Sunday, May 14, 2017

Por el Amor de Nuestra Madre

By Marcia Rincon-Gallardo
JPI Guest Blogger

This Mother’s Day, we must honor our mothers who have children locked up somewhere in the system –whether it’s a daughter or a son, a niece or a nephew, grandchildren, or someone you hold dear. It’s a day for us to reflect on those impacted by the justice system, and say we may not know your pain, but we feel your anguish, frustration, urgency, and ultimately hope that things will get better. For the love of our mothers, por el amor de nuestra madre, we must transform how we approach youth misbehavior and our youth justice system.

On Mother’s Day and every day, this issue is near and dear to my heart. In working with our youth as part of the National Alianza for Latino Youth Justice, I am honored and humbled that many of them call me tia, or auntie. I cherish these children and our relationships, because I know that understanding our children is an important aspect of the work that remains in dismantling mass incarceration. Like many of their moms, there was a time in my life where I was a single mom, waking up each and every day praying that my son would not come in contact with the juvenile justice system.

Despite my prayers and best efforts, there was one incident that sent my heart pumping. Throwing me into panic mode, my son received a three-day suspension for bringing a plastic toy gun to school. While it was a childish mistake, I knew that zero tolerance policies and this three-day suspension were enough to put a 12-year-old, afro-mexicano-indigenous youth at the door of detention. I intervened, showing up at the Vice Principal’s office to demand they consider the harms of detention on a child. Because I knew the research and understood the trauma that comes with the justice system, the administrator agreed to “do me the favor” of releasing my son to me.

As I spend time with previously impacted youth, I continuously learn that many—if not all—have major, un-attended trauma that shaped their young lives. Like my son, their justice system involvement started with a school incident, running away from home, or committing an offense that would change their life forever. These mistakes lead children towards the punitive justice system, rather than giving them the restorative justice practices they need or programs to address their trauma.

The National Alianza for Latino Youth, along with many other organizations like the Justice Policy Institute, are part of a strong youth justice transformation movement working to decrease the number youth in detention. Over 300 facilities in 40 states across the country are implementing practices that lower youth prison populations while improving public safety. We know this work is especially important for youth of color, which is why I partnered with JPI almost 15 years ago as part of the Building Blocks for Youth initiative to write Donde Esta La Justicia: a call to action on behalf of Latino and Latina youth in the U.S.Justice System. The first of its kind, the report highlighted the over representation of latinx youth in the justice system, who also receive longer sentences and harsher treatment within the system. Because of the work juvenile justice organizations like JPI have done to raise awareness and create change, we are seeing a transformation in youth justice and how we treat our kids.

Research shows that youth can be better served through community based programs that address their unique needs. Mothers watched as generations of children, mostly children of color, have been locked up and traumatized by a system that promises to help them. This Mother’s Day, we honor mothers by saying we hear you and we see you, and that we will work to give you a voice. Only you know the pain of having a child in the justice system, and how important it is to bring them back home.

In the spirit of Madres de los desaparecidos, Casa de Las Madres, and the "Thirteen Grandmothers", I honor and call upon our mothers to rise up in solidarity. This Mother’s Day, I am proud to be a part of a movement working to dismantle the cages built for our youth, and to build la cultura cura—pathways to bring our children home to their mothers, aunties, and grandmothers. 

Marcia Rincon-Gallardo is a member of the National Alianza for Latino Youth Justice and Founder of Noxtin, a juvenile justice reform think-tank and strategic action organization based in Silicon Valley that works with directly impacted communities and system professionals.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Shining a Light on the Crisis of Indigent Defense

By Marc Schindler
JPI Executive Director

This week 60 Minutes featured a story detailing the crisis in indigent defense in New Orleans, Louisiana. In a city where public defenders have been under-resourced and overwhelmed for decades, the situation has reached a breaking point.

