"No man stands so tall as when he stoops to help a child." Abraham Lincoln

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Juvenile Injustices

This page will be under construction for awhile as I'm adding news articles about juvenile facilities - hopefully these will help open the eyes of people, not only in California, but around the country, that things like Dwight Abbott went through back in the 50's is still happening to many young people today who are being thrown away into the correctional system.

Things will not be in any particular order, just posted as I find them, some have no dates but I'm pretty sure they were all published within the past couple years.

Juvenile Offenders Sentenced To Life Can Face Harsher Treatment Than Adults

 

Bobby Hines was fresh out of eighth grade when he and two older boys confronted a suspected drug dealer in Detroit whom they believed had stolen a friend’s coat. The confrontation turned into an argument and one of Hines' buddies pulled out a gun and shot and killed the man.

The shooter was later charged with second-degree murder and given the possibility of parole. Hines, who was 15 at the time, was charged with felony murder for participating in a robbery that resulted in a homicide.

Although Hines never pulled a trigger or even held a weapon that day, he was sentenced, under Michigan law, to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He was offered a plea bargain deal, with the chance to serve 20 to 40 years if he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of second-degree murder. But the middle-schooler simply didn’t understand the deal, according to Deborah LaBelle, who authored a report released on Tuesday about the systematic disadvantages facing juveniles who are placed within the adult criminal justice system.

And today, 22 years later, Hines is still behind bars.

“Juveniles are getting sentenced more harshly than adults because of their inability to negotiate the adult criminal justice system,” LaBelle, the director of the Juvenile Life Without Parole Initiative, told The Huffington Post.

The United States is the only country in the world that sentences juveniles to life in prison without the possibility of parole, according to experts. And five states -- California, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania -- account for two-thirds of all youths younger than 18 currently serving natural life sentences. This means that they will likely die behind bars.

In Michigan, children as young as 14 who are charged with certain felonies can be tried as adults and, if convicted, sentenced accordingly. Michigan ranks second behind Pennsylvania with more than 370 young people thus far having been sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, according to LaBelle’s report, “Basic Decency: An Examination of Natural Life Sentences for Michigan Youth.”

The report, released in conjunction with Second Chance 4 Youth and the American Civil Liberties Union, details wide-ranging differences in the way the states sentence their youth. It also highlights the financial and human costs of juvenile life-without-parole sentences and vast racial disparities.

Juveniles charged with a killing in which the victim was white were 22 percent less likely to receive a plea offer than in cases where the victim was black, according to the report.

In Michigan, 73 percent of youths serving life sentences are racial minorities, even though minority youths comprise only 29 percent of the state’s youth population.

The disparity shows up in other trends. "Nationwide, black youths represent just 28% of juvenile arrests, yet they account for 35% of juvenile defendants who are waived to adult court," the report stated.

“There is just so much wrong with the original idea of putting youth in the adult system that we didn’t think through as a society,” said Ashley Nellis, a researcher at the Washington, D.C.-based Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy group that aims to reform sentencing laws. “Now we’re coming to see how many injustices there really are [in] the way we are sentencing youth from the very start.”

In March the Sentencing Project released its own report that compiled data about 1,579 individuals nationwide who had been sentenced as juveniles to life sentences without parole; this sample represented about 60 percent of American juveniles serving such a sentence. The report, "The Lives of Juvenile Lifers: Findings from a National Survey," documented "high rates of socioeconomic disadvantage, extreme racial disparities in the imposition of these punishments, sentences frequently imposed without judicial discretion, and counterproductive corrections policies that thwart efforts at rehabilitation."

Young defendants encountered disadvantages from the start, according to the report released yesterday. The attorneys representing youths sentenced to life without parole in Michigan have been disciplined by the state bar at an extraordinary rate. Some 38 percent of lawyers representing youths sentenced to life without parole “have been publicly sanctioned or disciplined for egregious violations of ethical conduct,” compared with a rate of just 5 percent for other attorneys.

Juveniles also reject plea offers at much higher rates than adults, according to the findings. So often adults receive lesser sentences for comparable crimes. LaBelle and other experts say that juveniles are less equipped to negotiate plea offers as a result of their “immaturity, inexperience and failure to realize the value of a plea deal.” Many of them reported that they didn’t understand the nature of their charges or even the meaning of parole, LaBelle said. When represented by a lawyer who hadn't been disciplined, juveniles were 43 percent more likely to accept a plea bargain for a lesser crime than those who were represented by an lawyer who had been disciplined.

Jody Kent, director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, said the current system that allows juvenile offenders to be sent to prison for life has essentially "declared these young people irredeemable.”

