Tag Archive for crime

Restorative Justice is a Growing Progressive Alternative to Youth Incarceration, and it is Significantly Reducing Recidivism

potentialRestorative justice is a growing way of dealing with crime that replaces the centuries-old “crimes against the state” notion with an approach that puts the offender in direct contact with the victim, requiring him or her to take responsibility and make amends for the crime. The needs of the person who was harmed are taken into account as much as possible, and they are involved in dealing with the outcome.

Across the country, restorative justice, especially for juvenile offenders, is gaining support among a growing number of correctional policymakers and practitioners, victim advocates, court officials and law enforcement officials. Already 20 states have introduced and/or passed legislation promoting a restorative juvenile justice system, and 30 other states have restorative justice principles in their mission statements or policy plans. There are individual restorative justice programs in virtually every state, and a growing number of states and local jurisdictions are dramatically changing their criminal and juvenile justice systems to adopt the principles and practices of restorative justice. Restorative justice is now practiced in more than 300 US communities and at more than 1000 locations in Europe.

In restorative justice there is usually dialogue, where all affected people explore one another’s feelings and needs in a safe and respectful environment. A trained neutral third party can help them as they try to reach consensus on how to deal with the aftermath of offending behavior. Family members, friends or others living in the community can have a voice as well.

Holding offenders directly accountable to the people they have violated,
restores the emotional and material losses of victims and provides a range of opportunities for dialogue, negotiation and problem-solving. This can lead to a greater sense of community safety, conflict resolution and closure for all involved.

While denouncing criminal behavior, restorative justice emphasizes the need to treat offenders with respect and to reintegrate them into the larger community in ways that can lead to lawful behavior. Restorative justice encourages the entire community to be involved in holding the offender accountable and promoting a healing response to the needs of both victims and offenders.
Restorative justice can be expressed through a wide range of policies and practices directed toward offenders and crime victims, including: victim support and advocacy, restitution, community service, victim impact panels, victim-offender mediation, circle sentencing, family group conferencing, community boards that meet with offenders to determine appropriate sanctions, victim empathy classes for offenders and community policing.

Victim-offender mediations are conducted by trained mediators who are sensitive to the needs of victims and their families. In some cases the community provides work for offenders so they will be able to pay restitution to victims.

While some Americans continue to advocate greater retribution and harsher penalties for youthful offenders, others believe in the importance of rehabilitating criminals and preventing further crime. Today, victims of crime feel increasingly frustrated and alienated by the current justice system, while increasingly harsh punishments have failed to change criminal behavior.
The initial conceptualization of restorative justice was first clearly articulated by Howard Zehr in the late 1970s. By 1990, an international conference funded by NATO was convened in Italy to examine the growing interest in restorative justice throughout the world. Academicians and practitioners from a wide range of countries presented papers related to its development and impact. The Council of Europe endorsed restorative justice through victim-offender mediation in 1999, and a subcommittee of the UN has also been examining the concept.

In the summer of 1994, after many years of little interest, if not skepticism, the American Bar Association fully endorsed the practice of victim-offender mediation and recommended its development in courts throughout the country. Also, a growing number of victim-support organizations are actively participating in the restorative justice movement.

A cross-national study of victim-offender mediation in four states, four Canadian provinces and two cities of England found high levels of victim and offender satisfaction with the mediation process and outcome. Victims who met the juvenile offender were significantly more likely to have been satisfied with how the justice system handled their case than similar victims who did not participate in mediation. They also were significantly less fearful of being re-victimized after the mediation session. Offenders in mediation were significantly more likely to successfully complete restitution than were similar offenders who did not meet their victim.

A large study of nearly 1300 juvenile offenders found a 32 percent reduction in recidivism among those who participated in a mediation session with their victim. Many recent studies are also finding significant and meaningful reductions in recidivism rates.
The U.S. Education Department’s newly released guidelines for school discipline call for an end to punitive punishment, and this should continue to fuel the movement.

Mariame Kaba, founding director of Project NIA, a Chicago-based nonprofit that supports youth involved in the criminal justice system, with a mission to eradicate the incarceration of minors, says:

We began our work of interrupting the school-to-prison pipeline in our community by setting up a ‘peace room’ at a local school. We brought in volunteers who were trained in restorative justice and encouraged school administrators and teachers to send young people to the peace room, as opposed to suspending them from school or arresting them.

