Tag Archive for recidivism

Elemental Crime: Pb(CH2CH3)4 and the Cycle of Violence

English: Lead Paint

English: Lead Paint (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many factors go into the making of an American criminal, but who would have thought that one of them might be lead?

A recent investigative piece by Mother Jones reporter Kevin Drum asserts just that, and it has sparked a wild flurry of debate in the wake of his extensive and damning article.

We all know that many childhood factors can influence a tendency towards crime. Broken homes, exposure to additive substances and many more are often trotted out, and rightfully so. Drum asserts that the ambient lead caused by lead paint and vehicle exhaust are directly linked  to crime rates.

Rick Nevin, a consultant working for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, began finding correlations between the rise and fall of leaded gasoline and urban crime rates. He discovered that they describe almost identical curves, but are 23 years out of synch.

Jessica Reyes, public health policy professor at Amherst, weighs in on the research she did, inspired by being pregnant in a old house and learning about the dangers of lead. What Nevin found on the grand scale she found to also hold true on a more granular level (reporting via Mother Jones) :

If childhood lead exposure really did produce criminal behavior in adults, you’d expect that in states where consumption of leaded gasoline declined slowly, crime would decline slowly too. Conversely, in states where it declined quickly, crime would decline quickly. And that’s exactly what she found.

Meanwhile, Nevin had kept busy as well, and in 2007 he published a new paper looking at crime trends around the world (PDF). This way he could make sure the close match he’d found between the lead curve and the crime curve wasn’t just a coincidence. Sure, maybe the real culprit in the United States was something else happening at the exact same time, but what are the odds of that same something happening at several different times in several  countries?

Nevin collected lead data and crime data for Australia and found a close match. Ditto for Canada, Great Britain,  Finland, France, Italy, New Zealand and West Germany. Every time the two curves fit each other astonishingly well. When I spoke to Nevin about this, I asked him if he had ever found a country that didn’t fit the theory. “No,” he replied. “Not one.”

Just this year, Tulane University researcher Howard Mielke published a paper with demographer Sammy Zahran on the correlation of lead and crime at the city level. They studied six US cities that had both good crime data and good lead data going back to the ’50s, and they found a good fit in every single one. In fact, Mielke has even studied lead concentrations at the neighborhood level in New Orleans and shared his maps with the local police. “When they overlay them with crime maps,” he told me, “they realize they match up.”

As New Orleans native I can tell you that the maps comparing crime and lead here in the Crescent City are so accurate that it is spooky.

Down under in Australia, researchers are finding almost identical results. ABC News Australia covered this as recently as Tuesday, April 9th when they published the following:

Professor Mark Taylor, an environmental scientist at Macquarie University, has now begun Australia’s first study comparing suburbs with high lead air pollution levels and local crime rates.

Professor Taylor says his research also indicates there is close to a 20-year time lag between the peaks in lead air pollution and peaks in the rates of assault.

  • Boolaroo: Lead air pollution peaked in 1988. The assault rate peaked 21 years later in 2009.
  • Earlwood, Sydney: Lead air pollution peaked in 1982. The assault rate peaked 20 years later in 2002.
  • Port Kembla: Lead air pollution peaked in 1979. The assault rate peaked 20 years later in 1999.
  • Lane Cove, Sydney: Lead air pollution peaked in 1978. The assault rate peaked 21 years later in 1999.

‘The locations we are looking at are, for example, Sydney, Rozelle, Earlwood, Boolaroo, the old lead smelter, Port Kembla as well, so we have been able to extract reasonably good records for those locations,’ he said.

‘We are not saying that it’s a one-to-one relationship; what we are saying is that lead exposure is associated with violent activity.’

The evidence just seems to keep piling up. While correlation does not denote causation, the correlations here seem to be almost universal. Here are a few links that provide a range of additional info on the subject.

Forbes, however, has done the best job of succinctly explaining why Drum’s theories hold the ring of truth:

There are three basic reasons why this theory should be believed. First, as Drum points out, the numbers correlate almost perfectly. ‘If you add a lag time of 23 years,’ he writes. ‘Lead emissions from automobiles explain 90 percent of the variation in violent crime in America. Toddlers who ingested high levels of lead in the ’40s and ’50s really were more likely to become violent criminals in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s.’

Second, this correlation holds true with no exceptions. Every country studied has shown this same strong correlation between leaded gasoline and violent crime rates. Within the United States, you can see the data at the state level. Where lead concentrations declined quickly, crime declined quickly. Where it declined slowly, crime declined slowly. The data even hold true at the neighborhood level – high lead concentrations correlate so well that you can overlay maps of crime rates over maps of lead concentrations and get an almost perfect fit.

