We may not get the hoped-for commitment on juvenile justice reform from the federal government. Despite the best efforts of national advocacy groups, the era of large-scale national reform may well be at an end.
But that doesn’t have to mean a halt, or even a slowing of the wave of reform. There are now unprecedented Left-Right-and-Center coalitions at the state and local levels all around the country that agree on the fundamentals.
Concern about how the next administration will deal with criminal justice reform is well-justified. But possibly the most troubling clue to the policies of a Trump administration is contained in the attitudes of the president-elect to science.
Why so much bad news lately from Arkansas on juvenile justice? A toxic political climate has thwarted progress to date, but momentum is building and signs suggest that meaningful improvement may be on the horizon.
We sometimes skip class, talk back to teachers and experiment with marijuana. I was shocked to learn that in some areas of the United States teens are arrested and detained for these minor offenses.
Juvenile justice reform organizations fail to recognize the power of empathy between kids. There are a lot of us — 41 million — and we can make a difference.
In his 1961 farewell address President Dwight Eisenhower warned the American people of the dangers inherent in an alliance of the military, arms makers and politicians. “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex” The term has since become common parlance, and his warning, while not unheeded, has done little to stop the continuing accumulation of power into a few hands. It’s such an effective description that it has been adopted by people interested in a range of issues. We can see medical, nonprofit, educational and even wedding industrial complexes referred by those opposed to the way things are done in the respective sectors. The comparison I am most familiar with is the prison industrial complex.
UPDATED Tuesday, 9:23 a.m.: WASHINGTON - Advocates for juvenile justice reform applauded the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 5-to-4 ruling yesterday that children under 18 could not be handed life imprisonment sentences without hope of release – even if convicted of murder – without taking into account their age and other extenuating circumstances at the time of the crime. “Held: The Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile homicide offenders,” read the majority opinion written by Justice Elena Kagan, which combined the court’s ruling on two cases, Jackson v. Hobbs and Miller v. Alabama. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, sharply disagreeing that such sentences constituted cruel and unusual punishment for what were “heinous” crimes to society. “Put simply, if a 17-year-old is convicted of deliberately murdering an innocent victim, it is not ‘unusual’ for the murderer to receive a mandatory sentence of life without parole,” Roberts wrote. Kagan responded in a footnote to her opinion that she finds it ironic that the dissenters are holding a 14-year-old’s actions to the same standard as a 17-year-old’s, given that the main finding of the majority is that courts must take individual circumstances into account before deciding on a sentence.
Nearly a decade after Louisiana committed to sweeping changes to the state’s struggling juvenile justice system, some advocates contend the governor and leaders in the state’s Office of Juvenile Justice are “backsliding” on their commitments to reform. Advocates gathered on the steps of the state Capitol last week to unveil a report, “What’s Really Up Doc?: A Call for Reform of the Office of Juvenile Justice.” The 43-page document calls for the state’s recommitment to adopting a more therapeutic approach to juvenile justice based on the Missouri model as well as commitments to increase funding for community-based programs and replace some of OJJ’s top brass, among other goals. “In 2003, the state of Louisiana recognized that juvenile justice reform produced better outcomes for its citizens, youth and families, and made a commitment to this path,” the report said. “A decade later, the state has unfortunately strayed from this commitment, with facility and OJJ practices that are contradictory to the goals of reform.”
The state adopted reform legislation in 2003, also known as Act 1225, on the heels of highly publicized violence within youth detention facilities and litigation with the Department of Justice that found conditions of confinement for some youth in the system unconstitutional. Modeled after Missouri’s system that places an emphasis on rehabilitation and community-based programs rather than detention for troubled youth, Louisiana’s program was dubbed LAMOD – or the Louisiana Model.
Criminal justice reform – including juvenile justice – is among Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s top priorities during his tenure, according to a key member of his policy staff. “As a former juvenile judge this is certainly one of his passions,” said Public Safety Policy Advisor David Werner during the “A Conversation with the Governor's Policy Staff” event hosted Wednesday by the non-profit Voices for Georgia’s Children. “His son is also a juvenile court judge in Hall County.”
The governor’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy Erin Hames and Health Policy Advisor Blake Fulenwider also participated in the forum attended by about 85 representatives from child advocacy organizations at the Georgia Freight Depot building. Werner said the bi-partisan commission Gov. Deal assembled earlier this year to study criminal justice reforms and make recommendations to a joint legislative committee by January will likely step up its efforts starting next month. The effort is being led by the Pew Research Center.
Crossover Day – the second longest work day on the Georgia General Assembly calendar – has wrapped up leaving some key juvenile justice and child-focused bills dead for the 2011 session. SB 127, also known as the Juvenile Code Rewrite and HB 185, the Runaway Youth Safety Act, that would allow homeless shelters to provide emergency housing and services to runaway children, are among the measures that didn’t meet the crucial deadline. VIEW SOME OF THE KEY JUVENILE JUSTICE AND CHILD-FOCUSED LEGISLATION. “It had not made it out of [the] Rules [Committee] in time and that’s very disappointing,” says HB 185 sponsor Tom Weldon (R – Ringgold). “It looked like it was going to progress.”
HB 265, which supports Governor Nathan Deal’s recent effort to assemble a new bi-partisan council to study criminal justice reforms and make recommendations to a joint legislative committee, was overwhelmingly approved by the House, 169-1.