Ferguson: A Model for Change

Newly appointed director of the Schomburg Center, Professor Khalil Gibran Muhammad explains how the change of leadership in Ferguson city administration and in the police department will allow for needed healing and systemic change. Fixing this broken relationship between police and community will necessitate a change to everyday policing, particularly in how individuals show decency and respect to one another.


The Fight to Raise the Age

Former Judge Michael Corriero and former Senator John R. Dunne show bipartisan support for Cuomo’s Raise the Age proposals in this article. They argue that the reforms are “smart, effective and consistent with American values” in that they strengthen the roles of families in the criminal justice system, help to identify those who are actually a danger to society, and allows for more appropriate therapeutic dispositions.


Support for Cuomo’s Juvenile Justice Reforms in the Philanthropic Community

Roderick Jenkins, NYJJI executive committee member wrote this article in support of the reforms which were suggested by Gov. Cuomo’s Commission on Youth, Public Safety & Justice. He states “my deep experience in this area tells us these kinds of changes will help keep our communities safe, even as they treat young offenders fairly. Several studies have shown that charging teenagers as adults makes it more likely that they will re-offend, putting our communities at risk. By charging teens in the Family Court system, judges are better able to make sure they get the services they need to go on to live a productive life.”

The philanthropic community is mobilizing in support for these reforms recently. Look in this blog’s Resources section to view these letters.



The Fight for Raising the Age Internationally

This article makes an appeal to raise the age of criminal responsibility in England, Northern Ireland and Wales from age 10. The average age in other countries in the European Union is 14. The author states that the approach to deal with “young people whose behaviour is causing concern within the child protection and welfare system reflects wider social and cultural attitudes towards children and young people.

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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 Unchecked24tue1web-articleLarge

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.

To learn more about our girls of color in the system, read this article on mass incarceration, this op-ed, or this article on the effect of the school to prison pipeline on our girls.


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.


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Reflections on the Raise the Age Policy Recommendations

By Justine Gonzalez

On January 8, 2014, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced in his State of the State address that “our juvenile justice laws are outdated.”  Noting that New York remains one of only two states that continues to prosecute youth as adults beginning at age 16, the Governor said, “It’s not right. It’s not fair. We must raise the age.”  On April 9, 2014, Governor Cuomo officially announced his appointees to the Commission on Youth, Public Safety and named as its co-chairs, Soffiyah Elijah (Executive Director of The Correctional Association of New York) and Jeremy Creelan (Partner, Jenner & Block and former Special Counsel to Gov. Cuomo).  The Commission’s purpose was to propose recommendations on how to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction and generally improve outcomes for young people involved in New York’s juvenile justice system while continuing to strengthen public safety.   The Commission was comprised of members representing a diverse group of stakeholders including representatives from the law enforcement, probation, advocacy, court system, and philanthropic communities.

The Commission’s Final Report, released on January 19, 2015, provides a comprehensive introduction to past reforms and the current state of New York’s juvenile justice system. The Commission recommends that state legislators raise the age of criminal responsibility to 17 by 2017 and 18 by 2018. The report goes on to suggest that the minimum age for juvenile jurisdiction also be increased to 12 from 7. Other recommendations include expanding youthful offender status to include youth up to 20 years old and to allow nonviolent offenders between 18 and 21 to have their records sealed if they are not convicted of any crimes for the subsequent five years.

Informed by research on the collateral consequences of incarceration of juveniles, the Commission’s recommendations address how youth are treated at every phase of justice system contact: when arrested, when processed by the court system, and when detained or incarcerated. It is in light of these considerations that they recommend removing all youth from adult facilities and out of solitary confinement altogether.

Elizabeth Glazer, the NYC Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, spoke emphatically about the Commission findings, stating that “These recommendations will ensure an evidence-driven, total modernization of New York State’s juvenile justice practices that will improve both public safety and long-term outcomes for troubled young people in our City and State”[1].

The effort to create a more age appropriate juvenile justice system is also an investment in the health and well-being of all New Yorkers. Commission Co-chair Soffiyah Elijah drives this point home, saying that “our children are our most precious and valuable resource. How we respond to their youthful mistakes and misdeeds determines the society we create for ourselves. We must provide them with all the protections, supports and opportunities to succeed. The Commission’s Recommendations seek to accomplish that.”

Angelo Pinto, the Raise the Age Campaign Manager at the Correctional Association of New York further reinforces just how indispensable these reforms are to the health and safety of New York, stating that “raising the age of criminal responsibility will transform New York’s criminal justice landscape, bringing New York in line with a vast body of research about what works to reduce crime and help young people. It is our belief that these reforms will reduce the number of individuals who come in contact with the system, and improve outcomes- including public safety- for those kids who are justice-involved.”

