Friday, December 19, 2014

New FRONTLINE Digital Exclusive Film, Stickup Kid

Stickup Kid, a 30-minute FRONTLINE digital exclusive film, tells the story of Alonza Thomas who, at age 16, was sent to adult prison after being charged with armed robbery shortly after California enacted a new tough-on-juvenile-crime law.

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One of the first minors tried under Prop. 21 in California and how spending over a decade behind bars in adult prison impacted him. It's a provocative look at a major social issue for which there are no easy answers   and it gives new insight into the ongoing debate over juvenile sentencing Alonza went on to spend more than a decade behind bars. The documentary is a provocative look at a major social issue for which there are no easy answers and it gives new insight into the ongoing debate over prison reform in America. It was produced in association with the Investigative Reporting Program and with cooperation by the Snoring Mouthpiece Report (see this) at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.


You can watch Stickup Kid here and read the original digital reports, here.

You can also watch on PBS's Youtube channel, here.

Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter using #StickupKid.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Bipartisan consensus on strengthening federal law to reduce incarceration, make state juvenile justice systems more fair, improve public safety

Today Juvenile justice advocates across the country applaud Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) for the introduction of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2014, to reauthorize and strengthen the Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Act of 1974 (JJDPA).

Signed into law by President Gerald Ford on September 7, 1974, and most recently reauthorized in 2002, the JJDPA embodies a partnership between the federal government and the U.S. states, territories and the District of Columbia to protect children and youth in the juvenile and criminal justice system, to effectively address high-risk and delinquent behavior and to improve community safety. 

More than seven years overdue for reauthorization, the JJDPA is the only federal statute that sets out national standards for the custody and care of youth in the juvenile justice system and provides direction and support for state juvenile justice system improvements. The JJDPA also supports programs and practices that have significantly contributed to the reduction of delinquency.

Despite a continuing decline in youth delinquency, more than 60,000 young people are held in detention centers awaiting trial or confined by the courts in juvenile facilities in the U.S.  For these confined youth, and the many more kids at-risk of involvement in the justice system, the JJDPA and programs it supports are critical. Youth who are locked up are separated from their families, and many witness violence. These youth struggle when they get out, trying to complete high school, get jobs, housing, or go to college. Aside from the human toll, the financial costs of maintaining large secure facilities have also made it vital to rethink juvenile justice in every community.

Key provisions in include:
      Phase-out of the Loophole that Allows Status Offenders to Be Locked Up
While current federal law prohibits detaining youth for status offenses (like truancy and running away from home), youth can be ordered by a court not to do these things as a condition of release through a court order. Many youth are subsequently detained for technical violations of such a valid court order. Many states have already prohibited use of this exception known as the VCO exception in light of research that shows it is harmful to youth development and is costly, especially when compared to community-based alternatives.  The bill calls on all states to phase out use of the VCO exception over the next three years.
      Strengthening of Protections to Keep Youth out of Adult Jails and Prisons
Research shows youth confined in adult jails and lock-ups are more likely to re-offend upon release and while confined are at pronounced high risk of suffering assault and committing suicide. The bill extends the jail removal and sight and sound core protections to keep youth awaiting trial in criminal court out of adult lock-ups and ensures sight and sound separation from adult inmates in the limited circumstances where they are held in adult facilities.
      Supports for State Efforts to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Disparities
The bill gives clear direction to States and localities to plan and implement data-driven approaches to ensure fairness and reduce racial and ethnic disparities, to set measurable objectives for reduction of disparities in the system, and to publicly report such efforts.

For more information go to

About Act 4 Juvenile Justice - Act 4 Juvenile Justice (ACT4JJ) is a campaign of the National Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition (NJJDPC), which represents over 80 national organizations who work on youth development and juvenile justice issues. ACT4JJ is composed of juvenile justice, child welfare and youth development organizations advocating for the reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) and increased federal funding for juvenile justice programs and services.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

OP-ED: UN Calls Out US on Police Violence, Criminalization of Youth of Color

By Tawakalitu Amusa

The death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen fatally shot by police in Ferguson, Mo., has brought national attention to the serious and sometimes deadly interactions that youth of color often have with the police.