"We know that young people are capable of change, and we really need to set up a system that allows us to take their age into consideration,” Kent told HuffPost. “Children are fundamentally different than adults and that difference needs to be placed in the context of sentencing and how we hold young people accountable.”

The report urges lawmakers to strike down life-without-parole sentences for those younger than 18 and to conduct periodic parole reviews and public hearings every five years. It also calls for parole reviews for juveniles serving life sentences with the possibility of parole after 10 years.

“We are compounding the tragedy of serious crime by virtually throwing away the lives of these children,” the Rev. Joe Summers of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, said in a statement. “The idea that youth can never change flies in the face of all that we know and is against any sense of moral redemption.”

Gracie Hines, the mother of Bobby Hines, told a gaggle of reporters, supporters and activists on Tuesday at a press conference in Lansing, Mich., to announce the report, that she hopes and prays that her son will be released from prison one day.

"He has grown and he deserves to be out of there,” Gracie Hines said, according to reports.

“He calls to say, 'I thought about you,'" she said. "This child left me at the age of 15, and when you visit it's like you don't want to leave because that is still my baby, although 38 years old now."

"He is a very strong young man, and I think very highly of him. I speak very highly of him. And being in the wrong place at the wrong time, yes, got him caught up."

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to properly cite a report finding: In cases with a white victim, offenders were 22 percent less likely to receive a plea offer than in those with a black victim. A prior version incorrectly contrasted cases with white victims and those with nonblack victims.

Juvenile Justice History

The Juvenile Court was created in the early 20th century on the philosophy that children are inherently different from adults and it is the state’s responsibility to protect and rehabilitate young offenders.

Over the past 20 years, despite actual declines in youth crime rates, the public’s perception of youth violence has contributed to widespread support for the dismantling of the juvenile court system and the implementation of tougher crime legislation. Examples of such legislation include the allowance to try children as adults, and the increased dependence on incarceration as a false solution to juvenile delinquency.

Research shows that incarceration does not rehabilitate juvenile offenders. In fact, more and more youth who end up in juvenile halls or state prisons are actually non-violent offenders.


California leads the nation in juvenile arrests and incarceration rates. According to the OJJDP, Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 2006 National Report, California had 16,782 juveniles in custody in 2006. Florida ranked second in the nation with 8,208 juveniles in custody. California more than doubled the number of youth in custody when compared to Florida, the second highest-ranking state. This includes a growing number of girls and a disproportionate number of minorities.

To access statistics from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, view the Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 2006 National Report.

Overview
Until the 19th century, children were punished and confined in the same way as adults. Early jails housed men, women, adults, juveniles, mentally healthy, and mentally unhealthy people all together in the same facility.

Houses of Refuge
In the early 1800’s reformers became concerned about the overcrowded conditions in the jails and the corruption youth experienced when confined with adult felons. The first House of Refuge opened in New York in 1825, as a facility exclusively for children. By the 1840’s, 53 more were built around the country.

Houses of Refuge were not limited to children who had committed crimes. They were also homes for poor children, orphans, or any child thought to be incorrigible or wayward. The average number of children in any given House was 200, but some, like the New York House of Refuge, housed over 1,000 youth at any one given time.

Training or Industrial Schools
In response to overcrowding, deplorable conditions, and reports of brutality in the Houses of Refuge, training schools were developed in the mid-nineteenth century. Massachusetts opened the first state-operated training school for boys in 1847 and for girls in 1856. Training Schools placed a larger emphasis on schooling and vocational training.

Many of the new facilities were built outside cities. According to contemporary thinking, the city was the source of temptation and a rural setting would offer a more virtuous and simpler way of life.

Training schools are still the models of juvenile incarceration today. While the 20th century brought some changes, like the evolution of individualized diagnosis and treatment, new kinds of rehabilitative therapy, and improved educational programming, the congregate model of concentrating large number of juvenile offenders in one institution has remained.


Juvenile Court
Until the late 19th century, children and adults alike, were tried in criminal courts. The 16th century educational reform movement in England that perceived children to be different than miniature adults, with less than fully developed moral and cognitive capacities, fueled the movement for juvenile justice reform. The Society for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency along with other reform organizations were advocating for a separate court system for youth as early as 1825.

In response to Farrell v. Allen, these cages are no longer used, however, they remain within the Preston Youth Correctional facility.In 1899, the first juvenile court was finally established in Cook County, Illinois, and by 1925, all but two states had followed. Borrowing from the British thinking, the doctrine parens patriae (the State as Parent) served as the foundation for the newly established right for the state to intervene and to provide protection for children whose parents did not provide adequate care or supervision, such as in the case of juvenile delinquency. The primary motive of the juvenile court was to provide rehabilitation and kindhearted supervision for children.

