Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The War Zone at Home


By Amanda Petteruti
Senior Research Associate

States are changing sentencing laws, reducing the number of people in prison, and decriminalizing marijuana. All of this while crime has fallen to the lowest levels it has been in decades. And, yet, at the risk of undermining the reforms and the cost-savings of reducing the number of people in prison, we continue to invest in police. And not just any police, armored and battle-ready police. As a nation, our overall spending on police protection has grown 445 percent since 1982, with the federal government experiencing the most growth in spending. 

(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
The militarization of police in Ferguson, Missouri has been on full display since 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed on August 9, but it isn’t the only police department that looks an awful lot like an infantry. In 2005, 80 percent of towns between 25,000 and 50,000 people had a “Special Weapons And Tactics,” or “SWAT” team. Since one of the early SWAT teams was formed in Los Angeles in response to the Watts riots in 1966, federal funding streams, like the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grants, and programs, like the National Defense Authorization Act, have funneled money and weapons to local police departments. The intention was to bring some real firepower to the war on drugs – a battle that is now widely understood to be ineffective and costly.

Since JPI released its report, Rethinking the Blues, in 2012, the ACLU conducted a more in-depth analysis on militarized policing with public records requests to 260 law enforcement agencies in 25 states. They found that 79 percent of SWAT deployments were to execute search warrants, not to address emergency situations. Police forces are using a sledgehammer to drive a nail and it is not without consequences. In his blog for the Washington Post, Radley Balko documents the frequent and devastating effects that mistaken raids and the excessive use of force have on families, from mistaken arrests and property damage, to the death or injury of children, family members, and pets.

People of color are also disproportionately affected by the continued investment in police, especially related to drug offenses. Even though Blacks and whites report using drugs at similar rates, Blacks are arrested at three times the rate of whites. In addition, the ACLU reports that 42 percent of people impacted by SWAT deployment to execute a warrant were Black and 12 percent were Latino.

There’s also no evidence that this approach is doing anything to public safety, and, in fact, may be making communities less safe. A safe neighborhood is the result of trust between neighbors, and this includes police. As in Ferguson, when police show up to a daytime demonstration with Kevlar vests, riot gear, vehicles designed to withstand a blast from a mine, and then launch tear gas into groups of demonstrators and journalist, it’s not likely that the police will be viewed as partners in community safety. Perhaps, treating a community like a war zone, makes the community act like a war zone.

Members of the U.S. Congress and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder are deeply concerned about the use of military tactics by police forces around the country. The result will hopefully be relatively swift policy changes that will limit or end local police access to military style weapons. At the same time, however, with crime at the lowest levels it’s been in decades, we should consider whether what we need is not just less investment in a militarized police force, but, rather more resources toward building communities over policing communities

Friday, August 8, 2014

OP-ED: Passionate Voices From the Youth Summit

This opinion editorial was originally posted on JJIE.org on August 5, 2014.
By Natrina Gandana and Tony Mastria

As two of the Justice Policy Institute’s newest recruits, we are excited to join our fellow youth advocates from the Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ), the Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), and our partner organizations in the juvenile justice community for the 2014 Juvenile Justice Youth Summit. This two-day summit taking place August 7 and 8 seeks to fuel a new generation of reformers, allowing participants to hear from leading juvenile justice organizations. Attendees participate in a series of workshops and info sessions designed to enhance their knowledge on juvenile justice and ignite their passion for advocacy.
The summit’s hosts and participants alike understand how important it is to engage young activists in the dialogue around juvenile justice reform. Not only does this give them an early foothold in the movement; it also allows them to become invested in a crucial public issue that is so patently pertinent to their own generation. This rare opportunity to interact with peers and experts in the field is sure to provide a memorable experience and have a lasting effect on this group of future leaders.
We are excited to hear from organizations with which JPI has partnered, such as Campaign for Fair Sentencing of YouthCampaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ), Youth Law Centerand more. JPI works very closely with these organizations in the National Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Coalition, where we jointly seek to advance safe and smart youth justice policies that connect youth to school, work and opportunity, and advance public safety. Juvenile justice issues significantly affect whether we have a system that is fair, rational and effective, and that helps young people transition to adulthood.
For example, among the topics being discussed in the conference is the school-to-prison pipeline, a series of events that occur when a student is referred by police to the juvenile justice system, starting them on a path of serious, lifelong negative consequences. JPI played a key role in showing that there are better ways to ensure public safety than having police in schools, with our report, Education Under Arrest.
By meeting with colleagues and learning firsthand from these organizations, attendees will begin to grasp the depth of these issues and the best methods for addressing them. This includes networking with our fellow members in the juvenile justice community, both young advocates and seasoned professionals. We are confident that this exposure to such diverse experiences and perspectives will be exceptionally informative and serve to illuminate our own future efforts in the field.
As members of JPI’s communications team, we are especially keen on observing the panel “Take Action: Using Your Voice for Change” (presented by CFYJ and the Just Kids Partnership), which will discuss how youth advocates can use their communicative abilities to campaign and organize on behalf of juvenile justice reform efforts. We’re also looking forward to the panel “Empowering Young Adults: Strengthening Youth Involvement in Juvenile Justice at the State Level” (presented by the Illinois Collaboration on Youth and the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission), which will teach young reformers how to maximize their impact on state-level justice reform efforts.  Both of these issues — strategic communications and state and local advocacy — are areas in which JPI has long been involved, and we are hopeful that honing our skills in these subjects will give us the tools to contribute even more to our organization and to the broader movement.
While we have a lifetime of hard work ahead of us, we understand that the problems associated with juvenile justice cannot wait to solve themselves. This sense of urgency is what drives young reformers to action and demonstrates why it’s so crucial to engage youth in policy forums like this.
By taking part in this stirring congregation, we hope to collaborate with our fellow advocates to develop smart, proactive solutions to the myriad problems facing the juvenile justice system, as well as cultivate our own skills and knowledge to confront this crucial public issue. We are certain it will be an insightful and engaging summit that challenges youth to think critically about the issues in juvenile justice and encourage participants like us to become life-long agents for change.
Natrina Gandana is the Communications Intern at the Justice Policy Institute and Tony Mastria is JPI's Digital Media Associate.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Denying Democracy

