Retired San Francisco chief juvenile probation officer William Siffermann (headshot)

Reliance on Detention for Juvenile Justice a Lazy, Uninformed Habit That Must Be Broken

In a recent trip to my cardiologist’s office, the hazards of one’s (my) choice of double cheeseburgers as a regular dietary mainstay was called into question as a primary health risk affecting several organs and overall life expectancy. An immediate dietary adjustment was ordered. What? Yes. A comfortable and tasty habit needed to be broken and substituted with a healthier alternative for the good of my entire system.

Let’s Use a Little Logic

There are three ways people respond to challenges in life. Okay, I realize I am making a big generalization, but this has been my observation of three broad categories we all seem to fall into when things get tough. This way of looking at people grew out of my time in prison, which is hugely stressful, making it a good laboratory for studying people. The first group will respond positively to challenge. They will assess the situation, see what changes they need to make, or what strategies they should adopt, and start working.

When Two Insecure Worlds Collide, Kids Are Hurt

Wouldn't it be nice if life were simple--that the answers to our problems were obvious and problems solved with painless ease? Take for instance Johnny, the boy I described in my last essay, who from birth was toted around by his Mom to trap houses to get her fix. No telling what he saw--or much worse, what others did to him--in those places. Johnny is a confused kid, emotionally pained by fear of insecurity. His weapon of defense: defiance fueled by anger.

Report: Make Families of Detained Juveniles Part of the Solution

Every day, nearly 50,000 children are forced to spend the night away from their families because of their involvement in the juvenile justice system, according to a new report. It’s not as if these youth have no one to care for them. Families of young detainees care deeply about their children, but often feel helpless when their children get into trouble -- especially in the face of high adult incarceration rates, zero-tolerance school policies and reduced social services, which can make it difficult for families to offer support. Add to this a juvenile court system that practically shuts out family members from receiving or offering input, and the feelings of frustration and helplessness multiply. These are the findings of Families Unlocking Futures: Solutions to the Crisis in Juvenile Justice, a report released Monday that offers a blueprint for reforms that involve family members at every step when a child gets into trouble, whether at school or in the juvenile justice system.

Experts Say New Federal Rule Brings Hope for LGBTQ Youth in Custody

Given the high rate of torment suffered by LGBT youth in custody, activists applauded last week’s finalizing of a landmark law that took nine years to get from adoption to implementation. Last Monday, the federal Department of Justice finalized a set of guidelines under the Prison Rape Elimination Act that could help stem the risks of the already at-risk LGBT population that is incarcerated, including minors. “We were already working on this issue while PREA was being passed, but this raises awareness,” said Sarah Schriber, senior policy analyst with the Chicago-based Health and Medicine Policy Research group and community convener for the Illinois Court Involved LGBTQ Youth Task Force. According to Schriber, few juvenile detention center personnel even knew what the existing anti-harassment rules were. “A much harder part is making those policies meaningful on the ground,” she said.

A Look at Girls in the Juvenile Justice System

A report released this month takes an in-depth look at how girls are represented in North Carolina's juvenile justice system, how the numbers have shifted over the years and why females are the fastest growing segment of the juvenile justice system despite the overall decrease in juvenile crime. Representing Girls In the Juvenile Justice System, released by the North Carolina Office of the Juvenile Defender, looks at not only the characteristics and risk factors of girls in the juvenile justice system, but also offers several best practices to best serve the unique issues this population faces. Since the early 1990s, due to policy changes, the number of girls in the juvenile justice system has been on the rise. Basically, the increased amount of girls in the juvenile justice system can be credited to the “relabeling of girls’ family conflicts as violent offenses, shifting police practices concerning domestic violence, processing of misdemeanor cases in a gender-biased manner and a misunderstanding of girls’ developmental issues,” according to the report. Currently, it’s estimated that girls make up 30% of youth arrested and 24% of youth serving time in detention centers. Studies show that girls are more likely than boys to be placed in these centers for less serious offenses.