Following years of budget cuts to the office of the public defender, the city’s chief public defender, Derwyn Bunton, has now gone on record stating that his office is not able to provide a constitutionally adequate defense for too many of their clients. While Bunton and his team of attorneys had been doing all they could to zealously advocate on behalf of their clients for years – despite a shoestring budget – the load simply became too much to bare while striving to ensure that everyone receives fair treatment by the justice system. 

Having served 20 years ago as a public defender in Baltimore, where I experienced crushing caseloads and saw firsthand how the system fails to deliver justice, I know that we can and must do better. I had the privilege of working with Derwyn Bunton on juvenile justice issues in Louisiana, and I know that his decision to stop accepting cases was not done lightly, but with the same strong and unyielding commitment to serving his clients that he’s shown his entire career. 

As I consider the dire situation in New Orleans, and reflect on JPI celebrating our 20th anniversary this year, I am reminded of our work on this critical issue and our efforts to shine a light on the significant challenges facing public defenders around the country. JPI’s 2011 report, System Overload: The Cost of Under-Resourcing Public Defense, concluded that overloaded public defense systems result in more prison time for people across the country, and less justice. 

According to System Overload, 73 percent of county-based public defender offices lacked the requisite number of attorneys to meet caseload standards; 23 percent of these offices had less than half of the necessary attorneys to meet caseload standards. JPI’s report found that public defense systems across the country are overburdened, and showed how the busting-at-the-seams systems affect state and county budgets, the lives of those behind bars, the impact on their families, and the challenges of re-entering communities after serving time. We further looked at why dedicated public defenders – like Derwyn Bunton and his staff in New Orleans -- do not have enough time to conduct thorough investigations, or meet with and provide quality representation for their clients. Not surprisingly, in most of these systems the great majority of clients are low-income and people of color – contributing to very troubling racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

National standards recommend that public defenders handle no more than 150 felony, 400 misdemeanor, 200 juvenile, 200 mental health, or 25 appeals per year. Only 12 percent of county public defender offices with more than 5,000 cases per year had enough lawyers to meet caseload standards. Nearly 60 percent of county-based public defender offices do not have caseload limits or the authority to refuse cases due to excessive caseloads. This lack of authority is particularly evident in larger offices with higher caseloads.

With an increasing overload of cases, lack of quality defense and a shortage of resources, JPI made the case that justice is not being served and the wellbeing of millions of people is at stake. We called for reform to the public defense system in System Overload, and we will continue to challenge policymakers to make investments to ensure a fairer, more effective justice system for all. If we want to have a justice system that meets constitutional muster, we must ensure that the 6th Amendment right to counsel isn’t just words on paper, but becomes a reality in courtrooms across our country. Until that happens, we can’t honestly say that justice is being served in many cities and towns across America.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

How “Raising the Age” Is Transforming Youth Justice

By Marcy Mistrett and Marc Schindler
Campaign for Youth Justice CEO and JPI Executive Director
This piece originally appeared on Open Society Foundations' blog
Two teen boys in orange uniforms

Over the past decade, advocates have successfully challenged the boundaries of how states define childhood in the context of criminal law. According to the Campaign for Youth Justice, which supports these reforms, the number of states that automatically prosecute 16- or 17-year-olds in the adult criminal justice system has been cut in half, from 14 to just 7.

There are now about half as many youths automatically being handled in the adult system. This is good news for states around the country. Juvenile crime has continued to fall, costs have been kept in check, and thousands of youth have been spared the dangers that come from being placed in adult jails and prisons.

Today, just seven states still automatically handle 16- or 17-year-olds (or both) in the adult criminal justice system, but these states are all currently considering changes as well. In some of the states contemplating raising the age, there are concerns that it will cost too much and juvenile courts will be overwhelmed. Similar concerns were initially expressed in those places that raised the age over the past decade.

A new report by the Justice Policy Institute, Raising the Age: Shifting to a More Effective Juvenile Justice System, addresses these concerns by showing that states which have moved teenagers out of the adult justice system and into the youth justice system have done so in a cost effective and safe way.

