Prison Today. There's No Excuse.

Carmen Daugherty Friday, 15 May 2015 Posted in 2015, Across the Country

CFYJ PREAEMAIL

Last year, Gov. Rick Perry, refused to complete a process to bring Texas into full compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), saying it would result in unfunded mandates for local sheriffs and a reduction in prison guards. The actual gap between where Texas is and where it needs to be is relatively small, but the problems that remaining noncompliant will create for the state- including increased possibility for litigation and a loss of federal grant money - could be substantial.

Gov. Perry is just one example, in one state that magnifies a larger problem.

Over a decade ago, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approved PREA, a bill designed to end sexual violence behind bars. The passage of PREA was a bipartisan effort, signed into law by President George W. Bush, also a former governor of Texas.  U.S. Department of Justice officials worked tirelessly to write and issue regulations in 2012 to implement PREA through several comment periods.  

Now is the time to ensure that all states are in compliance and the U.S. Attorney General and the nation's governors need to devote their attention to enforcing this law. Today, Governors from across the country will once again provide information to the Department of Justice as to whether the state will be in compliance, or continue working towards full compliance.

What's at stake if PREA is not enforced? 

For starters, the safety and well-being of the approximate 100,000 children placed in adult jails and prisons every year.  

These children include Ameen, incarcerated in adult prison as a teen, who wrote CFYJ a letter stating that he witnessed a 14 year old being sexually assaulted by three other inmates, and Antonio, sent to adult prison at age 17, who wrote to us about his experiences stating that, "I came to prison so young; sexual advances were made toward me. I had to defend myself the best way I knew how, which was to fight."  And these children include Rodney Hulin, sent to adult prison at 16, repeatedly raped and died by suicide. Unfortunately these stories are more common than we recognize and youth are 36 more times more likely to commit suicide in an adult jail than in a juvenile detention facility.

To protect children, the PREA regulations include the Youthful Inmate Standard that bans the housing of youth with adults, prohibits contact between youth and adults in common areas, and ensures youth are constantly supervised by staff.  At the same time, the regulations limit the use of solitary confinement in complying with this standard. Enforcement of the Youthful Inmate Standard is just the baseline for safety, and we need to encourage our jurisdictions to go further to ensure that no child is victimized in a detention facility.

Governors and local officials should implement the best practices to fully protect youth in the justice system.  Best practices include removing youth from adult jails and prisons, and instead placing them in juvenile detention and correctional facilities where they are more likely to receive developmentally appropriate services, educational programming and support by trained staff. 

States that need assistance should consult other states that have already adopted policies to keep children out of adult jails or prisons, such as Colorado, Indiana, and Virginia.  States can also seek federal technical assistance through the U.S. Department of Justice sponsored centers such as the National PREA Resource Center and the National Center for Youth in Custody and apply for federal grants from the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA).

Thousands of individuals and organizations in nearly every state have called on the U.S. Attorney General and the nation's governors to ensure that children are protected from the dangers of adult jails and prisons through the PREA. 

Since PREA was passed, an estimated one million children have cycled through adult jails and prisons.  Unfortunately, the PREA came too late to impact these childrens' safety and well-being. Now is the time for the U.S. Attorney General and the nation's governors to fully implement this law and protect our children.

Raise the Age Leads to PREA Compliance in Texas

Elizabeth Henneke Thursday, 14 May 2015 Posted in 2015, Across the Country

TX

This Friday, May 15, governors across the country will once again certify that their states are following the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) and protecting people in prison from sexual abuse.

In Texas, this issue has sharply divided the corrections community.  On March 28, 2014, then Governor Rick Perry announced that Texas would not comply with the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).  Since that time, Texas sheriffs — custodians over the thousands of Texans housed in local county jails — have made clear that Governor Perry’s statements did not reflect their own views on PREA.  The vast majority of Texas Sheriffs have made clear that they intend to comply fully with PREA standards because these standards reflect best practices for keeping those in their care safe.  These Sheriffs have asked the Texas Legislature to help them comply by raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 17 to 18. 

