School Resource Officers: A Topic of Hot Debate, Even Prior to Sandy Hook

In the aftermath of the deadly shooting last month at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., intense public debate has focused on protecting students – and the role of student resource officers (SROs), in particular – in the event of future shooting sprees. Generally, school resource officers are local law enforcement officers appointed to patrol schools and handle juvenile disciplinary issues. The effectiveness of SROs is highly debated. A National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) report claims the presence of SROs has reduced juvenile arrests in some schools by nearly 50 percent. On the other hand, the Justice Policy Institute issued a report that found SROs had little effect on curbing criminal activity in schools, and may even lead to inflated, and potentially unnecessary, juvenile arrests.

Overloaded Public Defense Systems ‘Jeopardizing The Fairness of Our Justice System,’ Report Finds

The ongoing overburdening of U.S. public defense systems that serve millions of people annually is jeopardizing the fairness of our justice system and can result in more and longer prison sentences, concludes a recent report published by the Washington D.C.-based Justice Policy Institute (JPI). According to the report, 73 percent of county-based public defender offices lacked the requisite number of attorneys to meet caseload standards, while 23 percent of these offices had less than half of the necessary attorneys to meet caseload standards. With an increasing overload of cases, lack of quality defense and a shortage of resources, the report argues, justice is not being served and the wellbeing of millions of people is at stake. The findings in System Overload: The Costs of Under-Resourcing Public Defense echo the perspective shared by Jonathan Rapping, associate professor at Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School and founder and CEO of the Southern Public Defender Training Center, which trains public defenders across the southeastern United States. Rapping tells, “we need to make sure that we create a campaign to view juvenile defenders as part of the larger public defender community; they’re just as important as their counterparts in the adult system.

Why Juvenile Justice Could be Big Loser In Obama Budget

The Obama administration is proposing deep cuts in juvenile justice programs while boosting funding for policing and prisons, according to the D.C.-based Justice Policy Institute. These priorities, says the Institute (JPI), go counter to Obama administration public statements urging a reduction in the historically high prison population of some 2.4 million. Additionally, says the JPI, the FY 2012 Budget proposes to spend money on failed polices and has missed an opportunity to fund “smarter investments in proven programs.”

[Click here to look through the proposed FY 2012 Budget]

An Institute factsheet reports the budget would slash some $50 million from juvenile programs, including prevention. These programs are designed to help many of the nearly 100,000 kids currently in detention and correctional facilities across the nation. At the same time, the budget proposes an increase of $116 million from FY 2010 for facilities.

Hundreds of Young People March on Washington

Hundreds of young people from Virginia and several other states are rallying in Washington, D.C. today to urge President Obama and Congress to pass legislation that protects children in the juvenile justice system. “Children as young as 14 can be tried as adults in Virginia courts, which is counterproductive,” Liane Rozzell, executive director of Families & Allies of Virginia’s Youth, told the Public News Service. The Justice Policy Institute says the majority of kids in juvenile detention are being held for nonviolent offenses and could be managed safely in the community. The protesters are advocating laws that rely less on putting young people behind bars and more on local and community-based programs.

The Community Justice Network for Youth is also hosting a national conference in D.C. today, according to the Center for Media Justice. Today’s events will launch the Network’s “Week of Action,” to push for reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA).

Report: Spend Less on Prisons, More on Programs

Although crime is down, incarceration rates are up, according to a new report by the Justice Policy Institute, which is dedicated to finding solutions to major social issues. The report notes a rise in racial disparities and asks why states are spending more money on prisons during an economic crisis. The JPI makes these points about kids and crime:
States with higher rates of high school graduation and college enrollment have lower crime rates than states with lower educational attainment levels. Investments in job training and employment are associated with heightened public safety. Youth who are employed are more likely to avoid justice involvement.

Child Trauma Linked To Prison Time

The majority of American youth behind bars have suffered trauma during their childhoods, a newly released report by the Justice Policy Institute (JPI) says. According to Healing Invisible Wounds: Why Investing in Trauma-Informed Care for Children Makes Sense, of the more than 93,000 children currently incarcerated, between 75 and 93 percent have experienced at least one traumatic experience, including sexual abuse, war, community violence, neglect and maltreatment. “Incarcerated youth already face significant challenges, but youth who have experienced trauma are even more acutely affected,” says author Dr. Erica Adams. The brief, published by the Washington, D.C.-based organization that promotes the reduction of the nation’s prison population, notes that youth who engage in delinquent behavior should be held accountable but also strongly suggests that judges consider  trauma exposure when deciding where youth are placed. Young people who receive treatment in the community tend to have better outcomes than those placed in correctional facilities, the report says. “We simply cannot afford to ignore the evidence and prevalence of the long-term effects of untreated childhood trauma,” says JPI Executive Director Tracy Velázquez.