Third, and probably most important, the data go beyond just these models. As Drum himself points out, ‘If econometric studies were all there was to the story of lead, you’d be justified in remaining skeptical no matter how good the statistics look.’ But the chemistry and neuroscience of lead gives us good reason to believe the connection. Decades of research has shown that lead poisoning causes significant and probably irreversible damage to the brain. Not only does lead degrade cognitive abilities and lower intelligence, but it also degrades a person’s ability to make decisions by damaging areas of the brain responsible for ‘emotional regulation, impulse control, attention, verbal reasoning and mental flexibility.’

So there you have it: the latest front in the battle against crime is chemistry.

If any of our readers have a neuroscience background, we would love to hear your thoughts on this.

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AB-109 and rising crime – Is there a correlation?

Sacramento Police Department

Sacramento Police Department (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A little over a year ago Gov. Jerry Brown’s AB-109 began the process of reducing the state’s prison population by 33,000 before June of 2014.

Under the bill, triple-non — non-violent, non-serious, non-sexual — offenders would become the responsibility of the counties, not the state, with a large number of them returning to the streets of California.

In that time crime has been rising, and many fingers are pointed at AB-109 as the cause. Unfortunately there was no language in the legislation dictating how to asses the results. While the counties that have accepted assistance of a technical nature from the state are required to report, there are no standards of procedures for that reporting: a truly stunning oversight.

Heather Gilligan of The Sacramento Bee is one of the few journalists sharing police data on the subject. This excerpt provides the numbers she came up with.

“It’s diminishing public safety,” said Lynne Brown, director of Advocates for Public Safety, a group that represents law enforcement officers who want to repeal AB109.

Republican legislators agree, and they have called for a special session of the Legislature to change or kill the law. They say that crime has increased in Sacramento, Stockton, Oakland and Los Angeles, according to preliminary numbers from police departments.

There have been many incidents in the news involving crime perpetrated by released inmates. One particularly violent example is that of parolee Raoul Leyva. Raoul allegedly beat 20-year-old Brandy Marie Arreola into a coma last April. The beating occurred not long after he had been sentenced to jail for 100 days for parole violations but had been released after two days due to overcrowding. In light of the numerous incidents it behooves us to take a look at the situation in greater detail.

Ms. Gilligan continues:

But police data actually show a mixed picture.

In Sacramento, Part I crimes, those that are reported to the FBI and eventually become the uniform crime rate for a city, are up by 8.1 percent this year compared with the same period in 2011. Homicides, however, decreased by 18.5 percent, according to Sacramento Police Department crime data.

Violent crime is currently down in Los Angeles by 7 percent and property crime is the same year-to-date. In Oakland, Part I crimes have increased by 20 percent, according to the Oakland Police Department. Some increases – like those for rape (up 21 percent) and robbery (up 20 percent) – are striking. Part II crimes – including minor assault, drug possession, vandalism and fraud – have decreased by 10 percent.

In Stockton, there have been 51 reported homicides this year – six more than in the same period last year, according to Stockton police spokesman Joseph Silva.

“Clearly, what’s happened with (AB109) is that criminals learn there are no consequences,” said Assemblyman Bill  Berryhill, a Republican whose San Joaquin County district includes Stockton and Modesto.

But determining the effect of a single policy on crime rates is difficult, said Joan Petersilia, professor of law at Stanford University and co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center.

No matter how you slice it, the issue is a complex one. The lack of any procedure for collecting data on how this influx of former inmates will impact the communities involved is troubling, to say the least. The fuzziness on details also means that most communities are forging their own paths when it comes to their methodology in handling the realignment.

Los Angeles and San Francisco are great examples of this in action. In LA, the jail population is increasing, while in San Francisco they are reducing theirs by keeping the focus where it should be: on rehabilitation.

We need more hard data, and we should have had a plan in place before releasing these inmates. Without proper support – therapy, drug rehab, job training, etc. – the chances are that many will offend again.

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Discussion Series on Juvenile Detention And Incarceration in Chicago

Coming to Chicago in September and October Roosevelt University, in conjunction with the Mansfield Institute for Social Justice and Transformation, will be kicking off a fascinating and educational series of discussions centered around the topic of youth detention and incarceration.

It all starts on the 26th of September with a volley of personal narratives. Those of you who follow our work already know the importance we attach to these personal stories. They are the most effective way to re-humanize those on the borders of society. It is a lot harder to ignore a statistic once you’ve met the person represented by the numbers.

