Archive for Education

Juvenile Justice Matters on Blog Talk Radio

Let’s start the new year off with a great resource that I just discovered.

Juvenile Justice Matters is an online radio program produced by the Campaign for Youth Justice. The CYJ is a national organization dedicated to ending the practice of trying, sentencing and incarcerating youth under the age of 18 in the adult criminal justice system, a cause we whole-heartedly support. This radio show features experts, young people, and parents discussing juvenile justice issues.

As we strive to move forward on this issue one of our best resources is information. This show is not only a rich source of pertinent info, but it is also fantastic for bringing a multiplicity of perspectives to the table. Here are a few sample shows for you to try out, if you enjoy them share them with your friends. After all, the more of us have good data at hand the easier time we will have in trying to implement effective programs.

Let’s beging with an interview with New Orleans Judge David Bell discuss juvenile justice reform  and a model that other judges should consider when sentencing kids.

Listen to internet radio with JJ Matters on Blog Talk Radio

Another great example of their work is a discussion with Michael Kemp, a formerly incarcerated youth from the Washington, D.C. area. Michael is determined to turn his life around and break the vicious cycle of returning to prison. Michael was charged as an adult at the age of 17, but first ran into the system at 12.

Listen to internet radio with JJ Matters on Blog Talk Radio

Go browse through their old shows, they only seem to produce about one show a month but it’s well worth the wait.

Do you know of other online resources that we have not touched on as yet? If so please share them with us in the comments!

Moving Upstream in California

Upstream InvestmentsWhen discussing issues of juvenile justice it is important to realize that what really must be addressed are the root causes of the behavior. Juvenile offenders often experience abuse at home, suffer from addictive behaviors, or experience a lack of adequate education among other factors.

The outcome is the important thing – lower crime in our communities and a better future for our kids. Incarceration has been proven to be ineffective at either.

One group in Sonoma County, CA is doing their best to address the root factors of the problem in an attempt to stop these problems before they destroy lives. The group is called  Sonoma Upstream: Upstream Investments,  and they describe themselves as follows on their website:

The seeds of intractable problems (like crime, substance abuse, unemployment, homelessness, and child abuse or domestic violence) often occur early in life. The costs of addressing these problems once they manifest themselves downstream is staggering, and may include criminal justice costs, public aid, increased educational services, substance abuse services, and many other local services—not to mention the lost tax base and lost productivity caused by these obstacles to employment. In addition to this financial burden, the devastating societal costs are well documented and impact us all.

Rather than spending limited resources to repair difficult societal problems after they occur, upstream investments strategically target the factors that lead to those problems, intervening early with outcome-based programs and policies to reduce the occurrence of these problems before they require more drastic (and expensive) services.

Their objectives, while limited to Sonoma County, are both laudable and supported by current research. Their objectives for the present include the elimination of poverty, equal opportunity, quality education, and communities that are both healthy and nurturing for all. The end result of these objectives is that county residents will “benefit from prevention-focused policies and interventions that increase equality and reduce monetary and societal costs.”

This can easily seem like “pie in the sky” to some, but the fundamental practicality of their approach is keenly illustrated in a downloadable pdf that illustrates in detail exactly how they wish to achieve each objective. From the precisely targeted factors and detailed interventions to address each one to the indicators for success that will be used to measure progress.

If you’re in Sonoma County you should get familiar with them, and if you’re from elsewhere they can give you some great ideas on how to work toward these goals within your own community.

DOJ Increases Juvenile Justice Oversight: Meridian, MS in the Crosshairs

Mississippi State Capitol

Mississippi State Capitol with Confederate Flag

I’m from the South so when I think of Meridian, MS the first thing that comes to mind is the murder of three civil rights activists in 1964. James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were killed that year by white supremacists. It was a major rallying point for the civil rights struggles of the period.

Forty-seven years later the Department of Justice has Meridian in it’s sights because of the alleged targeting of black students by both law enforcement and school officials. It would seem that race is still a major issue, a fact unsurprising to those of us who have visited the town.

