Tag Archives: Juvenile Justice

NYT on JJDPA Reauth

An editorial in today’s Times offers strong support for the “comprehensive approach” to juvenile justice reform that informs the Senate’s JJDPA reauthorization bill (background here). “This bill represents an important step toward rational and compassionate justice for troubled children,” the editorial states. But it’s not perfect. As Congress considers reforming the juv justice system, legislators “ought to bar the states from housing children in adult jails, except for the most heinous crimes. Sadly, the updated version of the law…falls short of that goal.”

Midday Grab Bag

From the Baltimore Sun, news that the Justice Department filed motions yesterday to end federal oversight of two dysfunctional juvenile justice facilities in Maryland.

From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, an op-ed by Sara Totonchi, public policy director at the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, on why “Kids Don’t Belong in Adult Court System.”

From the Oregonian, an op-ed by Ken Chapman, juvenile justice policy adviser for Crime Victims United of Oregon, on struggles to deal with (and report accurately on) violent youth in detention in the Portland area.

OJJDP Chief of Staff: You’re Fired!

Youth Today‘s Patrick Boyle, who broke the story on the scandalous OJJDP grantmaking process, has an update following last week’s oversight committee hearings. OJJDP chief of staff Michele DeKonty, who took the Fifth rather than submit testimony at the hearings (and who apparently didn’t alert her higher-ups about that decision), has been dismissed. In a brief email to his staff–leaked, I assume, to Boyle–OJJDP administrator J. Robert Flores wrote, “Over the past 2 years I have had the benefit of working with a talented and professional Chief of Staff in Michele DeKonty…. I want to recognize her for her service to America’s children and our Office.” Yeah, I’m all teary-eyed about it, too, Flores. Lace ‘em up, pal. You’re next.

Backlash in Kansas?

Judging by these two short pieces–one yesterday, one today–the Kansas Supreme Court’s decision last Friday to extend to juvenile defendants the right to a jury trial has prompted some concerns among legal professionals who fear they’ll need to absorb an increased caseload without being given the necessary resources. Wichita ABC affiliate KAKE ran a segment last night on the premise that the decision will “take a toll” on a system that’s already stretched thin. Phil Journey, an attorney in Wichita and a Republican State Senator, was interviewed at length. “This will put more strain on the court system because even though the number of cases won’t change, the amount of court time required for each case will certainly increase,” Journey said. And according to this editorial in today’s Wichita Eagle, “Legislators and locals had better be thinking how to pay for this sweeping new mandate.”

The primary focus of concern, according to both pieces, is the new juvenile justice complex in urban Sedgwick County, which handles many of the state’s young offenders but was not designed to handle jury trials. Judge James Burgess, chief juvenile judge of the Sedgwick County District Court, told the Eagle‘s editorial board that “the whole state’s going to pay” in additional jury fees and lawyers’ fees. From the editorial:

The ruling means that Sedgwick County’s new juvenile justice complex is insufficient, because it has no room for jury deliberation. Burgess already was “back to having too many judges and not enough courtrooms,” because juvenile court is scheduled to gain a fifth judge in January to handle its existing cases. Burgess also newly needs access to the jury pool.

Burgess, the editorial adds, may be sensitive not only to the potential cost burden but also to the Court’s description of the Kansas juvenile justice system as one that has drifted so far from a mission based on rehab and toward one aimed at punishment that denying juveniles the right to a jury trial in what is now a de facto adult system would be unconstitutional.

I don’t have any particular insight into whether the concerns raised in these articles are valid–whether, that is, the Kansas juv court system will need an infusion of resources to handle an anticipated uptick. If more money is needed to fulfill the court’s mandate, then more money should be allocated. I would add, though, that the long-term goal should not be to properly equip the Kansas juvenile justice system with the resources and procedures necessary to mirror the Kansas criminal justice system. If the state is directing money toward juvenile justice, I’d prefer to see a good portion of it going toward reform efforts so that ten, twenty years from now, the state system may have two fully functioning, fully staffed, fully resourced systems with distinctly different procedures, carrying out distinctly different missions.