I want Chicago schools to train teachers in how to work with young people in non-punitive ways. I would also love for there not to be any police officers in the schools any more. Chicago Public Schools has done a great job of taking zero tolerance out of the discipline code, but they haven’t funded the necessary initiatives. We also need to try to end the criminalization of youth of color.

 

In 37 States, 180,000 Female Ex-drug Offenders, Particularly Minority Women, are Subjected to a Cruel Lifetime Embargo on Welfare Benefits

English: Logo of the .

English: Logo of the . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 12 states, felony drug offenders face lifelong exclusion from most public benefits, even after serving prison time.   In 25 other states, women incarcerated for drug offenses are subjected to a partial embargo of benefits.

This is because of a hastily added provision to the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), also known as the Welfare Reform Act, which aimed to reduce welfare dependence. Not only are women with drug convictions unlikely to get the help they need before or during their incarceration, but thanks to this provision many of them, after serving their time, will also face being barred for life from receiving most forms of public benefits—including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families.

The purpose of the prohibition, supposedly, is to deter drug use and the criminal behavior that sometimes arises from it by making it harder for addicts to trade food stamps or use cash benefits for drugs. However, a new report by the nonprofit Sentencing Project, titled “A Lifetime of Punishment,” examined the impact of the PRWORA provision and found no evidence that this goal was being achieved. On the contrary, by denying benefits to those most in need, the ill-conceived embargo may be having a particularly devastating impact on women and children of color and is more likely to perpetuate the cycle of poverty and addiction that leads people to abuse or sell drugs in the first place.

Minority women are feeling the brunt of the prohibition. Today nearly one-third of women in state prisons are incarcerated for drug offenses, and approximately two-thirds of them are black or Hispanic, even though data collected by the Department of Health and Human Services have shown that white women use drugs at roughly the same rate.

Over the past 30 years, the female prison population has increased at nearly twice the rate of the male prison population, an unprecedented development primarily attributable to the war on drugs.

A policy that denies those with drug convictions access to food and cash benefits for life starts to look especially cruel when you examine the lives of women who end up in prison. As of 2003, 74 percent of women in state prisons had substance-abuse issues, 57 percent reported having been sexually or physically abused prior to their incarceration, about 73 percent had some kind of mental-health problem and almost a quarter suffered from a psychiatric disorder. Sixty-four percent of women in state prisons did not graduate from high school, almost half were unemployed a month prior to their arrest and nearly two-thirds were mothers of minors.

Marc Mauer, a co-author of the Sentencing Project’s report and an expert on criminal-justice policy reform, comments:

It’s really irrational for Congress to have passed something as significant as this ban is for re-entry and life prospects of prisoners and not to have allocated any funding to evaluate its impact or to see if the legislation is meeting its goal.

The provision allows states to opt out of the prohibition if they wish, but so far, only 13 have done so. Twenty-five states have modified embargoes that either impose time limits or allow benefits contingent on completion of drug-treatment programs. Twelve states—including ones with high poverty levels and large prison populations like Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas—still have outright lifetime embargoes in place.

Bills have been introduced in Congress to repeal the prohibition, but none have gained enough support to change the policy. Meanwhile, a recent Farm Bill amendment introduced by Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter that sought to expand the scope of the embargo to retroactively include other felony convictions was approved by the Senate. Congress has yet to realize that in helping prisoners reintegrate into society, especially the most vulnerable among them, the carrot approach is much more beneficial than the stick.

When Martha Stewart left prison in 2004 after serving a five-month sentence for conspiracy and obstruction of justice, she issued an emotional plea on behalf of the women she did her time with, many of whom were locked up for nonviolent drug offenses:

I beseech you all to think about these women. They would be much better served in a true rehabilitation center than in prison, where there is no real help, no real programs to rehabilitate, no programs to educate and no way to be prepared for life out there.

Stewart realized that many women with drug convictions were victims of lives crippled by poverty and hardship and that a little assistance from the state would be much more beneficial to them than a heavy dose of punishment.

PRWORA was a cornerstone of the Republican Contract with America and was introduced by Republican Rep. E. Clay Shaw, Jr. Bill Clinton signed it into law on August 22, 1996, fulfilling his 1992 campaign promise to “end welfare as we have come to know it.” Immediately, three assistant secretaries at the Department of Health and Human Services resigned to protest the law.
They believed that the 1996 welfare reform law destroyed the safety net, increased poverty, lowered income for single mothers, put people from welfare into homeless shelters and left states free to eliminate welfare entirely. It forced mothers with children from welfare to work, but many of them did not earn enough to survive. Many were just pushed off welfare rolls because they didn’t show up for an appointment, could not get to an appointment for lack of child care or were not notified of the appointment.

