Critical Juvenile Justice System Needs, Senate Committee Hearing on Prisons, March Against Child Sex Trafficking, and Gay Marriage in IllinoisNovember 8th, 2013 by Taylor Walker
(Jump down to the second section for the story on the above photo.)
COMPONENTS OF A COMPETENT JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM
In an op-ed for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, Judge George Timberlake says locking kids up should be considered the last available option and used “for the shortest time possible.” He says, however, that putting fewer kids behind bars is not the only missing piece of the youth justice reform puzzle.
Here are some clips:
The overwhelming lessons of science and experience should be enough to convince policymakers to use detention, jail or prison as a last resort and for the shortest time possible. Instead, most states perpetuate large punitive institutions at great cost even though best practices demonstrate that local community-based, family-involved treatment is more effective at reducing juvenile crime. Imprisonment fails as a strategy to rehabilitate because it seldom changes behavior except to worsen it.
I do not mean that incarceration is never necessary nor that any state should ignore the need for swift action to remove a kid from the public in exigent circumstances. And I don’t mean that any kid should not be held accountable for his or her criminal actions.
But our juvenile justice systems should be held accountable also – to increase public safety through attention to the individual circumstances of a child in conflict with the law.
…sending fewer kids to prison is only one step on the path to a rational, competent and effective system. What follows is a list of some necessary components – means to the ends of greater public safety, positive outcomes for kids in conflict with the law and greater fiscal responsibility.
- Data. The system often doesn’t have research data or ignores it. Instead, it relies upon shorthand formulas, such as bright-line rules like “three strikes and you are out of society and into prison.” Real world information about the characteristics of the juvenile population is needed at all decision points in the system.
- Restorative justice. Crime creates real harm to real people, not just an infraction against state rules. The offender, the victim and the community must be included…
- Training. Creating a common vocabulary and a common understanding of juvenile characteristics, science and effective practices requires training at all levels.
(Read the rest from Judge Timberlake, former Chief Judge of Illinois’ Second Circuit and current Chair of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission.)
“IF THESE WALLS COULD TALK”
Bokeh, the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange’s art blog, has featured some wonderful photographic creations by kids in an art program at a Rhode Island detention center. The program, known as AS 220, serves kids in the state’s juvenile detention center, and holds classes at a middle school for at-risk youths and in the community through their brick and mortar studio. Creative programs like this one have proven to be hugely beneficial by providing kids with an emotional outlet, and a sense of empowerment and self-worth, and by helping them develop problem-solving skills.
Here’s a clip from Katy McCarthy’s story on the program:
In the striking images from AS 220’s “If these walls could talk,” the magic made is not an illusion. Like a surrealist painting, the manipulated photos employ metaphor and symbol to create dynamic portraits.
Two students pose with giant light wings blossoming out behind them: Her’s white and linear, his multi-colored confetti-like squiggles.
We all know the myth of Icarus. If you fly too close to the sun you’re bound to be burned, an appropriate analogy for young people reflecting on the decisions they’ve made and paths they have chosen.
Scott Lapham, the program’s photography coordinator, is the adult brain behind the project. As he sees it, “Ancient Greek myths are of great interest because their characters often posses both supernatural powers and human frailties … [the students] are also encouraged to reflect on how the myths of Icarus, Odysseus and Midas can pertain to their own past and future decision making.”
It seems especially crucial that children serving time for mistakes they have made should be able to re-compose their histories up to that point. Reflect on their lives and situations as something other than “system-involved.”
TWO TAKES ON SENATE HEARINGS ON FEDERAL PRISON POLICY
A US Senate Judiciary Committee hearing was held on Wednesday to discuss problems facing federal prisons. The hearing featured testimony by Bureau of Prisons Chief Charles Samuels Jr., who said that overcrowding in federal prisons is putting prison guards in danger. Samuels endorsed AG Eric Holder’s reform package as a solution, and also stressed the importance of rehabilitative reentry programs to curb recidivism.
The Huffington Post’s Saki Knafo and Ryan J. Reilly have the story. Here’s a clip:
“The staff are putting their lives on the line every single day,” said Samuels in his testimony at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on challenges facing the federal prison system.