Jess Bravin, blogger for the Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog, takes look at some of the details:

The department is investigating whether city and county authorities have a “pattern or practice” of violating the youths’ constitutional rights, specifically the 14thAmendment’s guarantees of due process and equal protection of the law, and the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.

Department officials said the allegations involve a ‘very tight relationship’ between the schools and the juvenile court that works to put black students under law enforcement supervision. Black students cited ‘for very minor infractions end up in front of a juvenile judge,’ who then sentences them to probation contingent on compliance with school rules, an official said. That way, ‘kids who’ve been out of school uniform by wearing the wrong color jacket or shirt’ can be sent to juvenile hall for a probation violation. White students allegedly are treated more leniently for similar behavior, officials said.

Unequal enforcement with a core of racial bias is a far too familiar story in the Deep South. Whether this proves to be the case with the current state of affairs in Meridian or not the city’s past history engenders a highly critical initial attitude.

This investigation is the Civil Rights Division’s second ever into juvenile justice, and officials have stated that others will probably be following close to it’s heels.

Braven notes that the invesitagtion is proceeding under the 14th Amendment. That’s the amendment that authorizes the feds to stop states from violating individual constitutional rights. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 specifically prohibit juvenile justice agencies from violating young people’s constitutional rights and codify the Justice Department’s enforcement authority in these cases.

Civil Rights Division chief, Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez weighed in on the subject in no uncertain terms:

‘The juvenile justice system should not serve as a stop on the way to the adult prison system,’ Mr. Perez said. ‘This is why the department is committed to investigating Meridian schools for allegations that children are being severely punished for the most minor infractions of school rules. This would be an abuse of the justice system and clearly unconstitutional.’

Not only is it unconstitutional, but it is also a clear recipe for recidivism. If the allegations are correct Meridian is doing exactly what it needs to do in order to create hardened criminals rather than rehabilitated members of society. Add in the racial angle and this could be an explosive investigation.

We will be monitoring the investigation and report back when there is further news.

Image Source: Ken Lund on Flickr, used under its Creative Commons license

Nine Principles: The National Juvenile Justice Network

Prison cell with bed inside Alcatraz main building san francisco califforniaThe National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN)  is an organization that helps state-based groups in their efforts to institute reform of the American juvenile justice system.

The NJJN describe themselves on their website as follows:

Through education, community-building and leadership development, NJJN enhances the capacity of juvenile justice coalitions and organizations in 33 states to press for state and federal laws, policies and practices that are fair, equitable and developmentally appropriate for all children, youth and families involved in, or at risk of becoming involved in, the justice system.

We seek to return the U.S. to the core ideals that led to the formation of the juvenile court more than 100 years ago, when our country realized that youth are fundamentally and categorically different than adults.

By providing tools to state level groups the NJJN seeks to achieve these ends. Access to information, leadership training, community building and other similar techniques are at the core of their approach. The most vital thing to know about them is their nine principles of reform.  Every member adheres to these and must be actively working at the state level based on at least one of them. (These principles are from “A Blueprint for Juvenile Justice Reform,” developed by the Youth Transition Funders Group, associated descriptive text is my own paraphrasing and commentary on the original document.)

The Nine Principles are:

Reduce Institutionalization

While there will always be a few youth offenders that can only be dealt with through incarceration the vast majority of them can be more effectively treated in a community based environment.

Maximize Youth, Family and Community Participation

Community justice initiatives can engage a wide array of adults in the rehabilitation process, an important thing since active adult participation is often needed to keep youths involved in their own reform. Family conferencing is one example of how parents and jurisdictions are learning to work together rather than against each other.

Additionally they help both adults and youth become more active an effective in their efforts to lobby for reform.

Improve Aftercare and Reentry

With over 100,000 youths re-entering society after being institutionalized the question of how to re-integrate them into day to day life is of paramount importance. Youth programs and workforce development are key components here. For best effect many agencies, both government and non-profits, need to coordinate. Special needs kids – those with substance abuse or mental health issue in particular, need quick access to treatment if they are to have a fighting chance. Additionally there are questions of accessibility that need to be examined- if you cannot access the help it is not really helping.

