Becoming a father for the first time can be difficult for anyone, but when you do so in your teens or early 20s and have been incarcerated, it can be overwhelming. The right supports — stable housing, reliable networks, ties to employment, knowing how to build skills in fatherhood and healthy relationships — are essential.
We live in a world of best practices. Some call themselves evidence-based best practices (EBP), some are simply promising practices based on evidence from somewhere, and a few are practices grounded in evidence-based research (EBR).
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The nonprofit MacArthur Foundation has spent more than $100 million since 2004 on developing blueprints for reform within the juvenile justice systems of 16 states. Earlier this week, its reform initiative, Models for Change, brought together nearly 400 judges, advocates, probation officers and other juvenile justice professionals for two days of workshops in Washington, D.C.
It was the seventh such yearly gathering for Models for Change partners, and it came at a time when the foundation is beginning to wind down funding for new research into juvenile justice reforms and enter a new phase focused on defining, sustaining and disseminating to the rest of the country the reform models its state partners and networks have already developed. As the foundation moves toward solidifying the legacy of its blueprint initiative, its conference this year emphasized the power of storytelling and collaboration as a way to convey the impact of justice reforms to other states and to the public. The storytelling theme ran through several events over the two-day event. Public relations professionals held a plenary session to discuss how juvenile justice organizations could craft an effective public message.
The U.S. Department of Justice says a school-to-prison pipeline that runs through schools, the city police department and juvenile courts threatens children in Meridian, Miss. The school system is negotiating a new set of rules with the DOJ. The city, county, youth court and state of Mississippi, meanwhile, have just gotten hit with a federal lawsuit, and attention that may have already changed their ways. “We filed this lawsuit because we have to,” said U.S. Deputy Assistant Attorney General Roy Austin, in a public telephone conference on Oct. 25, the day after his department sued the City of Meridian, Lauderdale County, the county Youth Court judges and Mississippi’s Division of Youth Services claiming that the four agencies work together to ignore children’s due process rights and incarcerate them for minor infractions.
Last week there was yet another heartbreaking report of a child killing another child. This time the news came from Jacksonville, Florida. Cristian Fernandez is accused of beating to death his two-year-old half brother, David, when he was just twelve years old. The state has charged Cristian with first-degree murder. He is being prosecuted as an adult and could face a life sentence. Stories like this get a lot of media attention. Reporters swarm and sensationalize. The public consumes and wants more. To sell their papers, to drive traffic to their web sites, the press complies. He sounds like a bad kid, we think as we read the details. Only a monster would commit such an act, we tell each other. He must be truly evil, we conclude as we turn the page to the next tragedy. But wait, there is more.
In recent years, juvenile justice advocates, lawyers, policy-makers, and reformers have increasingly sought to raise awareness of the American phenomenon of the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
The term refers generally to the process in which substandard public schools fail to provide adequate support and resources for at-risk children and their families, resulting in high drop-out rates and ultimately leading to court-involvement, detention and incarceration. More specifically, the term refers to the pattern in which students who have committed school-based wrongdoing — whether by pushing another child in the hallway, taking a pencil from a teacher’s desk, or disrupting class — are summarily arrested, charged with violating a criminal offense, and prosecuted in juvenile delinquency court. After a judge finds them delinquent, youth are then placed on probation and court-ordered to comply with a long series of conditions, typically including that they not be suspended (or not be suspended again) from school. In many jurisdictions when a juvenile on probation is suspended — even for a minor infraction at school — the consequences of the violation may include incarceration in a detention center. Research has shown that youth who are disproportionately impacted by the school-to-prison pipeline are likely to be those who are already the most vulnerable: low-income students, children of color, English language learners, youth in foster care, students with disabilities (whether physical, psychological, or developmental), and homeless children.
A new anti bullying video is out from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. It focuses on fighting the harassment of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender kids and those who don’t conform to gender stereotypes about male or female behavior or appearance. The video features several Division employees sharing their childhood struggles with being bullied and harassed. In this short video, the staff was surprisingly candid about not only being attacked by other kids, but by parents and teachers as well. Staffers go on to encourage young people who are bullied and harassed, by letting them know their futures are still bright.