By Hope DeLap
JPI Intern

As an attendee at a recent Bipartisan Panel on Restoring Voting Rights, I was thrilled to see
the energy of this movement and the surprising diversity of its supporters. The Capitol Hill briefing featured introductory remarks from U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Rand Paul (R-KY) on their respective bills (S.2235 and S.2550) seeking the restoration of voting rights for formerly incarcerated people. The senators were joined by moderator Nicole Austin-Hillery of the Brennan Center for Justice and an eclectic panel of experts representing the faith, civil rights, criminal justice and law enforcement communities.

The bills reflect the remarkable dialogue that is occurring now among politicians from both sides of the aisle. Panelist Deborah Vagins, senior legislative counsel on civil rights issues at the ACLU, remarked on the recent realization among conservatives that easing restoration requirements does not need to be a partisan issue. Another panelist, Desmond Meade, the state director of PICO Florida’s Lifelines to Healing Campaign and president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC), commended the senators on “rais[ing] this issue above the fray of partisan politics.” Despite policy differences in the past, Senators Cardin and Paul have joined forces to ensure that “youthful mistakes,” as Sen. Paul called them, do not result in life-long punishments.

Although both bills target federal voting rights, Sen. Paul’s bill is limited to restoring voting rights for people with convictions for nonviolent offenses. Sen. Cardin’s bill, the Democracy Restoration Act (DRA), is more expansive and does not make the distinction between violent and nonviolent offenses.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Two Parties Are Better Than One: The REDEEM Act

 By Natrina Gandana
 JPI Intern
Despite their differences, Sen. Cory Booker (D – NJ) and Sen. Rand Paul (R – KY) joined forces to discuss criminal justice reform, highlighting the REDEEM (Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment) Act at Politico's Playbook Cocktails Event last week.  As the odd duo's first ever joint appearance, both senators were able to bounce fluidly between one another appearing as respected colleagues and friends. 

Although the cooperation was rare (Booker noted he could "write a dissertation of their disagreements"), the two were able to come to an understanding with the REDEEM Act, which calls for a comprehensive reform measure that would challenge the "cycle of poverty and incarceration," stated Paul. The REDEEM Act is focused on providing pathways to employment for people charged with non-violent offenses upon return to their community after incarceration. According to Booker’s office, there are five main provisions of the REDEEM Act:

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Disenfranchisement Déjà Vu

By Hope DeLap
JPI Intern

I recently attended a Greater Baltimore Grassroots Criminal Justice Network meeting in
Photo taken from Between the Lines
Baltimore. At the meeting, I was fascinated to hear one of the attendees, affectionately known as Ms. Betty, speak of the 50th Anniversary of the Mississippi Freedom Summer and her experiences -- a 50 years apart – working towards the same cause: the right to vote.


She was understandably disappointed and upset by the lack of progress after five decades. One critical reason for the lack of progress in establishing the right to vote for all citizens, especially African Americans, is the disenfranchisement of incarcerated and even formerly incarcerated people.

