Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Black Lives Matter - It’s More than Police Killings

By David Muhammad
Guest Blogger

I have struggled with the theme of “Black Lives Matter” in the protests against police killings of Black men in America. I totally agree with the sentiment, but I have just had trouble with the message that seems so basic and demands a low bar. Then after an argument with a friend who thought the theme was ridiculous, I found myself defending it and eventually fully embracing the notion that one of our biggest challenges is that so many people in this country devalue the life of Black youth. But it is much more than police killings.

I watched the March and rally organized by Reverend Al Sharpton in the nation’s capital recently. Toward the end of the event, he brought up numerous families of the countless Black men murdered by police in cities throughout America. It was a stage full of pain. The mothers of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Amadou Diallo and many more. It inspired great emotion and passion.

Somehow, the everyday injustice in America does not evoke the same response. Gross racial disparities in arrests, prosecutions, incarceration, violations of probation and parole, and sentencing destroy millions of Black lives. Though the magnitude is much greater, it does not inspire the level of anger that a video of a White officer murdering a Black man does.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act’s Impact on Youth

By Kathleen Kelley
JPI Intern

(The White House)
There are 6.7 million opportunity youth in America, which is defined as young people ages 16-24 who are out of school and out of work.  The period directly after high school can be very tricky to maneuver and even harder for those without a high school diploma or a GED. Nowadays, for most jobs, a high school diploma is not enough to obtain and keep a good job.  If this Congress can take some action on legislation before it, this country can help these kids, get the help they need around work.

On July 22nd of this year, President Obama signed into the law the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) which replaces the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) of 1998. The National Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition held a meeting held on Tuesday October 21st to review the provisions of WIOA that directly benefit youth, and especially opportunity youth.

WIOA is a bipartisan act that is also the first legislative reform in 15 years of the public workforce system. The enactment of WIOA provides opportunity for reforms to ensure the American Job Center system is job-driven, responding to the needs of employers and preparing workers for jobs that are available. WIOA strengthens the public workforce system and creates partnerships that sustain it by unifying and streamlining services to better serve job-seekers. The Act empowers local boards to tailor services to their regions employment and workforce needs.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Community Policing to End Racial Profiling

By Povneet Dhillon
JPI Intern

(NY Post)
Recently, we have mourned the loss of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Charles Smith, Darrien Hunt, Kajieme Powell and Cameron Tillman – all men of color, all killed by the police. It seems impossible to count all the accounts of “use of excessive force,” all the “paid leaves of absence” and all the times that it seems we have not moved past the stark and startling injustices of the Jim Crow era. U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder expressed the frustration of our inability to facilitate discussion needed to promote positive racial relations in a powerful statement:  “though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.”

During the Jim Crow era, society regarded people of color as the lesser class. This was epitomized in public spaces, which were segregated between Whites and people of color. As enforcers of the law, police officers were expected to maintain the borders at all costs. One disturbing story of how the Jim Crow justice system works comes from St. Paul, Minnesota.

Christopher Lollie, a black father, made the mistake of sitting in an undesignated space. Mr. Lollie had just gotten off work and was waiting to pick up his children from school. A security guard walked past the other parents and told Mr. Lollie that he was sitting in a private “employee only” space. In an act of deviance evocative of—though perhaps not as memorable as--Rosa Parks, Mr. Lollie refused to leave.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Tim Murray Talks Bail & Pretrial Services on the Justice Podcast

By Tony Mastria

JPI is excited to announce the release of the second episode of the Justice Podcast, now available on iTunes and Podbean.  Listen, download, and subscribe to stay informed on the latest and best news in justice reform.

In honor of Incarceration Generation's first anniversary, we will be interviewing the authors who made this compilation possible, including researchers, advocates, community members, and other individuals in the justice field.

In the second installment of our Incarceration Generation series, JPI had the pleasure of speaking with Tim Murray, Director Emeritus of the Pretrial Justice Institute, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, DC, whose mission is "to advance safe, fair, and effective juvenile and adult pretrial justice practices and policies."  During our conversation, Murray touched on the bail system, the private bonding industry, and pretrial services and how these components of our justice system affect detainees, their families, and the broader public.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

12 Things You Should Have Learned from JPI's #MarylandMonth

In support of JPI's ongoing work with the Baltimore Grassroots Criminal Justice Network and other stakeholders in Maryland to advance sound justice policy reforms in the state, JPI declared last month "Maryland Month." Even though September is over, you can still learn about the state's policies and advocate for criminal justice reform.