Create Smaller Rehabilitative Institutions

Since the vast majority of youth are not chronic and violent offenders our system is ill suited for their needs. Those that are certainly need close supervision, but the impersonal and institutional atmosphere of jails, prisons, and detention centers have a poor track record. Especially when it comes to recidivism.

Smaller secure facilities run by youth specialists can provide developmentally appropriate programs for these youngsters. They can also be particularly effective if the family is closely engaged in the rehabilitative process.

Recognize and Serve Youth with Special Needs

It happens all the time. Youth whose primary problem stems from mental disorders, substance abuse, or emotional issues end up incarcerated with  criminal offenders. They state it succinctly on their website:

While good mental heath and substance abuse services are vital for incarcerated youth to facilitate their rehabilitation, it is critical that juvenile justice involvement is seen as appropriate only when a youth’s delinquency—not his disabilities—is the primary reason for confinement.

Create a Range of Community Based Programs

While NJJN endorses and supports a variety of community based programs there are some that are particularly stressed due to their proven effectiveness. The three most highly noted, and with solid scientific evidence as their efficacy, are:

  • Functional Family Therapy
  • Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care
  • Multi-Systemic Therapy (MST)

MST in particular has shown amazing results. Serious juvenile offenders demonstrate reductions of 25 to 70 percent in long-term rates of re-arrest, and reductions of 47 to 64 percent in out-of-home placements. Real results with no incarceration.

Ensure Access to Quality Counsel 

In an age where counsel is sometimes assigned mere minute before trial it is imperative that something be done about it. NJJN supports beneficial reform in a variety of ways ranging from special training for those representing youth cases to early assignment of counsel. Any American appearing in court has the right to counsel, but lack of effective counsel is almost as bad, and sometimes worse than, having none at all.

Reduce Racial Disparity

As I noted yesterday in my examination of restorative justice, there is a huge racial disparity in the way our system treats youth offenders. The numbers bear repeating:

In 2008 Pew Charitable Trusts reported that one out of every 15 black men over the age of 18 is serving time. For comparison only one out of 106 white men are incarcerated. One in every nine African American men between 20 and 34 are incarcerated, a striking contrast to the 1 in 30 of that age group across the rest of the general population.

NJJN helps to support jurisdictions that have reduced this disparity and endorse the following proven tactics for doing so.

  • analyzing data by race and ethnicity to detect disparities.
  • using objective screening instruments to eliminate subjectivity from decision-making.
  • coordinating with police to better control who enters the juvenile justice system.
  • changing hiring practices so that justice staff are more representative of youth in the system.
  • holding staff accountable for placement decisions.
  • developing culturally competent programming.
  • employing mechanisms to divert youth of color from secure confinement.

Keep Youth Out of Adult Prisons

Youth held in adult facilities are eight times as likely to attempt suicide as when incarcerated with their peers. They are five times more likely to report being rape victims; fifty percent more likely to be attacked with some sort of weapon; and twice as likely to be beaten by institution staff. These are not good numbers. Add in the much higher rate of recidivism and the over representation of people of color and the picture is bleak indeed.

Back in the 1990’s we saw 49 of the 50 states adopt measures that increased the number of juveniles being tried and sentenced as adults. Twenty years later we can see how much it has cost us as a society.

These are great principles, and ones which can lead the way to much improvement. Our juvenile justice system has some critical flaws and the active coordination of efforts to improve the situation is laudable.

Keep your eyes peeled as we will have an interview with some of the NJJN’s senior staff coming soon!

 Image Source: timpearcelosgatos on Flickr, used under it’s Creative Commons license

Inappropriate talk on daytime TV for teens, children and young adults.

HUMANE EXPOSURES explores the quality of daytime TV for young mothers with children at home, or for children and teens coming home from school and turning on TV as they have a break between school and homework. Or are all kids in afternoon sports?

The Doctors, CBS daytime one-hour show, had topics about “mental orgasm,” “vaginal discharge,” “swamp butt,” “anal sex,” “going gray down there,” and other embarrassing, personal, female issues that children and teenagers coming home from school, grabbing a snack and turning on the tube, do not need to see, hear about, become aware of, or add to other inappropriate viewing on daytime TV.  Is this valued information for young mothers to view? Is this what we want young mothers and their mothers to talk about as critical issues of today? This show airs in San Diego from 4:00-5:00 p.m. opposite Oprah.

