Monday, November 20, 2017

Risk Takers: How did the justice system change to meet the needs of the youth population?

This blog is a part of a series dedicated to celebrate JPI’s 20th Anniversary. Bart Lubow’s piece is excerpted from comments he delivered at the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s JuvenileDetention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) conference in Orlando, Florida in April 2017 on the occasion of JDAI’s 25th anniversary. JPI has been proud to partner with JDAI since its inception. We are particularly thankful to the leadership of Bart and other champions from the Casey Foundation and around the country, who made this success story possible and continue the work.

Twenty-five years ago, the juvenile justice system was struggling to survive.  It was widely condemned as soft, ineffective, and unaccountable.  Elected officials across the country, reacting to a brief spike in violent crime, ridiculed and diminished the system, most obviously by passing a slew of laws that took the most serious cases and mandated that they be prosecuted and incarcerated in the adult criminal justice system. The core notion behind the creation of juvenile justice—that youth were different from adults and deserved a system that recognized those developmental differences—was at risk of being abandoned. 

For a variety of reasons juvenile justice did deserve criticism.  While it was perceived as soft on crime, juvenile justice was in fact locking up rather minor law violators—misdemeanants, probation violators and status offenders--in jails and prisons which we euphemistically called “youth study centers” and “training schools” but which were endemic with abuse and neglect like their adult counterparts.  None of this would have been allowed had the youth in question looked like, spoke like, lived near or were related to people like me.  Indeed, the collective complexion of those who were grist for this mill was darkening at a rapid rate, with more and more Black, Latino, Asian, and Native American youth being hauled before a system that routinely acted as if youth of color were all dangerous and unredeemable.

From this, the Annie E. Casey Foundation began the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative. JDAI required a huge political risk, a major shift in the way we approach pretrial detention for youth, and the development of new procedures and programs to better serve America's troubled young people. We believed that the basic myth driving the incarceration explosion—that locking up large numbers of people was the pathway to public safety—was fundamentally wrong.  Second, we argued that the use of detention was driven first and foremost by the policies and practices embraced by adults, not the behavior of the kids.  Third, we hypothesized that a focus on detention reform—while limited given the many problems with juvenile justice—would spill over to affect other issues.  Finally, we argued that no system which claimed to represent “justice” could have any credibility as long as it was perceived as biased and unfair in its treatment of youth of color. 

Now there are about half as many youth locked in juvenile facilities as there were 25 years ago, and juvenile crime rates are a modest fraction of what they were as recently as 15 years ago.  If nothing else, over the past 25 years JDAI has demonstrated that it is possible to radically reduce confinement without sacrificing public safety. 

The entire trajectory of juvenile justice has changed in the past two and one-half decades.  States across the country are now raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction and rolling back mandatory transfer laws, rather than pulling more youth into adult courts and prisons.  More and better tools are being used to inform decisions and stronger, more innovative alternatives have expanded the range and effectiveness of options in lieu of confinement.  At the national level, the U.S. Supreme Court abolished the death penalty for crimes committed before age 18 and declared mandatory juvenile life without parole sentences unconstitutional.  A movement to end solitary confinement has emerged with interest at the local, state and federal levels of government.  Over the past 25 years, juvenile justice, rather than retreating under criticism, has increasingly served as the laboratory for more enlightened and effective approaches to crime, some of which are now infiltrating many state adult justice systems.

While JDAI, is not responsible for all the progress of the past 25 years, it has been in the center of much of it and it at least deserves credit for forsaking the myths and excuses of the past and for helping to nourish a wide array of practitioners, advocates and researchers whose ideas and voices were hidden during the dark days of the so-called super-predator era. We have learned many things relevant to a better future, not the least of which is to not be constrained by the limits that the status quo would impose on our thinking. 

We have come very far, but not nearly far enough for this system to pass what we have come to refer to as the “my child” test.  There can be no let-up in our clamor for change, not while lives are at stake and communities suffer the effects of mass incarceration.  The clamor must now come, first and foremost, from the next generation of reformers. All enterprises of this scale and influence are built from collective, collaborative work.  All of us stand on the shoulders of others.