Among other things, PREA requires all offenders under 18 to be housed separately from adults in correctional facilities.[1]   Research has shown that adult correctional facilities are a breeding ground for violence and abuse.  Youth are over eight times as likely to have a substantiated incident of sexual violence while in state prisons than adults in these same facilities.[2]  Moreover, 17-year-olds who are held in adult correctional facilities are subject to isolation, which poses a severe danger to their mental and physical health.[3]  Because PREA defines a “youthful inmate” as anyone under the age 18, 17-year-olds MUST be kept “sight and sound” separated from the rest of the adult population.  Unfortunately, county jails (where the majority of youth are held) are not equipped to segregate 17-year-olds without isolating them.[4]

This Youthful Inmate Standard (examined more fully below) has greatly impacted adult county jails, forcing them to expend extra costs to comply, and leaving many counties unable to comply due to architectural constraints.  For example, Dallas County spends approximately $79,850 per week to separate 17-year-olds from adults.[5]  Harris County has had to evacuate entire floors to move one or two 17-year-olds to the shower.[6]  Smaller counties are logistically unable to provide “sight and sound” separation and/or avoid placing youth in insolation without retrofitting facilities at tremendous expense.[7]  Simply put, Texas county jails cannot continue housing 17-year-olds with adult inmates or in isolation cells without financial cost and/or liability risk. 

Yet another county concern is lawsuits: PREA exposes counties to increased civil liability,[8] with the potential for substantial litigation costs.  While the Department of Justice maintains that “[t]he standards are not intended to define the contours of constitutionally required conditions of confinement,”[9] it is highly likely that the PREA standards will inform future civil litigation surrounding prison conditions.  In Farmer v. Brennan, the United State Supreme Court set forth the standard for determining if prison conditions violated the Eighth Amendment.[10]  The two-part test adopted by the Supreme Court required the plaintiff to prove (1) that the conditions were cruel and (2) that the government was deliberately indifferent to the conditions facing the inmate.  Prior to PREA, this second prong—deliberate indifference—narrowed the class of claims that litigants were able to bring, because it is extremely difficult to prove that a government entity was deliberately indifferent to the conditions facing inmates. 

PREA has the potential, however, to change the way this litigation proceeds in the future by providing national standards—supported by extensive evidence-based research, correctional administrator input, public commentary, and other documentation—that suggest what governments must do to provide safe environments for inmates.  Thus, failure to follow these PREA standards could be seen as prima facie evidence of deliberate indifference and may result in plaintiffs succeeding past the initial stages of litigation, substantially increasing litigation costs to facilities that fail to comply with PREA.  One ex-inmate of Travis County has sued, alleging that county and sheriffs’ officials displayed deliberate indifference to his safety by failing to comply with PREA; he is seeking $2 million in damages as compensation for the rape he sustained while in the Travis County jail.[11]

Because protecting and serving 17-year-olds in adult custody is a challenge for local jails, a risk to long-term public safety, and a burden on taxpayers, many Sheriffs have chosen to support “raising the age” of juvenile jurisdiction.

All eyes are now on the Texas Legislature, a bill authored by Chairman Harold Dutton of the House Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Committee winds its way through the Legislative process.  HB 1205 would raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 17 to 18. If the Legislature fails to act on this important bill, it will have left Texas youth in a vulnerable position, subjected local counties to threats of expensive litigation, and failed to recognize what every parent knows:  17 year olds are still children and should be treated as such. 

Elizabeth A. Henneke is the Policy Attorney at Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.

Citations
________________________________

[1] Ibid.

[2] National Standards to Prevent, Detect, and Respond to Prison Rape, 77 Fed. Reg. 37106-01, 37128 (Jun.20, 2012)

(amending 28 C.F.R. pt II5); see also, Lacey Levitt, “The Comparative Risk of Mistreatment for Juveniles in Detention Facilities and State Prisons,” International Journal of Forensic Mental Health 9 (2010): 44-54, http://www.prearesourcecenter.org/sites/default/files/library/riskofjuvenilemistreatment.pdf (Youth in adult prisons are “five times more likely to report being sexually assaulted by other inmates than in a juvenile commitment facility.”).

[3]  Deitch, et al., "Conditions for Certified Juveniles,” 25-26.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Sheriffs Adrian Garcia, Christopher Kirk, and Lupe Valdez, “Sending 17-Year-Olds to Adult Jails Costly to Teens and Taxpayers, “Dallas Morning News, May 19, 2014, http://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/latest-columns/20140519-sending-17-year-olds-to-adult-jails-costly-to-teens-and-taxpayers.ece.

[6] Deitch, et al., "Conditions for Certified Juveniles,” 25.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Deitch, et al., "Conditions for Certified Juveniles,” 25-26.

[9] Ibid, 2.

[10] 511 U.S. 825 (1994).