There were now significant differences in the juvenile and criminal court systems. The focus of the juvenile court was on the offender, not on the offense. Additionally, the focus was on rehabilitation rather than punishment. All crimes by individuals under the age of eighteen were adjudicated in a juvenile court, with rare exceptions (decided upon a case by case basis) when a waiver could transfer a youth to adult court.

The juvenile court, with its rehabilitative mission, could be much more flexible and informal than the criminal court. A range of dispositional options related to the child’s situation, and not only to the crime, was now available to a judge.

In the 1950’s and 60’s public concern grew about the effectiveness of the juvenile justice system, not because of the rehabilitative philosophy, but because of its perceived lack of effectiveness and the number of juveniles who were detained indefinitely. In the 1960’s, the Supreme Court made a series of decisions that formalized the juvenile courts and made them more like criminal courts. Formal hearings were required in situations where juveniles were waived to adult courts, juveniles facing confinement were required to be given the right to receive notice of charges held against them, and the right to have an attorney represent them. “Proof beyond a reasonable doubt” had to be established, instead of just “a preponderance of evidence” for an adjudication. In the 1980’s the public perceived that juvenile crime was on the rise and that the system was too lenient. Many states passed punitive laws, including mandatory sentences and automatic waivers to adult court for certain crimes.

In the 1990’s this tough on crime trend accelerated. Transfer provisions made it easier to transfer juvenile offenders to the criminal justice system. In the court process and in detention, a greater emphasis moved from rehabilitation to punishment.

Proposition 21

Overview

This measure makes various changes to laws specifically related to the treatment of juvenile offenders. In addition, it changes laws for juveniles and adults who are gang-related offenders, and those who commit violent and serious crimes. Specifically, it:

  • Requires more juvenile offenders to be tried in adult court.
  • Requires that certain juvenile offenders be held in local or state correctional facilities.
  • Changes the types of probation available for juvenile felons.
  • Reduces confidentiality protections for juvenile offenders.
  • Increases penalties for gang-related crimes and requires convicted gang members to register with local law enforcement agencies.
  • Increases criminal penalties for certain serious and violent offenses.

The most significant changes and their fiscal effects are discussed below.

Prosecution of Juveniles in Adult Court

Background. Currently, a minor 14 years of age or older can be tried as an adult for certain offenses. Generally, in order for this to occur, the prosecutor must file a petition with the juvenile court asking the court to transfer the juvenile to adult court for prosecution. The juvenile court then holds a hearing to determine whether the minor should be transferred. However, if an offender is 14 years of age or older, has previously committed a felony, and is accused of committing one of a specified list of violent crimes, then that offender must be prosecuted in adult court.

Proposal. This measure changes the procedures under which juveniles are transferred from juvenile court to adult court. Juveniles 14 years of age or older charged with committing certain types of murder or a serious sex offense generally would no longer be eligible for juvenile court and would have to be tried in adult court. In addition, prosecutors would be allowed to directly file charges against juvenile offenders in adult court under a variety of circumstances without first obtaining permission of the juvenile court.

Fiscal Effect. The fiscal effect of these changes is unknown and would depend primarily on the extent to which prosecutors use their new discretion to increase the number of juveniles transferred from juvenile to adult court. If they elect to transfer only the cases that they currently ask the juvenile court to transfer, then the fiscal impact on counties and the state could likely be some small savings because the courts currently grant most of the requests of the prosecutors. However, if prosecutors use their new discretion to expand the use of adult courts for juvenile offenders, the combined costs to counties and the state could be significant. Specifically, the annual operating costs to counties to house these offenders before their adult court disposition could be tens of millions of dollars to more than $100 million annually, with one-time construction costs of $200 million to $300 million.

Juvenile Incarceration and Detention

Background. Under existing law, probation departments generally can decide whether a juvenile arrested for a crime can be released or should be detained in juvenile hall pending action by the court. These determinations generally are based on whether there is space in the juvenile hall and the severity of the crime. The main exception concerns offenses involving the personal use or possession of a firearm, in which case the offender must be detained until he or she can be brought before a judge. Most juveniles detained in juvenile halls for a long time are awaiting court action for very serious or violent offenses.

If, after a hearing, a court declares a juvenile offender a delinquent (similar to a conviction in adult court), the court in consultation with the probation department, will decide where to place the juvenile. Generally, those options range from probation within the community to placement in a county juvenile detention facility or placement with the California Youth Authority (CYA).

For juveniles tried as adults, the adult criminal court can generally, depending on the circumstances, commit the juvenile to the jurisdiction of either the CYA or the California Department of Corrections (CDC). In addition, juvenile offenders convicted in adult court who were not transferred there by the juvenile court can petition the adult court to be returned to juvenile court for a juvenile court sanction, such as probation or commitment to a local juvenile detention facility.