Coming of Age at Guantanamo Bay

As part of an ongoing series of comments from Human Rights Watch staffers on the dark goings-on at Guantánamo Bay, Jo Becker, advocacy director for the Children’s Rights Division at HRW, has filed an impassioned piece for Salon called “The War on Teen Terror.”

“According to government records obtained by the Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act, more than 20 detainees under the age of 18 have been brought to the prison camp since 2002,” Becker writes. “Although most of the 20 juvenile detainees have now been released, three remain, having spent more than a quarter of their lives at Guantánamo.” Here’s more, excerpted from Becker’s article:

The Bush administration’s refusal to treat these prisoners as juveniles has had profound consequences for [the three remaining juvenile detainees, Omar] Khadr, [Mohammed] Jawad and [Mohammad] El Gharani. They have had no access to education or recreation facilities and have been housed in the same facilities as adult detainees. After five years of imprisonment, Jawad remains functionally illiterate. None of the three have been allowed to see members of their family.

The effects of prolonged isolation have taken a severe toll. El Gharani has tried to commit suicide at least seven times. He has slit his wrist, run repeatedly into the sides of his cell and tried to hang himself. On several occasions he has been placed on suicide watch in a mental health unit.

Jawad also tried to commit suicide about 11 months after arriving in Guantánamo, by hanging himself by his shirt collar. Prison records also state that he “attempted self-harm by banging his head off of metal structures inside his cell.”

And so it goes, sadly and to our enormous shame. The United States is a signatory to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which recognizes 18 as the age at which soldiers may be conscripted or volunteer to participate in armed conflict. Anyone on the battlefield younger than 18 is thus classified as a child soldier and entitled to “special protections” adult soldiers are not granted (rehabilitation, namely, but more generally consideration as a victim of the conflict rather than as a participant). And yet in the legal vacuum of Guantanamo, this treaty and all that it stands for has effectively been shredded–along with the fundamental principles on which our legal system is based.

“International law does not preclude the possibility of prosecuting former child soldiers for serious criminal offenses,” Becker writes. “But the standards are very clear: Such cases should be handled as quickly as possible through specialized juvenile justice systems. Rehabilitation must be the primary objective, and conditions of detention must include access to family, education, recreation and other special assistance. On every count, the U.S. has failed at Guantánamo to meet these requirements.”

Kansas Supreme Court Grants Juvs Right to Jury

The Kansas Supreme Court ruled 6-1 today to grant all juveniles facing prosecution the right to a jury trial. “We are undaunted in our belief that juveniles are entitled to the right to a jury trial guaranteed to all citizens under the 6th and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution,” Justice Eric Rosen wrote.

The case arose, reports the Kansas City Star, “after a 16-year-old Finney County, Kan. boy was found guilty of aggravated sexual battery and alcohol possession. The boy’s attorney filed a motion asking for a jury trial, but the request was denied by the district court judge. The boy ultimately appealed his case to the Supreme Court.”

Juvenile cases in the state have for years been handled by a judge without a jury, under the premise that the juvenile court system is categorically different from that serving adults. In that sense, the court’s acknowledgment, though laudable in its extension of constitutional rights to this vulnerable population of young defendants, also serves as a formal acknowledgment that the state’s juvenile justice system is failing in its core responsibility to treat juvenile offenders differently from adult criminals–that is, as a caretaker. Rosen, in fact, noted in his decision that a succession of legislative changes have “eroded” the differences between the two systems, and that the juvenile side as it’s currently configured is “more aligned with legislative intent for adult sentencing statutes.”

House Committee Discussing OJJDP Grants Today

The House Committee on Oversight and Government reform is holding its hearing today, just over a week delayed, to discuss grantmaking procedures at the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. For background on this critical hearing, check previous Juvienation coverage here, here and here, and be sure to visit the Youth Today website here. Speaking of which, Youth Today editor Patrick Boyle, who broke the scandal months ago, is live-blogging the hearing here. Also, the committee has made streaming video of the hearing available here. Relevant documents, including committee chair Henry Waxman’s opening statement and OJJDP head J. Robert Flores’s testimony, are available in PDF format here.