Feminist critic Barbara Ehrenreich charged:

PRWORA was motivated by racism and misogyny, using stereotypes of lazy, overweight, slovenly, sexually indulgent and ‘endlessly fecund’ African-American welfare recipients. PRWORA dismissed the value of the unpaid work of raising a family and insisted that mothers get paid work, no matter how dangerous, abusive, or poorly paid.

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Michigan Judge, Following 2012 U.S. Supreme Court Decision, Urges State Consider Parole for Prisoners Given Life Sentences for Crimes Committed as Juveniles

 

Prison doors

Prison doors (Photo credit: rytc)

Under an order federal Judge John Corbett O’Meara issued in late November 2013, Michigan must consider paroling 350 prisoners serving life sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles. This complies with a June 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision that sentencing schemes that fail to account for a young person’s potential for character and cognitive development are a form of cruel and unusual punishment. The justices declared that juveniles handed life sentences are entitled to the possibility of parole.
Judge O’Meara said that by Jan. 31, 2014, the state must 1) create an administrative structure to determine which “juvenile lifers” deserve parole, 2) inform juvenile lifers who’ve been behind bars for at least 10 years that their eligibility for parole will be considered in a meaningful and realistic manner, 3) schedule proceedings, including public hearings, for eligible prisoners applying for parole, 4) ensure the Parole Board explains its decision in each case and that there will be no vetoes (of parole) by the sentencing judge or anyone else.

Judge O’Meara also ruled:

As of the date this process begins, no prisoner sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for a crime committed as a juvenile will be deprived of any educational or training program which is otherwise available to the general prison population.

Lansing lawmakers are considering legislation to change state sentencing guidelines for juvenile lifers. A bill approved unanimously by the Senate in October would allow some minors convicted of murder to avoid life sentences, but it wouldn’t apply to those currently behind bars. A House bill would permit parole consideration retroactively for juvenile lifers.
The Sentencing Project

recently released a report and national survey results on Juvenile Life Without Parole (JLWOP). It noted that United States stands alone worldwide in imposing life sentences without parole on juveniles, and that today a record number of people are serving such sentences.

Many of us erroneously believe that sentences of life without parole translate to a handful of years in prison followed by inevitable release. In reality, such a sentence usually means that the individual will die in prison.

The majority of JLWOP sentences are imposed in states in which judges are obligated to sentence individuals without consideration of any factors relating to a juvenile’s age or life circumstances. Pennsylvania, which has the most juvenile lifers, requires that youth of any age charged with homicide be tried in adult court and, upon conviction, be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

This first-ever national survey of juvenile lifers deals with their life experiences prior to their conviction, as well as descriptions of their lives while incarcerated. The findings are sobering, and should motivate policy discussion about this extreme punishment.

Most people sent to prison for life as youth were failed by systems that are intended to protect children. Survey findings from 1,579 individuals around the country serving these sentences demonstrate high rates of socioeconomic disadvantage. There are also extreme racial disparities. Sentences are frequently imposed without judicial discretion and utilize counterproductive corrections policies that thwart efforts at rehabilitation.

Seventy-nine percent of juvenile lifers reported witnessing violence in their homes; 54.1 percent witnessed weekly violence in their neighborhoods; 46.9 percent experienced physical abuse, including 79.5 percent of girls; 31.5 percent of juvenile lifers were raised in public housing; 17.9 percent were not living with a close adult relative just before their incarceration and some reported being homeless, living with friends or being housed in a detention facility, treatment center or group home.

Juvenile lifers faced significant educational challenges: two in five had been enrolled in special education classes, only 46.6 percent had been attending school at the time of their offense and 84.4 percent had been suspended or expelled from school at some point.

The survey found that often corrections policies curtail efforts at rehabilitation. Most (61.9 percent) juvenile lifers are not engaged in programming in prison, but this is usually not due to lack of interest, but because of state or prison policies. Many juvenile lifers are engaged in constructive change during their imprisonment when they are permitted the opportunity to do so. Two-thirds have attained a high school diploma or GED.