While none of our team will be able to make it to the Windy City, we do encourage any of you within range to do so. It looks like quite an array of programming!

So, without further ado, here is their writeup on what you can expect. If any of you, our readers, make it to the series, we would love to hear about the experience!

Youth stories on their experiences in confinement

Learn from youth about what life in confinement is like and how this experience, and other levels of connection with the juvenile justice system, has impacted their lives.
Wednesday, September 26, 5:30 p.m.

Chain reaction: Alternatives to policing

Listen to youth tell stories of their encounters with the police, and then join the dialogues about alternatives to policing as a way to reduce violence and crime.
Thursday, October 4, 5:30 p.m.

Alternatives to juvenile detention and incarceration: Can we succeed? What will it take?

What community-based alternatives exist now? How are youth referred to these programs? Are they designed to educate, rehabilitate and address the needs of youth who have drug dependencies, disabilities, mental health or trauma issues? Are there enough housing facilities and programs available to youths with criminal records?
Tuesday, October 23, 5:30 p.m.

Youth with disabilities need education, not incarceration

Youth with disabilities comprise 30 to 80 percent of youth caught up in the juvenile justice system. How can we ensure youth are getting the services they need to succeed in school and beyond?
Thursday, November 8, 5:30 p.m.

Reentry and life after juvenile confinement: Existing services, or lack thereof, to ensure a successful transition and no recidivism

What services are available to youth when they are released? Is there adequate support for them to complete their education, receive expungement guidance, housing, counseling and other necessary services to ensure they are successful and don’t recidivate? Tuesday, December 4, 5:30 p.m.

RSVP: Nancy Michaels, nmichaels@roosevelt.edu
Cosponsored with Project NIA

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News Roundup: Juvenile Justice

Prison BarsFirst of all we would like to thank everyone who made our signing at Warwick’s Books such a success! It means a lot to see what we do inspiring such a reaction. Thank you all!

There seems to be a lot going on this week, and juvenile justice is taking the lead in news stories everywhere. Today, rather than focus on just one story, we would like to present a survey of the current top stories.

First stop, West Virginia. 

The state’s juvenile justice system will soon be examined by a court-hired monitor, due to worries that it focuses more on punishment than rehabilitation. This is an approach that is both more expensive and less effective over time.

State Supreme Court administrative director Steve Canterbury is quoted in The Charleston Daily Mail as making a vital point on the subject:

‘I know that many citizens get very frustrated and they have the misconception that ‘rehabilitation’ means ‘mollycoddling,’ but real rehabilitation programming is stringent and demanding and at the end of the day that investment pays off in dividends because you don’t have to keep paying for the continued recidivisms of juveniles who have not been rehabilitated,’ he said.

Orlando, Florida. 

In a move forward, Orlando is implementing a new program that allows cops on the street to write a ticket for many juvenile infractions that before now would have resulted in time behind bars. Geared toward “slightly troubled kids,” the option is only available to first-time offenders. Even so, the projected cost savings are sizable.

WFTV notes some of the details in their coverage of the story:

The civil citation will require things like restitution, community service and courses to correct juvenile behavior.  These are much cheaper than tying up the court system, according to officials.

‘We see many, many children mess up and many of them don’t need to go deeper into the juvie justice system,’ said Secretary Wansley Walters of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.

Texas

The Lone Star State has taken some good strides towards a better system of juvenile justice in recent years, so it is a fitting place for nearly 700 of the nation’s top juvenile-justice reformers to gather. Such is the case this week, as some of the most engaged minds on this topic meet in Houston to share their strategies for reducing the number of troubled youths who end up incarcerated.

Bart Lubow, director of the Juvenile Justice Strategy Group at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which is hosting the Houston gathering, says just locking kids up mostly doesn’t work.

‘Our reliance on incarceration is a failed policy. It doesn’t work for the kids; it doesn’t work for public safety; it doesn’t work for taxpayers, because it’s enormously expensive.’

New York

While advocates gather in Texas, New York is the site of a two-day conference for journalists, hosted on the campus of The John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Center on Media, Crime and Justice. The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange is blogging it, and I highly advise checking out their coverage. Here is a little of what to expect:

While the conference, Kids Behind Bars, Where’s the Justice in America’s Juvenile Justice System?, is primarily meant for journalists, many of the topics will be of interest not only to those in the field, but the general public as well.

Speakers on Monday include: Mark Soler, executive director of the Center for Children’s Law & Policy; Vincent Schiraldi, commissioner of New York City’s Department of Probation; Ricardo Martinez, co-director, Padres & Jovenes Unidos and David Utter, director of policy, the Florida office of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Also of note: The Crime Report is also blogging the event, if you’d like a different perspective.