HUMANE EXPOSURES is interested in your thoughts.

Alabama Inmates Tell Kids to Stay in School in a Documentary

SchoolIt is no secret that there is a link between education and one’s eventual path in life. Nowhere is this more painfully asserted than by the number of dropouts that end up in jail or prison. In Alabama, the officials have taken notice, and are using a short documentary film to communicate the “stay in school and out of prison” message to the students. Rick Harmon, a reporter for The Montgomery Advertiser, fills us in:

You wouldn’t expect drug dealers and killers to be in­vited into Alabama classrooms — especially not to teach. But they had a message that everyone from Gov. Bob Riley and Alabama Superintendent of Education Joe Morton to the inmates themselves believed Alabama students needed to hear.

The message was stay in school and out of prison. It was delivered by ‘lifers’ at Wetumpka’s Tutwiler Prison for Women and Atmore’s Holman Prison during a 52-minute video called ‘Inside Out.’ The video, created by the nonprof­it Mattie C. Stewart Foundation, was shown at tri-county area high schools last year.

We have the highest percentage of the population behind bars in the U.S. than any other nation on the planet. A Northeastern University study had reported in 2009 that, on an average day, roughly one in 10 male high school drop­outs between the ages of 16 and 24 was incarcerated. With high school grads, that number is down to one out of 35, and it’s only one out of 500 among the college graduates. In 2002, the Harvard Civil Rights Project study found that 68 percent of prison inmates are high school dropouts.

These are disturbing numbers. Numbers that the documentary hopes to put a dent in. When delivering messages to kids, there is often a credibility gap that the people behind the film hope to overcome by having the actual inmates be the ones delivering it. Harmon writes,

‘I couldn’t get a good job with no education,’ one of the female inmates at Tutwiler says in the documentary. ‘That’s why I kept selling drugs. That’s why I ended up here.’

‘I wonder where I would be now if I had stayed in school and gotten the kind of education my parents had been en­couraging me to get?’ says a male inmate at Holman serving life without parole.

Obviously, we believe in the power of personal narrative, especially in situations like this one. It is easy for a child to view the possibility of future incarceration as an abstract. When it transmutes into a real person, the impact is magnified many times. As always, putting a human face on these issues is vital. These raw, basic stories of humanity have a better chance of striking home than sanctimonious pronouncements or dry factoids. Especially when we’re talking to children.

We will be returning to this topic with our next book, Born Not Raised: Kids at Risk, which explores the troubled psyches of youngsters serving time in juvenile hall. The book showcases a variety of creative tasks taken on by the young detainees — writing projects, artwork, elicited responses to photographs. The revealing results underscore the Humane Exposures’ conviction that early education and youth development are the most effective strategies for breaking the cycle of at-risk behavior and helping our youth thrive. Look for the announcements about the publication date soon!

Source: “THE DROPOUT PROBLEM: Many leave schools for life in lockup,” The Montgomery Advertiser, 10/24/10
Image by dave_mcmt, used under its Creative Commons license.
Visit Us on Facebook: Humane Exposures Publishing, downTownUSA, Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes, It’s More Expensive To Do Nothing.

Guggenheim’s Superman: Education Is Everybody’s Problem

SupermanHUMANE EXPOSURES would like to salute Davis Guggenheim. The director on An Inconvenient Truth has a new film out, and he is hoping that it will spark a dialogue about education in the same way his prior film has generated debate about climate change. Waiting For Superman is nothing less than an S.O.S. on behalf of our school systems nationwide. A call for awareness and action on this subject which affects us all.

It all started earlier in the year when Guggenheim and his wife decide to visit an obviously ailing school that they passed every morning while taking their child to her school. Why did he do it? Alison Gang, San Diego native and movie critic for Sign On San Diego, reports:

So why visit a school that his kids don’t even attend? ‘Superman’ makes the point that failing schools are everyone’s problem, even if your family has options or you don’t have children at all. But, Guggenheim argues, the system can’t be changed unless the public demands reform, which is exactly what he aims to inspire with his film.

