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.

Westside Norteno 14 in Cobb County. Picture Confiscated during arrest, Sept. 20, 2003.

The Myth of Suburban Gangs: A Changing Demographic

When most people think of gangs and the criminal activity often associated with them problems of the inner-city may come to mind -– issues that are far from their manicured suburban lawns, something that could never touch their lives directly. But the demographic makeup and geographic location of gangs are changing, according to Rebecca Petersen, author of Understanding Contemporary Gangs in America and a Criminal Justice Professor at Kennesaw State University near Atlanta*. “We have seen this trend of gangs moving out of the city and into the suburbs for 20 years now,” Petersen said. “We don’t associate the suburbs with people being poor or homeless, but it’s one of the fastest growing populations [in the suburbs].”

While gangs are not exclusively comprised of low-income members, the correlation between harsh economic conditions and the proliferation of gang activity has been documented in communities around the country since at least the late 1980s. In the decade leading up to 2010, the suburban poor in major-metropolitan suburbs grew by 53 percent, compared to an increase of 23 percent within the cities, according to the Census Bureau.

Ohio Juvenile Sex Offender Ruling Spotlights National Policy

Juvenile sex offenders in Ohio will no longer be required to register as sex offenders for life, the state’s Supreme Court ruled last week. The 5-2 decision ruled the lifetime requirement is cruel and unusual punishment, reigniting a national debate on how young people convicted of certain sexual offenses should fare under the criminal justice system. The majority opinion found certain parts of the Ohio Adam Walsh Act enacted in 2008 unconstitutional. Many states expanded laws pertaining to juvenile sex offenders following federal legislation in 2006 that sought to standardize how young sex offenders were classified and registered across the nation. “Registration and notification requirements frustrate two of the fundamental elements of juvenile rehabilitation: confidentiality and the avoidance of stigma,” Ohio Justice Paul Pfiefer wrote in the court’s majority opinion.

Report Looks at Lives of Inmates Sentenced to Life Without Parole as Juveniles

With the Supreme Court set to hear oral arguments in a case that could determine the constitutionality of life sentences without parole for juveniles, a new report looks at the lives of the more than 2,300 people currently serving life sentences for crimes they committed before they turned 18. The new report, “The Lives of Juvenile Lifers,” analyzes the findings of a first-ever national survey of this unique prison population. “The goal was to find out more about who these people are, their community and background,” Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, which produced the report, said during a conference call Wednesday. Ashley Nellis, the report’s author and a research analyst at the Sentencing Project, said the intention was to highlight the individual stories of those serving sentences of life without parole. “A lot of times we hear solely about the offense for which they are serving,” she said.

Expert Says Stress Levels in Children Could be Key Variable in Neurological Development

“We’re living in the midst of a revolution in neuroscience, molecular biology and genomics,” said Dr. Jack Shonkoff, chairman of the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, at Tuesday’s “Breakthrough Research on Building Better Brains” presentation in Atlanta. The lecture, sponsored by the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation Speaker Series and the national nonprofit research center Child Trends, focused on the influence of “toxic stress” on the development of children, which Dr. Shonkoff called both a major psychological and physiological detriment to youngsters. He began the presentation by speaking about the “plasticity” of brains for young children, which he said is firmly influenced by early childhood experiences. “Early life experiences are built into our bodies, for better or for worse,” Dr. Shonkoff said. “Things that happen early in life are creating physiological changes later on.”

He said children that experience a lack of response from adults, primarily parental figures, in their formative “birth-to-5” years are much likelier to suffer from “toxic stress,” which he said may potentially weaken neuroconnectors in the brain.

Webcast Highlights Research on Juvenile Brain Development

New research on brain development showing abuse, neglect and poverty may have lifelong negative consequences for children will be featured in a program sponsored by the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation Speaker Series. Dr. Jack Shonkoff, director of Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child, will present a program Feb. 28 titled “Breakthrough Research on Building Better Brains.” Shonkoff’s research identifies “toxic stress,” persistent, highly adverse experiences that damage a child’s brain circuits. Toxic stress may include living with physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, exposure to violence, severe maternal depression and prolonged economic hardship. Consequences of living with toxic stress may persist into adulthood and include poor learning and higher rates of heart disease or substance abuse.

New Year’s Resolutions: Damian, 16

Damian Browning, 16, Marietta High School

“I see 2012 as a chance to keep my grades up, think clearly and level headed and stay sober. I was 14 when I started drinking and 15 when I started smoking weed. The probation I’m on actually is a big help in keeping me sober, but my parents have really wised up to what I was up to and are paying close attention. Plus, I’ve got a new baby brother (born around Thanksgiving). When I see him, I just think what I was doing is not worth it.

Supreme Court Gives Juveniles Protection in Police Interrogations

[This article was reprinted with permission from YouthToday]

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today in a 5-4 decision that said a police officer must take a child’s age into consideration when determining whether to issue a Miranda warning to a juvenile suspect. The case, J.D.B.v. North Carolina is the latest in a string of cases in which the high court has applied protection to certain groups of juveniles. The court banned the juvenile death penalty in the 2005 Roper v. Simmons case, and last year ruled in Graham v. Florida that life without parole sentences were unconstitutional for juveniles convicted of any crime other than homicide. “This represents the court’s settled commitment to its view that kids are different,” said Marsha Levick, deputy director and co-founder of the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center. “It’s just a further shoring up of that direction they’ve been moving in for last several years.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for the majority, said, “So long as the child’s age was known to the officer, or would have been objectively apparent to a reasonable officer,” law enforcement and the courts must factor age into a decision to give a Miranda warning to a juvenile suspect.