There is one corrections officer for every 150 inmates in the system’s housing units, Samuels noted. To manage this population, the bureau is doubling and tripling the number of inmates bunking cells, and converting television rooms and open bays into sleeping quarters.
Still, “challenges remain as the inmate population continues to increase,” Samuels said.
There are 219,000 inmates in the federal prison system, compared with 25,000 in 1980, according to Bureau of Justice Statistics. Nearly half of these inmates are in prison for drug crimes.
Changing how the government prosecutes those crimes could help reduce overcrowding, Samuels said.
He endorsed U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s “Smart on Crime” initiative, which calls for federal prosecutors to consider providing certain non-violent offenders with access to special drug courts and other alternatives to incarceration.
These efforts “will help stem the tide of offenders entering the bureau and lead to lower average sentences where appropriate, and thus should decrease our population somewhat over the long term,” Samuels said.
Andrew Cohen of the Atlantic, was critical of the hearings and felt that senators failed to ask Samuels the hard questions on crucial issues. Here are some clips:
If you think Congressional “oversight” of an unelected official who controls the everyday lives of over 200,000 American prisoners ought to include probing questions and candid answers about dubious life-or-death practices and policies, then you surely would have been disappointed Wednesday morning watching members of the Senate Judiciary Committee play patty-cake with Bureau of Prisons Director Charles Samuels.
Only Senator Richard Durbin, the Democrat from Illinois, mustered up a serious question for the prisons chief. In fact, he asked one of the questions I had asked someone to ask of Samuels. Senator Durbin wanted to know: What had the Bureau of Prisons done since June 2012, the last time Samuels appeared before the Judiciary Committee, to study the relationship between solitary confinement and mental illness among federal inmates? It’s a question that goes to the heart of the BOP’s most controversial practice—as well as one that directly implicates the “cost” component of confinement.
Samuels told the Committee that there are approximately 4,000 fewer inmates in “restricted housing” today than there were then but, given the bureaucratic nature of prison-speak, it’s hard to know precisely what that means. Samuels did not even mention mentally ill federal prisoners in his response to Senator Durbin’s question about them. The senator, for his part, inexplicably did not press the BOP chief for such a response, and then the pair moved on to talk about the relative costs of confinement at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as opposed to confinement on the American mainland.
That was it. From this Committee, that single question and non-responsive answer was the extent of anything that could be remotely considered “oversight” in the classic sense of that word. Sure, they talked about how expensive it is to house federal prisoners—far more expensive than it is to house state prisoners. And they talked about how important it is to ensure the safety of correctional officers. And they talked about all the shiny programs the BOP says it employs to help inmates prepare themselves for their eventual release.
But true accountability and transparency? No.
MRT’S MARCH AGAINST CHILD EXPLOITATION THROUGH SEX TRAFFICKING
In his November newsletter, LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas announced a march and rally for Los Angeles’ children who have fallen victim to human trafficking. The march will take place on November 21st from 6:30p.m. to 8:30p.m. along Long Beach Blvd. Ridley-Thomas has been pushing for new solutions on this issue, and we hope he keeps it up.
Here’s a clip from Supe. Ridley-Thomas’ website:
“I encourage anyone who is concerned about the welfare of our children to join us Friday, November 21,” said the Chairman. “A concerned community must turn out to let these victims know we care, tell the neighborhood that this blight will not be tolerated and to send a warning to the customers and traffickers that we are watching you and we will come after you.”
On any given day along a stretch of Long Beach Boulevard that traverses the cities of Compton, Lynwood and into South Gate, scores of young girls can be seen walking along in short skirts and tight tops while older men in cars slow down to arrange a purchase. It continues to be called prostitution, yet in many cases it is not – it is actually the sex trafficking of children. Trafficking is an increasingly sophisticated and lucrative trade that is now largely run by gangs as part of a criminal enterprise. With victims often expected to have sex with as many as 20 adult men per night, and a nightly quota set by the pimp to bring in between $1,000 to $3,500 per day, it is also becoming more profitable than drug dealing.
GAY MARRIAGE ARRIVES IN ILLINOIS
In case you missed it, Illinois lawmakers passed a gay marriage bill on Thursday. After Gov. Pat Quinn signs the bill on Nov. 20th, Illinois will join the list of (now) fifteen states that boast marriage equality.