Update on Raise The Age
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, member of the Commission on Youth, Public Safety, and Justice continues to support the recommendations to raise the age of criminal responsibility, saying “The message we are sending is that by raising the age at which teens are tried as adults, public safety really will be enhanced.” However, other lawmakers have put forth opposition due to the belief that there is nothing wrong with our current system, including Senate Republican Martin Golden of Brooklyn. Misinformation regarding the effects of the Commission’s recommendations among lawmakers and probation officers must be addressed in order to build bipartisan support. Statewide doubts regarding funding must also be addressed. Advocates for reforms, such as Eric. T. Schneiderman have used media and news outlet to dispel misconceptions around juvenile mass incarceration. Schneiderman stated to the Newsday editorial board that the notion that mass incarceration makes us safer has been largely disproved, especially in New York, “It is not making us safer, it is massively expensive, and you can’t have a system where you’re dumping hundreds of thousands of people out of prisons into poor communities where they’re virtually unemployable.”
The New York State Court System also firmly supports Cuomo’s proposal to raise the age to 18 from 16. One concern raised regarding the recommendations is Family Court’s capacity to deal with an influx of cases. Acting Justice Lawrence Marks pointed out that a gubernatorial commission on which he served estimated that only about 6,800 new cases would go to Family Court, barely 1 percent of the court’s current caseload. Moreover, 20 new Family Court judges took the bench this year allowing them to better deal with new cases. To read more, click on the links in the text.
Rikers Island Conditions Still Unchecked
Mayor De Blasio has shaken up the jail system’s management team, committed new resources to the reform project and pledged to make cleaning up the jails a top priority yet things have not changed for youth at Rikers. An investigation by Michael Winerip and Michael Schwirtz of The Times identified 62 cases in which inmates were seriously injured by corrections officers between August and January. To read more about these horrific incidents, read the investigation and this article.
The Disproportionate Effect of Incarceration on Girls of Color
A lot of research has focused on the disproportionate effect mass incarceration has had on communities of color but the effect on women and girls is less visible despite rising rates of female incarceration. The number of women in prison has increased at nearly double the rate of men since 1985 even though they are less likely to be incarcerated for violent offenses. The number of girls in the system has also increased from 17 percent in 1980 to 29 percent in 2011. Girls are more likely to be incarcerated for status offenses, they often receive harsher punishment than boys, and their incarceration is typically preceded by some form of victimization. Statistics show that 1 in every 14 Black children in the U.S. have at least one parent in prison, compared with one in every 125 white children.
Institutionalized Racism in the Juvenile Justice System
Racial disparities in the juvenile justice system are increasing, according to Alexandra Cox, contributing writer with the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. She states that “the term disproportionate minority contact (DMC) assumes that by simply ensuring that all youth are treated in the same way, we will achieve racial equality” instead of acknowledging the role of structural racism in creating these disparities. One example she provides is the treatment of youth in juvenile facilities that focus on behavioral control which were initially devised by primarily white psychologists whose goal it was to ensure a racialized social hierarchy. Instead Ms. Cox recommends “developing a juvenile justice system that departs from the individualist orientations of its European-American creators”. She states that it “is time to start acknowledging and privileging the forms of collective responsibility that people of African descent teach and value, and that have been of such significance in helping our nation grow.” To read more of this insightful critique, read here. Photo credit.
Funding Juvenile Justice and Prison Reform
The MacArthur Fund awarded $500,000 to The John Howard Association of Illinois, a non-profit watchdog organization over Illinois’ criminal justice and prison systems. The award will allow the organization to fund and focus on “increasing communications, volunteer coordination and capacity, and public outreach and education.” This award signals a shift in priorities of the foundation’s criminal justice programs from juvenile justice focused to reducing local jail populations. The MacArthur Foundation announced on February 11th, 2015 that they will dedicate $75 million over five years to local jurisdictions that come up with innovative ways to reduce arrests and expedite trials. Research supports this initiative considering that in the past 20 years the average stay for a jail inmate has grown from 14 days to more than three weeks and that 75 percent of inmates in community jails are there for nonviolent offenses. To learn more, follow the links in the text.
Precipitous Drop in Federal Funding for Juvenile Justice
In 2002, with the reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, Congress appropriated $537 million for juvenile justice. Today, federal spending has been cut in half equaling to about $251 million, which falls below the local need of states to comply with standards on the care and custody of youths in the juvenile justice system. To learn more, read here.