The National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN) recently published Advances in Juvenile Justice Reform: 2009-2011, a compendium of noteworthy reform measures enacted across 47 states and the District of Columbia.
Tuesday, a quartet of NJJN representatives joined George Williams of Humane Exposures for a roundtable discussion of the new report, which was broadcast via a live Google Hangout feed.
According to Williams, everybody lives in a state with juvenile justice problems. A resident of Louisiana, he said that his state has a higher incarceration rate than Iraq.
“If we want public safety, we have to look at these issues in a different way,” said NJJN Director Sarah Bryer. She said that when state-based advocacy groups work together for reform policies, their combined efforts can serve as an “elevator for collective gain.”
Bryer said the information contained in the new compendium encompasses a “massive amount of data,” which allows organizations to analyze trends and policies enacted by agencies in other states. She considers the drift towards interstate collaboration between reform advocates to signal a “tremendous movement forward” for national juvenile justice changes.
“It’s about the power of people coming together,” she said.
Jim Moeser, NJJN co-chair and a representative of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, said that while many of the changes listed in the new publication are difficult to capture as bullet points or sound bites, he believes that the report offers an “opportunity to meet people within networks,” stating successful outcomes in other states may “energize” advocates elsewhere.
“Education is so unique and local that different things are going to have to be tried,” said NJJN Co-Chair and Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance representative Abby Anderson. She said the findings within the publication indicate how ineffective juvenile incarceration has been in curbing crime and reforming young people, referring to the report as “one chisel at the sculpture” of nationwide juvenile justice reform.
Benjamin Chambers, NJJN communications specialist, said that juvenile justice reform is currently “balkanized” in the United States, as he considers policy and political situations to fluctuate greatly from state-to-state. As a result, he said that many advocates end up getting “sucked into what’s happening locally,” and are generally unaware of policy reforms that take place in other parts of the country.
“It’s an incredible resource for people that want to make change,” Chambers said.
Anderson said she was surprised to learn that until recently, the shackling of pregnant detainees remained a common practice across the nation’s juvenile detention facilities.
She said that the publication “opened the window” for child advocates to work across state lines, giving potential stakeholders a means to review legislation and policy reform measures all across the United States.
Chambers considered the publication be an “incredibly important tool” for policy crafting, stating that he had specific worries about young detainees potentially losing Medicaid benefits while incarcerated. He recalled being a mentor for a 12-year-old, who was so frightened by incarceration that the term “food court” made him anxious. He said that young people of the like “epitomize an incredible need for attention and guidance.”
Bryer said that she’s encouraged by the increase in foundation participation with advocates and researchers over the last few years, and predicts a greater emphasis will be placed on community-based settings. As a reform advocate, she said that witnessing 10-, 11- and 12-year-old children behind bars remains her greatest motivator.
“How can this be the way our society thinks it’s the right way to hold young people accountable?” she asked.
Photo from Advances in Juvenile Justice Reform: 2009-2011.