To 16-year-old Samuel, the choice to leave his home in El Salvador became very clear. “The gangs were killing my family members, and they wanted to kill me,” Samuel said in Spanish through a translator. “They wanted to cut my fingers — mine and my sisters. And that’s the reason I came.”
A quarter of state-level agencies across the country do not currently collect or report juvenile recidivism data, according to a recent survey conducted by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators and the Council of State Governments.
Of all the birthdays Julie Kisaka remembers from her childhood, one clearly stands out among the rest. “There’s nothing worse than celebrating your 15th birthday in jail,” Kisaka said. On her birthday, Kisaka’s parents brought her a chocolate cake, and the three of them sat quietly in the detention center’s small cafeteria. Behind bars, Kisaka tasted bitterness.
Although gossip has always been a part of middle and high schools, some social media smartphone apps have been raising concerns about cyber-bullying in schools across the nation. Apps like Yik Yak, uMentioned and Whisper, which are designed to connect students on and around campus, allow users to post pictures and comments about others under the cloak of anonymity. “We see people being targeted, comments being posted about particular students or educators,” says Justin Patchin, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center and professor of criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. What started out as an app for college campuses to share inside jokes has trickled down to middle and high schools, where the apps have been used for cyberbullying or sexual harassment, he said. Katarina Grunden, a freshman at Grady High School in Atlanta, says she’s seen the app being used in inappropriate ways.
Alhough gay and transgender youth make up just 5 to 7 percent of the overall national population, LGBTQ youth represent up to 15 percent of the total juvenile justice population, according to a report by the Center for American Progress. And that may be a conservative estimate, experts say.
In 2008, the Chastain Park Conservancy began accepting juvenile offenders, allowing them to complete their court-ordered community services hours at the conservancy. Ray Mock built relationships with a couple of parole officers and lawyers, and soon, word of mouth about his program traveled. What Mock found was a program that worked for him and his growing nonprofit, and worked for those who had gotten into trouble.