However, racial discrimination against youth isnt limited to encounters with the police. These policing practices often result in youth being funneled into the criminal justice system. In the United States approximately 200,000 youth under 18 are tried as adults each year, and on any given day more than 6,000 youth are detained in adult jails and prisons. Due to the racial disparities at every stage in the process from decisions about whom to stop through whom to prosecute as adults the majority of the youth in the adult system are minorities.

These young people spend their formative years in adult jails and prisons that frequently place them at risk for sexual and physical violence. Locking youth away in adult facilities that do not address their developmental needs or capacity for change destroys their future.

A United Nations human rights body recently criticized the U.S. for the severity of police use of force against youth of color and its treatment of youth in the criminal justice system. The U.N. Committee Against Torture expressed concern in Concluding Observations over the conditions of detention for juveniles, including their placement in adult jails and prisons and recommended that the U.S. resort more to alternatives to incarceration for juveniles. The committee also emphasized the need to end practices that are particularly harmful to youth. It stated that the U.S. should abolish solitary confinement for juveniles, ensure that juvenile detainees and prisoners under 18 are held separately from adults and prohibit the use of stun guns on children.

The committee also expressed concern about numerous reports of police brutality and excessive use of force by law enforcement officials, in particular against persons belonging to certain racial and ethnic groups. It articulated deep concern at the frequent and recurrent police shootings or fatal pursuits of unarmed black individuals. It noted in particular reports of racial profiling and excessive use of force by the Chicago Police against African-American and Latino young people.

Other U.N. bodies have criticized the U.S. for racial profiling, discrimination in the justice system and laws and policies that allow or require youth under the age of 18 to be treated as adults in the criminal system. In August, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) issued Concluding Observations expressing concern about racial disparities at all levels of the criminal and juvenile justice systems. CERD criticized the disproportionate rate at which youth from racial and ethnic minorities are ... referred to the criminal justice system, prosecuted as adults, and incarcerated in adult prisons.

It recommended that the U.S. address the racial disparities and ensure that juveniles are not transferred to adult courts and are separated from adults during pretrial detention and after sentencing. CERD also expressed concern about the practice of profiling racial and ethnic minorities by law enforcement officials. It emphasized concern over the high levels of brutality and excessive force used by law enforcement officers toward mostly members of racial and ethnic minorities, including unarmed individuals.

The Committee Against Torture and CERD criticism of the U.S. reflect important concerns about how racism affects the policing of communities and the treatment of youth of color within the criminal justice system. They also reflect the consensus of the international community that children in conflict with the law have the right to special protection because of their youth and their capacity for change. Subjecting youth to adult criminal punishments rather than providing age-appropriate rehabilitative programs during a crucial time in their development will have a lifelong detrimental impact.

The comments from these two U.N. committees recognize that we must do more to address racial discrimination and to protect youth of color. It is time the U.S. is held accountable for the actions of law enforcement officials and pushed to develop alternatives to the criminalization of youth. Hopefully, the recent international scrutiny can support advocates currently taking to the streets in solidarity to show that the lives and future of minority youth do matter.

Tawakalitu Amusa is a third-year law student in the International Womens Human Rights Clinic at the City University of New York Law School. IWHR submitted a report to the U.N. Committee Against Torture with the Campaign For Youth Justice and other groups.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

JPI New Report - Sticker Shock: Calculating the Full Price Tag for Youth Incarceration

Thirty-three U.S. states and jurisdictions spend $100,000 or more annually to incarcerate a young person, and continue to generate outcomes that result in even greater costs. Justice Policy Institute's  new report, Sticker Shock: Calculating the Full Price Tag for Youth Incarceration, provides estimates of the overall costs resulting from the negative outcomes associated with incarceration. The report finds that these long-term consequences of incarcerating young people could cost taxpayers $8 billion to $21 billion each year.


