Are Youth of Color Benefiting From Juvenile Justice Reform?

Within the scope of juvenile justice literature, studies highlight the need for both immediate and long-term reform measures. This is clearly pertinent given the existence of racial disparity in terms of treatment and confinement among youth in the United States. In fact, federal and state-level funding has been provided to address this dilemma during the past 10 to 15 years.

More States Need to Halt Prosecution of Youth as Adults

This month marks one year since the passage of Proposition 57, a California ballot measure that prohibited district attorneys from filing charges against youth as young as 14 directly in adult criminal court through a practice known as “direct file.” The initiative passed with 64 percent of the vote, signaling strong popular support for curtailing prosecutorial authority and expanding access to the rehabilitative benefits of the juvenile justice system.

Raise the Age Wave Stalled in Michigan, But Gathering Strength in Texas, North Carolina

Texas state Rep. Gene Wu is getting frustrated. Legislatures around the country are voting to treat 17-year-old offenders as juveniles while his own state remains in a shrinking — and he says wrongheaded — club that charges them as adults, no matter the crime. Neighboring Louisiana acted last year, as did South Carolina, leaving just seven states nationwide that still prosecute all youth under 18 as adults.

The Age of the Child

When I first began practicing in juvenile delinquency court in North Carolina eight years ago, I was shocked to discover that the maximum age of jurisdiction is 15. This means if you are 16 or 17 and charged with a criminal offense, you are automatically prosecuted in adult criminal court. There are no exceptions, no possibility of waiving the rule, and no second chances. So, when a 10th grader pushes another student in the hallway of a school that has a zero-tolerance policy, the 16-year-old will face misdemeanor assault charges in criminal district court.  Likewise, a 17-year-old prosecuted for stealing a bike from a neighbor’s garage would face charges of breaking and entering as well as larceny.

SREB Middle Grades Report 2011 cover image

Southern States Must Address Middle Grades Education Immediately, Report Warns

Only about a quarter of rising ninth graders in the Southeastern United States will graduate high school on time, according to a new report from the Southern Regional Educational Board (SREB). “The middle grades are the make-or-break point of our K-12 public school system,” SREB President Dave Spence said in a press release. “If states are serious about raising graduation rates and preparing more students for postsecondary study, work has to begin now on the middle grades.”

The SREB is a non-profit, non-partisan organization established by regional governors and legislators to improve the public education system. The organization covers 16 states in the South and Southeast, working directly with state leaders, schools and educators to improve learning and student achievement from Pre-K to higher education. The 16 states covered by the SREB have made “good” progress in early grades achievement in recent years according to the report, but a number still lag behind national standards.

Infant Mortality Down in State with Historically High Rate

North Carolina saw its infant mortality rate drop in 2010 to its lowest level ever recorded, according to state officials. Officials there say this is tremendous progress given that nearly 25 years ago the state had one of the highest rates of infant mortality in the nation. The recent figures show a continued decline from 7.9 deaths per 1,000 infants in 2009 to 7 per 1,000 in 2010. Speaking to the Associated Press, the state’s Health Director Dr. Jeff Engle said the fall off in infant mortality was a “direct result of long-term, sustained investments in promising to reduce infant deaths and eliminate disparities in birth outcomes.”

Engle attributed much of the decline to a state program called Healthy Beginnings, which promotes safe child rearing practices. North Carolina, the AP points out, is now very close to the national average of 6.8 percent.

States Respond to Budget Shortfalls with Hodgepodge of Juvenile Justice Cuts

Around the nation, states continue to grapple with the reality of budget shortfalls with a hodgepodge of cuts to various programs, including juvenile justice.

North Carolina’s Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention is being forced to cut spending by 10 percent while eliminating roughly 275 positions, a 15 percent decrease in work force, under the new FY 2012 budget.

Also gone are 75 beds from the state’s seven youth development centers, raising concerns that serious offenders may end up back on the streets to make room for new juveniles entering the facilities.

Alabama’s Department of Child Abuse & Neglect Prevention has a FY 2012 General Fund roughly half that of FY 2011. The department saw a 74 percent drop in state funding and significant cuts from the federal-level.

Photo credit: InspireKelly, Flickr.

North Carolina Judge Rules on Pre-K Funding For At-Risk Kids

North Carolina cannot limit access to an early-childhood education program for at-risk children, despite funding cuts and enrollment caps in the state’s budget, ruled a state Superior Court judge. "This is not advisory. It is an order," Melanie Dubis, an attorney for five poor school districts involved in the lawsuit, told the Associated Press. North Carolina’s budget cuts funding for the program previously known as More at Four by 20 percent, transfers it out of the state’s education department and institutes copayments of up to 10 percent of the parent’s salary for the first time in the program’s history. Wording in the budget also appears to cap enrollment in the program for all at-risk youth at 20 percent.