Leonard Witt is the executive director of the Center for Sustainable Journalism at Kennesaw State University. He was the original holder of the Robert D. Fowler Distinguished Chair in Communication and was named an Eminent Scholar by the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia in 2008. He was a journalist for more than 25 years, including being editor of Sunday Magazine at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, editor of Minnesota Monthly and executive director of the Minnesota Public Radio Civic Journalism Initiative.
Leonard Witt, executive director of the Center for Sustainable Journalism and publisher of Youth Today and the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange recently spoke with Judge Gail Garinger while at a symposium hosted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Garinger is now Child Advocate for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. LEONARD WITT: You talked about the idea of bullying – and it’s on everybody’s mind right now – and you’re a little bit worried the legislators are going to over-react. Can you talk about that a little bit? JUDGE GAIL GARINGER: As you mentioned, I’m from Massachusetts, and what we saw in Massachusetts was a very tragic situation involving a suicide of a young woman who had been continually bullied in the school.
Jeannette Bocanegra, a community organizer from New York City, told a gathering of juvenile justice system practitioners and advocates in Houston last week that as a mom with a child who was incarcerated, “This system made me feel like I was a dysfunctional parent, a bad parent … without realizing I raised six other children who never went into the system.”
Now she and other members of Justice for Families, an advocacy group, are out to prove that, in her words, “We are not dysfunctional … the system is dysfunctional.”
Liane Rozzell, another parent on the panel, said afterwards, “We don’t have 24-hour remote control over our children.”
During the panel discussion, Rozzell said when her son was first put into detention she thought it might be a good thing, it would teach him a lesson. But she did not realize how negatively he would be affected by the experience. She also recalled being in a meeting where a teacher from a correctional institution off handedly mentioned sending kids to “an inherently violent place like a juvenile correctional center.”
After hearing that phrase, Rozzell said, “I was just stunned that we can just casually talk about sending our children to an inherently violent place.”
In June, Justice for Families will be releasing an in-depth report, underwritten by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The report includes results of a survey of 1,000 family members who have had children incarcerated and examines how families of the incarcerated are portrayed by the media. Justice for Families co-director Grace Bauer says family involvement and networking is necessary because, “No one knows what it is like to struggle with a child in the system better than another parent.”
However, according to Bauer, early findings from the report reveal, “Families are not consulted.
Patrick McCarthy,President & CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, today called for transforming the juvenile justice in the United States into “a system that saves young lives rather than one destroying young lives. It will happen if the people working with youth “have the will, commitment and the courage” to make the changes needed. He made his remarks at the Casey Foundation hosted Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiatives conference in Houston. He added, "This moment in history is filled with opportunity to make a real difference, and to end forever the misuse of detention and the folly of the reformatory. If we miss this opportunity, this moment may not come again for many years.
Bart Lubow, who has been working for more than 20 years to reduce the number of youth being sent to detention centers, told a gathering of approximately 700 conference attendees this morning that now “may prove to be a unique moment in juvenile justice history, a time when, as a nation, we shed some of the system’s worst baggage—including our unnecessary and often inappropriate reliance on secure confinement” of youth. The conference attendees are in Houston for the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative conference, which as its name implies is working to reduce the number of youth sent into detention and instead aims to provide community-centered alternatives. The conference is hosted by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Apparently the 19-year quest is working. Lubow, director of the Juvenile Justice Strategy Group at the Casey Foundation, told the gathering that “JDAI sites have reduced reliance on secure detention overall by 42 percent, with numerous jurisdictions posting reductions in excess of 50 percent.” All of this happening without compromising public safety, he said.
Texas State Senator John Whitmire came to the podium last night at the opening of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) conference in Houston and got right to the core work of the JDAI. Five years ago, he said, 5,000 youth in Texas were incarcerated at any one time. Today the number is down to 1,500. It has happened, he said, without compromising public safety. The JDAI is an initiative backed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and according to its press release, “In 2010, JDAI sites detained 42 percent fewer youth — approximately 2,400 — on an average day than they had prior to implementing approaches that include electronic monitoring, community monitoring, and day or evening reporting centers."
Martin Castro, chairman of the United States Commission on Civil Rights, while giving a talk recently in Lawrenceville, Ga., made a little joke. He said one in six Americans is a Latino -- he paused and then added that the other five out of six Americans soon will be related to that one. He is correct. Your neighbors and co-workers today will likely become your in-laws tomorrow. Hence, I, and lots of others folks, would argue that any political group that angers the Latino community does so at its own peril.
Our Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, JJIE.org, has its roots in part in The Race Beat, the Pulitzer Prize-winning book co-written by Hank Klibanoff, former managing editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I was taken by how important it was for the press to shine a spotlight on the injustices taking place in the South before and during the Civil Rights era. Today that same kind of spotlight must be shone on the juvenile justice system, which, with its share of injustices, remains in the shadows of the collective American consciousness. When John Fleming came our way as the prospective editor of the JJIE.org, I knew he was a kindred spirit who cares deeply about high quality, ethically sound journalism and equal justice for all. That dual commitment is illustrated in his just published essay in the Nieman Reports entitled: Compelled to Remember What Others Want to Forget.
Robert A. Iger, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Walt Disney Company
Dear Mr. Iger:
I know Disney is a large company and you, like Rupert Murdoch of News Corporation, can’t oversee everything. So I want to let you know about one of your company’s investments -- Disney’s one-third equity stake in the A&E Television Networks. Since it is not fully under Disney’s control, maybe that’s why you haven’t been watching A&E’s "Beyond Scared Straight." Certainly if you had, you would have intervened and pulled it off the air, but alas last week marked the beginning of its second season.
Greg Berman, director of the Center for Court Innovation in New York City gives an excellent overview of how youth courts work in this video interview with Leonard Witt of the JJIE.org. They are completely teen driven with teens as judges, attorneys and juries who hear actual cases either referred by the police or the courts. Each teen judge, attorney or juror gets 30-hours of training and has to pass a "bar exam" to be able to serve. In the youth courts Berman's center helps oversee, the kids running the courts come from a variety of backgrounds, so the offenders are being judged by their real peers. In fact, kids who once came before the court often come back later to serve as judges, attorneys and jurors, so Berman says it can be “a life changing experience.”
Kids sent to the court have already admitted guilt and are at the mercy of their peers to design the sanctions that will be administered.