A Compelling Argument for Restorative Justice and Raise the Age
We are aware of the collateral consequences of the school-to-prison pipeline yet few institutional changes have been made to address this issue. While the number of school suspensions have dropped since 2008, black and latino students are still over-represented in this data. Read this article from the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange on the story of Youngmichael as an argument for restorative justice, in light of the absence of legislation that raises the age of criminal responsibility.
A Community Youth Court for Brownsville?
Despite the number of very public incidents of violence involving youth, for the past six years advocates still face opposition to building a community court in Brownsville, Brooklyn. The Redhook Community Court model has seen blazing success — “It reduced recidivism among young people by 20 percent while curbing incarceration, a saving of real money and future misery.” Jonathan Lippman, who retired last month as the state’s chief judge and fought for the Brownsville court year after year. “There are some public policy matters where there is a reasonable debate. This is not one of them. There is no conceivable argument that I think can be made to not put this revolutionary concept, proven without a doubt, into place.” According to this New York Times article, “One person stands in the way: Councilwoman Darlene Mealy, who effectively has a veto over the site of the proposed courthouse.”
Lawyers’ Committee Launches National Initiative to Eliminate Barriers Faced by Students with Criminal Histories
On January 28th, 2016 “the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee) launched a national initiative to eliminate barriers to educational opportunity for applicants who have been stopped, detained or arrested by police. The first phase of the initiative seeks information from 17 colleges and universities that include inquiries on their applications regarding contact with the criminal justice system, including arrests that did not lead to conviction, sealed or expunged youthful offender records, or pardoned records. The Lawyers’ Committee’s preliminary review of the application process utilized by colleges and universities revealed that the information sought by the schools had no legitimate educational justification and no bearing on whether a student would succeed in the classroom. Rejecting or evaluating college applicants based solely on information regarding stops, detentions or other contact with the criminal justice system has a disproportionate impact on African-American boys and men, who are more likely than their white counterparts to be stopped, detained and arrested by police. A recent Bureau of Justice Statistics study found that black males were imprisoned at a rate six and a half times higher than white males.” To read more and see the list of 17 schools guilty of this discrimination, click here.
Once Again, the Supreme Court States Juveniles are Different
On January 25th, 2016 the Supreme Court ruled that people who were sentenced to mandatory life in prison without the possibility of parole as juveniles have the right to seek parole. Over the last decade, Supreme Court rulings have confirmed that it is morally and constitutionally wrong to “equate offenses committed by emotionally undeveloped adolescents with crimes carried out by adults.” Read more from this New York Times Op-Ed, here.
Cuomo’s Criminal Justice Reforms
In Cuomo’s State of the State, the Governor announced his youth justice reform plans. Many advocates are skeptical of his plans and there is a clear need for more visibility. According to the Executive Budget for FY 2017 “Last year, the Governor issued an Executive Order to establish a facility to house 16- and 17-year old youth who are in the State’s correctional system. This action will relocate certain juvenile offenders from adult prison facilities into an age-appropriate alternative. The Governor also offered pardons to persons convicted of non-violent crimes committed when they were 16 or 17 years old, and who have since lived crime-free for 10 or more years, giving an opportunity for over 10,000 people to escape the limitations of a criminal record and become productive citizens.” Cuomo allocated $110 million over a 5 year period, including a reimbursement plan. The Children’s Defense Fund is currently working on a side by side analysis of the proposed legislation included in the budget, which I will feature in this blog when it becomes available.
His reforms also include a plan to reform the state’s bail system that severly impacts a youth’s ability to stay free. While it has not been fully fleshed out yet, Cuomo’s proposal dictates that judges would use a scientific assessment tool to determine an individual’s “risk to public safety” while setting bail. “The plan was criticized by public defenders and criminal justice reform groups as a step in the wrong direction. Groups like Legal Aid Society are concerned adding ‘dangerousness’ to a judge’s evaluation of an individual could lead to preemptive detention and institutionalized racism.” Read more, here.
While Our Government Debates Legislation, Abuses in New York State Prisons Continue
“The Justice Department hauled New York City into court last year when it failed to curb the wanton brutality that has long been a hallmark among guards at the Rikers Island jail complex. The same culture of violence infests the sprawling state prison system, where guards batter inmates for sport knowing that their union will protect their jobs and that district attorneys in small towns dominated by prisons will not prosecute them.” Read more from this New York Times Op-Ed.
In Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York “Inmates describe being ambushed by guards and beaten, taunted with racial slurs, and kept out of sight, in solitary confinement, until the injuries inflicted on them have healed enough to avoid arousing suspicion. Leonard Strickland was a prisoner with schizophrenia who got into an argument with guards, and ended up dead. In a security video obtained by The New York Times, Mr. Strickland is seen in handcuffs, barely conscious and being dragged along the floor by officers, while a prison nurse standing close by does nothing.” The 2010 case fits a troubling pattern of savage beatings by corrections officers at prisons across New York State and a department that rarely holds anyone accountable, issues that have been highlighted in a series of articles over the past year by The Times and The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization. Read more. This Times Union article, reports more abuses.