Because current law prohibits housing juveniles with adult inmates or detainees, any juvenile housed in an adult jail or prison must be kept separate from the adults. As a result, most juveniles--even those who have been tried in adult court or are awaiting action by the court--are housed in a juvenile facility such as the juvenile hall or the CYA until they reach the age of 18.

Proposal. Under this measure probation departments would no longer have the discretion to determine if juveniles arrested for any one of more than 30 specific serious or violent crimes should be released or detained until they can be brought before a judge. Rather, such detention would be required under this measure. In addition, the measure requires the juvenile court to commit certain offenders declared delinquent by the court to a secure facility (such as a juvenile hall, ranch or camp, or CYA). It also requires that any juvenile 16 years of age or older who is convicted in adult court must be sentenced to CDC instead of CYA.

Fiscal Effect. Because this measure requires that certain juvenile offenders be detained in a secure facility, it would result in unknown, potentially significant, costs to counties.

Requiring juveniles convicted in adult court to be sentenced to CDC would probably result in some net state savings because it is cheaper to house a person in CDC than in CYA.

A number of research studies indicate that juveniles who receive an adult court sanction tend to commit more crimes and return to prison more often than juveniles who are sent to juvenile facilities. Thus, this provision may result in unknown future costs to the state and local criminal justice systems.

Changes in Juvenile Probation

Background. Statewide there are more than 100,000 juvenile offenders annually on probation. Most are on "formal" probation, while the remainder are on "informal" probation. Under formal probation, a juvenile has been found by a court to be a delinquent, while under informal probation there has been no such finding. In most informal probation cases, no court hearing has been held because the probation department can directly impose this type of sanction. If the juvenile successfully completes the informal probation, he or she will have no record of a juvenile crime.

Proposal. This measure generally prohibits the use of informal probation for any juvenile offender who commits a felony. Instead, it requires that these offenders appear in court, but allows the court to impose a newly created sanction called "deferred entry of judgment." Like informal probation, this sanction would result in the dismissal of charges if an offender successfully completes the term of probation.

Fiscal Effect. On a statewide basis the fiscal effect of these changes is not likely to be significant. In those counties where a large portion of the informal probation caseload is made up of felony offenders, there would be some increased costs for both the state and the county to handle an increased number of court proceedings for these offenders. In addition, county probation departments would face some unknown, but probably minor, costs to enforce the deferred entry of judgment sanction.

Juvenile Record Confidentiality and Criminal History

Background. Current law protects the confidentiality of criminal record information on juvenile offenders. However, such protections are more limited for juvenile felons and those juveniles charged with serious felonies.

Proposal. This measure reduces confidentiality protections for juvenile suspects and offenders by:

  • Barring the sealing or destruction of a juvenile offense record for any minor 14 years of age or older who has committed a serious or violent offense, instead of requiring them to wait six years from when the crime was committed as provided under current law.
  • Allowing law enforcement agencies the discretion to disclose the name of a juvenile charged with a serious felony at the time of arrest, instead of requiring them to wait until a charge has been filed as under current law.
  • Providing law enforcement agencies with the discretion to release the name of a juvenile suspect alleged to have committed a violent offense whenever release of the information would assist in apprehending the minor and protecting public safety, instead of requiring a court order as under current law.

In addition, this measure requires the California Department of Justice (DOJ) to maintain complete records of the criminal histories for all juvenile felons, not just those who have committed serious or violent felonies.

Fiscal Effect. These provisions would result in some savings to counties for not having to seal the records of certain juvenile offenders. There would also be unknown, but probably minor, costs to state and local governments to report the complete criminal histories for juvenile felons to DOJ, and to the state for DOJ to maintain the new information.

Gang Provisions

Background. Current law generally defines "gangs" as any ongoing organization, association, or group of three or more persons, whether formal or informal, having as one of its primary activities the commission of certain crimes. Under current law, anyone convicted of a gang-related crime can receive an extra prison term of one, two, or three years.

Proposal. This measure increases the extra prison terms for gang-related crimes to two, three, or four years, unless they are serious or violent crimes in which case the new extra prison terms would be five and ten years, respectively. In addition, this measure adds gang-related murder to the list of "special circumstances" that make offenders eligible for the death penalty. It also makes it easier to prosecute crimes related to gang recruitment, expands the law on conspiracy to include gang-related activities, allows wider use of "wiretaps" against known or suspected gang members, and requires anyone convicted of a gang-related offense to register with local law enforcement agencies.