Despite long distances from home and family, many juvenile lifers attempt to maintain close ties with loved ones through phone calls, letters and visits. As years in prison pass, lifers are charged with significantly fewer disciplinary actions.

Today, most states have enacted provisions for transferring some youth out of juvenile courts and trying them in adult courts. These situations expanded greatly in the past 20 years. Part of the reason for the rise in sentencing youth to life in prison was the upswing in crime in the late 1980s and early 1990s, fueled in large part by crack cocaine and easy access to illegal guns. By 1993, the rate of juvenile homicides had tripled from 1983.

However, homicide rates among juveniles dropped 74 percent from 1993 to 2008. But fueled by media reports of celebrated cases and resulting public fears, catch phrases such as “adult crime, adult time” were popularized. Policymakers responded with a frenzy of tough laws that disregarded developmental differences between youth and adults, and instead focused exclusively on the crime. State legislatures passed laws that eased the way for young people to be transferred to and tried in adult courts. By the mid-1990s, every state had passed laws that either allowed or mandated that teenagers be tried as adults under certain circumstances. So there was a steep rise in the number of teens who were sentenced to life without parole during the mid-1990s.

Based on survey results from 49 states (not Louisiana), respondents have been in prison an average of 15 years; 359 of them for least 21 years and one juvenile offender has already served 49 years in prison. Sixty percent are black and 14.3 percent are Latino.

Survey respondents reported childhoods that were marked by frequent exposure to domestic and community-level violence, problems in school, engagement with delinquent peers and familial incarceration. While an estimated one in 16 young people in the general public experiences sexual abuse, it’s one in five among the JLWOP respondents.

Survey respondents were over six times more likely to report having witnessed family violence than other youths did. Sixty-two percent perceived their neighborhood to be unsafe and more than two-thirds saw drugs sold openly where they lived. More than 54 percent of juvenile lifers witnessed acts of violence on at least a weekly basis. More than a quarter of them have had a parent in prison and 59.1 percent had a close relative in prison.

Teenagers housed with adult prisoners face a heightened risk of suicide, sexual assault and physical assault. The Sentencing Project Report suggests these solutions: Eliminate JLWOP sentences, allow and encourage these Inmates to engage in rehabilitation programming, address racial disparities and house youth in age-appropriate settings, pre-trial and post-conviction.

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South Dakota, Which Used to Lock up Youths at the Highest Rate, is Now Rolling Out Statewide a Successful Juvenile Detention Alternatives Program

Map of USA with South Dakota highlighted

Map of USA with South Dakota highlighted (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A program in two South Dakota counties to help juvenile offenders stay out of detention is poised to expand statewide. South Dakota’s two-year-old Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) provides substitutes for detention. Rather than being locked up for offenders who qualify can opt for such measures as daily reporting or electronic monitoring.

Since JDAI was introduced in them, Pennington and Minehaha counties have enjoyed reductions in the average number of youngsters in their county detention centers by more than half.

Recently the state court system accepted a $100,000 grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation to fund a statewide program coordinator, and the agency intends to ask legislators to make the position permanent. Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s administration and the state court system support the shift in thinking on juvenile justice, and expansion of JDAI statewide.

Jim Seward, the governor’s attorney and an architect of the adult criminal justice reform passed by lawmakers earlier this year said:

We support the concept of detention alternatives, and we’ve cooperated with the transition, knowing this would be going statewide.

Officials say the program’s goals of trimming the number of youths in lockup and reducing incidents of juvenile crime through the use of less-restrictive alternatives is a model that can be valuable throughout the state.

South Dakota state court administrator Greg Sattizahn said:

We’re going to use this grant to take it statewide, because the successes in Minnehaha and Pennington counties have been significant.

The shift toward alternatives to juvenile incarceration is particularly significant in light of the state’s history. South Dakota has been re-evaluating its juvenile programs for years, since the death of 14-year-old Gina Score at a Department of Corrections boot camp prompted the creation of a corrections monitor for the state.

Change has not come quickly, however. In 2006, the Casey foundation said that South Dakota locked up youth at a higher rate than any other US state.

The JDAI concept turns on the evidence-based theory that detention can be reduced without increasing juvenile crime. Now that Minnehaha and Pennington counties have seen that happen, prosecutors statewide are more likely to accept the program.

