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Articles tagged with: President Obama

Important First Steps to End Solitary Confinement for Youth in Federal Prisons

Marcy Mistreet Tuesday, 26 January 2016 Posted in 2016, Federal Update

President Obama Takes Important First Steps to End Solitary Confinement for Youth in Federal Prisons

By Marcy Mistrett, CFYJ CEO

In a historic moment yesterday, President Obama used his executive authority to end the use of solitary confinement for youth in the federal prison system.

This action is incredibly important to the numerous youth who are prosecuted and sentenced as adults in the federal bureau of prisons each year.  Youth housed in adult facilities are often subject to solitary confinement as a perverse means of “protecting” them from the adult population; making the abuse even more egregious for this population. Citing a Department of Justice review of the overuse and abuse of solitary confinement by the federal bureau of prisons, Mr. Obama called upon our “common humanity” to end this torturous practice.

The 53 recommendations drawn by the Department of Justice will apply to the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the US Marshalls Service, but also sends a strong message to states to create a less harmful environment for those in its care.  The recommendations state that youth under age 18 “shall not be placed in restrictive housing”.  They further state that in “very rare” circumstances when there is serious and immediate risk of injury to another person, a youth may be removed and placed in restrictive housing as a “cool down” period—but only in consultation with a mental health professional.  While the recommendations stop short of articulating a specific maximum length of time allowed in those “very rare circumstances”, the recommendations clearly state that youth under 18 don’t belong in isolation, period.

But the recommendations go farther, and include recommendations for youth ages 18-24 that include training all correctional staff on young adult brain development and de-escalation tactics; developmentally responsive policies and practices including therapeutic housing communities and services to reduce the number of incidents that could lead to restrictive housing; and call to limit the use of restrictive housing whenever possible, and if used, to limit the length of stay and to identify appropriate services they can receive while in restrictive housing.

These recommendations are important first steps to ending the use of solitary confinement for youth.  The harmful effects of solitary confinement are well documented.  Individuals subjected to such extreme deprivation, locked in isolation for 23 hours a day for weeks, months, and even years, are linked to devastating, long term psychological consequences including depression, anxiety, and withdrawal from other individuals.  For youth whose minds and bodies are still growing and developing, these consequences are amplified and too often lead to dire consequences including self-harm and suicide.  In fact, the Department of Justice found that youth in solitary commit suicide at twice the rate of adults; and other research has shown that youth in solitary in adult facilities are 36 times more likely to commit suicide than if they were housed in the juvenile justice system.

In his announcement, President Obama stated, “ We believe that when people make mistakes, they deserve the opportunity to remake their lives. And if we can give them the hope of a better future, and a way to get back on their feet, then we will leave our children with a country that is safer, stronger, and worthy o our highest ideals.”

While we certainly applaud President Obama for taking this momentous step forward, we urge him to take further actions to protect youth in federal custody, such as preventing them from being in adult facilities to begin with.  In 2012, the recommendations made by the Attorney General’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence, included the charge to abandon practices like solitary confinement, which traumatize children and reduce their opportunities to become productive members of society.  However, the report also makes recommendation 6.9, “Whenever possible, prosecute youth offenders in the juvenile justice system instead of transferring their cases to adult courts.”  We urge Mr. Obama to use his remaining time in office to implement this recommendation by “strengthening federal regulations and essentially prohibit states and localities from incarcerating any person younger than 18 in an adult prison or jail as a condition of federal funding.”

It is long past due that our country starts treating children like children. Ending the practice of placing youth held in federal prisons in solitary confinement is a critical step toward this broader goal.  Now isn’t it time to ask why children are sentenced to time in federal prison at all?

Congress Passes Education Reform for Justice-involved Youth; Next up—Comprehensive JJ Reform

Friday, 11 December 2015 Posted in 2015, Federal Update

ESSA

 By Jenny Collier, Chris Scott, and Marcy Mistrett

Yesterday, President Obama took a step toward improves access to quality education for young people involved in and returning from the juvenile justice system by signing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law, a bill that reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). 

Established in 1965 as part of the war on poverty ESEA has provided services to schools, communities, and neglected and  low-income children over the decades.  Title 1, aimed at improving outcomes for disadvantaged children as well as the primary source of federal funding for schools and districts, has been the cornerstone of the Act. Title 1, Part D was established to provide prevention and intervention programs for children and youth who are neglected, delinquent or at risk of dropping out of school.  Part D was created in part to help ensure that the educational needs of youth who come in contact with the law are addressed, since these young people often are behind in school, have higher rates of learning differences from the general population, and can fall behind in their education during periods of detention and reentry. To help address these educational needs, Title 1, part D provides funding for state agencies and districts to assist in the educational transition of students from correctional systems back to their home communities to help ensure that they get access to the same quality education as provided in the local community.

New provisions in the Every Student Succeeds Law will help improve the success of youth involved in the juvenile justice system and strengthen their reentry outcomes by providing increased access to education and supports upon reentry. Under the reauthorized and improved law, states receiving Title 1, Part D funding for prevention and intervention programs for children and youth who are neglected, delinquent or at risk, must promote:

1. Smoother education transitions for youth entering juvenile justice facilities, including records transfer, better planning and coordination of education between facilities and local education agencies, and educational assessment upon entry into a correctional facility, when practicable;

2.  Stronger reentry supports for youth returning to the community, including requiring education planning, credit transfer, and timely re-enrollment in appropriate educational placements for youth transitioning between correctional facilities and local educational agencies and programs, and requiring correctional facilities receiving funds under the law to coordinate educational services with local educational agencies so as to minimize education disruption;

3. Opportunities for youth to earn credits in secondary, postsecondary, or career/technical programming, and requiring transfer of secondary credits to the home school district upon reentry;

4. Prioritizing achievement of a regular high school diploma not just a GED;

5. Supportive services for youth who have had contact with both the juvenile justice and child welfare systems.

These critical provisions fill significant gaps in the existing education law that will complement pending reentry and education reforms and provisions in the proposed Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) reauthorization bill; hopefully the next bill to get passed that supports justice involved youth.

Jenny Collier is Project Director of the Robert F. Kennedy Juvenile Justice Collaborative, a joint youth reentry policy project of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps.

Chris Scott is a senior policy analyst at the Open Society Foundation, where he advocates for criminal, civil and racial justice.

Marcy Mistrett is CEO at the Campaign for Youth Justice that advocates for the removal of youth from the adult criminal justice system, and co-chair of the Act-4-JJ initiative that advances the reauthorization of the JJDPA.