‘I think there’s a series of often unspoken reasons that we give ourselves not to care, not to open our hearts to this,’ he said. ‘I want to puncture this kind of disconnect. That’s what a movie should do, connect all the dots and get people to go, ‘Oh, it’s real. This affects me.’’

This s exactly what we hope to do with our own documentary, It’s More Expensive To Do Nothing. Public awareness and dialogue are essential to effecting any substantive change no matter whether you are addressing education as Guggenheim is, or homelessness and the penal system as we have. Without that essential engagement — there is no pressure to produce change. Fortunately, it would seem that Guggenheim’s effort is getting some legs under it:

Whether ‘Superman’ will start the wave of massive reforms necessary to turn a notoriously intractable system on its head remains to be seen, but it has already earned a nod from Oprah Winfrey, who dedicated an entire show to the film, and it won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival.

With Oprah’s powerful reach behind it, this film will get a lot more attention. Step one is always getting people to see it so that it can motivate them to explore the topic further and hopefully take action.

Of course, anything that digs deeply into the long-established policy is bound to get a backlash. In this instance, the film’s stressing of educational accountability is, shall we say, less than popular with the teacher’s unions. Gang writes:

Less than pleased with the film are the teachers unions, which take issue with the film’s stance against automatic tenure and lack of teacher accountability. Taking on the normally taboo topic was a difficult decision for Guggenheim, a lifelong Democrat whose father brought him up to believe strongly in unions. ‘But that’s why you make documentaries. To say things that no one wants to say and to make people face uncomfortable truths.’ He smiles, ‘Not inconvenient truths, but uncomfortable ones.’

Uncomfortable truths are important. It is when we face these and deal with them that we mature, both as individuals and as a society.

Documentary film fans should visit the homes of both films on Facebook: Waiting For Superman and It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing. Each covers a different aspect of the overall problem our society faces — providing proper support for children as they grow up in order to help them be productive members of society. Our film looks at the prison system and makes a great followup to Superman as it explores the frequency with which the issues Guggenheim examines impact those children in later life.

Source: “Guggenheim knows he isn’t ‘Superman’,” Sign On San Diego, 10/08/10
Image by emilydickensonrisdesabmx, used under its Creative Commons license.

Visit Us on Facebook: Humane Exposures Publishing , downTownUSA, Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes, It’s More Expensive To Do Nothing

Teen Overcomes Homelessness, Excels in College

PotentialMost people just walk right by the homeless. People living on the street are often viewed as the detritus of society, failed lives with no potential for betterment. Not to say that everyone feels this way, but there is a large segment of the population that does.

Just as with any other segment of the population, this sort of generalization is incorrect. This is especially true of the children, more of whom are living on the streets every day. A child is not responsible for his or her situation, and children are the embodiment of potential.  The ability to realize that potential is harshly curtailed when one is homeless. Still, there are those who manage to triumph over the odds stacked against them.

Sarah Auffret, who writes for the Arizona State University News, brings us one such story, the story of an amazing young woman named Mona:

When she and her mother had to sleep on the street, Romonia ‘Mona’ Dixon would pull out a bag of books she brought home from elementary school and read by the street light. She’d cover up with her mother’s jacket and pretend she was one of the characters in a book, and it made her feel safe.

That was just a few years ago, on the nights when the homeless shelters in San Diego were full. When she was 10 they moved to Tempe, where they continued to live in shelters until the family got into public housing.

Now, seven years later, Mona is a freshman residing in Barrett, the Honors College. She was literally one amongst thousands in the running for the National Youth of the Year award given by the Boys & Girls Clubs last fall, and has accrued over $100,000 in scholarship funds. We’d say this indicates potential. Vast potential.

In this era of financial chaos, you never know who it is you walk past as that person settles down for the night on a street corner. Amazing talents and potential are almost certainly being squandered due to the simple lack of opportunity.

Source: “Student overcomes homelessness to achieve, inspire others,” Arizona State University News, 10/07/10
Image by M0les, used under its Creative Commons license.