Fiscal Effect. The extra prison sentences added by the measure would result in some offenders spending more time in state prison, thus increasing costs to the state for operating and constructing prisons. The CDC estimates the measure would result in ongoing annual costs of about $30 million and one-time construction costs totaling about $70 million by 2025 to house these offenders for longer periods.

Local law enforcement agencies would incur unknown annual costs to implement and enforce the gang registration provisions.

Serious and Violent Felony Offenses

Background. Under current law, anyone convicted of a serious or violent offense is subject to a longer prison sentence, restrictive bail and probation rules, and certain prohibitions on plea bargaining. The "Three Strikes and You're Out" law provides longer prison sentences for new offenses committed by persons previously convicted of a violent or serious offense. In addition, persons convicted of violent offenses must serve at least 85 percent of their sentence before they can be released (most offenders must serve at least 50 percent of their sentence).

Proposal. This measure revises the lists of specific crimes defined as serious or violent offenses, thus making most of them subject to the longer sentence provisions of existing law related to serious and violent offenses. In addition, these crimes would count as "strikes" under the Three Strikes law.

Fiscal Effect. This measure's provision adding new serious and violent felonies, combined with placing the new offenses under the Three Strikes law, will result in some offenders spending longer periods of time in state prison, thereby increasing the costs of operating and constructing prisons. The CDC estimates that the measure would result in ongoing annual state costs of about $300 million and one-time construction costs totaling about $675 million in the long term. The measure could also result in unknown, but potentially significant, costs to local governments to detain these offenders pending trial, and to prosecute them.

These additional costs may be offset somewhat for the state and local governments by potential savings if these longer sentences result in fewer crimes being committed.

Summary of Fiscal Effects

State. We estimate that this measure would result in ongoing annual costs to the state of more than $330 million and one-time costs totaling about $750 million in the long term.

Local. We estimate that this measure could result in ongoing annual costs to local governments of tens of millions of dollars to more than $100 million, and one-time costs of $200 million to $300 million.

A summary of the fiscal effects of the measure is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1
Proposition 21

Summary of Fiscal Effects of Major Provisions

Fiscal Effect
StateLocal
Prosecution of Juveniles in Adult Court
Changes procedures for transferring juveniles to adult court, thereby increasing the number of such transfers.Unknown court costs for additional cases in adult court.Unknown, potentially ranges from small savings to annual costs of more than $100 million and one-time costs of $200 million to $300 million.
Juvenile Incarceration and Detention
Requires secure detention or placement of certain juvenile offenders, as well as commitment to state prison for juveniles 16 years of age and older convicted in adult court.Unknown, some net savings for less costly commitments.Unknown, potentially significant costs.
Changes in Probation
Changes the types of probation available for juvenile felons.Some court costs to formally handle more juvenile offenders.Potential costs in some counties, but not significant on a statewide basis.
Juvenile Record Confidentiality and Criminal History
Reduces confidentiality protections for juvenile offenders and requires the California Department of Justice to maintain criminal history records on all juvenile felons.Minor costs to report and compile criminal histories.Minor savings due to elimination of procedural requirements.
Gang Provisions
Increases penalties for gang-related crimes and requires gang members to register with local law enforcement agencies.Annual cost of about $30 million and one-time costs of about $70 million.Unknown costs for

 

gang member registry.

Violent and Serious Felony Offenses
Adds crimes to the serious and violent felony lists, thereby making offenders subject to longer prison sentences.Annual costs of about $300 million and one-time costs of about $675 million.Unknown, potentially significant costs to detain additional offenders pending trial and to prosecute them.

Long-Term Juvenile Incarceration Fails to Decrease Reoffending Rates

A March 2011 study through the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) concludes that long-term juvenile incarceration does not decrease reoffending, and may actually increase recidivism rates for lower-level youth offenders. Researchers conducted more than 21,000 interviews over 8 years with more than 1,300 felony offenders ages 14–18 in the cities of Philadelphia and Phoenix. Researchers also interviewed parents and peers and examined arrest records.

Their findings and recommendations are very illuminating, especially in light of California’s current debate over the future of the Division of Juvenile Facilities, the state’s youth correctional facilities:

Finding #1: Longer stays in juvenile facilities do not reduce reoffending; institutional placement raised offending levels in even those with the lowest level of offending. In contrast to youth in institutional care, youth who received community-based supervision and aftercare services were more likely to attend school, go to work, and avoid further offending during the 6 months after release, and longer supervision periods increased these benefits.

Policy Recommendation: Reduce the rate of placement of serious adolescent offenders in institutions as well as the duration of these placements. Increase the level of community-based services to these adolescents.