We have highlighted statistics related to jails, prisons, parole, probation, pretrial services, community supervision, treatment, demographics on who is in the system, what taxpayers spend on the system, and ways to put the hard numbers on Maryland's overuse of incarceration into context.
 Read, share and advocate with our factsheets. Like, post and tweet our infographics using the hashtag #MarylandMonth and join the conversation on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram using #MarylandMonth as we share this information. 











Friday, September 26, 2014

How Committed Are We?

By Kathleen Kelley
JPI Intern

Maybe it was the location or my personal perspective being a first timer on the Hill, but Rep. Tony Cardenas opening remarks for
the Building Safe and Strong Communities: A Conversation about Community-Based Alternatives for Juvenile Justice-Involved Youth Congressional Briefing really resonated with me.  His words were powerful and passionate.

He was addressing the gathering of policy makers, advocates, lawyers, and other juvenile
justice related professionals that filled the seats, but yet Rep. Cardenas was also reaching out to the whole Hill, the others beyond the room.  He asked just how committed are we?  Are we as committed as Martin Luther King Jr. who marched on Washington with thousands of committed individuals?  He expressed the dire need for truly committed individuals to express their commitment strongly with the issue of the incarceration of juveniles and the overrepresentation of minority youth, especially African-American youth. 

Rep. Cardenas makes an excellent point, but as I enter the public policy sector of criminal justice and especially of public policy, I see the march being made.  The current group of extremely passionate and driven individuals making that march is very much present and devoted.  Good examples are the very panelists that were introduced by Rep.Cardenas. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

It’s Time for Pell Grant Justice

This Just Policy Blog re-post was originally featured on the website of the Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings.

Picture this. Rodney, an 18-year-old who was adjudicated delinquent in the spring, is being held in a secure care facility where he will likely stay for another three to six months while
he completes his rehabilitative program.
 He just passed the new GED and hopes to start taking online courses from his local community college. His facility just implemented a new policy that enables him to have secure Internet access. Rodney is interested in technology and wants to take Introduction to Coding along with English 101. His initial plans are to get an associate’s degree and accumulate a number of programming badges.*
There’s one big problem: he can’t afford the tuition, and both the counselor at his school and the financial aid officer at the community college are telling him he doesn’t qualify for a Pell Grant. It is their understanding that under federal law, criminals who are serving sentences don’t qualify for Pell Grants. No one seems to listen to Rodney when he keeps saying, “I’m not a criminal. I made a big mistake, and I want to get back into school now so I don’t fall further behind.”
So, instead of taking those two post-secondary courses, Rodney is slated to spend his days working on the facility’s grounds and sitting in high school classes that he doesn’t need to graduate, that don’t offer him any credits, and that aren’t in the field he is interested in. When he gets released later this year, mid-semester, he will be jobless and not enrolled in a postsecondary program. He will have to keep himself busy while starting the college application and financial aid process all over again. The odds are that a young man like Rodney won’t take those steps on his own, and that his education will end with his GED.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

JPI is On the Air!

By Tony Mastria

We have landed in the pod-o-sphere! JPI is excited to announce the creation of its brand new podcast, available now on iTunes and Podbean. Listen, download, and subscribe to stay informed on the latest and best news in justice reform.

Tune in to our inaugural episode to hear the first in our Incarceration Generation series. In honor of Incarceration Generation's first anniversary, we will be interviewing the authors who made this compilation possible, including researchers, advocates, community members, and other individuals in the justice field.

In this episode, we talk with Alex Friedmann, managing editor of Prison Legal News, to discuss private prisons and the role they play in the American justice system.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

From Intern Jitters to Justice Reform

By Nicholas Raboya
JPI Intern

It’s my dream to become a law enforcement officer after graduating from college. There is so
much injustice in the world and I really want to be part of the solution in reducing and solving
crime. I’ve worked hard in school so that I can have a career in law enforcement. I’ll be
graduating from Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Md.  in June 2015, so I wanted to
use this summer to intern in the criminal justice field. With the help of my mentor and superstar
attorney, Tara Castillo, I was referred to the Justice Policy Institute. 