[11] Farzad Mashhood, “Ex-Inmate Sues Over Travis County Jail Rape Claim,” Austin American-Statesman, March 14, 2014.

Florida Must Protect Youth Behind Bars, Comply with PREA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Facebook:

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


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

PREA: Why it Matters in the States

Carmen Daugherty Monday, 11 May 2015 Posted in 2015, Across the Country

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On any given day, over 8,000 youth are detained or confined in adult jails and prisons.  The research shows that youth are not safe in adult jails and prisons and are at the greatest risk of sexual victimization.  According to research by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, youth under the age of 18 represented 21 percent of all substantiated victims of inmate-on-inmate sexual violence in jails in 2005, and 13 percent in 2006 - surprisingly high since only one percent of jail inmates are youth.  The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission found that, "more than any other group of incarcerated persons, youth incarcerated with adults are probably at the highest risk for sexual abuse."  Research also shows that youth are 36 times more likely to commit suicide in an adult jail than in a juvenile detention facility.   

Over ten years ago, the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) unanimously passed Congress.  The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued final regulations in August 2012 to implement PREA in order to end sexual violence behind bars. YOUR VOICE was instrumental in getting these regulations published and the Youthful Inmate Standard is a powerful tool in removing youth from adult jails and prisons. 

This week, CFYJ will highlight states that are working towards justice reform utilizing the tools that PREA provides. We will continue to be watching as Governors provide certifications to the Department of Justice in hopes that states move closer to full PREA compliance.

By May 15th, Governors will have to certify whether their state is in compliance with PREA, or make assurances that federal dollars will be used to come into compliance. Help us monitor state responses and continue to advocate for full PREA implementation:There's No Excuse! Protect Children from Rape in Adult Jails and Prisons. Use #ImplementPREA to show your support.

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

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

Twitter:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Facebook:

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

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

SUMMARY: Hearing on “Improving Accountability and Oversight of Juvenile Justice Grants" United States Senate Judiciary Committee – April 21, 2015

Marcy Mistrett Wednesday, 22 April 2015 Posted in 2015, Federal Update

act4jjSenator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) led a hearing of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday on the oversight and accountability of juvenile justice programs authorized by the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA). The Act, first passed forty years ago and last reauthorized in 2002, provides guidance and funding to states around building effective juvenile and criminal justice systems that protect kids and promote public safety.

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), housed under the Department of Justice, was created by the Act to ensure states comply with the four core requirements of JJDPA: (1) the de-institutionalization of status offenders, (2) the removal of youth from adult jails, (3) the sight and sound separation of youth from adults while confined, and (4) addressing the disproportionate minority contact of youth involved in the juvenile justice system. As Mr. Grassley highlighted, “Congress designed [juvenile justice] grants to be earned each year—not to be handed out as entitlements.” The hearing explored whether the Justice Department was providing adequate oversight to the administration of this Act.

Witnesses at the hearing articulated the need for more transparency between the federal government and states, attention to updating regulations and guidance for the Act, and delays and inconsistencies in compliance auditing. Furthermore, witnesses testified to the importance of the JJDPA in protecting our youth, with some notable excerpts below:

“The power of this law is that it really helps kids,” noted Elissa Rumsey, Compliance Monitoring Coordinator at OJJDP and DOJ Whistleblower, DC.

“ We need a strong federal presence with adequate funding. Congress should proceed with a fortified reintroduction of JJDPA,” Professor Dean Hill Rivkin, Distinguished Professor, University of Tennessee College of Law, TN

“The time is ripe to re-authorize the JJDPA and in so doing make the changes necessary to improve the accountability and oversight of juvenile justice grants. I do not view this hearing as an obstacle to re-authorization, but an opportunity to improve upon a historic and strategic Act of Congress that has assisted states like mine to do the right thing for youth.” Judge Steven Teske, Chief Judge, Clayton County Juvenile Court, GA.

At the hearing, Senator Charles Grassley and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) both reaffirmed their commitment to reintroducing and passing a strengthened Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA). The Senators co-sponsored S. 2999 to reauthorize JJDPA in December, 2014. The bill strengthened the core protections and accountability since the last reauthorization more than 13 years ago. 

To watch the hearing or read the testimony, go to the U.S, Senate Judiciary Committee website.