The report found that in states like Connecticut, Illinois, and Massachusetts—which had strategies in place to reduce their reliance on expensive youth facilities even before they raised the age—juvenile-corrections costs were kept in check as they began to serve older teenagers. Since it can cost more than $100,000 a year to incarcerate a teenager, shifting to practices that keep more youth at home has allowed states to reallocate resources in more cost-effective ways, reserving the most expensive out-of-home options for the small number of youth who are a serious risk to public safety.

In Illinois, initial concerns that new courtrooms and attorneys would be needed to handle thousands of youth ultimately evaporated, as the state was able to manage the change with existing resources while also closing three costly youth facilities.

There, as in other states that adopted better youth justice policies and raised the age, juvenile crime declined more than the national average. Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy observed that his state saw lower adult crime and imprisonment rates after raising the age to 18, saving tens of millions of dollars. Based on these results, Governor Malloy is now calling on the Connecticut legislature to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction to 21.
As with almost every facet of America’s justice system, it is clear that this is a racial justice issue as well. For example, in New York, North Carolina, and Michigan, each of which is contemplating raising the age, young people of color are grossly overrepresented in the justice system.

In New York State, eight out of ten people sentenced to prison are people of color, and nine out of ten young people sentenced to prison from New York City are young people of color. In North Carolina, black youth account for 62 percent of the young people prosecuted in the adult criminal system and are nine times more likely than white youth to receive an adult prison sentence. In Michigan in 2012, 59 percent of youth who were prosecuted in adult court were black, even though they only made up 18 percent of the youth population statewide.

Knowing that youth of color are disproportionately impacted should provide even more of a sense of urgency, and we have an obligation to implement policies that will treat all youth fairly while at the same time making the most effective use of taxpayer dollars, especially given that the vast majority—80–95 percent, depending on the state—of 16- and 17-year-olds arrested in these states are picked up for nonviolent offenses.

We should be doing everything we can to ensure that when a young person has a brush with the law, we increase the likelihood that they can get on the right track, making sure that they are safe and receiving the types of supports and opportunities that anyone would want for their own child. Treating children as children, in a developmentally appropriate juvenile justice system—not in an adult system that puts youth at great risk of harm and leads to more crime—is the right policy for all communities.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

America Can’t Reduce Incarceration Without Addressing Violent Crime

Marc Schindler
JPI Executive Director
This piece originally appeared on Open Society Foundations' blog. 

Recently, I had the privilege of spending time with three men who had served a total of over 100 years in prison after having been convicted of violent crimes. The three included Roach Brown, whose life sentence for a murder committed during a robbery was commuted after he served over 30 years; Stanley Mitchell, who was released in 2013 after serving 34 years of a life sentence for being the getaway driver in a fatal robbery; and Walter Lomax, who was exonerated and released in 2006 after serving nearly 40 years of a life sentence for a murder he didn’t commit. 

In addition to serving extremely long sentences following convictions for violent crimes, what these three men have in common is that they are all doing well and all contribute to their communities.

As we discussed their experiences during a radio show hosted by Roach Brown, I was again struck by the folly of America’s approach to addressing violent crime. As the National Academy of Sciences notes in its seminal work on the causes of prison population growth, “The change in penal policy over the past four decades may have had a wide range of unwanted social costs, and the magnitude of crime reduction benefits is highly uncertain.”

As a number of states across the country have shown, including New York, New Jersey and California, we can have fewer people in prison and lower crime rates.

Our discussion took place during a time when there is more support than ever on both sides of the political aisle for criminal justice reform. But the national conversation and policy reforms have focused almost exclusively on reducing the incarceration of people convicted of nonviolent offenses. Yet almost half of the people in prison have been convicted of a violent crime. That means there is no way the U.S. will meaningfully reduce its incarceration rate without changing how the justice system treats so-called violent crimes.
Thankfully, there are signs policymakers may be willing to try a different approach. In the juvenile justice system, along with declines in juvenile crime, there has been a concerted effort to meet the needs of youth in the community through effective and less costly alternatives to incarceration, resulting in more than a 50 percent drop in the number of youth confined in juvenile facilities over the past decade. We have also seen Supreme Court rulings prohibiting mandatory life-without-parole sentences for those who commit a crime before their 18th birthday. 