 

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Oklahoma’s Cruel Drug Laws and Outdated Sentencing Guidelines Help Make it the U.S. Leader in Female Incarceration

Oklahoma State Capitol

Oklahoma State Capitol (Photo credit: StevenM_61)

At a recent forum, University of Oklahoma sociology professor Susan Sharp charged that her state’s drug laws are “mean,” and that its tough-on-crime sentencing guidelines are to blame for nearly all of the women serving lengthy prison terms there. Oklahoma’s backwards prison system provides little help to addicts and the mentally ill, and the state is full of “lock ‘em all up” politicians who are unconcerned with rehabilitating criminals.

In recent years, Oklahoma has been the state that imprisons women at the highest rate in the nation. Oklahoma locks up 128 women per 100,000—nearly twice the national average. At the end of the last fiscal year, roughly 2,600 women were incarcerated in Oklahoma prisons, a figure that has remained relatively flat since 2005. A disproportionate percentage of them are black, and 85% of all female prisoners in Oklahoma are mothers.

Sharp declared:

Women usually end up in prison due to three factors: coming from poverty-stricken backgrounds, being in relationships with men who engage in criminal behavior, and suffering from a long history of abuse. As girls growing up in these environments become women, they usually fall into a criminal lifestyle due to one of these three pathways. Yet we’ve ignored these families for generations.

Sharp complained that too many women are being sentenced to lengthy prison terms for having quantities of drugs that would bring little to no punishment in other states. She also spoke out against drug traffickers being forced to serve 85% of their sentences when drug rehabilitation would do more good at a considerably lower cost to the state.

The way Oklahoma defines drug trafficking is the root-cause of the problem. Someone arrested with five grams of crack cocaine can be charged with trafficking and face a sentence up to 25 years. Yousef Khanfar, an award-winning photographer who has spent years photographing and interviewing women in Oklahoma’s prison system, said at the same forum: “In Chicago and other places, if they found you had only five grams of crack cocaine, they would flush it down the toilet. Putting someone in prison for 25 years costs $2 million or $3 million, whereas a year in rehab costs about $50,000.

Sharp charged that Oklahoma doesn’t invest enough money in mental health facilities and drug-treatment programs. She also criticized the state’s participation in a new Justice Reinvestment Initiative program that sends men and women on parole back to prison for the slightest infraction—even missing an appointment or failing to pay a monthly fine. ““We have set up debtors’ prisons in Oklahoma,” Sharp laments.

Jane Nelson, chair of the Oklahoma Women’s Coalition, said:

We hope to see legislation enacted in the next legislative session that will find alternatives to prison for women convicted of nonviolent offenses. Too many women are going to prison, destroying their families, because of addictions.

One study reported that while 40% of Oklahoma women sent to prison were black, only 29.6% of black women were placed on probation, whereas 53% of Oklahoma white women were sentenced to prison (versus 29.4% of women nationally), and a whopping 63.7% of white gals got probation.

Another study revealed that only 9.2% of Oklahoma female prisoner were found guilty of violent offenses, versus 34.6% for drug offenses and 15% for simple drug possession. Oklahoma’s female incarceration rate for drug offenders is higher than the national average. This speaks to the need for effective drug abuse programs both inside the institutions and in the communities.

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A Bipartisan Victory in Georgia!

English: Great Seal of the State of Georgia

English: Great Seal of the State of Georgia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Why are they there? They are there because there are not programs currently in the community that judges can send them to,”

-Rep. Wendell Willard, speaking about the incarceration of juveniles for misdemeanor offenses or truancy charge (as reported in the Marietta Daily Journal).

It looks like that is about to change. In a show of bipartisan collaboration that is long overdue Georgia conservatives and their liberal counterparts have joined forces to fix their state’s juvenile justice system. A system that has done nothing but get consistently worse over the past two decades.

Melissa Carter at the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange writes:

Georgia leaders were recently confronted by compelling data showing that the state is expending considerable resources confining offenders who are mostly at low-risk to re-offend, and further, that these expensive and restrictive interventions are not effective. More than half of all Georgia young people in the juvenile justice system recidivate; that is, they are re-adjudicated delinquent or convicted of a criminal offense within three years of their release. This narrative is not unique to Georgia, and states recognize the need to be more effective and more efficient with their limited resources. A broader set of goals must be satisfied, including those promoting public safety, accountability, fiscal responsibility and positive outcomes for young people. Thus, now is the ideal time to correct the public policy course of the last two decades by making smart investments in our youth.

