In April, a 15-year-old boy housed at the Arkansas Juvenile Assessment and Treatment Center spent the entire day alone in a small cell. Michael (the names of juveniles in this story have been changed to protect their anonymity) was put in a hold by a guard and taken out of his classroom at the facility's school. As he repeatedly said, "I am not resisting" and "no aggression" — a phrase used at AJATC to indicate compliance — Michael was brought across campus to Building 19.
My young parents didn’t have the skill sets to properly raise me, which at a young age caused me to search for acceptance in other places. I began running away at the age of 13 and quickly got heavily involved in drug use.
During my testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on The Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights last month, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), chairman and majority whip, asked me if I am in favor of police on school campuses. To the dismay of some of my friends who stand by my side in this fight to dismantle the "school-to-prison pipeline," I answered a qualified yes. Police on campus, I explained, must be specially trained in adolescent development, crisis intervention and fostering positive relationships with students. Two days later, a deranged shooter entered the campus of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. killing 20 children and six adults.
"What happened in your life that made you a passionate advocate for kids?" When Jane Hansen, Information Officer for the Georgia Supreme Court, asked me this question last week during an interview, I thought, "Whoa -- the question assumed something happened to me." Now I am paranoid -- what does she know that I don't? I have known Jane going way back to my days as a parole officer when she was a reporter for the Atlanta Journal Constitution -- she has a keen sense of things. This "happening" resides in the recesses of my mind, something that rises to the surface from time to time when triggered by an event, song, or a question.
In a state regularly beset by lawsuits about conditions at some of its juvenile detention centers, an official Mississippi task force is starting work on diversion and setting higher standards. “This lack of sufficient staff has caused the facility to practice imminent and deliberate harm to youth … the facility is forced to place the kids on lockdown most of the day; not because they want to, but because it’s the only way to maintain any type of control,” reads a court-appointed inspector’s report on the Henley-Young Juvenile Justice Center in Hinds County, Mississippi. “This lack of appropriate staffing dictates the level of violence that is experienced in the facility.”
The lockup for up to 84 youth is unclean and “has a dungeon-like feeling.” Two juveniles admitted to the facility were allowed no phone call or shower. While there’s some limited recreational programming for boys, there’s none apparent for girls. That July 2012 report is a recent, but not unique, verdict on some of Mississippi’s juvenile detention centers.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Thirteen advocates and professionals from around the country who serve as advisors to the federal office for juvenile justice met for two days last week in Washington, D.C., to share information on reforms and funding at the state and federal levels. The Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice, which normally meets online every few months, gathered face-to-face for the first time in a year. Its last online meeting occurred Aug. 10.
Some of the reforms the committee discussed lie within the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention itself. Melodee Hanes, the acting office administrator, told committee members on the opening day of the meeting that a structural reorganization of her office, which has been in the works for months, would be announced soon.
The juvenile justice system in Shelby County, Tenn. is entering its fourth year of federal inspection, now with a thick report about alleged problems. A full remediation plan for the court could be drafted in the next three months. The Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County denies due process to youth, according to an April, 2012 report by the federal Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. The investigation finds probable cause to believe that some youth are not adequately notified of the charges against them, are not advised of their Miranda rights, do not enjoy timely probable cause hearings and are sent to adult court on only cursory inquiries. The look at 66,000 court records also, the DOJ argues, shows that black children are treated less leniently than white peers.
Parents can present an enigmatic force in juvenile justice--they can play a positive role in the rehabilitative process or be obstructive. I have found through the years that a vast majority of parents are concerned about their child. Some do well advocating, but most do not know how--or are afraid to speak up. The key to reducing recidivism is providing essential protective buffers to resist those criminogenic factors. Studies show that family function is the greatest protective buffer against delinquency.
Jeannette Bocanegra, a community organizer from New York City, told a gathering of juvenile justice system practitioners and advocates in Houston last week that as a mom with a child who was incarcerated, “This system made me feel like I was a dysfunctional parent, a bad parent … without realizing I raised six other children who never went into the system.”
Now she and other members of Justice for Families, an advocacy group, are out to prove that, in her words, “We are not dysfunctional … the system is dysfunctional.”
Liane Rozzell, another parent on the panel, said afterwards, “We don’t have 24-hour remote control over our children.”
During the panel discussion, Rozzell said when her son was first put into detention she thought it might be a good thing, it would teach him a lesson. But she did not realize how negatively he would be affected by the experience. She also recalled being in a meeting where a teacher from a correctional institution off handedly mentioned sending kids to “an inherently violent place like a juvenile correctional center.”
After hearing that phrase, Rozzell said, “I was just stunned that we can just casually talk about sending our children to an inherently violent place.”
In June, Justice for Families will be releasing an in-depth report, underwritten by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The report includes results of a survey of 1,000 family members who have had children incarcerated and examines how families of the incarcerated are portrayed by the media. Justice for Families co-director Grace Bauer says family involvement and networking is necessary because, “No one knows what it is like to struggle with a child in the system better than another parent.”
However, according to Bauer, early findings from the report reveal, “Families are not consulted.