Additional Resources

The information contained in Sticker Shock is based on emerging and new work that seeks to quantify what the long-term costs incarceration can have on young people, taxpayers and our communities, and what action policymakers can take to reduce these costs, and help young people. 

Along with Sticker Shock, JPI recommends these other additional resources to help the field build its understanding of these issues:

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Fund What Matters: the Future of Justice

Campaign for Youth Justice
Marcy Mistrett

In recent years, several states have made great progress in creating fairer, more effective juvenile justice systems.  Many of these changes have happened over time and with little media coveragein many cases, few residents of these states are aware of the extent and impact of these improvements.

Even less well-known is the role that federal funding plays in states ability to strengthen systems in a way that enables young people to get back on track and keeps communities safer.

Despite a universally recognized need to further reduce delinquency and improve juvenile justice systems, federal appropriations for key federal juvenile justice programs have suffered in the last decade.  Federal funding available to support implementation of the Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA)the nations main juvenile justice lawand other state and local reforms has steadily declined by 83 percent from 1999 to 2010,  and the appropriations caps contained in the Budget Control Act of 2011 have only accelerated the scope of the cuts.

Last week, the Act-4-JJ Campaign submitted a letter to President Obama to encourage adequate funding for juvenile justice in his fiscal year 2016 budget recommendations, which he is expected to release early next year.  Our recommendations to the President underscore how important the federal investments in state juvenile justice efforts are to protecting youth and promoting community safety.

While not nearly enough to cover the cuts of the last 15 years, we are asking the President to restore the JJDPA Title II State Formula Grants program to at least $80 million.  These funds support state systems that protect children from the dangers of adult jails and lockups; keep status offenders out of locked custody; and address the racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system.  In addition, we made recommendations to the Administration to fund delinquency prevention, juvenile accountability, and community-based violence prevention efforts.

Act-4-JJ also supports President Obamas efforts to focus on the needs of system-involved girls and to reduce youth incarceration through the Juvenile Justice Realignment Incentive Grants, which promote community based alternatives to youth detention.

If the Administration and Congress do not act, the result will not be a steady state rather, it will mean a de facto decline in the funding for and impact of the nations primary law governing juvenile justice approaches across the country.

The JJDPA is more than seven years overdue for reauthorization. As a result, funding has declined more than 50 percent, including an 80 percent decrease in Title V fundingthe only federal program that provides delinquency prevention funding at a local level.  States have used Title V funds to support critical programs that are proven to keep youth and communities safer. Counties in Tennessee, for example, invested Title V funds in an afterschool program that led to a significant drop in school offenses among participants, and helped 97 percent of the kindergartners involved enter school more prepared. Kansas used funds for girls empowerment, teen court and conflict resolution programs, with more than 79 percent  of participants demonstrating positive long-term changes in behavior. This funding matters to local communities.

Congress has also zeroed out the Juvenile Accountability Block Grants (JABG) funding: money that law enforcement used to increase diversion programs, and other jurisdictions used reduce youth recidivism.

In order for states and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to continue their steadfast work on protecting vulnerable children, reducing over-reliance on incarceration, and implementing programs that we know work JJDPA needs to be funded and renewed this year.

After the recent elections, it is critical that President Obama prioritize juvenile justice reform as part of his commitment to building a healthier nation.  Criminal justice reform is one area where bipartisan support in the next Congress is possible, and it is imperative that juvenile justice is part of that effort.


Marcy Mistrett is the President & CEO of the Campaign for Youth Justice and co-chair of the ACT4JJ Campaign.

This post is part of the JJDPA Matters blog, a project of the Act4JJ Campaign with help from SparkAction.

The JJDPA, the nation's landmark juvenile justice law, turned 40 in September 2014. To mark this anniversary, Act4JJ member organizations and allies will post blogs on issues related to the JJDPA throughout the fall and winter. To learn more and take action in support of JJDPA, visit the Act4JJ JJDPA Matters Action Center, powered by SparkAction.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

In Recognition of the 25th Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child

By Jessica Sandoval

In recognition of Universal Childrens Day (UCD), first declared by the United Nations in 1954 and the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC),  Georgetown Laws Human Rights Institute and the Juvenile Justice Clinic held a panel discussion titled Childrens Rights and Juvenile Justice: Victories, Challenges, and Opportunities.  The rich discussion covered the importance of having such a treaty and the need for the United States to finally ratify it. Currently, the United States remains only one of three nations to not sign the treatySomalia and Iran are the other two nations.  