Relevance for California: Serious youth offenders are currently placed in DJF facilities for an average of 36.2 months, although some youth have been in the institutions for as long as seven years. This is almost triple the average length of stay for juvenile facilities across the nation. Youth offenders return from DJF with an 80% chance of recidivating within three years, according to CDCR statistics. Only counties have the capacity to provide community-based services to youthful offenders.

Finding #2: Adolescents who have committed serious offenses are not necessarily on track for adult criminal careers. Only a small proportion of the offenders studied continued to offend at a high level throughout the follow-up period. In addition, serious juvenile offenders vary considerably in patterns of offending, risk factors, and life situations.

Policy Recommendation: A youth's presenting offense is a poor predictor of future recidivism or positive development. To increase the impact of justice interventions, promote policies that address adolescents' individual patterns of offending, risk factors, and needs; and target services to the highest-risk offenders.

Relevance for California: Individualized risk and need assessment must be a core component for all interventions with criminal justice programs. Best practice programs in counties like San Bernardino, Santa Clara, San Francisco, and Alameda prioritize individualized assessments and treatment plans.

Finding #3: Substance use is a major factor in continued criminal activity by serious adolescent offenders. Substance abuse treatment for young offenders reduces both substance use and non-drug-related offending if the treatment period is long enough and if families take part in the treatment with the offender.

Policy Recommendation: Increase the provision of substance abuse prevention services to serious adolescent offenders in both institutions and in the community, ensuring that the services are of adequate intensity and that they involve family members.

Relevance for California: Long-term substance abuse treatment that involves family supports is impossible to conduct in the remote settings of the three remaining DJF facilities. Families often have to travel as much as 10 hours just for occasional visits and are not included in the development of treatment plans. San Bernardino County manages many of their 707b serious youth offenders locally at their “Gateway Program”, which enables them to involve family members in rehabilitative programs for juveniles.

Conclusion:

Long-term incarceration does not reduce the likelihood that serious youth offenders will reoffend. The evidence points to the contrary; that for lower-level offenders, longer stays in institutions will increase reoffending rates. Community-based interventions and services like substance-abuse programs are much more effective at improving long-term outcomes for youthful offenders. Sustained aftercare and supervision is also a critical ingredient in determining positive long-term outcomes.

California’s youth correctional facilities are fighting upstream against the overwhelming torrent of evidence that youthful offenders do better under local supervision and treatment. With no aftercare or reentry capabilities, the DJF system is a best an ineffective use of $220 million of taxpayer’s dollars, and at worse a institutional system that creates real damage and detrimental outcomes for youth offenders and the communities they return to. In light of the May 2nd LAO report showing an additional $3 billion revenue shortfall for California, the Governor's administration must close the failed DJF system, and use the budget savings to help protect K-12 education, disabled services, low-income families, and libraries and universities from even further cuts.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Brian Heller de Leon is the Policy and Government Outreach Coordinator for the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. He has a background in community organizing, police-community relations, and the implementation of national best-practice strategies for youth and gang violence reduction.

Legislation would Limit Use of Solitary Confinement at Juvenile Facilities

Human Rights Advocates, Elected Officials declare that Solitary confinement increases rates of recidivism, mental illness and suicide

SACRAMENTO – On 2/24/12, Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) introduced legislation that will define and limit the use of solitary confinement at state and county juvenile correctional facilities. The Ella Baker Center worked closely with Senator Yee to develop this crucial bill.

While the United Nations has called on all countries to prohibit solitary confinement in juvenile cases, the harsh practice is used rampantly in state and local juvenile facilities throughout California. Six states – including Connecticut, Arizona, Maine, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Alaska – ban solitary confinement for “punitive reasons.”

“The use of solitary confinement of a child is wrong and should be used only in the most extreme situations,” said Yee, who is a child psychologist. “The studies are clear – holding juveniles in solitary increases recidivism rates, exacerbates existing mental illness, and makes youth more likely to attempt suicide. Solitary confinement does nothing to help rehabilitate and thus SB 1363 is necessary to limit the cruel practice.”

Among the provisions of SB 1363, the bill would:

Define solitary confinement as placement in a room or cell for 16 or more hours per day.

Provide that solitary confinement shall only be used when a minor poses an immediate and substantial risk of harm to others or the security of the facility and all other less restrictive options have been exhausted.

Provide that a minor or ward shall only be held in solitary confinement for the minimum time required to address the safety risk, provided that the mental and physical health of the minor or ward is not compromised.

Prohibit solitary confinement for minors with suicidal or self-harming behavior.

Provide that minors on solitary confinement shall not be deprived of certain rights, including visitation during regular hours.

Provide that clinical staff shall review minors on solitary confinement daily.

