Tag Archive for Juvenile court

Panel Believes Brain Development Should Seriously Influence the Treatment of Juvenile Offenders


brains! (Photo credit: cloois)

At the recent Models for Change National Working Conference, experts declared that adolescent brain development should play a greater role in determining how youths are treated in the juvenile justice system.

Adolescent brain development has played an increasingly important role in juvenile justice in recent years. For example, the Supreme Court has noted in key decisions that juveniles’ brains are not fully developed, so youths are more susceptible than adults to peer pressure, more impulsive, more likely to take risks, less likely to consider long-term consequences and more amenable to rehabilitation.

Neuroscientist B.J. Casey, director of the Sackler Institute at the Weill Cornell Medical College, said:

Brain maturation doesn’t occur in isolation, but is all about adapting to the environment and developing based on the experiences that the individual has. And if you’re going to reach full adulthood, adolescence is a transient period where the child is learning how to be more reliant on himself in making judgments and decisions as opposed to parents. And without the opportunities and reinforcement of appropriate behaviors, they’ll really have difficulty in transitioning into that role.

Some notions of the U.S. juvenile justice system date to its origins in the 1890s, and are likely inappropriate today.

Panelist Richard Bonnie, director of the Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy at the University of Virginia, spoke of a 2012 National Research Council report he co-authored which concluded that the treatment of juvenile offenders should reflect knowledge about adolescent brain development. He said:

In the Supreme Court’s 1967 Gault decision, one of the criticisms of the juvenile justice system was that we had not delivered on the rehabilitative ideals and the promise of prevention and instead had fallen into punishment in fact, if not in law. The NRC report embraces fairness, so accountability is not just some alternative word to use for smuggling punishment into the juvenile justice system. Instead it is a way of understanding and holding a young person accountable for their behavior, to teach responsibility and promote successful law-abiding behavior as adults.

Adolescents are hyper-sensitive to whether they’re being treated fairly, so everyone in the juvenile justice system has to make a point of doing so.

Fairborz Pakseresht, who took over last year as director of the Oregon Youth Authority, said the juvenile justice system must adapt to advances in knowledge about adolescent development and base its policies on research and data. He stated:

We are emerging from a system that is based in old thinking. In the current mold, we think that you commit X crime and you get X number of years or months. And the question becomes whether that is the best way of dealing with our youth. The biggest challenge is changing our whole mindset and changing the function within our system and facilities.

Youths in the juvenile justice system can also be seen as victims. What we need to do in our system is not victimize them and further traumatize them. They’re going to become our neighbors.

Pakseresht said statistics showed that of the youths moved from the juvenile system to the adult Division of Corrections in Oregon, because of behavior, recidivism increased by 136 percent among them. When he received a list of six youths who facility personnel believed should be transferred to the DOC, Pakseresht denied the requests.

“The governor did not hire me to send them to DOC,” he said. “I am here to create better outcomes for communities, so we have to do the best for them.”


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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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National Juvenile Justice Network to Host Webinar with Rosa Peralta of TeamChild

A quick message from our friends over at the National Juvenile Justice Network. Check out this webinar, it promises to be both facinating and informative. -Loki, HE Blogger

Ever wondered how to translate what we know about youth development into practice in the juvenile justice system? Well, TeamChild, our member from Washington State, has done just that with their “Judicial Colloquies” project. Join this webinar to learn what practice rooted in youth development would look like in court.

Here’s the problem: when youth end up in court, they’re often confused and uncertain about the purpose of the proceedings, and what’s expected of them when they leave. Why? Because much of the language used there by professionals goes right over their heads.

Now, you can change that, with help from a new guide from Models for Change, called the “Washington Judicial Colloquies Project: a Guide for Improving Communication and Understanding in Court.” The document provides guidance on how to consistently use developmentally-appropriate language in court that youth can understand.

TeamChild, NJJN’s member in Washington state, led the development of the guide as part of its participation with the Juvenile Indigent Defense Action Network (JIDAN]. Working with a team of experts, including the National Juvenile Defender Center and a group of teens (many with experience in juvenile court), TeamChild produced a guide that offers draft bench “colloquies” for two critical hearings—(1) an accused juvenile’s first appearance, at which rights and conditions of release are explained, and (2) disposition hearings, at which the consequences of conviction and conditions of probation are explained.

When the team evaluated the effectiveness of the colloquies, they found that while youth ordinarily understood only 1/3 of the conditions of release and probation (ordered only minutes before), they understood 90% of them if the colloquies were employed.

Want to learn more? Then register for this free webinar and alert your colleagues!

WHEN: November 7, 2012, 11 pm PST / 1 pm CST / 2 pm EST

WHO: Rosa Peralta of TeamChild

WHAT: Ms. Peralta will provide an introduction to the colloquies and be available to answer questions.

ABOUT THE PRESENTER: Rosa Peralta has worked with a wide range of private, public and volunteer sector organizations to support and improve services for young people. As the research associate at TeamChild in Seattle, WA, she coordinates the Juvenile Indigent Defense Action Network (JIDAN) and the Models For Change (MfC) defender projects in Washington State.

Prior to completing her Ph.D. training in Sociology at the University of Michigan, Rosa worked for many years as a criminal defense investigator at one of Seattle’s public defense agencies. Rosa taught sociology at the University of Michigan and she also developed and managed recruitment and retention programs for underrepresented undergraduate and graduate students.

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