California

As all know, there has been a lot of furor in The Golden State about the closure of a number of facilities dedicated to housing juvenile offenders. KALW public radio has today’s “must read,” article on the subject – an interview with one of the state’s most noted juvenile justice reformers:

Only three of California’s state facilities still remain open, holding a total of about 800 to 900 youth, and soon the state will hand down responsibility of juvenile offenders to counties. But [Barry] Krisberg, the Director of the of Research and Policy at the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute at UC Berkeley’s School of Law, isn’t so sure that this realignment is the wisest decision. Turnstyle sat down with him to discuss the coming changes to California’s juvenile justice system and what they will mean for both the state of California and its counties.

So there you go, some of the top news on the subject of juvenile justice this week. I’m sure that as budgetary constraints get tighter and election season ramps up we will be seeing a lot more stories on the subject. We can only hope that the legislators of our nation remember that it truly is more expensive to do nothing!

Advance Praise for Born, Not Raised: Voices from Juvenile Hall

born-book-coverWe are very pleased to see the reception our newest book is getting, even with the release ten days away!

There have been a few reviews and articles posted recently that can give you a good perspective on the work.

Library Journal (review only available in the print edition, this link goes to the BArnes and Noble website where it is reporduced):

More policy-oriented than academic in tone, this book is recommended for specialized juvenile justice collections and libraries holding the other two volumes in the series. Though government austerity is in vogue, this book is a powerful reminder of the social costs of neglecting the specific needs of at-risk youth.—Antoinette Brinkman, Evansville, IN

EFEAmerica, an online publication with a Hispanic focus, takes a look at the book.

‘We want to make the public more aware of how desperate these young people are for a little love and affection, and the fact that they don’t want to be involved in drugs – but more and more U.S. youngsters lack education and suffer the effects of being brought up by single fathers or mothers with no time for them because they’re working two jobs,’ Lankford said.

For the author, the factors most likely to land these young people in the juvenile detention system are their broken family relations, not their ethnicity or immigration problems.

San Diego City Beat’s Dave Maass talks about the book in the context of Susan and Polly Lankford’s recent visit to the McAllister Institute, a drug treatment center in El Cajon. One of the main points that he focuses on is the opacity of the justice system in California:

That may be the most important part of the text; the San Diego County Probation Department doesn’t allow media or public access to its facilities except for once-a-year, highly controlled open houses. The department cites confidentiality issues, but Susan believes opacity only worsens the problem.

‘I think [confidentiality] is the biggest joke around, because all of these kids know each other, they learn everything bad that they possibly can from one another before they’re released and they come back in with even more criminal behavior,’ Susan says. ‘That’s one of the things I am upset with, because I don’t think accountability happens with confidentiality.’

In the blogging world we are happy to note that Matthew T. Mangino- former district attorney of Lawrence County, Pennsylvania and current member of the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole – decided to share some thoughts about the book. You might be familiar with his work in the  Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Harrisburg Patriot News, Pennsylvania Law Weekly, CNN, MSNBC, FoxNews, Court TV and National Public Radio.)

Lankford concludes that, ‘[I]nstitutions like juvenile hall are not a good substitute for a family.’  Psychiatrist Diane Campbell said, ‘The youth in the hall don’t need miracle workers; they simply need some who is ‘just good enough.’

Lankford makes it clear that ‘good enough’ consists of a reliable, loving and nurturing figure that will help mold a child.  She uses her skills as a writer and photographer to make sure her readers understand the plight of troubled young people and how to turn ‘at-risk’ youths into ‘at-promise’ youths.

As we approach publication it is heartwarming to see the interest in this vital topic. As with our prior works we hope that Born, Not Raised will not only make people think, but will also spur them to action. The statistics support a more rehabilitative approach, but zero tolerance laws and for profit prisons weild considerable finanacial might. We hope that after reading our book you will find yourself motivated to act against that might and for substantive positive change in the way we deal with criminal justice.

An Audio Interview with director Alan Swyer

Welcome to our latest Humane Exposures audiocast! Today we sit down with director Alan Swyer, who directed our own feature length documentary, It’ More Expensive to Do Nothing, as well as The Buddy Holly Story, Beisbol, and more.

About Alan Swyer

Alan Swyer has been a faculty member at the American Film Institute, the University of Southern California, and Pepperdine University, and now teaches at Chapman University.  Internationally, he has given seminars on writing and directing in both France and Singapore.  Mr. Swyer studied at the Sorbonne University in Paris and speaks fluent French.