“Solitary confinement is torture,” said Jennifer Kim, Esq, Policy Advocate for Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. “It has no place in a system that is mandated to provide treatment and rehabilitation. SB 1363 is a historic opportunity to curb this abusive practice.”

Nationally, over half of the youth who committed suicide while in a correctional facility were in solitary confinement at the time, and 62 percent had a history of being placed in solitary confinement. Research also shows that individuals who were forced into solitary confinement had much higher rates of recidivism as well as developing psycho-pathologies.

“My godson, who was incarcerated at 15, had many personal challenges in his life during his time in [Division of Juvenile Justice] DJJ, such as the death of his mother,” said LaNita Mitchell. “I remember when he was put into solitary confinement. I remember being so worried about him because the change in his demeanor was so obviously different that I was worried about him coming out of solitary and being able to function normally. Many young people go into these torture dungeons troubled, and come out damaged for life.”

“Locking a teen in a room alone for 23 out of 24 hours a day is no way to help a young person get on the right track,” said Elizabeth Calvin, Senior Advocate for Human Rights Watch. “The juvenile justice system should use every minute it has with a youth to create opportunities for education, treatment, and personal growth.”

“My son has made mistakes in his life,” said Maria Sanchez, a parent leader of Families for Books Not Bars. “But he wasn't sentenced to be tortured. He wasn't sentenced to sit in a cold cell by himself all day with no help. I want him to gain the skills he needs to make the right choices. I want him to breathe some fresh air and to have enough food to eat. I want him to get help when he gets hurt. But how can any of this happen if he's sitting in a cell all day?”

“My son was in the DJJ for more than 4 years and much of that time was in isolation,” said Alex Polo who also works with Families for Books Not Bars. “We visited him weekly and we could tell when he had been isolated. On those visits, he was silent and lost in thought. Any progress he made was lost when he was placed in solitary.”

California voters think major reforms of the state’s criminal justice system are needed, and they support changes that would focus on prevention and rehabilitation programs targeted at young people, according to a new poll released Thursday.

The survey by Tulchin Research Co. of 601 registered voters found that voters favor prevention more than building more prisons and adopting tougher sentencing laws.

“They don’t have this mentality to lock everybody up and throw away the key,” said Ben Tulchin, who supervised the poll. “They see a need for reform, that the status quo is not working...”

REPORTING ON VIOLENCE - Juvenile Murder

BEFORE (Read through article to get to the AFTER section)

Tearful Teen Gets 15 Years to Life for 1993 Slaying

John Henry Vasquez was 16 when he killed another teenager at a party over a momentary insult. At his sentencing Wednesday in Sacramento Superior Court, Vasquez pleaded for the family of the victim to forgive him. They were unforgiving.
"I made a mistake. There are no excuses," said a tearful Vasquez, who was given a 15-years-to-life sentence for the second-degree murder of Robert Maisonet, 19.
Maisonet was shot dead in an apartment living room in the early morning of July 24, 1993. Vasquez is 2 1/2 years older now, but appearing in court with his round face and brass-rimmed glasses, he looked like a boy. A boy dressed in jail-issued sweats.
"I know you said I will burn in hell. Please forgive me. That's all I want is for you to forgive me," Vasquez said in a quivering voice to the Maisonet family.
Though Maisonet's girlfriend, Veronica Bursiga, and his sister, Ana Rodriguez, sat only 20 feet away, neither Vasquez's words nor his tears touched the angry young women.
"You had no right to take the life of the father of my kids," Bursiga said. "I am grateful the jury came back the way they did, but the ultimate price which you will pay will be something between you and God," she shouted.
While Rodriguez was speaking, Vasquez turned away to avoid her glare. "Why did you take my brother?" Rodriguez yelled at Vasquez. "You still have your life. You can still see your family. All we can see is a headstone."
According to trial testimony in August, Vasquez and two companions went to a party on 24th Avenue. At the door they were rebuked by party participants, including members of a rival street gang.
Vasquez and a friend returned to the party 15 minutes later and as his friend pushed open the door, Vasquez pulled out a gun and fired multiple shots. Two bullets struck Maisonet, one piercing his aorta.
Vasquez's sentence includes a special gang enhancement that means he must serve at least 15 years in prison before becoming eligible for parole. Defense attorney James Carroll asked the judge to run the gang penalty concurrently so that Vasquez could be considered for release in about seven years.
Vasquez' companion at the time of the shooting, "who was equally if not more culpable," is now walking the streets as a result of his plea bargain in the case, Carroll said.
While in custody over the past 60 days, Vasquez continued his high school studies and now has a high school diploma, the defense attorney added.
Deputy District Attorney Natalia Luna said the jury convicted Vasquez as the gunman, no one else.
"He wants absolution. He wants people to forgive him and make things OK. He has no remorse," Luna said as Vasquez's family and friends sat in the audience.
Judge Jack Sapunor said he agreed with a study done in the case from the California Youth Authority that found Vasquez unsuitable for the treatment and rehabilitation of a youth correctional facility.
"This offense occurred for no reason at all. In this gang lifestyle, this brief moment of humiliation became a catalyst for violence. This gang lifestyle leads to nowhere except prison, and Mr. Vasquez, that is where you are bound," Sapunor said.