From California to New York, fewer parole decisions simply consider “the nature of the crime,” instead taking into account how likely someone is to reoffend if released. There has also been some chipping away at mandatory minimum sentences for violent offenses. And when faced with spikes in violent crime, some city leaders are rejecting approaches that simply rely on enhanced penalties and are investing more in the communities hit hardest.

These modest steps are encouraging, though they need to be tempered with reality. The latest surveys show only a one percent reduction in the national prison population, along with a slight increase in jailed populations. The United States still has the highest incarceration rate and the largest prison population in the world. And many of the proposals to improve how we respond to violent crime failed to pass during congressional or state legislative sessions in 2016.   

The data is clear: America will not significantly reduce incarceration unless the justice system changes its approach to violence. We need to ask who defines a behavior as violent, how the justice system treats these behaviors, and whether the approach to violent crime makes us safer.

In our new report, Defining Violence: Reducing Incarceration by Rethinking America’s Approach to Violence, the Justice Policy Institute looks more closely at these issues.
It’s important to note that behavior may be defined as a violent crime in one place and as a nonviolent crime somewhere else, and that context matters in the way violent and nonviolent crimes are treated by the justice system. For example, behavior that wouldn’t otherwise be defined as a violent crime can be classified as violent and mean a much longer term of imprisonment when a gun is involved. So while it is true that gun violence is a serious problem in many communities, we also know that there has been almost zero political will to actually remove guns from our streets.

Finally, the report examines the significant disconnect between current policies and the evidence of what actually makes us safer. For instance, while research shows that people convicted of some of the most serious offenses—such as homicide or sex offenses—can have the lowest recidivism rates, this is often not taken into consideration when considering sentence lengths.

If America is going to truly come to grips with our addiction to incarceration, we need to have a serious and informed conversation about how we respond to people charged with and convicted of violent crimes. Otherwise, all of the energy and effort to reduce incarceration will result only in marginal changes, which unfortunately won’t move us much closer to a fair and effective justice system. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

How We Can Stop Solitary For Kids

By Ned Loughran
Executive Director of The Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators.
Guest Blogger

Is it possible to end the use of isolation for punishment and administrative convenience in youth detention and correctional facilities in the next three years? The Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators (CJCA) answers emphatically, yes and is committed to doing just that!

Ever since Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) administrator Robert Listenbee met with the CJCA Board of Directors in his first session with us in August 2013 and delivered the challenge “if not isolation, then what”, we have responded to his urging.

We chose “Reducing the Use of Isolation” as the theme of our Second Leadership Institute in 2014, which featured a keynote address by Administrator Listenbee, panel discussions, breakout groups and a concluding roundtable on the topic. In 2015, CJCA created a Toolkit for Reducing the Use of Isolation, a publication intended to guide youth correctional administrators and their directors of institutions and secure facilities in changing cultures that rely on isolation as a behavior management tool.

CJCA also recently joined the Children’s Center for Law and Policy (CCLP), the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University (CJJR) and Justice Policy Institute (JPI) to launch a campaign to end the solitary confinement of youth. Launched this spring, the Stop Solitary Confinement for Youth (SSK) Campaign has already garnered the support of more than thirty national organizations such as the American Correctional Association, American Psychological Association and the Performance-based Standards Learning Institute (PbS LI). The campaign will provide support to state and local agencies working to end the use of isolation. The Crime Report, an online criminal justice resource from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, recently published and OP-ED piece I wrote on ending solitary for youth and the work of the campaign.