As a filmmaker, he has worked as writer, director, and/or producer on projects ranging from our own It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing to HBO’s award winning Rebound; The Buddy Holly Story; Alfred Hitchcock Presents; and his award-winning documentary The Spiritual Revolution.  Among his other work is Beisbol, the winner of the 2009 Imagen Award for best feature-length documentary, which is the definitive look at Latin baseball—its origins, lore and impact upon the game today with narration by Andy Garcia. Beisbol just screened at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Coooperstown; and Leimert Park, about a black cultural mecca in Los Angeles. He has also directed assorted music and video and commercials, and produced the NBC special entitled The Diabetes Epidemic: Challenges & Breakthroughs.

Mr. Swyer served as film critic for the Hollywood Reporter, as well as being a frequent contributor to Britain’s Blues & Rhythm.  He has produced albums including a Ray Charles compilation of love songs and has written liner notes for CDs ranging from The Best of Big Joe Turner, to The Fiftieth Anniversary of Doo-Wop, and Ray Charles & Betty Carter.

Mr. Swyer is also an activist of note, having created, in conjunction with the LA County Probation Department and the Juvenile Judiciary of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Teen Court, which has had remarkable success as an “intervention” for the first-time juvenile offenders.  In addition, he is a Board Member of the Compton Baseball Academy, whose purpose is to get at-risk youth off the streets and onto the playing field.

Faces of Justice: An Interview with Judge Irene Sullivan

JudgeSullivanJudge Irene Sullivan is a well known figure in Florida and nationally when it comes to the subject of juvenile justice. A retired judge she is currently an adjunct professor at Stetson University College of Law and has been the juvenile track leader for circuit judge’s education.

For more information about Judge Sullivan please see her full bio at the end of this interview. The number of task forces she is on is truly stunning! But now, on with the interview!

HE: What drew you to working with juvenile justice in the beginning? Was it the focus of your work as a trial lawyer or was it something that began after you attained the judiciary?

IS: I’d never done any juvenile or criminal work as a trial lawyer.  When elected to the bench in 1998, I was assigned to family law, i.e. divorces, domestic violence, etc. After three years, I was asked to move to our newly-created Unified Family Court, where I would serve as a juvenile judge handling both dependency (child abuse, abandonment, neglect) cases and delinquency, as well as related family law matters of the parents or guardians of the kids who appeared before us. It was an experimental court and I jumped at the opportunity to serve in a “one family, one judge” model, which I did for nine years. I enjoyed the kids the most, even the delinquent ones!

HE: Would you be kind enough to tell us a bit about your visit to Umatilla Academy for Girls and how it influenced your stance and actions since then?

IS: Umatilla Academy for Girls was a residential program for high risk girls located in a former children’s hospital in a small central Florida town. Not long after becoming a juvenile judge, I visited the program as three of the girls from our circuit had been sentenced there. I actually wept when I saw the atrocious conditions of the place: dirty walls, dirty sacks for clothing, terrible food, no exercise, girls running wild, screaming inside, and no doors on the toilets or curtains on the showers, despite the presence of male guards. It was awful, and after my findings were confirmed, it was shut down. That experience taught me that kids deserve kind and nurturing treatment everywhere, even when committed, and that people will listen to make that happen.

HE: One hundred years ago the first juvenile courts were created in Chicago, Illinois. Today we find a system in shambles and the effectiveness that was once an example for the rest of the world seems long lost. What factors do you believe brought us from there to here?

IS: Hopefully, we’re slowly returning to more of the old Chicago court juvenile model. For the last 25 years, kids have been treated like adults; we’ve lost focus on prevention, diversion and rehabilitation; legislators run on “tough on crime” platforms that include kids, and public schools have turned into places where a kid first gets arrested. It’s beginning to turn around, especially in states like Florida under the enlightened and inspired leadership of Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters.

HE: Let’s talk a bit about Evanston High School. Last May you wrote a column for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange in which you levied high praise on their approach and it’s effectiveness. Now that you’ve had half a year to process the experience would you share a bit about it with our readers?

IS: At Evanston High School just north of Chicago, I became part of a “peace circle” of students, teachers and counselors who shared their deepest fears and desires, and then promoted restorative justice as a better way to deal with school-based infractions.  I learned that a “peer jury” could deliver more appropriate sanctions than the court system, for example, having the disruptive student not only apologize to the teacher but show up early for a month to help her organize her classroom, and not have a criminal record. It’s a wonderful program and should be replicated nationwide.