Georgia’s governor recognized this opportunity and has made juvenile justice reform a signature issue. The state is poised to enact a comprehensive statutory reform package (the state House passed the legislation last week) that includes proposals to treat status offenders through a more service-oriented Children in Need of Services (CHINS) approach, separate felonies into two classes based on the severity of the offense to allow for differentiated sentencing, mandate use of standardized assessment tools, and require improved data collection. The bill also contains a fiscal incentive program to create community-based alternatives to detention.

Programs like these are already showing results- improving outcomes for youth and their families, increasing public safety and reducing costs in five states. Seeing them implemented in a state notorious for its juvenile justice concerns is heartening. Even more important is the continuing trend of bipartisan agreement.

It is no secret that these are insanely polarized times, politically speaking. As a result collaborations across the aisle have become almost mythical. Just look at the “fiscal cliff” and the current brouhaha about sequestration. Yet on this issue there is no choice but bipartisan agreement, the numbers are that cut and dried. There are even precedents for it, as I noted here on this blog back in February of 2012 when I wrote about bipartisan progress being made in aphid and Michegan:

The idea of justice reform is often viewed as a province of the liberal left, however the current reality is that more and more conservatives are embracing it now that they are becoming aware of the harsh financial realities. Let us hope this trend continues.

We have the proof. Numerous studies over the past few decades show quite plainly that more community based approaches and rehabilitative programs are more effective at getting people out of the system, which thrills liberals. These same studies also demonstrate a much lower outlay of funds with a greatly increased return on investment, the goal of all true fiscal conservatives.

Let us hope that the common sense prevailing in Georgia leads even more states to do so. It is, after all, far more expensive to do nothing.

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Juvenile Justice in Georgia: A Huge Step and Huge Savings

Chain Handcuffs

Chain Handcuffs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Lock ‘em up and throw away the key!”

That has been the campaign rhetoric in Georgia for quite some time now, and many are glad to see it begin to fade. The stance of no tolerance coupled with long sentences is hopefully drawing to a close, despite remaining entrenched in certain quarters.

Channel 6, ABC News brings us this brief bit of coverage. You will note that while it does talk about the $88 million dollars in savings, a lot of air time is given to a policeman who embraces the hard-line– one that has failed to work for many years now.

While the hard-line attitude has been typical of Georgia politics for quite some time, the pressures of mounting facts and dwindling resources are creating support for this sort of legislation. Macon.com notes some of the particulars:

Chairman Wendell Willard said the latest version has the backing from state and local agencies, including Georgia’s district attorneys association. Youth advocates and many juvenile judges also are pushing the measure. And Gov. Nathan Deal has included money in his 2014 budget proposal to help expand the community programs.

“We hope we are making major strides in finding better practices,” Willard said.

Georgia spends more than $90,000 per year on each youthful offender behind bars. It costs about $30,000 to serve a delinquent at a non-secure residential facility. About 65 percent who are released end up back in jail, Willard said, a rate he called “totally unacceptable.” The new model, he told a packed hearing room at the Capitol, should “save lives that would otherwise continue down a road of ruin.”

Among other measures, the redesign would place a greater emphasis on access to drug treatment and mental health counseling. Some residential programs still would involve confinement, but differ from adult short-term jails and long-term prisons.

Willard’s bill now moves to the Rules Committee, the panel that sets the House debate calendar. The measure is not expected to encounter any resistance.

If the proposed changes pass the rest of their legislative challenges, it will bring Georgia in line with the national trend toward treatment and counseling instead of incarceration. More than twenty states have made significant changes to their juvenile justice programs over the last decade in an attempt to reverse the damage caused by harsh laws enacted in the ’80s and ’90s.

Georgia, even with these changes, will reamin one of fewer than a dozen states that cap the juvenile system’s jurisdiction at 16 years old. The majority of states set the cap at 17 .

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Losing ground in North Carolina

English: State seal of North Carolina

North Carolina has made great strides over the past several years. The state’s approach to juvenile justice has been a showcase for the effectiveness of shifting the focus away from jails and into community- and rehabilitation-based practices.

