NRA Task Force Wants to Arm School Staff

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Rifle Association’s task force for improving school safety released a 225-page report Tuesday with a list of recommendations, including the modification of  state laws to allow trained staff to carry weapons on campus. Other recommendations included addressing students’ mental health needs and boosting physical security through architectural changes and elements like perimeter fencing around schools. The National School Shield task force also recommended enhanced training programs for school resource officers, who are sworn law enforcement officials on campus duty, and training armed school staff to respond rapidly in case of an emergency. Such training for armed school personnel would last 40 to 60 hours and cost about $800 to $1,000 per person, said Asa Hutchinson, the task force director and a former Congressman from Arkansas, who presented the report. The recommendations were aimed at schools, local and federal governments, and the NRA itself, Hutchinson said.

Michelle Obama to Speak on Youth Violence in Chicago

When 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton was shot and killed at a Chicago playground just a few days after performing at President Obama’s inauguration in January, First Lady Michelle Obama flew to Chicago to attend Pendleton’s funeral. At President Obama’s State of the Union speech, Pendleton’s parents sat next to the first lady.  Now, Michelle Obama is heading back to her hometown to join Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the president’s former chief of staff, in urging the city’s business and philanthropic communities to raise $50 million for community-based programs to help at-risk young people. She will speak at an April 10 lunch meeting called “Working Together to Address Youth Violence in Chicago,” which will be attended by members of several civic organizations, including the Commercial Club, the Economic Club, the Executives’ Club, and World Business Chicago, the White House announced yesterday. The meeting is the result of an initiative led by two CEOs, Tom Wilson of Allstate and Jim Reynolds of Loop Capital, according to Emanuel’s office.

Listenbee Takes Over as Federal Head of Juvenile Justice

Defense attorney Robert Listenbee Jr., who led the juvenile defense unit at the Defender Association of Philadelphia since 1997, took the oath of office today to become the first permanent administrator of the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in more than four years. The OJJDP updated its website Monday morning to announce Listenbee’s first day of work, which comes seven weeks after President Barack Obama announced hisintent to nominate him to the post and more than four years since the president first took office. J. Robert Flores, the last permanent administrator, resigned his position in 2008 under then-President George W. Bush. In January 2009, Bush appointed Jeff Slowikowski as acting administrator, a position he held for three years. In January 2012, Slowikowski was replaced by Melodee Hanes.

Grassroots Push Central to Juvenile Sentencing Reforms

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Since last summer, state legislatures around the country have been scrambling to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling prohibiting states from sentencing children to mandatory life terms in prison without the chance of parole. Significant grassroots pressure remains necessary to ensure state legislators don’t try to create wiggle room around the court’s ruling in Miller v. Alabama, said youth justice advocates at a recent panel discussion organized by the American University Washington College of Law in Washington, D.C. Members of the panel argued that sentencing reforms should take into account the cognitive and developmental differences between adolescents and adults. Among the legal complexities unleashed upon states by Miller v. Alabama last June are the questions of whether the ruling applies retroactively to sentences already handed down, and whether, regardless of mandates, life terms without parole or other long-term sentences that effectively ensure death in prison are ever acceptable for juveniles, panelists said. Twenty-nine states currently have laws that directly contradict the Miller decision, said Daniel Gutman, a state strategist for The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, which lobbies for the abolishment of life sentences without parole for all juveniles. “When we’re talking about legislative reform in response to the Miller decision, it’s a very difficult process and there’s lots of different statutes at work,” Gutman said.

Shake-up Underway at Federal Office of Juvenile Justice

(L-R) Robert Listenbee, Joe Torre, Melodee Hanes
Major changes in leadership, structure and funding are underway at the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, changes that are likely to impact the way the office extends assistance to the field. For starters, the office will soon get its first permanent chief in more than four years. Robert Listenbee Jr., a widely-praised juvenile defense attorney from Philadelphia and the Obama administration’s pick for office administrator, will probably start work by early next month, several nationally connected juvenile justice leaders said. By the time Listenbee takes over from acting Administrator Melodee Hanes, the office will already be operating under a new streamlined vision and a major reorganization of its staff, programs and grants. The restructuring, which has been under development for months and is happening now, includes the creation of new office divisions focusing on policy areas like youth development, community development and juvenile justice improvement, Hanes told members of a national advisory committee this week.