NEW REPORT: Keeping Vulnerable Populations Safe under PREA

Wednesday, 15 April 2015 Posted in 2015, Research & Policy

A new report, Keeping Vulnerable Populations Safe under PREA: Alternative Strategies to the Use of Segregation in Prisons and Jails, was released this month by the Nation PREA Resource Center. The report serves as a guide that provides prison and jail administrators and staff with strategies for safely housing inmates at risk of sexual abuse without isolating them.

The Campaign for Youth Justice supports the specific recommendations with regard to the protection of youthful inmates in the criminal justice system because of the vulnerability of young people and the impacts of sexual abuse on their development and long-term well-being. We know youth in adult jails and prisons are at a higher rate of victimization and have a higher likelihood of being placed in solitary confinement. This report comes at a perfect time as states analyze their housing practices for their annual PREA compliance reporting.

Key ideas in the report on protecting youth in the system are as follows:

  • House youthful inmates in juvenile facilities until age 18
  • Create dedicated housing units with age-appropriate programming when youthful inmates are housed in adult facilities
  • Provide supervised opportunities for youthful inmates in adult facilities to participate in congregate activities

To learn more, tune in for the Keeping Vulnerable Populations Safe Under PREA: Alternative Strategies to the Use of Segregation Prisons and Jails webinarSegregation Prisons and Jails webinar on April 21, 2015 from 2:00-3:30 pm EDT.

Presenters will discuss the PREA standards that place restrictions on the use of involuntary protective custody and walk participants through a new implementation guide that provides strategies for prisons and jails on how to safely house inmates at risk of sexual abuse without isolating them. To register click here. For any questions regarding registration, please contact Priscilla Alabi at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

“Sixth Amendment Right to… Detention?”

Najja Quail, CFYJ Policy Intern Tuesday, 14 April 2015 Posted in 2015, Federal Update

By Najja Quail, CFYJ Intern

“Without counsel, an accused’s chances of regaining liberty are substantially prejudiced.” The Constitution Project recently hosted a luncheon to discuss its recent report on pretrial justice and the right to counsel at first judicial bail hearings. In its report, The Constitution Project highlighted the lack of constitutionally mandated counsel for indigent clients at pretrial hearings where bail is set, often at an amount that no indigent citizen could pay. The lack of representation at these hearings often results in indigent clients spending unnecessary time in jail, not because of an adjudication of guilt, but simply because they cannot afford bail. For youth, the negative impacts of this practice are even more detrimental.

More often than not, the result of the lack of counsel at preliminary hearings is detention. For youth charged as adults, this often means being detained in an adult jail. The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) requires that youth in adult facilities be separated by sight and sound from the adult population. Too often this results in youth being placed in solitary confinement, a torturous practice, before any adjudication of guilt. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) does not require sight and sound separation for youth charged as adults, a loophole with equally devastating consequences.

In Rothgery v. Gillespie, Justice Souter asserted that “counsel’s advocacy at the initial appearance is essential to the fair administration of our system of justice.” The lack of counsel often results in youth being unnecessarily detained which places them at a grave disadvantage. As a country, we consistently recognize the vulnerability of youth and generally view them as a group requiring special protections. However, when it comes to our treatment of youth involved in the justice system, we seem to lose sight of the fragility of youth and often treat them harsher than adults. The loss of liberty is one of the most highly protected constitutional rights, a right that does not disappear simply because someone is accused of committing a crime.

To learn more about pretrial justice and judicial bail hearings, please contact The Constitution ProjectConstitution Project.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Kay Xiao Wednesday, 01 April 2015 Posted in 2015, Across the Country

Today marks the beginning of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, geared towards raising awareness of sexual violence and prevention to public health, human rights, and social justice that exists across demographic groups: sexual violence happens to people of all ages, races, genders, sexual orientations, religions, abilities, professions, incomes, and ethnicities. From college campuses to jails and prisons, sexual violence impacts individuals and communities alike.  
 
Prisons and jails across the United States house youth under 18 with adults every single day. The most recent data from the Department of Justice, Bureau of Statistics  reports that nearly 4500 youth are held in jails and nearly 2000 in prisons on any given day. According to the new data, Florida houses over 200 youth each day in adult prison, Louisiana and New York, 178 and 182 respectively, Connecticut 143, North Carolina 115, and Michigan and Texas, 106 and 104. Georgia houses nearly 100.
 