Now all that is in jeopardy. James C. (Buddy) Howell, Ph.D., a criminologist and NC resident, recently penned a column for The Herald Sun in which he casts an eye on the situation:

Remarkable juvenile justice outcomes have been achieved in this state, including a 10-year-low juvenile offense rate and reduction of confinement by two-thirds, saving taxpayers more than $20 million. The catalyst for these changes came from the enactment of the North Carolina Juvenile Justice Reform Act in 1998. This act created a stand-alone Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and placed priority back on community-based treatment while reserving confinement for serious, violent, and chronic juvenile offenders. The act also established Juvenile Crime Prevention Councils in each county to ensure the availability of local services that would reduce recidivism and confinement.

However, this incredibly successful juvenile justice system is being dismantled. Many readers may not know that — under the presumption of cost savings — the Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention was eliminated from its independent cabinet-level status and reconstituted as a division within the Department of Public Safety that also houses the Department of Corrections for adults. The lesson from other states that consolidated juvenile justice and adult corrections is that over time, treatment programs gave way to punishment and imprisonment priorities. The successful emphasis in juvenile justice has been on prevention and rehabilitation rather than on adult criminal justice practices. Prevention and rehabilitation goals are better accomplished when the juvenile justice agency is teamed with other youth services such as social services, mental health treatment, schools, mentors, job training and other needed treatment. Tying this agency to the adult criminal justice system threatens to erode the great success we have had over the last 14 years.

Once more the immediate fiscal situation is used as an excuse for short-term savings that become extravagant in the long run.

Economists at Vanderbilt University and the state of Washington agree that their findings demonstrate the effectiveness of interventions that prevent high-risk youth from engaging in repeat criminal offenses: effectiveness that can save the public nearly $5.7 million in costs per criminal! Imprisonment is expensive, but it is far from the only financial drain. Reverting to the old ways incurs: court costs, costs to victims, costs incurred by the offender, increased enforcement costs, and administrative costs. All must be viewed as part of the complete equation.

We are starting to make serious strides across the nation as states take note of the evidence that continues to mount. This is what makes it so sad to see a state that has been a model in this area falling victim to short-sighted, short-term thinking.

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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.

U.S. Senate Examines Hate Crimes Against the Homeless

MurderThe homeless are particularly vulnerable to violence and crime. Exposed on the street without shelter, they make appealing targets for the distorted personalities that prey on others. Recently, attacks on the homeless have been on the rise, and it’s finally drawing the attention of those in power.

David Hunt, a writer for Jacksonville.com, reports that, as of last Friday, attacks on the homeless in Florida are now considered a hate crime:

A law passed by this year by the Florida Legislature adds ‘homelessness’ to a list of protected classes in the state’s hate-crimes enhancement statutes, which already include traits such as race, ethnicity and sexual orientation.

Under the law, those who would be facing a year of jail time for battery could face as much as five years if the target of the attack is a homeless person.

Thankfully, this issue is attracting government’s attention not only in Florida. The U.S. Senate held a hearing last Wednesday, examining violent attacks against the homeless. The statistics are truly disturbing, and the trend of violence is increasing at an alarming rate. Just take a look at this testimony reported by Alex Ogle for AFP:

In many cases of the 117 ‘hate attacks’ against those living on the streets or in shelters in 2009, including the 43 murders, violent acts against the homeless ‘was almost a sport’ for attackers who see their victims as ‘unhuman,’ Florida police officer Richard Wierzbicki testified at the hearing.

Simone Manning-Moon, whose older brother Norris Gaynor was beaten to death by three teenagers with baseball bats and a rake handle, told the hearing that he was targeted ‘because he was homeless.’

The Norris Gaynor beating was caught on tape by the surveillance cameras and has led to the conviction of the boys involved. Here is a new report that includes the footage, below:

Now think about the 43 murders cited by Officer Wierzbicki. It makes for a grim picture indeed.

Ogle also reports another unsettling piece of testimony from Capitol Hill:

Homeless people have become a ‘socially acceptable target of aggression,’ noted Brian Levin, advisor to the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) and director of the California-based Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.

Whether classifying these attacks as hate crimes will make an effective change remains to be seen, but something needs to be done to stem the tide of violence. These are people’s daughters, brothers, mothers, and children that are living on the street, human beings already undergoing harsh trials that do not need to be exacerbated by the threat of injury or death.

Source: “US Senate urged to act on rising attacks on homeless,” AFP via Google News, 09/20/10
Source: “Hate crimes will include attacks on homeless,” Jacksonville.com, 09/29/10
Image by izarbeltza, used under its Creative Commons license.

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