Although more than a century ago, the Supreme Court held the right to vote as “fundamental” in Yick Wo v. Hopkins, about 5.85 million U.S. residents are disenfranchised today because of felony convictions. The Sentencing Project reports that 2.5 percent of the voting population – 1 in 40 adults – is disenfranchised.  However, the rate of disenfranchisement is almost four times higher for African Americans than non-African Americans. This means that 1 in 13 African Americans of voting age is disenfranchised. Furthermore, in Florida, Kentucky and Virginia, more than 1 in every 5 African Americans is unable to vote.


This denial of the most basic and central right of citizenship is pervasive at every level of the criminal justice system. Even if one believes that people currently incarcerated in prison should not be able to vote, the problem lies in the fact that this right is often denied for those held pretrial in jails and after they have been released from incarceration.

Monday, July 14, 2014

New Juvenile Justice Report Builds on Reform Movement

By David Muhammad
Just Policy Blog Guest


Youth Advocate Programs (YAP) released a new report, “Safely Home,” which adds momentum to a growing movement to drastically reform the juvenile justice system. YAP’s report makes a strong argument for reducing incarceration and investing the savings in doing so in community based programs that serve youth.

“Supporting youth and families in their homes and communities should be the default for justice-involved youth, and incarceration the last alternative,” the report states. YAP is a national youth serving agency that provides community supports to high risk youth.

Numerous studies have found that involvement in the juvenile justice system, even while controlling for other factors, causes youth to have worse outcomes. One study found that for youth who commit non-violent crimes, which are the majority of youth in the system, “doing nothing” creates better outcomes than placing them in the juvenile justice system (Gatti, Tremblay and Vitar, 2009).

Another recent study that rigorously examined the effects of the juvenile justice system found that incarceration itself resulted in “large decreases in the likelihood of high school completion and large increases in the likelihood of adult incarceration.” (Aizer and Doyle, 2013)

And while many youth enter the juvenile justice system having experienced tremendous trauma, which is often what led to their delinquent act, the system frequently further traumatizes youth with horrible treatment inside of prison-like facilities.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Diplomas Not Detention: The Better Options for Kids Act

By Hope DeLap and Jasper Burroughs
JPI Interns



Judge Teske on Capitol Hill in June.
Across the nation, young students who commit minor misdeeds (truancy, running away, alcohol possession and others) are suspended, expelled, and put in prison at an alarming rate.
On June 25th we attended a briefing that marked Sen. Chris Murphy’s (D-CT) introduction of the Better Options for Kids Act of 2014. The bill seeks to rupture the school to prison pipeline by supporting states with policies that “improve educational continuity and limit juvenile court involvement and incarceration for youth.” 

The Better Options for Kids Act will encourage “five state policies that help drive down juvenile incarceration and crime, saving millions of dollars,” which include:

  • Limiting court referrals;
  • Limiting police officers in schools;
  • Providing training or funds without expulsion;
  • Promoting community-based alternatives;
  • Providing re-entry help for young people returning to the community from custody.
The legislation echoes the recommendations included in JPI’s 2011 report, “Education Under Arrest,” which calls on jurisdictions to use strategies like those listed in the Better Options for Kids Act, including investing in education, prevention and intervention strategies that work to keep schools safe. The legislation also reflects the findings of the JPI report, Juvenile Justice Reform in Connecticut, which showed that there are better ways to improve community safely than needlessly refer youth from schools to the justice system.

Judge 
Steve Teske, Chief Judge of the Juvenile Court of Clayton County, Georgia, spoke about his experiences advancing nationally recognized practices in balanced and restorative justice in a jurisdiction that serves almost 80,000 kids. He said that addressing the issue of the mass incarceration of students is “not just a legal obligation, [it] is a moral obligation. These are our children.”


Jim St. Germain also spoke. The 24 year old Brooklyn-native began dealing drugs at age 11 and was arrested at 14 on a felony drug charge. He agreed with Judge Teske: “[this is] not just a juvenile problem, this is America’s problem.”


If he had been two years older, St. Germain would probably have served time into his twenties in an adult prison. Instead, he spent three years in a group home with five other boys, emerged with newfound purpose, and got a Bachelors Degree. He is now preparing to enter NYU’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. He also tirelessly advocates for juvenile justice reform and is a current member of the Vera Institute of Justice Juvenile Justice Board and NYC Police Commissioner Bill Bratton’s Reengineering team. He counts himself lucky,
acknowledging that “it’s a blessing that I got caught at an early stage. I wouldn’t have stopped unless my whole neighborhood changed overnight.”