To be honest, when I did some research on interning at JPI, I was unsure of whether it would be right for a future in law enforcement. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised by all that I have learned and the great exposure to various experiences related to criminal justice. In addition to attending a meeting at C-Span, hearings on Capitol Hill on voting rights and meeting professionals in the criminal justice field, I’ve participated in staff meetings, and helped with research and other important JPI projects.

JPI took a real gamble on me. Most of the interns at JPI are college and graduate students. As the first high school intern at JPI, I was worried about rising to the challenge. But
from the first day, Zerline Hughes, JPI’s Director of Communications, and her team, had complete confidence in me. That confidence helped me overcome my “what if” jitters. You know, the “What if I’m not smart enough?” thoughts, or the “What if I mess up?” qualms, or questions like “What if I don’t ‘represent’ for the next high schooler?” 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The War Zone at Home

By Amanda Petteruti

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.

Amanda is JPI's Senior Research Associate.

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.

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.”

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Land of the Free

By Hope DeLap

Independence Day is the celebration of the birth of a nation liberated from the oppressive rule of Britain, free of the shackles of its past and empowered to thrive moving forward. But are we still this nation? Can we truly celebrate freedom when our justice system has never been so unjust?
Photo taken from http://www.thedailysheeple.com/

It is hard to celebrate America’s liberty knowing how truly un-free so many Americans are. A recent study showed that 65 million Americans have a criminal record. If you don’t have a calculator handy, 65 million is equivalent to one in four adults in the United States. Furthermore, another study found that about one third of adults in America have been arrested for adult or juvenile offenses, not including minor traffic offenses. Despite so many Americans having previous convictions on their record, a criminal history is seen as extremely problematic, not as normal. There is a severe social stigma attached to a condition 65 million adults share. Additionally, the past can never be left behind. These people are not free to move forward with their lives. Background checks and collateral consequences become the new chains that constrain their liberty.

The collateral consequences of conviction prevent so many people from moving on and creating new lives for themselves. These collateral consequences include additional civil and state penalties which continue to punish people long after they have paid their debt to society. JPI reports in Billion Dollar Divide that in 2010, 451,471 people in Virginia alone were disenfranchised. These penalties, mandated by statute, extend beyond voting rights and affect all areas of individuals’ lives:
  • Employment and business licensing
  • Housing
  • Education
  • Public benefits (unemployment insurance, Medicaid and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families)
  • Credits and loans
  • Immigration status
  • Parental rights
  • Interstate travel

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Eleven Years Too Late: It’s Time to Implement PREA

By Natrina Gandana

For the last two years, I have been studying and working on criminal justice reform. I’ve worked inside and outside prisons, advocating for reform in California. Now, I intern with the Justice Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. which has enabled me to immerse myself into the political and legislative parts of the justice system. 
(l-r) Amy Fettig, Liz Ryan, Elissa Rumsey, Joshua Delaney, Rudy Qazilbash  

So after attending the seven-hour long teach-in session on the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), Brenda V. Smith, a professor of law and director of the Project on Addressing Prison Rape asked the attendees two big questions – what have we learned and what are we going to do?

I had learned so much, facts and statistics ran through my head, while the names of individuals and stories weighed heavily. So when Professor Smith asked those questions, I knew what I was going to say. I walked up to the microphone, thanked all the speakers, and told everyone that they inspired me to fight for criminal justice reform. Before I could continue, Talila Lewis, founder of Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf (HEARD), yelled from the crowd, “You already ARE fighting!” Taken aback, I heard “woohs!” and claps from the audience, and I smiled.  

