A conservative think tank in Texas and the ACLU may seem to have little in common. But they and other conservative, liberal and nonpartisan groups are working — successfully — on juvenile justice law changes that are putting minors firmly in juvenile court, out of incarceration with adults and in community-based rehabilitation. “There’s a great opportunity for collaboration across the aisle on this issue,” said Marc Levin, senior policy advisor at Right on Crime. The Right on Crime initiative started in 2010 inside Austin’s Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), a conservative think tank. Right on Crime evaluates adult and juvenile corrections reforms through a lens of effectiveness and cost savings and promotes its findings in other states. For the last few years, as state revenues shrink and budgets must be slashed, the Texans’ money-saving ideas are catching more ears.
Recently, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) hosted a congressional briefing on the 2011 documentary film “The Interrupters.”
Sponsored by the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, the briefing featured statements from Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA) and a panel discussion featuring Alex Kotlowitz, the producer of “The Interrupters” and author of the book “There Are No Children Here.”
“The Interrupters” focused on Chicago’s CeaseFire movement, a grassroots project in which members of communities seek to reduce acts of youth violence through localized, concentrated intervention programs.
CeaseFire employs “violence interrupters,” community members who work with youth in high-violence areas, to pinpoint and prevent potential crimes before they transpire. Two “violence interrupters,” Cobe Williams and Ameena Matthews, were present at the ACLU’S briefing in Washington, D.C.
The event drew the attention of a diverse group of attendees, including high school principals, public health officials, law professors and congressional staff. Congressman Scott hailed the Youth PROMISE Act — proposed legislation that would provide funding for comprehensive, community-based intervention programs, such as CeaseFire — as a potential means of curbing street gang activity and juvenile delinquency. The Youth PROMISE Act — officially titled the Youth Prison Reduction through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support and Education Act — would provide funding for evidence-based practices regarding the prevention of juvenile delinquency and gang activity. The bipartisan-sponsored bill would also amend the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 by creating a Youth PROMISE advisory panel to aid the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
CINCINNATI – Learning can be difficult under the best of circumstances. But for those young people inside the nation’s youth detention centers, the barriers to learning can be enormous indeed. This was just one of the messages that came out of a panel discussion at a conference in Cincinnati today sponsored by the Children’s Defense Fund, the first such large-scale meeting of the child advocacy organization in a decade. The panel, Meeting the Educational Needs of Children in the Juvenile Justice System: Challenges and Opportunities, concentrated on highlighting problems and introducing ideas for reforming detention center school systems.
Panelists, including David Sapp of the American Civil Liberties Union, Lia Venchi, a teacher at a school for youth in detention and David Domenici, a member of the See Forever Foundation, said most of the reforms implemented in schools within juvenile justice facilities have been forced as a result of litigation or administrative complaints, making public attention the biggest force for change in what are usually highly secretive environments. The children who attend school in juvenile justice detention facilities have much higher needs than those in the general population, the panelists said.
The first leg of the 2012 presidential race ended in a virtual dead heat between Republican candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, with the former Massachusetts governor edging the former Pennsylvania senator by a mere eight votes in Tuesday’s Iowa caucuses. With several primaries scheduled for the month of January, the results of Iowa’s contest may be just the beginning of a long and potentially tumultuous road to establishing a Republican challenger to President Obama this November. In regards to juvenile justice and education issues, both Romney and Santorum have figured prominently in establishing reform measures within their respective states. Romney served as the governor of Massachusetts from 2003-2007, overseeing an overhaul of the state’s Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee during his first year in office. In 2003, the American Civil Liberties Union criticized Massachusetts officials for failing to comply with the Disproportionate Minority Confinement provision of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Provision Act [JJDP] of 1974. In response, the Romney administration outlined a complete reorganization of the state’s Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee [JJAC], a State Advisory Group established by a 2002 addendum to the JJDP Act.
Juvenile justice system experts and reform advocates were among those who converged upon Miami last week for an annual conference hosted by the Open Society Institute (OSI). The, New York City-based private operating and grantmaking foundation focuses on criminal justice system reform. We asked a few of them “what single change would you make to the juvenile justice system?” Here’s what they had to say.
Tarsha Jackson, an organizer with the Texas Reconciliation Project, the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition and the Houston chapter of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. “I think there needs to be more focus on prevention programs, but the biggest change I would make is to train all of the system stakeholders – the district attorneys, judges, court personnel – and train them on the definition of family involvement.
Students and teachers in Gwinnett County, Ga., schools hoping to find educational material about sexual orientation and identity are discovering that those websites are blocked by the school district’s Internet filter. The filter, administered by a private company, includes a category named “LGBT” intended to block access to sites that include information about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues. The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia says the filter violates the First Amendment and the Equal Access Act, federal legislation that provides equal access to school resources for all extracurricular clubs. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the ACLU sent a letter to the Gwinnett school superintendent demanding the LGBT filter be removed or risk litigation. “The administration at Brookwood High School has always been really supportive,” said Nowmee Shehab, a senior and the president of the high school’s Gay Straight Alliance. “But a few weeks ago the web filter system at our school was changed, and suddenly websites that I’d been using all year to plan activities for our gay-straight alliance club started being blocked.”
A Gwinnett school system spokesperson told the AJC that students and faculty may request access to some blocked sites.
The Anniston Star is reporting that a federal civil rights lawsuit has been filed against a Calhoun County, Ala., Sheriff who is accused of running a program that put juveniles into close contact with hardened criminals in a manner that is similar to the “scared straight” programs.
The Star quotes experts as saying the way Sheriff Larry Amerson operated the program runs contrary to federal and state law. The suit was brought by the father of a juvenile identified as J.B. It alleges that at one point during a recent visit by J.B., a deputy and an inmate verbally and physically abused him, pushing him and hurling racial slurs at him. The suit says that Amerson later came to speak to the boy. The Star obtained a copy of a video of part of that conversation, showing Amerson “grabbing and holding down a boy dressed in an orange-striped inmate jumpsuit. The boy, whom the suit identifies as J.B., is shackled and has his hands cuffed behind his back during the incident,” wrote The Star’s Cameron Steele.
Local child advocates are reacting favorably to United States Attorney General Eric Holder’s recent comments about the dire need for major juvenile justice system reform. In remarks to the National Association of Counties Legislative Conference, Holder called for the Department of Justice to adopt a new approach that combines evidence-based research and comprehensive community partnerships. Holder also said that it’s time for us to ask some important questions such as; why is it that African-American youth make up 16 percent of the overall youth population, but comprise more than half of the juvenile population arrested for committing a violent crime? Why is it that abused and neglected children are 11 times more likely than their non-abused and non-neglected peers to be arrested for criminal behavior? And why is that so many of those who enter our juvenile justice system either can’t afford – or do not know to ask for – access to legal guidance?
School systems across the country will be watching as the American Civil Liberties Union confronts the New York City school district for allowing police to arrest kids for things like drawing on school desks. The ACLU is working on behalf of five kids who were arrested, claiming police used excessive force to get kids to follow school rules. In a memorandum of law, the ACLU sites cases like this:
Plaintiff L.W. was sixteen when School Safety Officers at his Queens school punched him repeatedly in the head, poked him in the eye, and handcuffed him—all because they suspected he had a cell phone, which he did not, and because he indicated that he did not want to be searched. Click here for the full memorandum.