Visit Us on Facebook: Humane Exposures Publishing , downTownUSA, Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes, It’s More Expensive To Do Nothing

Get My School Bucks: An Innovative Web Effort Supporting Education

Get My School Bucks

Did you know that you can help a struggling school simply by shopping? Chad and Melinda Reist of San Diego have created a way for you to do just that, on a website called

Back in April, KFMB TV Channel 8 ran a story about their efforts, which explains how it all works:

‘We don’t want our younger ones to not have the education they should have,’ Melinda said.

Their solution: a web site that offers discounted gift certificates. Any company interested offers its services on at 20 percent off, and any customer interested purchases it at five percent off. The web site takes its cut and the rest goes back to the schools.

‘Essentially it’s money you are already going to spend, so before you head out to dinner with the family, might as well save five percent and give five percent to the schools,’ Chad said.

Sounds like the Reists are on to something. Everybody likes to save money, particularly when the economy is such a mess, so offering coupons is a great way to get people to participate. Adding in the socially conscious element that so many Internet-based efforts are exhibiting these days should really give it legs.

The Reists are not the only parents concerned for their children’s educational future, especially in San Diego, where the state of the school board is continually chaotic. As we’ve stated on numerous occassions, many of the social ills we face are directly related to poor education. There is a plethora of studies linking it to both crime and homelessness, and, while not the sole cause of either, it is still cause for grave concern.

Source: “San Diego couple’s web business to help schools,” KFMD TV Channel 8, 04/01/10
Image of GetMySchoolBucks logo, used under Fair Use: Reporting.

Visit Us on Facebook: Humane Exposures Publishing , downTownUSA, Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes, It’s More Expensive To Do Nothing

San Diego’s School Board: A Long and Winding Road to Change

Old schoolSo many of our societal ills can be traced back to failures in the American educational system. Thus it is vitally important that we take an interest in that system and how it’s functioning.

In San Diego, one of the obvious problems is the continuing changes in the school superintendent’s office. The electoral process for the school board in San Diego is both archaic and unusual, and, in addition, it is unlike any other electoral process in the city.

Emily Alpert, a blogger for Voices of San Diego, recently presented an in-depth analysis of that odd system as well as the critiques it has drawn from both sides of the political aisle. Here is a small sample:

Here is how the unusual system works: Candidates like Rosen and his opponents have to survive two elections. In the June primary, they battle in one of five smaller subdistricts. The top two candidates then advance to the November election, where the entire school district votes.

The system might seem strange: No other K-12 school district in San Diego County is elected this way. It is a hybrid of district elections — in which voters in a small slice of a city or school district elect their own representative — and at-large elections in which the whole area votes.

But it was actually the same way that San Diego used to elect its City Council. Even though the city has no power over the school district, schools’ election rules have been laid out in the city charter since 1939.

Voters scrapped that system for City Council 22 years ago, replacing it with district-only elections to ensure that minorities had a better shot at being heard.

But the system stayed the same for the school board — and attracts the same criticisms.

Alpert then goes into a detailed examination of views on all sides of the equation. Here are a few that  she shares in her article:

San Diegans 4 Great Schools, a group that includes philanthropists, business leaders and parents, argues that the existing school board system is outdated and blames it for the revolving door of superintendents that San Diego Unified has suffered in recent years.

Organizer Scott Himelstein says a small school board with five members can swing too easily in a single election, changing the whole direction of the school district in a snap. His group has quietly discussed the idea of adding four new, appointed members to the board.

This would bring it more in line with the rest of the state:

Most school boards in California have five members, but almost all of the large school districts elsewhere in the country have larger boards with seven or nine trustees.

Anyone interested in social issues should take a look at Alpert’s article (link below under “Sources”). Most social ills seem to be rooted in childhood, and education is a vastly important part of that. Issues at that level all too often blossom later in life into homlessness, criminal activity, and substance abuse. As a result, examination of the system and exploration of the methods that can improve it are vital.

Source: “The Unusual Road to the San Diego School Board,” Voice of San Diego, 09/06/10
Image by Adam Pieniazek, used under its Creative Commons license.

Visit Us on Facebook: Humane Exposures Publishing , downTownUSA, Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes, It’s More Expensive To Do Nothing