Number of Kids Behind Bars Reaches 35-Year Low

There were fewer kids behind bars in 2010 than there have been in 35 years, demonstrating what one foundation called a “sea change” in American attitudes toward juvenile justice, according to a trio of new reports out today based on U.S. Census data. Although the United States still locks up young people at a far higher rate any other industrialized nation, that number has been steadily falling over the past decade and reached its lowest point in 35 years in 2010, the most recent year data is available, according to “Reducing Youth Incarceration in the United States,” a KIDS COUNT data snapshot released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. “Most of these changes have taken place idiosyncratically in individual states and counties, but collectively, in the aggregate, they represent an extraordinary trend that we haven’t seen in the U.S.,” said Bart Lubow, who directs the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s program for high-risk youth and who has worked in criminal justice for nearly 40 years. “I don’t know if we’ve ever seen it.”

More and more jurisdictions are taking on innovative approaches to reducing juvenile delinquency and relying less on punitive responses to juvenile crime, resulting in cost savings for the public and providing hope for better outcomes for youth, the Foundation’s report said. The KIDS COUNT report came out in conjunction with a pair of reports by the Justice Policy Institute, which detailed youth incarceration declines in specific states and outlined the lessons learned from reforms in those states’ juvenile justice systems.

Reducing the confinement of young people is usually couched in terms of reducing government costs, but it’s probably just one factor in the shift that is taking place socially and politically across the country, Lubow said in an interview with the JJIE.

DC Reforms Offer Some Kids New Beginning

EDITOR’S NOTE: This month, our sister publication Youth Today features a  piece on D.C.’s Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS) by Kaukab Jhumra Smith. Youth Today, is dedicated to providing quality journalism on issues of interest to those involved in the youth services industry. This, of course, includes stories in the arena of juvenile justice such as Kaukab’s story. But this month’s issue also includes stories on what youth-oriented organizations should do to prepare for natural disasters, how to head off abusive relationships between teens, book reviews, opinion pieces, an explainer on the art of statistics and a photo spread on the impact of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy on the youth-oriented organizations and young people. Youth Today prints six time a year.

Exclusive Interview with Robert Listenbee, Incoming Head of Federal Office of Juvenile Justice spoke on the phone Monday with defense attorney Robert Listenbee Jr., who was recently picked by President Barack Obama to lead the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention at the U.S. Department of Justice. The office has not had a permanent administrator for four years. Listenbee, who has not yet received a formal federal appointment, continues to head the juvenile unit at the Defenders Association of Philadelphia in the meantime. Listenbee spoke about the insights he brings to the national stage based upon his experiences with the juvenile justice system in Pennsylvania, and how his time as a law student at the University of California, Berkeley, and his stint as a secondary school teacher in Kenya as a young Harvard student sparked his passion for working with young people. Below are excerpts from the conversation.

New National Standards For Legal Defense Could Help Juveniles

It happens too often in court systems around the country. A teenager is charged with a crime. His family can’t afford a lawyer, but the court won’t assign him one until he can prove a lack of funds. He meets his lawyer for the first time a few minutes before he’s due to appear in court. The lawyer’s waving a file and using words the teenager doesn’t understand.

Feds to Audit Solitary Confinement Policy

The Federal Bureau of Prisons will hire an independent auditor to review the use of solitary confinement in federal prisons, according to a statement released by the bureau. The move could impact thousands of juveniles in adult facilities who are frequently isolated from adult inmates, sometimes on the pretext of protecting their personal safety. “The National Institute of Corrections will be awarding a contract in the weeks ahead to retain an independent auditor to examine the BOP’s use of restrictive housing and also share information from the states and others in the corrections profession,” the federal bureau said in a prepared statement. “We are confident that the audit will yield valuable information to improve our operations, and we thank Senator Durbin for his continued interest in this very important topic.”

Sen. Dick Durbin (D.-Ill.) held a hearing last June to examine the fiscal, human rights and public safety consequences of keeping prisoners in isolation. Durbin responded to the bureau’s announcement by reiterating his hope that the practice would be restricted in federal prisons, and pointed out that the bureau has reduced its segregated population by 25 percent since the hearing last summer.