HE: What would you point out as exemplary programs for dealing with juvenile offenders both in Florida and nation- wide? To what do you attribute their success?

IS: Florida is know for its progressive, humane and nurturing girls programming, in and out of residential care, due to the efforts of Dr. Lawanda Ravoira, with the National Center for Girls headquartered in Jacksonville, and Pace Center for Girls, which has 17 alternative schools throughout the state where counseling, education, therapy and mentoring is delivered in a very therapeutic way to at risk girls who have histories of physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Other evidence-based programs throughout the country, such as those run by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, have revolutionized detention care and juvenile drug treatment. As more dollars are put into prevention and diversion, we are starting to see juvenile jails being closed or consolidated.

HE: What do you espouse as the best means of combating recidivism among juvenile offenders?

IS: Recidivism is a big problem in the re-entry of teenage boys from residential programs back into the community. The best way to reduce it is through a re-entry program designed by Parenting with Love and Limits (PLL),created by Dr. Scott Sells, that brings the family and family counseling into the residential program from the time the juvenile is first committed, and follows the juvenile and family after re-entry into the community, to provide aftercare and prevent recidivism. The PLL program not only works to reduce recidivism, it shortens the length of residential stay as it is based on an “earned release” philosophy.  You can’t fix the kid until you fix the family, and that’s what PLL does.

HE: Much like our own Susan Lankford, you also utilize a lot of personal narrative in your book, Raised By The Courts. Did you collect all those stories yourself or were you assisted by other interviewers? How did those interviews change your own perspective on the issue?

IS: The stories in my book, Raised by the Courts: One Judge’s Insight into Juvenile Justice, are all true stories of the kids who appeared before me. Only the names have been changed. I began collecting these stories almost from “day one” on the juvenile bench, when I realized how complicated the lives of these kids were, how much chaos and violence they were exposed to daily, not only on the street but in the home.

HE: What would you say are the three most important things you have learned from your years dealing with these issues from the bench?

IS: The three most important things I learned, out of many, are that kids are not born bad; all kids need love, nurturing and, most important, hope, in their lives, and that a single caring adult can make a big difference in the life of the most hardened child.

HE: Every day it seems like technology progresses by leaps and bounds. What online tools do you think could improve our engagement with at risk youth, or allow us to serve them in a more efficient and cost effective fashion?

IS: I’m not the most computer literate person, that’s for sure, but I think that the internet, laptops, appropriate use of social media, can bring to many at risk kids the sense of connection and hope for the future that is lacking in traditional education and upbringing. I’m optimistic about it, despite the dangers of “sexting,” etc.

HE: Internet rumors are floating around about a new book as a follow up to Raised By The Courts. Is there any substance to them, and if so is there a timeline for publication yet?

IS: Yes, if I can discipline myself to finish it, I have a biography of one of the most abused and mistreated young men in my book in the works, as well as a fictional series based on juvenile court. Sort of like:  Law and Order in Juvenile Court!!!  Thanks for asking.

HE: Thank you for joining us Judge Sullivan, keep up the good work!

About Irene Sullivan: Judge Sullivan served as a juvenile and family court judge from 1999-2011 in the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area of Florida. Prior to that, she was a general partner at Harris, Barrett, Mann & Dew, L.L.P. in St. Petersburg, Florida, where she had a civil trial practice for 22 years and became an A-V rated trial lawyer.

She obtained a Juris Doctorate degree from Stetson University College of Law, cum laude, and a Bachelor of Science in Journalism, with honors, from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, in Evanston, Ill.

Judge Sullivan received the following awards:  The Florida Network of Youth and Family Services, Inc. Outstanding Community Partner Award; Clearwater and St. Petersburg Bar Associations’ Annual Judicial Appreciation Award; Stetson University College of Law Ben C. Willard Distinguished Alumni Award; Guardian ad Litem Community Advocate Award; Florida Association of School Social Workers’ Diamond Award; Salvation Army’s Children’s Justice Award; Pinellas Enrichment Through Mental Health Services (PEMHS) P.A.C.E. Award; Family Resource’s Family Advocate Award; Community Action Stops Abuse (CASA) Domestic Violence Champion Sponsor Award.

She has presented at many conferences and seminars involving juvenile crime, the importance of prevention and diversion, truancy, domestic violence and mental health issues for juveniles. In February, 2011, she was a keynote speaker at the Adolescent Conference sponsored by the Florida Juvenile Justice Association and the Florida Alcohol & Drug Abuse Association, where every registrant received a copy of her book, Raised by the Courts: One Judge’s Insight into Juvenile Justice, released by Kaplan Publishing Co. in November, 2010.