Bart Lubow is a Senior Consultant with the Annie E. Casey Foundation
With almost 40 years of improving criminal justice systems, Bart Lubow served as director of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Justice Strategy Group from 2009 until 2014. Today, as a senior consultant, he supports the Foundation’s juvenile justice reform agenda, which includes reducing unnecessary confinement in order to minimize long-term consequences of incarceration, prevent family disruption and increase opportunities to positively alter the life trajectories of youth in the juvenile system.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Rethinking the School to Prison Pipeline

By Michelle Manno
JPI Guest Blogger

Last year’s civil rights survey by the Department of Education revealed some disturbing trends: Out-of-school suspensions for black students are common for preschoolers and a pattern of disciplining black students more than white students is consistent from kindergarten through the 12th grade.

Advocates for equity in education highlight the fact that many school districts emphasize the policing of students as opposed to counseling and are more committed to hiring security officers than school counselors. This approach helps create a “school-to-prison pipeline” that impacts students throughout their educational careers.

“Suspending a student for misbehavior usually makes things worse,” says Joshua Aronson, associate professor of applied psychology at NYU Steinhardt, which recently launched Counseling@NYU. Not only does the child miss instruction, but he or she is rejected by the community in a very public fashion.” 

The Department of Education survey collected data from public school districts during the 2013-2014 school year, and their analysis found that black preschool children were 3.6 times more likely than white children to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions. In the K-12 years, black students were suspended at rates almost four times higher than white students and expelled from school without educational services at a rate that was nearly double. They were more than two times more likely to be disciplined through the involvement of school security officers, such as a school-related arrest.

While policing in schools disproportionately affects students of color, research shows that it doesn’t increase safety. The Justice Policy Institute released a report on the school to prison pipe in 2011 titled Education Under Arrest: The Case Against Police in Schools. They found that many schools have “School Resource Officers” who spend their time acting as law enforcement at schools. The presence of SRO’s resulted in disproportionate punishment rates for students of color, including suspensions and arrests, without actually making schools safer.

The Need for a Long-Term Solution
Some factors may be contributing to the fact that black students are disciplined at higher rates, including the racial bias of teachers. Yale University’s Walter Gilliam has spent more than a decade studying this trend, and he told NPR that most adults interpret disruptive behaviors differently and that these perceptions depend on the race of the child.

“We tend to hold African-American children as more culpable,” he said in the article. “And we think they're older than they are.”

And focusing on discipline as a method of dealing with behavior issues can have a long-term effect on students in many ways. They are too frequently absent from the classroom and miss out on all of the lifelong benefits that are derived from academic achievements.

“This punishes the child and marks them as a problem without uncovering the underlying reasons for the misbehavior, which typically is an unmet need,” says Aronson.

UCLA’s Civil Rights Project framed such sentiments in some hard data. A study by the Project shows that student suspensions cost the nation $35 billion in lost taxpayer revenue — by linking them to the “cost of keeping people in prison and paying for health care, since students who get suspended are more likely to drop out of school, earn less money, and get involved in the criminal justice system.”

A Counseling-Focused Approach
An effective alternative to discipline is to give teachers support to better address students’ behavioral issues, and school counselors play a key role in such a strategy.

“Schools need the resources to find out what students need and the resources to meet those needs,” says Aronson. “This may cost more in the short-term, but it is a mere fraction of the cost of incarcerating the high percentage of suspended students who will end up in prison.”

One example, outlined by NPR, is Van Ness Elementary in Washington, D.C., which trains teachers in Conscious Discipline and provides them with a support network that includes a staff social worker, a psychologist, and weekly visits from a clinical psychologist. Every pre-K classroom at the school also has a “safe space” where kids who are being disruptive can be peaceful and calm down — and preschoolers are taught calming techniques, like “breathing slowly into a pinwheel to make it spin.”

Unfortunately, in the current framework, more than 20 percent of high schools don’t even have a school counselor at all, and 1.6 million students attend a school with a sworn law enforcement officer but not a school counselor. To alter the dynamics of the school-to-prison pipeline, those kinds of odds need to change.