The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), Youthful Inmate Standard (YIS), was created to protect these youth from the dangers of living in prisons and jails. It is our belief that these young people should be completely removed from these facilities and given access to developmentally appropriate rehabilitative services in the juvenile justice system. While we suspect many states will not certify full compliance, our goal is to keep shining a light on the prevalence of sexual abuse of youth in adult jails and prisons, and to continue to call on the full removal of youth in adult facilities.
 
In 2011, correctional administrators correctional administrators reported 8,763 allegations of sexual victimization in prisons, jails, and other adult correctional facilities, and according to the 2012 National Survey of Youth in Custody, An estimated 9.5% of adjudicated youth in state juvenile facilities and state contract facilities (representing 1,720 youth nationwide) reported experiencing one or more incidents of sexual victimization by another youth or staff in the past 12 months or since admission, if less than 12 months.
 
During the month of April, please take the time help us raise awareness about sexual victimization of youth in adult jails and prisons. 
 

The Conditions Necessary for Reform: Take Action Now

Marcy Mistrett Wednesday, 25 March 2015 Posted in 2015, Take Action Now

Only a few more weeks remain for the New York State legislature to decide whether to support Governor Cuomo’s Raise the Age Bill. A bill that would raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction from 16 to 18 years of age; aligning New York with the majority of the country. On March 16, the Children’s Defense Fund in NY held a symposium to educate the public on how the Commission on Youth, Public Safety and Justice determined its recommendations and the impact the law would have, if passed, on youth and public safety.

The tone of the morning was set by Bryan Stevenson, founder of Equal Justice Initiative, author of the best selling book, Just Mercy, and a powerful voice in the reform efforts of the criminal justice system. Mr. Stevenson, sharing his belief that “all children should be treated as children” broke down four conditions necessary for reform:

  1. Reformers must be proximate to those impacted by the law—keep people who are impacted close to the reforms. See and feel their humanity and the trauma they have experienced, for it is the same humanity and trauma that is within us.
  2. Reformers must change the narrative. The US presumes too many black children as dangerous and guilty. This narrative must be replaced with one of truth and reconciliation.
  3. Reformers must protect our hopefulness. “Change will be minimized if we don’t believe that something better is possible.”
  4. Reformers must do uncomfortable things. “Justice requires this. We are all more than the worst thing we have ever done.”

These themes resonated throughout the morning. Building from the powerful statements from a formerly court-involved young person, Jim S., who talked about the transformative nature of the youth/family court for him personally; every member of the panel clearly was proximate to this issue. There was no lack of stories of injustice, racialization, and deprivation that youth experience when incarcerated—particularly when incarcerated side by side with adults.

Commissioners talked about the importance of bearing witness to the conditions that youth endured in adult jails and prisons—including cell-study, outdoor recreation in a 2 x 5 foot caged area, months of solitary confinement, isolation from their families, and lack of access to age appropriate services. The observation, documentation and sharing of these experiences has been critical to developing the political climate necessary for reform.

In terms of changing the narrative—Commissioners and community-based organizations articulated and accepted that youth of color are disproportionately harmed and traumatized by incarceration; but also commented that this harm extends to all youth who lack access to age appropriate services and to the communities in which they reside. Panelists highlighted the vicious cycle that treating kids as adults creates in our families and communities—and the need to invest resources up front to keep young people and families stable and out of the criminal justice system. Panelists, many who have been fighting to raise the age for half a decade, discussed ways they have seen “toughness” toward these young people evolve into “trauma informed” services and care. Many cited excellent community based programs and continuums of care that exist, but need to be scaled, to keep kids close to home and connected to their communities.

Hopefulness was referred to repeatedly. Advocates referred to the system changes that have happened to get NY ready to raise the age. From the Youth-Part Court, to the dramatic reduction in state-based youth care, to a reorganizing of financial streams that allow youth to get accessible services, all prior reform has gotten NY in a position where raising the age can be implemented effectively. There was also consensus that this bill is something that would benefit youth, regardless of where they lived in the state.

Finally, the uncomfortableness that has accompanied “Raising the Age” in NY was also expressed throughout the morning. Not a panelist spoke, who didn’t reference some discomfort—either with what they see happen to youth and families day to day; or from their frustration with lacking authority to make the change from where they sit; or from holding systems and families accountable; or even where the final recommendations from the Commission ended. One might say that it was the pervasiveness of the discomfort that ultimately led to action.

By all accounts, NY has in place the pieces necessary for reform; the question remains, is the legislature ready too? If you haven’t yet reached out to your legislator in NY, please TAKE ACTION now, by clicking here.

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