She currently sits on the following boards or task forces: The American Bar Association’s Commission on Youth At Risk; The Ounce of Prevention of Florida, Inc., PACE for girls, state and local; The Pinellas Community Foundation, The InterCultural Advocacy Institute; Florida Disproportionate Minority Contact Task Force; Blueprint Commission to Reform Juvenile Justice, and the Juvenile Indigent Defense Action Network at Barry University Law School, funded by the MacArthur Foundation. She’s an adjunct professor at Stetson University College of Law and has been the juvenile track leader for circuit judge’s education.

Budget Cuts Endanger The California Dept. of Juvenile Justice

Money 2Under the reduced budget enacted earlier this month, the California department of Juvenile Justice will cease to exist unless counties shell out $125,000 a year per youth offender. That’s bad.

Marisa Lagos of the San Fransico Chronicle notes the conundrum facing California counties in the new year:

Under the automatic cutbacks approved by lawmakers in June and set to take effect Jan. 1, the agency’s $72 million annual budget will be eliminated, and counties will have to pay the state $125,000 a year for each juvenile offender it wants the state to continue housing – or take those youths back to serve their time at local facilities. In a series of letters to Gov. Jerry Brown, the statewide associations representing county governments, district attorneys and probation officials have warned that the change will force counties to make the “untenable” choice between paying millions of dollars a year they don’t have or moving youth offenders to county facilities that are ill-equipped to handle them.

This will have the deleterious effect of pushing large numbers of youths into adult facilities where it only costs about $50,000 per  annually to house inmates, as opposed to the $175,000 apiece for juveniles. The problem is that the extra $125,000 per inmate for juvenile offenders pays for vital treatment and programs. The difference is stark, just look up the recidivism number on kids incarcerated as adults (there’s a lot of documentation in our prior posts, go look around).  Saving that money short term will breed more hardened criminals in the long term. Which is really more expensive?

To add another layer of complexity to the issue. The serious, violent youth offenders are a lawsuit liability for the counties. Criminologist Barry Kriserg, a long time monitor of the department of juvenile Justice, has warned that they could face litigation if the add violent youth offenders into existing county facilities. Of course county officials are worried about more than just potential legal action, as Lagos notes further down in her column:

‘If counties are forced to absorb this population in some fashion at the local level, we are concerned that the mixing of the most serious and violent juvenile offenders with the youth now in our custody and care will greatly compromise rehabilitative efforts with the current local population,’ wrote Mike McGowan, Gregory Totten and Linda Penner – the presidents of the statewide associations representing counties, district attorneys and probation chiefs – in a Dec. 7 letter.

This population, they wrote, ‘is decidedly unfit’ for county facilities, ‘as these youth possess complex criminal profiles often accompanied by significant mental health, behavioral and treatment needs.’

It is those needs that account for the $125,000 per inmate that the budget cuts are trying to save. Failing to address them in the short term can be far cheaper, but is it really worth the expense? That money pays for programs to fight recidivism, programs geared towards the immature psychology and neurology of youth. Without those the potential for kids to enter the system and come out as hardened criminals rather than productive members of society skyrockets. That means more money spent on enforcement, more money spent on court, more money spent on future incarceration, and the unmeasurable cost to the victims of their future crimes.

Which is really more expensive?

Image Source: borman818 on Flickr, used under it’s Creative Commons license

Juvenile Justice in Illinois Gets a Failing Grade

Prison WindowIllinois’ juvenile justice system is failing.  Failing to rehabilitate offenders. Failing to help them return to life in their communities. Failing to provide a clearly spelled out release procedure.  Failing to provide proper case management. The list goes on. These are not my assertions, they are taken from a state commission’s study slated for release next Tuesday.

The proof is in the rate of recidivism. How many youthful offenders return to incarceration for further offenses? More than half, according to the study by the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission. Additionally the report calls the Illinois juvenile justice system “ in many ways, the ‘feeder system’ to the adult criminal justice system and a cycle of crime, victimization and incarceration.”

Ryan Haggerty of The Chicago Tribune brings us the words of the commission’s chairman:

The commission was ordered by law to develop recommendations to help youth offenders successfully transition back into their communities. The commission’s members found a system that is in desperate need of an overhaul, said its chairman, Judge George W. Timberlake, retired chief judge of the 2nd Judicial Circuit.

‘We actually saw a system that doesn’t work so well, if we gauge the worth of the system in increasing public safety, doing so at the least possible cost and improving the outcomes of kids who otherwise might be part of future criminal activity,’ Timberlake said in a phone interview Monday.