And just a little over a month ago, OJJDP hosted a national convening: “Eliminating the Use of Solitary Confinement in Juvenile Justice Facilities: A Multi-systemic Approach” for more than 60 juvenile justice professionals from across the country. Advocates, juvenile justice administrators, and high level officials from the White House and the Department of Justice came together to review data around solitary confinement and discuss best practices. You can read more about the OJJDP convening here.

And finally, President Obama himself has weighed in on this issue, authoring an Opinion piece in the Washington Post urging the criminal and juvenile justice systems to rethink the use of solitary confinement, particularly for young offenders and those with mental health problems. A day later, he followed up and banned the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prisons. Although his ban does not affect youth in locally run pre-trial detention centers or long-term youth correctional facilities, he appealed to those system’s leaders to end the use of solitary confinement. Between the President’s Executive Action, the leadership of OJJDP, and the Stop Solitary for Kids campaign, we are excited to see so many forces coming together to end this harmful and counterproductive practice. CJCA, more than any other organization in the country, has the ability and capacity to end solitary/isolation for youths in state youth correctional systems!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

What I really want for Father’s Day: Stop Solitary for Kids

By Marc Schindler
Executive Director of JPI
Originally Posted on Huffington Post's Blog

As Father’s Day approached, and I watched my kids excitedly make plans to celebrate, I couldn’t help but reflect on my juvenile justice reform work. As a former youth corrections administrator, I noticed their excitement is so different than the isolation we know is too often experienced by kids in facilities.

Based on my experience working with incarcerated youth, I know that many families do not get to enjoy Father’s Day. Across the country, too many families are torn apart by our criminal and juvenile justice systems, with loved ones locked away in facilities, often far away from their families. In particular, I think about kids in solitary confinement. Stuck in isolation, all alone in a cell, I know kids in solitary confinement are having a very different Father’s Day than my own children.

Solitary confinement is the involuntary placement of youth alone in a room or cell, for any reason other than a temporary response to behavior. Solitary is often used when there are insufficient staff or resources in facilities, particularly critical mental health services and appropriate training for all staff. This means that solitary confinement often prevents kids from getting the treatment and services they need. It can have long-lasting and devastating effects on youth, including trauma, psychosis, depression, anxiety, and increased risk of suicide and self-harm. In fact, over half of all suicides in juvenile facilities occur in solitary confinement.
That’s why my organization, the Justice Policy Institute, is working on a national campaign to end the use of solitary confinement for youth. Along with the Center for Children’s Law and Policy, the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University, and the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators, we launchedStop Solitary for Kids, with a focus on ending solitary confinement of youth at the local, state and national level. Through this campaign, research experts, advocates, correctional administrators, parents of incarcerated youth, medical professionals, and elected officials have all come together in an effort to end solitary confinement of youth.

At the Stop Solitary for Kids campaign launch on April 19th, US Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) spoke about the need to end solitary confinement, in order to do better for our kids. “We are engaging in a practice that human rights activists, and other countries, consider torture,” said Booker. He highlighted the growing consensus among activists, experts, and corrections administrators that solitary confinement is a harmful practice. The Senator also showed why this damaging practice is so harmful and counterintuitive in a juvenile justice system intended to rehabilitate youth, stating, “we’re being robbed of their beauty and their glory because we are punishing them and torturing them, harming them and traumatizing them.”

Our campaign builds off the momentum of the action of President Obama, who made history by calling for a ban on solitary confinement for youth in federal facilities. Obama wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post that rightly called solitary confinement “an affront to our common humanity.” Though few youth are in federal custody, Obama’s Executive Action is influential in raising the bar across our country. The President is using the bully pulpit to spread the message that solitary confinement of youth is not only counterproductive, but inhumane, providing strong leadership to encourage the end of this practice.