However, I wasn’t smiling during the event. This inspiring, but hard-to-swallow teach-in centered on the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). PREA passed unanimously in both houses of Congress and was signed into law by President Bush in 2003. It is a comprehensive initiative that establishes a zero tolerance policy for sexual assault in custody and requires the U.S. Department of Justice to enforce standards that detect, prevent, reduce and punish sexual assault in custody. The Justice Policy Institute, in collaboration with the conservative Hudson Institute, helped to make the legislation a reality. Despite JPI’s creation of a broad coalition in support of the law and its necessity, PREA’s potential was never fully realized.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

How Young People are Fairing on Adult Community Supervision, and the Need to Raise the Age in Michigan

By Jason Ziedenberg

As a former staffer of two corrections agencies responsible for community supervision of youth and young adults, the data in a new report published this week by the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency (MCCD) on the transfer laws – and how youth are fairing under adult supervision – underlines for me the critical need for this state to increase the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to age 18.

The report, Youth Behind Bars: Examining the impact of prosecuting and incarcerating kids in Michigan’s criminal justice system, profiles the fact that Michigan is one of 10 states that automatically sees 17 year olds tried in their adult system. A huge number of youth are affected by this, and not only those engaged in serious delinquency. Between 2003 and 2013, according to the report, 19,124 youth aged 17 were tried as adults, and entered either an adult jail, prison or ended up on probation. While there are a couple of pathways for youth to be transferred to adult court, because 17 year olds are automatically tried as adults, most youth affected by the law were convicted of a non-violent offense.

Different people will read Youth Behind Bars and see different reasons why there is a need for a change in the Michigan law. When I think about my time working with probation departments in Oregon, juvenile departments that supervise young adults in Washington, D.C., and work with community supervision leaders that want to advance best practices through the National Institute of Corrections, I see a classic example of how the state isn’t keeping up with best practices that we would like to see criminal justice policy.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Beyond the Fence: Maya Angelou’s Visit to Oak Hill

This was originally posted on June 5, 2014 by the Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings.

By David Domenici

I served as the school’s principal for four years, working with an incredibly dedicated team of teachers, many of whom are still there today. In the spring of 2009, with our organization’s annual fundraiser approaching, I decided to call Dr. Angelou and ask if she would be willing to come to Oak Hill, located about 20 miles outside of DC, to spend some time with our students.

Last weekend my best friend, James Forman, published a beautiful
tribute to Dr. Maya Angelou. James recounts how the school we started for court-involved and at-risk teens from DC came to bear her name, how Dr. Angelou joined us for our annual fundraisers 17 years in a row, and how she embraced our students (in every sense of the word) at those events.

I know one of the reasons James wrote that piece was to make sure that Dr. Angelou’s commitment to our students would be recognized as part of her legacy. In that spirit, I feel compelled to add a few paragraphs to supplement James’ account.  

Friday, May 30, 2014

‘True North’ Youth Justice Reform: Lessons from Ontario

This post originally appeared on JJIE's ideas and opinions page May 21, 2014.

By Jason Ziedenberg

The two big trends to watch in American youth justice policy have focused on reducing youth incarceration, and moving young people from adult prisons and jails into a reformed youth justice system.
These are positive trends that the field needs to build on, but it’s too soon to pop the champagne. Too many states still have direct file laws on the books where youth automatically end up in the adult system by their charge, Raise-the-Age efforts in a couple of states are slow to take hold, and as budget-strained states close youth facilities, the field faces new challenges in building, funding and sustaining the continuum needed to meet young people’s needs.

These challenges should not be seen as roadblocks in places like New York, California, North Carolina, Texas, Florida and a dozen other states where large parts of the reform agenda have yet to be fulfilled. If these states are looking for yet one more example that our broader youth justice vision can be achieved, you need only to go “north.”

In 2003, the Canadian federal government replaced the antiquated Youth Offenders Act — Canada’s equivalent of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act — with a new law. Under the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA), the 10 provinces and two territories sought to implement a youth justice vision that recognizes young people’s unique adolescent development needs, divert youth from the justice system and meet their needs through other youth serving systems, expand the options that could serve as alternatives to youth prisons and improve rehabilitation and re-entry services for those few youth in locked custody. The provinces received modest funding from the federal government to implement the new law, but the 10 provinces were largely left to align their work with the YCJA on their own dime.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Listen Up D.C.: Stop Putting Your Young People In Adult Jails

This post originally appeared on JJIE's ideas and opinions page May 22, 2014.