John Kelly, a writer for YouthToday, breaks the report’s findings down into four key areas of criticism:

Release Procedures and the Lack Therof - The commission observed 230 Prisoner Review Board (PRB) hearings, the only way to be released in Illinois short of serving a full sentence. Their conclusions were that the  proceedings that were “rushed” and confusing to offenders. Timberlake said that the release process needs to be clearly defined and advised mandated review hearings every six months coupled with the addition of a legal advocate to each facility.

Reentry Practices – The DJJ still uses Department of Corrections standard for adult parole, something at highly at odds with good juvenile reentry practices.

Excessive Parole Revocation - 54% of juveniles who had their parole revoked  were returned to incarceration for a technicality.  The most frequent reasons being curfew violation, truancy or for home disturbances.

‘We are not suggesting future crimes should not lead to re-incarceration,’ Timberlake said, ‘but it was surprising to find that what could be considered normal teen behavior leads to a return to prison.’

Poor and Archaic Case Management - paper-only master files on juveniles are only the beginning. From several of the terms  Timberlake used, “coal-fired computer” and “mainframe that is not susceptible to much upgrade,” leave little doubt as to the currency of their approach. An approach I might add that they share with the Department of Corrections, so it is not only primitive but also geared towards adults not juveniles.

I highly advise Mr. Kelly’s article for further reading as he examines each of these in more detail and also provides some very informative and even handed commentary. [Illinois Probe Finds Rushed, Unmeasured Process for Juvenile Release, Reentry and Parole on YouthToday]

 Image Source: derekskey on Flickr. used under it’s Creative Commons license

Nurturing in Early Years Has Direct Impact on Child Development

Child's EyeAn oft recurring theme on the HUMANE EXPOSURES blog is the effect of parenting and environment on the early development of children. Studies of runaways and incarcerated juveniles show a correlation between those early years and the eventual path that the child takes as an adult.

Think of how frequently the topic of abuse or a neglect-ridden childhood comes up in court and in the studies of repeat offenders. Consider the personal narratives of the homeless and how much of a recurring theme these issues are in their plight.

Enter Notre Dame psychology professor Darcia Narvaez who has helmed a recent group of studies that confirm earlier work done in the field. The results suggest that children who get more physical affection during infancy turn out to be kinder, smarter, and more caring about others.
Maia Szalavitz, a journalist and author of some renown in this field, noted Narvaez’ work in her recent column on Time Magazine‘s Healthland blog:

Narvaez, who will present her findings at a conference in early October, conducted three separate studies. The first compared parenting practices in the U.S. and China. Another followed a large sample of children of teen mothers who were involved in a child abuse–prevention project, and compared outcomes of various types of early parenting practices. The third examined how parents of 3-year-olds behaved toward their children.

So we have a nice broad base to start from, that’s good. The variety of studies does give us confidence about the veracity of the findings. Szalavitz writes:

All three studies suggested the same thing: children who are shown more affection early in life reap big benefits. Researchers found that kids who were held more by their parents, whose cries received quick responses in infancy and who were disciplined without corporal punishment were more empathic — that is, they were better able to understand the minds of others — later in life.

Later in the column, Narvaez neatly sums up the findings:

‘What’s been studied most is responsivity,’ [Narvaez] says, referring to the way parents respond to their babies and act accordingly, for example, noticing when they are about to cry and reacting appropriately to subtle positive and negative signals about what they want. ‘[Responsivity] is clearly linked with moral development. It helps foster an agreeable personality, early conscience development and greater prosocial behavior.”

Even behavioral research on rats bears this out. Rats raised by neglectful mothers tend to be not as fast, smart, or social as their more doted-on counterparts.

Research like this is highly important. If we are ever to cure the society’s ills, we need to know where our efforts need to be applied. Work like this confirms our already existent ideas about how crucial early development is when looked at in the context of its impact on later life.

We would also advise checking out more work by Maia Szalavitz. She is a journalist who covers health, science and public policy. She is a co-author, with leading child trauma expert Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D., of Born for Love: Why Empathy is Essential– and Endangered, (Morrow, 2010). They previously co-authored The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog and Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook: What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love and Healing (Basic, 2007). Her work in the field of journalism runs the gamut from The New York Times and The Washington Post to New Scientist and O, The Oprah Magazine, among other major publications.

Source: “No Such Thing as Too Much Love: ‘Spoiled’ Babies Grow Up to Be Smarter, Kinder Kids,” Time Magazine, Healthland, 09/29/10
Image by apdk, used under its Creative Commons license.

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