Tag Archives: Juvenile Justice Reform

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.”

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.

Senators Introduce JJDPA Bill

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, Republican Senator Arlen Specter and Democratic Senator Herb Kohl, the senior members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced a bill yesterday to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, the key piece of federal legislation guiding juvenile justice funding and management in the states.

The JJDPA, as it’s called, comes up for reauthorization every five years. Technically speaking, it doesn’t need to be reauthorized; if it’s not, the law remains on the books as it’s currently written. (It’s already past due.) Alternatively, it could be reauthorized without any changes at all, or watered down. The opportunity, then, is to update and thereby strengthen the provisions of the act. This is urgently necessary, for two main reasons: The act as it’s currently written is weak and ineffective, and besides, federal leaders aren’t even enforcing it. Adding some muscle to the act would help to realign priorities at both the state and federal level.

The reauthorization campaign has been a long time coming (for background, see the Juvienation backlog on this subject and visit the Act4JJ website), and it’s got a ways to go. But the introduction of this legislation, and the lead role taken by Leahy, a prominent supporter of smart juvenile justice reform, are promising signs. From the committee’s press release:

The proposed legislation would increase federal funding for prevention, intervention and treatment programs designed to reduce incidence of juvenile crime. The bill strikes a balance between providing federal support and guidance to state programs and respecting the individual criminal justice policies of states. The bill urges states to make key improvements to juvenile justice systems, and addresses concerns about pretrial detention of youths in adult jails and about detention of children who commit status offenses like truancy by establishing meaningful guidelines, procedural protections, and restrictions. The legislation also prioritizes and funds mental health and drug treatment for juvenile offenders, and encourages states to further address the overrepresentation of minorities in the juvenile justice system. Finally, the bill supports the efforts of states that attempt to comply with the core requirements of the JJDPA by making funds available through improvement grants to help bring states into compliance with the Act.

“With the reauthorization of this important legislation, we recommit to the important goals of the Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Protection Act,” said Leahy. “We also push the law forward in key ways to better serve our communities and our children. After months of research and discussions, Senator Kohl, Senator Specter, and I believe we have found a way forward toward creating a system that will work more effectively to protect our young people.”

“Despite the nationwide recognition of the importance that role models and mentoring play in youth development, there remains an unfortunate shortage of programs devoted to stemming youth delinquency,” Specter said. “Through mentoring and other programs, this Act will help to prevent delinquency and promote rehabilitation, so that young offenders are less likely to become stuck in the criminal justice system. I am pleased to be a cosponsor, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to pass this legislation.”

“Juvenile justice programs help prevent crime, strengthen communities and give kids a second chance to succeed and lead productive lives,” Kohl said. “This legislation responds to the immediate needs of communities throughout our nation facing the problem of juvenile delinquency by increasing federal resources. I applaud Senators Leahy and Specter for working with me to unveil this bill that will bolster and expand juvenile justice initiatives, provide hope for millions of at-risk children and address the roots of crime.”

Some advocates have suggested, I think astutely, that the bill is not likely to pass during the current legislative session. That’s my guess, too: there’s simply not much happening in Congress during the election cycle, certainly when it comes to domestic spending. But the introduction of this bill has put it on the legislative agenda and will give senators something tangible to consider when it comes to juvenile justice reform. Reauthorization may still be a ways off, but it’s coming.

NYT Praises Bloomberg for Weekend Processing Move

The New York Times ran an editorial this morning praising Mayor Bloomberg’s recent decision to process juvenile delinquency arrests on weekends.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has set a welcome national example by opening a juvenile court that sits on Saturdays and Sundays and creating procedures that have already begun to cut down on unnecessary detentions while improving the treatment of children who end up in police custody.

The new system allows low-risk offenders who present no threat to public safety — and for whom detention is clearly unwarranted — to be processed quickly and released to parents or caretakers pending a decision regarding prosecution. By keeping as many children as possible out of detention and directing more of them into community-based counseling programs, the city is also lessening the chances that the children will grow up to be chronic offenders.

JJ Activists March on Maryland

A group of about 120 juvenile reform activists marched from the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center to the Maryland state Department of Juvenile Services headquarters on Saturday. According to the Baltimore Sun, “The march’s organizers, Advocates for Children and Youth, said they want the state to spend money improving community-based services for juvenile delinquents instead of building new jail-like facilities for them.”

WaPo on Kids Count Report

The Washington Post, reporting on the release of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual KIDS COUNT report, writes,

The nation’s juvenile justice system metes out harsher punishment to black and Latino youths, locks up thousands of children for relatively minor offenses and ultimately makes them more dangerous, according to a national study released yesterday….

The primary focus of this year’s report was the fate of the 400,000 youths who cycle through the juvenile justice system each year. During a two-hour news conference yesterday at the Cannon House Office Building, a panel of experts said the problem has largely been fueled by fear and racism that often lead police to take young white offenders home and minorities to jail.

In 2006, for example, three youths of color were in custody for every one white youth, the report said. Two thirds of all youths in custody were incarcerated for a nonviolent offense.

In the 1990s, 49 states made it easier to try youths as adults. On any given night, 100,000 minors are in jails, prisons, boot camps or residential facilities. A succession of speakers yesterday said these places often cause more problems than they solve. Grace Bauer of Lake Charles, La., said her son, who had been sent to a boot camp for being “ungovernable,” was raped when he was 13.

Bauer said her son, now 21, carries the scars. She later learned that the program had a 95 percent failure rate. “On my first visit to see him, he had welts on his face,” she said.

Rep. Robert C. Scott (D-Virginia) said many “get tough” crime measures are “nonsense that does not reduce crime.”

“It helps [politicians] get elected,” he said. “If you can get it to rhyme, even better.”

Read the whole article here. Click here for more information on, and to read, the annual report.

Kids Count Data Book, Essay Released

From the Campaign for Youth Justice:

Today, The Annie E. Casey Foundation released its 2008 KIDS COUNT Data Book essay, “A Road Map for Juvenile Justice Reform.” The essay looks at the nearly 100,000 children confined to juvenile facilities on any given night in the United States and what can be done to reduce unnecessary and inappropriate detention and incarceration and increase opportunities for positive youth development and community safety. The essay is released in conjunction with the 2008 KIDS COUNT Data Book which gives national and state-by-state profiles of the well-being of America’s children through rankings on 10 key measures and information on the economic, health, education, and social conditions of America’s children and families. The 2008 KIDS COUNT Data Book and “A Road Map for Juvenile Justice Reform” essay are available at http://www.aecf.org/kidscount/sld/databook.jsp.