It was a reminder that the treaty and conventions hold remarkable possibilities for improving the lives of children under the age of 18 in the youth justice movement and other fields.  These international laws set a higher standard of care for children than our current laws do and are grounded in the idea that children should have special protections.  

According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, youth in conflict with the law should be separated from adults when incarcerated and receive treatment appropriate to their age, with a focus on rehabilitation.  This is obviously contrary to the current US practice, as youth are routinely prosecuted as adults. It is estimated that there are as many as 200,000 youth in the adult court system every year.   The automatic application of transfer to the adult court ignores everything we know about the harms to public safety, opportunities for rehabilitation, and the safety of youth who suffer in adult facilities. 

Today is the 25th Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and we should be steadfast in our efforts to encourage the United States to ratify the CRC to ensure that we will offer the same human rights protection that almost every country in the world offers to their children.  We must demand that there is more awareness brought to this issue through our networks and other fields.  We are capable of doing more to insist that these policies are applied to create the protections outlined in the CRC to all children in the United States of America.  

Lets all hold each other accountable for protecting our children and work together to build a nation that is more healing than harmful.

For information about the CRC visit:

Campaign for U.S. Ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child

Child Rights Information Network (CRIN)

Friday, November 7, 2014

California: Poised for Juvenile Justice Reform in 2015

By: Carmen Daugherty

On November 4th, Californians took a major step towards rolling back harsh laws that put thousands of adults and youth behind bars and in the criminal justice system for years. Passage of Proposition 47, the SafeNeighborhoods and Schools Act of 2014, signaled a change from tough on crime to smart on crime. The Act amends penalties for crimes such as shoplifting, receiving stolen property, and drug possession. Such crimes now only can be charged as misdemeanors and such offenders will no longer end up in prison. 

It also allows defendants who have served time or are currently in prison to petition a court to have their sentences or criminal records adjusted to remove their felony convictions. Such a change can affect upwards of 10,000 prisoners in California, but not those convicted of rape, murder, or child molestation. 

This statute will positively affect the nearly 1000 youth subject to the adult criminal justice system in California each year. Just in October, the California Alliance for Youth and Community Justice released a report, "Treat Kids as Kids: Why Youth Should Be Kept in the Juvenile System," documenting the harms inflicted upon youth when transferred to the adult system. The report shares that while black youth were only 6 percent of Californias adolescent population in 2012, they were more than a quarter of youth given adult court dispositions and nine times more likely than white youth to be sentenced to adult prison. Further, juvenile judges were more likely to find black and Latino youth unfit for juvenile dispositions and transfer them the adult system in California. 

California made significant changes to its laws in both 2012 and 2013 by enacting SB 9 and SB 260 which focused on the opportunity for parole hearings for defendants who committed crimes before the age of 18. Now is the time for California to continue pushing for reform and reverse the damaging trends of treating youth as adults. The California Alliance for Youth and Community Justice makes salient recommendations to reduce the number of youth in the adult system, including:

  1.  Eliminating Direct File: California gives prosecutors broad discretion to file juvenile cases in adult courts, without fitness hearings.Use of direct file has caused the rates of youth prosecution in the adult system to increase dramatically.
  2. Collecting and Publishing Better Data: To understand the full picture of youth in the adult system in California, policymakers should require systems to collect data on what happens, from charging to sentencing, of youth in the adult system. 
  3. Restricting Judicial Waivers: Currently, 25% of youth sent to the adult system are a result of judicial waiver. Therefore, the coalition recommends prohibiting its use for first time offenders and recommends that youth should be presumed fit to remain in the juvenile court.
As California gears up for another legislative session, the Campaign supports these recommendations and looks forward to the advocacy efforts ahead.