Emily Tow Jackson, the President and Executive Director of the Tow Foundation and member of the Commission on Youth, Public Safety, and is “thrilled that the Governor has embraced the recommendations of the Commission in total. It represents taking New York from being behind in justice reform to potentially being a national leader.” Notably, she reflected on the importance of consensus in this process, “Everyone on the Commission came together on a set of recommendations that we all felt was a very important step in the right direction. It is important to rally behind these recommendations and not focus on what wasn’t included.”

While Governor Cuomo indicated he would embrace the Commission’s recommendations in his 2015 State of the State address, significant work remains in order to guarantee these reforms are implemented and carried out as smoothly and effectively as possible.

To navigate the contours of a difficult political process, often fraught with challenges raised out of fear of being “soft on crime” and a return of the “bad old days,” special attention must be paid to messaging and communication.  Soffiyah Elijah, in an interview with the New York Juvenile Justice Initiative coordinator, stated that “in order to ensure that these policy proposals turn into actual reform they need to be thoroughly understood and widely embraced across the state. Our elected officials need to know that their constituents want these changes. Our youth justice system is extremely complex. Finding a way to translate it into talking points that the public and elected officials will understand and embrace is essential. Advocacy campaigns that include these components on a state-wide basis must be supported by philanthropic efforts in order for New York to successfully reform its youth justice system.”

It is important to engage and educate the entire community on the benefits of these reforms, even without directly supporting legislation. Emily Tow Jackson hopes “we can come together and support some educational forums for groups like correction officers and police chiefs and others from the law enforcement community, as well as other groups who might express concerns. We can help create materials and forums for them to ask questions and get better information on the potential benefits of Raise the Age.” She believes funders can support advocacy efforts by organizing groups of families and those affected by these reforms to offer testimony and to bolster lobbying and communication that is necessary to get this legislation passed. Ms. Tow Jackson went on to say that funders can give general unrestricted funding to advocacy groups so that they can mobilize legislators and other stakeholders in Albany.

The philanthropic community can play a pivotal role in the advancement of these reforms. Angelo Pinto believes that “the philanthropic community has been an important partner in supporting advocacy organizations to create the groundswell that enabled us to get this far, and will be crucial to the on-going advocacy needed to pass legislation and ensure its successful implementation. The Commission’s carefully crafted recommendations reflect a consensus among a diverse group of stakeholders about the concrete steps necessary to take our state from last in the nation to national leader.”

[1] (http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/042-15/statements-mayor-de-blasio-elizabeth-glazer-director-the-mayor-s-office-criminal)

Trying to Fix America’s Broken Juvenile Justice System

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 Source: Michael Smith/Getty

The Rolling Stones wrote an expose on the juvenile justice system and illuminate some of the necessary reforms, such as the Grassley/Whitehouse bill that would ammend the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974. Click here , to see more.

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Richard Ross’ new book, Girls in Justice explores the ways the juvenile justice system is failing our young girls. While overall juvenile incarceration is on the decline somewhat, the proportion of girls in the system is increasing. Their crimes are not typically violent, instead they are tied to sexually abuse and status offenses like running away. To read more, see here.





State Commit to Reducing Recidivism Through Community-Based Diversion Programs

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The Council of State Governments Justice Center‘s new report focuses on Texas’ commitment to reduce recidivism by investing hundreds of millions of dollars into reforming their Juvenile Justice Department, which recently incorporated the Juvenile Probation Commission. Texas has seen a significant drop in the number of juvenile offenders in state-run prisons from 3,500 in 2006 to a little over 1,000 today. Other states, specifically, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, Louisiana, Arizona, South Carolina, North Carolina and California have all cut their juvenile incarceration rates by more than 60 percent over the last 15 years, . To learn more, see here.


Public Health Approach to Juvenile Justice Screen shot 2015-01-31 at 7.33.45 PM

47% of juveniles who are in permanent placements have substance abuse problems. Nonprofits like Reclaiming Futures are advocating for the use of the SBIRT tool (Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment) on at risk youth as well in order to intervene and address these problems early on, specifically chronically absent students. The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation gave Reclaiming Futures a $2 million grant and another grant to Policy Research Associates to use the tool. To learn why, click here

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Cuomo Reveals Policy Proposals as a Result of Commission’s Report

At the State of the State address, Governor Cuomo demonstrated his embrace of the recommendations put forth by his Commission on Youth, Public Safety, and Justice. Recommendations include the immediate removal of youth under 18 from adult prisons, a gradual increase of the age of criminal responsibility to 18 over the next three years, and shifting non-violent youth offenders to family court. Read more 


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Juvenile Justice Reform for 2015

While the new year has just begun, The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange has posted an op-ed on important juvenile justice issues to be aware of in 2015. The Chronicle for Social Change highlights the retroactive ban on life without parole for juveniles and the use of mental health drugs.

To read the important questions for 2015, see these two articles  here and here.