By Marc Schindler

Having helped lead the Washington, D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS) – the city’s juvenile corrections agency — I know, first hand from my experience running that system and from my colleagues around the country that, Washington, D.C. can and should serve youth who are currently being transferred to the adult system in the juvenile justice system, rather than see them jailed and locked up in the adult system.

This issue has come into sharp relief for me this week, with the release of a new report: Capital City Correction: Reforming DC's Use of Adult Incarceration Against Youth. Released by DC Lawyers for Youth and the Campaign for Youth Justice, the report looks at how young people are prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system in Washington, D.C. through Direct File – a statute that enables federal prosecutors to send District youth accused of certain crimes to adult court without judicial review.

The report showed that 541 young people under the age of 18 were detained or incarcerated in adult facilities in D.C. between 2007 and 2012 and that youth spent 10,000 days – the equivalent of 27 years – in adult jail. The young people who end up on this path experience inadequate facilities, higher risk of being victimized while locked up, increased chances of solitary confinement, and often carry the long-term consequences of adult felony convictions when they leave the system. We also know from decades of research, including by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that transfer to adult court actually increases recidivism, with youth prosecuted as adults more likely to commit crimes upon release than similar youth handled in the juvenile system.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Lessons from Norway: A Different Approach to Criminal Justice

By Sarah Mostyn

It is well known that the United States incarcerates more of its population than any other country. Despite the harsh punishments and mandatory sentences for many crimes, recidivism rates remain high. If a criminal justice system that relies primarily on punitive measures to reduce crime rates,  but instead results in such high rates of recidivism, there is clearly something wrong with that system. In order to find a solution to this problem, policymakers and others may need to look beyond the borders of the United States.

JPI’s report Finding Direction: Expanding Criminal Justice Options by Considering Policies of Other Nations, shows the many advantages that exist in looking to other nations for possible solutions to the problems of our own criminal justice system. Doing so, allows fresh insight into current policies and offers alternative policy solutions to key issues. JPI’s report also found that the sentencing policies in the United States are harsher than those countries in comparison. With current sentencing laws being a leading driver to the US’s mass incarceration problem, these laws merit greater scrutiny.

With the passing of the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, the United States experienced an incredible increase in its prison population. Retribution became the driving factor behind sentencing with an increased emphasis on people serving the entirety of their punishment with few programs to promote rehabilitation. It is this vindictive mentality that sets the United States apart from many other nations.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Insidiousness of Private Interest

By Paul Ashton

It’s 2014 and it is time to: “Stop them. Shrink them. Close them.”

I heard the above quote by Donald Cohen, Executive Director of In the Public Interest, at the annual Public Safety and Justice Campaign’s (PSJC) prison privatization meeting held last December in Washington, D.C. The Public Safety and Justice Campaign is a growing coalition of labor, faith, criminal justice, human rights, and immigration organizations working to address privatization of the criminal justice system. This annual meeting is a time for members to gather to discuss the current state of privatization in the justice system and upcoming industry trends.

When I am out in public and talk about the criminal justice system and the need for reform, I often bring up private prisons and to my surprise I am usually greeted with shock from people who have no idea such an industry even exists. Well, private prisons are real and privatization of the justice system expands far beyond just the management of prisons; it can include the privatization of prison services such as healthcare, mental health services, food services and even phone contracts.

PSJC focuses on the privatization of the justice system and works to combat the insidious impact private interest can have on justice. In 2011, I co-authored the JPI report Gaming the System which examines the political strategies that private prison companies use to influence incarceration policy.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Gimme a Tax Break!

By Zerline Hughes

It’s most everyone’s UNfavorite day: Tax Filing Day – April 15.

For those of you who have already filed, even received your refund, kudos. For those who are reading this while taking a break from your pile of receipts or waiting in an around-the-corner line at the post office: good luck to you. For those of you who were hoping to get a bit of a tax break for college expenses and ran into this red tape: it’s time to advocate!

We learned through Gus Smith, a Virginia criminal justice advocate, tax preparer and parent of Kemba Smith whose 1994 drug sentence was commuted by President Bill Clinton in 2000, that he has had to tell a lot of Virginian’s that taxpayers cannot receive certain education-related tax deductions if they have been convicted of a felony drug offense.

Had you heard about that one?