As JPI celebrates its 20th Anniversary, Education Under Arrest remains a great tool for understanding the effects of the school to prison pipeline. Work done by organizations like JPI and the Department of Education shows the importance of alternatives to policing in schools. By making positive investments in our students, we can create better schools and safer communities.

Michelle Manno is an education writer at 2U. She works with schools such as Counseling@NYU – the online master's in school counseling and online master’s in mental health counseling from NYU Steinhardt – to create resources that support K-12 students. Say hi on Twitter @michellermanno.

Friday, June 16, 2017

This Father’s Day, Think About the Empty Seats

By Keith Wallington
JPI State Based Strategist

Remember your first great achievement as a child? Was it your first talent show or dance recital? First little league hit, basket made, or goal scored? Think back to that moment. What made it so special? Who was there? There’s no better affirmation of a child’s achievement than a parent’s approval. 

Remember the excitement? Now imagine that seat in the audience being empty, and the hurt and disappointment that follows. That empty seat is a reality for too many kids across the country due to the justice system’s devastating impact on families and communities. The residual effect of the justice system’s disproportionate impacts on people and communities of color are reflected in those empty seats. One in four black children is at risk of having an incarcerated parent compared to one in thirty white children.  

This Father’s Day, remember all the fathers who have been separated from their children as a result of the justice system. Many acknowledge that the United States’ system of slavery was so terrible because of the beatings, mutilations and overall inhumane physical treatment of slaves. However, the cruelest part of slavery for many slaves in the U.S. didn’t lie in the inhumane physical treatment, but rather, the separation of families. There is no greater pain or loss than a parent being separated from their child, and the separation of families now routinely happens under the cover of the justice system. The impact cannot be overstated. As a coach for my son’s basketball and baseball teams I see and feel the reality of those empty seats. I can tell within the first practice which of my players does not have a father figure in their lives. There is a difference. You can see it. You can feel it. And the kids certainly can, too. 

The void the justice system creates by removing so many fathers in poor communities of color creates a ripple effect that is felt throughout the entire community. While at the Justice Policy Institute over the past seven years, I’ve worked on these important issues in communities around DC, Maryland and Virginia. I also live in Maryland, where blacks make up 29% of the overall population but about 72% of the prison population. This disproportionate impact of the justice system on black males has devastated entire communities and left voids that are filled by gangs and others who try to take advantage of the absence of strong parental figures. If we want to create a better future for our kids, we must begin by altering the trajectory of many fatherless kids by investing in them, and healing their communities. 

According to The Right Investment, a report by the Justice Policy Institute, the Maryland community where the justice system spends the most money incarcerating residents is Sandtown-Winchester in Baltimore, where Freddie Gray was from. Taxpayers spend $17 million a year incarcerating residents from this one community alone. But when you look at the indicators of a healthy neighborhood, such as employment, education, housing, and treatment services, you then see that Sandtown has the highest unemployment rate, highest percentage of people without a high school diploma, the highest number of abandoned houses, and highest rate of emergency narcotic calls to 911. Sandtown also has one of the highest percentages in Baltimore of female-headed households with children under 18 (at 79.2%), compared to the city average of 54.4%. So, while it cost $37k a year to incarcerate someone in Maryland, that same $37k could provide drug treatment for 8 people, employment training for 7 people, and a GED course for 37 people in impacted communities. In communities deeply impacted by the justice system, it becomes clear where investments are needed and why so many children are without fathers due to incarceration, instead of receiving the support they need.

As JPI celebrates its 20th anniversary year, I reflect on the work we’ve done towards reducing the impact of the justice system, with most of my focus on communities around the DMV. We know that there is a whole generation of missing fathers, an Incarceration Generation, and much more reform that needs to be done towards creating safer, stronger communities. 

Rather than targeting resources towards locking up so many black men, states and the federal government could invest more wisely and preserve the family structure, rather than continue to spend enormous amounts of money in the justice system that results in the mass separation of family. We can and must do better!  Instead of rendering so many black children fatherless, it’s time to work on healing and strengthening communities through smart, targeted investments that result in diplomas, not criminal records. 

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.