Looking Back and Casting Forward: An Emerging Shift for Juvenile Justice in America

This story produced by the Chicago Bureau. The close of 2012 focused so narrowly on terrible events and startling numbers - the Newtown massacre, for example, or Chicago’s sharp rise in homicides - some major criminal justice developments were nearly squeezed out of the national conversation. Take the statements made just over a week ago by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who vowed to take on the tricky issue of the skewed racial picture in the county’s corrections and justice system, including within the juvenile justice system. Speaking to a group of reporters, the news – including a statement that she will “work with the actors in the public safety arena” to lessen the overall corrections population and push alternatives to locking up non-violent offenders – the story got little more than a day’s play on the airwaves and in other media. Always outspoken, the board president served many years as an alderman fighting for various social justice causes, including race and drug issues (she at one point challenged the validity of any national “war on drugs”).

Simple, Pre-written Language Reduces Confusion for Youth in Juvenile Court

On Nov. 7, the National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN) will hold a webinar focusing on the new Models For Change publication “Washington Judicial Colloquies Project: A Guide for Improving Communication and Understanding in Court.”
The guide, published by Washington State NJJN member TeamChild, offers advice on how professionals can better explain and describe the legal language used in court proceedings to young people. Working with the National Juvenile Defender Center and the Juvenile Indigent Defense Action Network, TeamChild created a guide that suggests “colloquies,” pre-written language for judges and attorneys to use during young people’s first court appearances and further disposition hearings. The language is written at a 6th grade-level and designed to be easily understood by juveniles. In fact, according to the the guide, effective use of colloquies sometimes increased young people’s understanding of release and probation conditions from one third to 90 percent after hearings.

Juvenile Justice Advocates Fear Millions Cut by Sequestration

Unless the U.S. Congress agrees on a different budget by the end of this year, stopping a so-called “sequestration” budget, federal spending on juvenile justice programs will fall by around 8 percent. A total $21 million would be sliced out of Juvenile Justice Programs under the federal Department of Justice alone, according to the White House Office of Management and Budget’s report on sequestration. Other spending that has some effect on juvenile welfare, such as state grants from the federal Administration for Children and Families, are also in line for cuts of around 8 percent. “We are kind of bracing ourselves,” said Kimberly Williams, juvenile justice specialist at the North Carolina Governor’s Crime Commission. “Last year we had only about $1.5 million in juvenile justice funding to allocate across the whole state.

Study: Youth Offenses, Sentences, Predict Little about Recidivism

Data emerging from a seven years’ study of young offenders suggest that the nature of a serious juvenile crime or the length of time served for it, does not do a very good job predicting if a youth will re-offend. “Burglars are not all the same, neither are car thieves or assaulters,” said Edward Mulvey, professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh.  “Just because they’ve done a certain type of offense doesn’t mean they’re on a particular path to continued high offending or more serious offending.”

Mulvey is principal investigator on the Pathways to Desistance study, which followed some 1,300 youths convicted of mostly felony offenses in Phoenix and Philadelphia for seven years after adjudication. Analyses are now being published. “The way you code a presenting offense, you can do it violent or not violent, property or not property, you can do it a lot of ways; it never comes out as a real strong predictor of outcome,” Mulvey said, explaining some of his latest analysis.

The Mystery Ingredient in Juvenile Justice Reform: Advocates

Anyone involved in reforming the juvenile justice system understands the respective roles that philanthropy, policymakers, and system stakeholders play in the process. But advocates are often misunderstood — and their contributions, I believe, are greatly underrated. That will change, I hope, with the publication of a new report from the National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN), Advances in Juvenile Justice Reform: 2009-2011, a 63-page report that provides capsule summaries of reforms made between 2009 and 2011 by 47 states and the District of Columbia in 24 different categories, including closing and downsizing facilities, blocking the school-to-prison pipeline, and removing youth from the adult system and returning them to juvenile court. (Anyone interested in learning more about a reform — by studying the legislation, the policy language, or related resources — can visit the NJJN website at www.njjn.org.)

I believe Advances will be an invaluable resource for advocates, policymakers, legislators, educators, and journalists working on juvenile justice issues. But I also hope that it will be obvious to even casual readers just how many of the changes highlighted in Advances in Juvenile Justice Reform occurred in large part due to the dogged advocacy of advocates.

National Juvenile Justice Network Offers Fellowships for Youth Justice Leadership Institute

The National Juvenile Justice Network is now accepting applications for the second year of its Youth Justice Leadership Institute, a year-long program that includes leadership development, training in juvenile justice system policies and practices, theories of change and advocacy skills development. The Institute's mission is to create the foundation for a more effective juvenile justice reform movement through the development of a strong base of advocates and organizers who reflect the communities most affected by juvenile justice system practices and policies. Consequently, the Institute will focus on cultivating and supporting professionals of color. All fellows will gather twice during the year where they will be matched with a mentor. Interested applicants may download an application packet online or contact the Institute's coordinator, Diana Onley-Campbell.

Poll Shows People Believe That Kids Can Be Rehabilitated

Georgia has some of the toughest juvenile crime laws in the nation that focus more on punishment than rehabilitation. A new report suggests that the public may have different attitudes.  Some highlights:

People believe rehabilitation and treatment can reduce crime AND are willing to pay extra taxes to provide those services;
They support rehabilitation even for young people who commit violent crimes;
They oppose young offenders being sent to adult criminal court without an individual determination made in each case;
They agree that non-white youth are more likely than white youth to be prosecuted as adults; and
believe strongly in a separate juvenile justice system. These findings are from the National Juvenile Justice Network’s recently updated “Polling on Public Attitudes About the Treatment of Young Offenders.” The information was collected between 2005 and 20007 and the document also looks back at public attitudes during the 1990’s. To read the full document, click here.

The Power of Partnerships

Advocates for troubled teens can greatly benefit from partnering with families, according to the National Juvenile Justice Network.   NJJN’s An Advocates Guide to Meaningful Family Partnerships: Tips from the Field outlines ways to build advocate and family coalitions that push for practices that are fair and appropriate for kids. Louisiana’s Tallulah Correctional Center for Youth was infamous for “broken bones, black eyes, fractured jaws, and rapes” according to a report in Alter Net: Civil Liberties.  The facility was finally shut down once a major family group merged with a major advocacy group, the National Juvenile Justice Network points out. For more information about advocates partnering with families:

An Advocates Guide to Meaningful Family Partnerships: Tips from the Field

National Juvenile Justice Network

Moms Want Justice: Meaningful Family Partnerships in Juvenile Justice Reform

Alter Net: Civil Liberties