NEW YORK -- Daphne Culler whispered the words from the courtroom visitor’s bench, so quietly practically no one could hear. “Just relax,” she said. Culler, her face impassive, never broke eye contact with her daughter, who sat across the room at the witness table. The 15-year-old, who was accused of assaulting a shop owner, mumbled each answer. Twice the judge told her to speak up. Her demeanor alternated between anxiety and annoyance at the repeated questions, a quick smile sometimes flashing across her face until the next question called her to attention. Continue Reading →
One of my favorite exercise and nutrition blogs is Theory to Practice, written by Keith Norris. He combines a solid grounding in the science of his topic, the geeky stuff, with a lot of practical experience and willingness to adapt to individual needs. The tension between the study of a topic and the subsequent conversion of ideas into actual work exists in all endeavors, something I have been thinking about as I prepare a training weekend for people interested in learning about restorative justice. There is a purity in theory, a beauty reminiscent of the idealism of Plato and Pythagoras, that is fun to engage. Working in this realm is a kind of game, fun, yet ultimately empty without the willingness to get out in the world and get dirty. Continue Reading →
LOS ANGELES — I have the privilege of serving as the current president of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ). Our organization is the nation’s oldest judicial membership organization with approximately 2,000 members nationwide, mostly judicial officers. NCJFCJ’s function is to provide education, technical assistance and research for our nation’s juvenile and family court judges and others working in our child welfare and juvenile justice systems. In addition, NCJFCJ often weighs in on, or is asked to weigh in on, important policy issues impacting children and families. In January of this year, NCJFCJ was asked by representatives of Vice President Joe Biden to provide input to the committee he chaired that was tasked to make recommendations to President Barack Obama after the Newtown school shootings. Specifically, our organization was asked our views on increased school security in schools. Continue Reading →
In prison I could often tell who would be a target for victimization. I developed this ability the old fashioned way, through observation. Predators abound in that world, so opportunities to witness their attacks were common. Whether it was robbery, rape, extortion or some other attempt to dominate those who were on the losing end had often had something in common. According to the convict code the victims were “weak.” This isn’t surprising, since the code was created by those with an interest in perpetuating such crimes. Continue Reading →
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As juvenile justice reform moves forward around the country, certain words and phrases are increasingly being thrown about. We see calls for peer reviewed studies, evidence-based practices, demonstration of causal relationships and similar scientific sounding terms. People want to invest time and resources into programs with a real chance of working, and the sheen of objectivism seems to lend weight to evaluations of these programs.
I too want programs that work and that give us the best return on our investments, but I am also leery of an over reliance on scientific approaches, especially in the realm of social control and policy making that is based on a supposed understanding of human behavior. I am, and have been since an early age, a skeptic. I don’t consider myself to be needlessly critical, but in my own life and work I continually question my assumptions and biases. Problems with peer review confirmation bias have long been known to influence which theories gain traction, and now cases of fraud, some quite extensive, are increasingly being unearthed in the research community. Continue Reading →
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The restorative justice program here in Athens, Ga., after almost two years of relationship and capacity building, is finally getting off the ground. Georgia Conflict Center has gotten some referrals from the juvenile court and we have started reaching out to parents whose kids have been charged with crimes, and to victims and parents of victims.
I called a woman recently who had filed a criminal complaint after her daughter was threatened by a fellow student. First she went to the school, explained the situation to the administration, and asked to be put in touch with the other kid’s mom. She wanted to settle the problem between the parents of the kids. The school refused, stating liability concerns, and instead put her in contact with the school resource officer. Continue Reading →
Two recent stories on the JJIE show the contrasting approaches that states have taken to address last year’s Miller vs. Alabama decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. If you aren’t familiar with the decision, the justices found that juvenile offenders, in part because of their lack of brain development, and thus decision making powers, are not eligible for mandatory life without parole sentences. The first article was about Connecticut, where the joint judiciary committee approved a bill granting reviews to those who receive a sentence greater than 10 years and were under the age of 18 when the crime was committed. The second, from Florida, takes a very different tack. Continue Reading →
The Times Tribune published an article Tuesday outlining the final report of Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille covering changes in how the state’s juvenile and appellate courts operate. The changes were prompted by the “Kids for Cash” scandal in Luzerne County. In case you don’t remember, the case involved two judges, Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. and Michael T. Conahan, in the juvenile court who were taking bribes to send kids to a privately operated youth detention center. Their plot was hatched in 2000 and included rigged deals for contracts, overcharging by private prisons, fraud, bribery, kids sent to facilities in droves as a way to raise revenue, and many other crimes, and came to light over several years, starting in 2007. Both judges are now in federal prison serving lengthy sentences. Continue Reading →
I found out a few days ago that next week, a dear friend of mine will be released from prison. I plan to pick him up and deliver him to the halfway house where he’ll spend the next nine months. My friend started his prison career when he was 18. Today he is nearly sixty. For more than 35 years he has lived in prison, being told what to do, what to eat, when he could go to the bathroom; told what to do in just about every facet of his life. Continue Reading →
In prison it pays to be tough, or at least seem tough, and men will go to great lengths to disguise their pain and suffering. So my friend’s story, which he told while tears slowly leaked from his eyes despite his best efforts, stands out in my memory. His face was taut and his voice shook as he described being stripped naked by guards, forced onto a restraint table, and strapped down by five leather belts. Next they forced a modified football helmet onto his head, and then they left. He was riding the “motorcycle”, and he would continue to ride it for a few more days, periodically given water (but not food) and sprayed off with a hose when he soiled himself. Continue Reading →