Photo Credit: Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

Juvenile Sex Offender List Deemed Unconstitutional

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court declared that the law requiring juveniles convicted of sex offenses to register for at least 25 years is unconstitutional. In a 5-1 decision, Justices determined that assuming juveniles will recommit another sex crime defies research that shows juveniles are less likely to recidivate than adults. About 40 states have created juvenile sex offender registries over the past 25 years.

To learn more, read here


Science Not Politics Should Inform the American Juvenile Justice System

This Al Jazeera opinion article describes the many reasons why reform is needed in juvenile justice. Read more.


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More Evidence to Support Treatment Over Detention

An eight-year long study in Ohio shows a decrease in recidivism in offenders ages 10 to 18 with mental health and behavioral problems who were diverted from detention centers to a treatment program.

To read more about this study, see here

Poll Shows Americans Support Juvenile Justice Reform

A 2014 Pew Charitable Trusts national poll found that voters agree with scientific research which finds that juveniles should be treated differently than adults in the criminal justice system due to fundamental differences. Voters support rehabilitation as a strategy of reducing recidivism, as well. To view, click here

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Ending Solitary Confinement for New York City Youth

A recent report by the New York Advisory Committee to the U.S Commission on Civil Rights states that youth inmates in New York prisons are disproportionately subject to solitary confinement, which is a violation of their civil rights. Rikers Island is at the forefront of this reform. In addition to prohibiting the use of solitary confinement for inmates under 25 years old, the Committee also calls for a raise in the age of criminal responsibility.

To learn more about these recommendations, click here. To learn more about the plan for Rikers Island, click here.


Mental Health and Youth Incarceration

This article discusses the prevalence of mental health issues in the juvenile justice system. In order to develop and make use of evidence-based interventions that prevent youth incarceration, this author argues that courts across the country should take into account the mental health disorders and risk factors associated with poverty that cause youth to recidivate.

To read more, click here

states with restrictions youth mental healthSource: Forbes.com


States Are Changing Their Approach to Juvenile Justice

dept of justice signFollowing research that shows incarceration actually increases the chances a young person will recidivate, 46 states have reduced their rates of youth incarceration. Due to various milestone Supreme Court decisions, the decline in crime overall, and state budget shortfalls states have invested in more effective alternative to incarceration programs.

To learn more about these factors, read here

Source: The New York Times

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U.S Department of Justice and the U.S Department of Education Partner to Guide Local and State Governments in  Improving Education in Juvenile Justice Facilities

Student at desk

Eric Holder and Arne Duncan published a 33-page policy brief of guiding principles to improve the educational standards for juvenile correction facilities. These guiding principles advocate for access to high quality learning in juvenile justice secure facilities that are developmentally appropriate and focus on the youth’s educational, social-emotional, behavioral, and career planning needs. Also these classrooms should be facilitated by a professionalized staff in a safe and engaging learning environment with a rigorous curriculum, which is aligned with state standards.

Source: US News and World Report


The Obama Administration Takes a Hard Stance on Pell Grants

Along with the federal effort to improve the quality of education for young offenders, the Obama administration has provided clearer guidance regarding the prohibition on prisoners getting Pell Grants, stating that it does not apply to offenders in juvenile facilities. However, the new guidance only applies to a small fraction of the roughly 60,000 young people in juvenile facilities nationwide due to a lack of high school education.

To read more, click here


The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2014 Seeks to Reduce the Collateral Consequences of Incarceration for Young People 

Vera Institute

This month, senators proposed a second iteration to the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. The proposed bill, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2014 will contribute to the federal standards and supports already in place for local and state governments to “reduce the severity and risks of incarceration to young people.” The Vera Institute of Justice produced an infographic that highlights the over-incarceration of young people  for status offenses, such as staying out past curfew.

To find out why the Reauthorization Act matters to cities, read here







The  Costs of Incarcerating Young People 

Incarceration Costs

The recent study, Sticker Shock by the Justice Policy Institute surveyed 46 states to discover the overall costs resulting from the negative outcomes associated with youth incarceration. The report finds that the long term cost of incarcerating young people can vary from $8 billion to $21 billion annually.

To read more on the the cost of youth incarceration to taxpayers, click here

Title: What States Pay to Incarcerate Juveniles
Source: Juvenile Justice Institute


Supreme Court Revisits Life Sentences for Juveniles

In March of 2015 the Supreme Court will revisit a hallmark case for juvenile justice, Miller V. Alabama, which banned life sentences for juvenile offenders on the basis of being unconstitutional. Justices will determine whether the law is retroactive.

To read more, click here


U.S Joins Lawsuit Against Rikers Island Over Brutal Conditions

Federal prosecutors plan to sue over civil rights violations in the handling of adolescents at Rikers Island by joining the pre-existing lawsuit, Nunez vs. The City of New York. Following the New York Times report and the investigation by United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, the government’s involvement creates more pressure on the city to address the problems at Rikers.

To learn more, click here

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