AFTER

Tearful Teen Gets 15 Years to Life for 1993 Slaying

John Henry Vasquez was 16 when he killed another teenager at a party over a momentary insult. At his sentencing Wednesday in Sacramento Superior Court, Vasquez pleaded for the family of the victim to forgive him. They were unforgiving.
"I made a mistake. There are no excuses," said a tearful Vasquez, who was given a 15-years-to-life sentence for the second-degree murder of Robert Maisonet, 19.
Maisonet was shot dead in an apartment living room in the early morning of July 24, 1993. Vasquez is 2 1/2 years older now, but appearing in court with his round face and brass-rimmed glasses, he still looked like a boy. A boy dressed in jail-issued sweats.
Maisonet's death is typical of a growing trend in California and across the nation. One of the record-breaking 97 homicides that occurred in Sacramento County in 1993, this one featured a victim and a killer who knew each other. That's the case in 78.3 percent of all homicides nationally.
Their ages are also typical in California, where juvenile homicide rates have exceeded adult rates since 1989 and where almost 20 percent of alleged killers are 11 to 17 years old. Nationally, death by homicide ranks as the second leading killer among juveniles, right behind motor vehicle accidents.
"I know you said I will burn in hell. Please forgive me. That's all I want is for you to forgive me," Vasquez said in a quivering voice to the Maisonet family.
Though Maisonet's girlfriend, Veronica Bursiga, and his sister, Ana Rodriguez, sat only 20 feet away, neither Vasquez' words nor his tears touched the angry young women.
"You had no right to take the life of the father of my kids," Bursiga said. "I am grateful the jury came back the way they did, but the ultimate price which you will pay will be something between you and God," she shouted.
While Rodriguez was speaking, Vasquez turned away to avoid her glare. "Why did you take my brother?" Rodriguez yelled at Vasquez. "You still have your life. You can still see your family. All we can see is a headstone."
According to testimony in August, Vasquez and two companions went to a party on 24th Avenue. [What were the blood alcohol levels on Vasquez and Maisonet? Had the other partygoers been drinking alcohol? Was there evidence of other drug use?] At the door they were rebuked by party participants, including members of a rival street gang.
Vasquez and a friend returned to the party 15 minutes later, and as his friend pushed open the door, Vasquez pulled out a gun [What type of gun was used? Who is the manufacturer? Was it a "crime" gun - a Saturday night special or a 9 mm handgun? Did Vasquez own the gun? If he bought it, how much did he purchase the gun for? To whom was the gun registered?] and fired multiple shots. Two bullets struck Maisonet, one piercing his aorta.
Three of every four homicides in California involve guns, 88 percent of which are handguns. Gang activity, for which Vasquez received a special sentence enhancement of at least 15 years in prison, also featured prominently in this case, as it does in one of every four homicides in California, according to the Legislative Analyst's Office. Nationwide, the figure is about 6 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Defense attorney James Carroll asked the judge to run the gang penalty concurrently so that Vasquez could be considered for release in about seven years.
Vasquez' companion at the time of the shooting, "who was equally if not more culpable," is now walking the streets as a result of his plea bargain in the case, Carroll said.
While in custody over the past 960 days, Vasquez continued his high school studies and now has a high school diploma, the defense attorney added.
Deputy District Attorney Natalie Luna said the jury convicted Vasquez as the gunman, no one else
.
"He wants absolution. He wants people to forgive him and make things OK. He has no remorse," Luna said as Vasquez' family and friends sat in the audience.
Judge Jack Sapunor said he agreed with a study done in the case from the California Youth Authority that found Vasquez unsuitable for the treatment and rehabilitation of a youth correctional facility.
"This offense occurred for no reason at all. In this gang lifestyle, this brief moment of humiliation became a catalyst for violence. This gang lifestyle leads to nowhere except prison, and Mr. Vasquez, that is where you are bound," Sapunor said.
It will cost taxpayers $20,000 to $22,000 a year to keep Vasquez in prison in California, where juvenile incarceration is expected to increase more than 29 percent in the next decade. Risk factors identified with juvenile crime include failure in school, family problems, substance abuse, conduct problems, gang membership and gun possession.

 

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