Even in my own community, here in Washington, D.C., great strides are being made towards ending the solitary confinement of youth. DC Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie introduced the Comprehensive Youth Justice Act of 2016, proposing sweeping reforms to juvenile justice in the District. One of these reforms includes limiting the use of solitary confinement for all youth under the age of 18, whether held in a juvenile or adult facility, and requiring stringent reporting when it is used. These are the types of approaches we need in working with our young people. At the end of the day, it will make our kids healthier and our communities safer.
Altogether, these efforts show a growing consensus in America that we must stop solitary for kids. From national elected officials such as President Obama and Senator Cory Booker, to local decision makers like DC Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, reforms are being advanced to end solitary confinement. The campaign also includes important supporters such as corrections administrators from Ohio, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Indiana who are doing this in their own facilities and setting an example for facilities nationwide. Dozens of organizations across America, from the ACLU to the American Correctional Association, have also joined in support of the campaign. With such a wide variety of groups coming together, we know that true reform is possible.

This movement gives me hope that we can truly Stop Solitary for Kids. As a dad, I’m grateful for a day to celebrate my relationship with my kids, and I’m even more grateful that there will soon be a day where no kids will have to endure the harms of solitary confinement.

Monday, March 28, 2016

What Mass Incarceration Means For Families

By Wendy Pacheco
JPI Intern

Since I could remember, my life has been shaped by courts, cops, and jails. My grandmother and I used to walk hand in hand through the East Los Angeles Civic Center toward the local courthouse to watch a judge decide the fate of my mother.

I remember blaming her, reprimanding her for her choice in clothing, her decisions to walk through the alleys at night, and for her overall state of well-being. My feelings shifted my 2nd year of college, when a professor offered a course to formerly incarcerated students where we spent hours on end discussing our own experiences and deconstructing the historical relationship between people of color and the criminal justice system. I realized that my mother’s experiences speak largely to the experiences of women across the United States who are suffering from drug addiction, homelessness, domestic violence, or other forms of abuse. I realized that due to mass incarceration, my mother and I were unknowingly a part of a community of millions of women who experienced what my mother and I had.

My mother’s relapse lasted about 8 years before she was mandated by a judge to participate in a rehabilitation program or serve a minimum of 1 year in a federal prison. As a witness to my mother’s journey with reentry I recall the difficulties she faced in trying to rebuild her life. Finding stable housing was especially difficult, because the waiting list for public housing and the formal processes for renting an apartment hindered my mother from taking the necessary steps to reintegrate into society. Many leasing agencies and landlords require potential tenants to provide proof of income that reflects twice the amount of rent. But for someone like my mother, whose income primarily consisted of government assistance that did not amount to anything near twice the amount of rent for an apartment in Los Angeles, her options were limited.

I found my everyday realities continue to be enmeshed with the criminal justice system after my father's arrest in 2011. At the time, he was the head of household, and so his arrest resulted in a shift of financial responsibilities and ultimately bore severe financial hardships on my family. As a senior in high school my only option, as I saw it, was to completely immerse myself in the possibility of higher education as a means to move beyond my circumstances. As a 1st year student at UC Berkeley my priorities were driven by the necessity to care for my family: bearing the financial responsibility of paying for phone calls to maintain steady communication, sending my father money for his monthly commissary visits, and carrying out the emotional labor for my family in dealing with the incarceration of a parent.

As my mother celebrates her third year of recovery, my father completes five years of being incarcerated; I still carry the psychological and emotional trauma from those experiences. The stigma, isolation, and trauma associated with incarceration have direct impacts across families and communities that last well beyond release. Since 2011, as many as 100,000 mothers who are were primary caregivers have been incarcerated in prison alone; additionally, when it is not the woman who is incarcerated, women tend to be the ones who bear the financial and emotional responsibility after a loved one has been locked away. It is not enough to address mass incarceration as a racial issue, an economic issue, or a queer issue, we must also view mass incarceration as a reproductive rights issue, and as an overall women’s issue, that bears collateral consequences on families including increased poverty, destabilized neighborhoods, and generations of trauma.

Wendy Pacheco is a graduating senior at the University of California, Berkeley with a degree in Ethnic Studies.