BREAKING AWAY FROM THE MISGUIDED HABIT OF CRIMINALIZING YOUNG SEX TRAFFICKING VICTIMS
A notable new report calls for law enforcement and prosecutors to stop treating minors involved in prostitution as criminals and start treating them as victims.
Throwing these kids into justice system greatly damages their chances of breaking free from the grip of prostitution and stacks the odds against successful adult lives, according to the report by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council and sponsored by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
The Center for Public Integrity’s Susan Ferriss has more on the report. Here’s how the piece opens:
Police and prosecutors should treat juveniles accused of prostitution as victims of crime and abuse and stop arresting these minors and putting them into the criminal justice system, according to a report released Tuesday by Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council.
The institute and council are under the auspices of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences. The report, “Confronting Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking of Minors in the United States” was sponsored by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention at the U.S. Department of Justice.
Justice officials were particularly interested in learning more about “punitive” responses to the trafficking of youth for prostitution, researchers said. They noted that youths involved in child pornography are not arrested, while minors who engage in prostitution by and large are still arrested.
A movement is growing in justice circles that opposes arresting juvenile prostitutes, researchers said. Reformers believe arrests may just inflict more damage on youth who are already fragile. But only nine states as of spring 2012 had enacted versions of “safe harbor” laws ensuring that teens accused of prostitution are treated as victims and exempted from prosecution. The team that produced the report is urging all federal, state and municipal jurisdictions to “redirect” victims” under the age of 18 away from arrest and prosecution and “toward systems, agencies and services that are equipped to meet their needs.”
“These are children that are prostituted. These are children that are harmed. These are not criminals,” Ellen Wright Clayton, a physician and member of the team, said at a press conference in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday.
LA County Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe have co-authored a motion that calls for county leaders to come together and establish guidelines for handling (and helping) sex-trafficked kids.
Here’s a clip from MRT’s website:
The motion, co-authored by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe, directs the Chief Executive Office to bring together the departments of Probation, Children and Family Services, Public Social Services, Mental Health, Public Health, Health Services, the District Attorney and the Sheriff’s Department and come up with an implementation plan.
Currently, the county does not have a protocol to help children that are trafficked and so many end-up without services or help and go back out on the street. The protocol would ensure they are placed in a safe environment, enrolled in school and given proper physical and mental health services.
(LA Times’ Steve Lopez also has an excellent article on sex trafficking in LA County and the Supes’ motion.)
And over in New York this week, chief judge Jonathan Lippman announced the first state-wide Human Trafficking Intervention Courts in the nation. The new system will combat the all-too-common criminalization of sex trafficking victims, and will provide, in addition to a reduced or dismissed sentence, court-ordered programs and resources to keep defendants off the streets and away from prostitution.
An NY Times editorial explains why the new courts are a step in the right direction. Here are some clips:
A handful of cities across the country, including Baltimore and Phoenix, have specialized courts that deal with sex-trafficking offenses. On Wednesday, Judge Lippman announced the creation of the nation’s first statewide system of specialized criminal courts to handle prostitution-related offenses and make services available to help sex-trafficking victims escape their abusive situations and forge new lives.
“This new initiative will stop the pattern of shuffling trafficking victims through our criminal courtrooms without addressing the underlying reasons they are there in the first place,” Judge Lippman said.
The program borrows, in some respects, from the state’s system of specialized courts that deal with domestic violence and low-level drug offenses. It calls for prostitution-related cases to be evaluated by the judge, defense lawyer and prosecutor. If they agree, the court will connect defendants to critical services like safe shelter, medical and drug treatment, immigration assistance and education and job training that can help prevent a return to the sex industry. Contingent upon the defendants’ compliance with court-ordered services and programs, the charges may be dismissed or reduced, enabling the defendants to avoid a criminal record with damaging repercussions for housing, employment, college financial aid, government benefits and immigration status.
THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT’S SHIFT TOWARD A MORE RESTORATIVE APPROACH TO JUVENILE JUSTICE
In addition to the moves that Eric Holder’s been making on drug crimes and federal sentencing, there has been a new push on the part of the DOJ to change the conversation about juvenile justice.
For instance, since becoming administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention at the beginning of the year, Robert Listenbee has enthusiastically advocating a more trauma-informed approach to youth justice.
Listenbee, a former co-chair of the National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence and a public defender, says his aim is to keep kids “in school and out of courts.”
KPCC’s Carrie Johnson has the story. Here’s a clip:
Before he joined the federal government, Listenbee co-chaired the National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence. Now he’s the man in charge of making its recommendations come to life. His report — packed with recommendations about the need for more research and attention on boys, rural areas and the education system — attracted scant attention because it emerged on the same day as the shooting rampage in Newtown, Conn., where Adam Lanza killed 20 children and six adult staff members at the Sandy Hook school.
But more attention could come Thursday in Northern Virginia, where mayors, police chiefs, educators and young people will join Listenbee, Attorney General Eric Holder and Office of Justice Programs chief Karol Mason to talk about reducing gang activity and other violence that affects kids across the country.
“It’s important for everyone to recognize that the trauma that comes from exposure to violence is multifaceted,” Listenbee says. “Children who are sexually assaulted, boys and girls, experience the trauma very differently from other kinds of exposure. Children who experience community violence … also have a different kind of trauma. Each one requires a specific type of treatment. … We are [at] the beginning of this era of understanding the impact of exposure to violence and the kinds of treatment that are needed … and we’re going to be dealing with this for a long time.”
He points out that the idea that children are different from adults and that there’s a need to understand their brain development if they have brushes with the law has won support from the U.S. Supreme Court in several recent decisions. So his office and other parts of the Justice Department are supporting research to understand those differences — and to offer advice to states, where most of the juvenile justice money is spent.
On Thursday, Listenbee joined AG Eric Holder and other DOJ officials at the Summit on Preventing Youth Violence in Virginia. Ten cities, including San Jose and Salinas, CA sent representatives and kids to be a part of the symposium.
ABC’s MaryAlice Parks has more on the summit. Here are some clips:
Children — many of whom were victims of crimes themselves — took center stage at the summit. From California to Louisiana, high school and college students who had survived violence in their own rough communities, and in many cases participated in violence too, spoke about what was and was not working in their neighborhoods.
“Instead of preparing for the ACT or filling out college applications or even going to prom or graduation,” Briana Winters, 17, of Memphis said, “youth in my city are dying because of senseless violence or being put in jail for pulling the trigger.”
But these young people also expressed optimism, often singling out individuals or organizations that had made a difference in their lives.
Darren Alridge, from New Orleans, talked about mentoring other high school students after he was released from prison and completed his GED. “They all loved it when I was coming to school and feeding them positive thoughts, so I kinda figured if I can talk to 10 men and change one to two lives, then I can talk to 100 and change 10 or 20.”
(You can read AG Eric Holder’s opening speech at the summit here.)
On a related note, next week is the National Week of Action on School Pushout when advocates across twenty-four states will rally against zero-tolerance school discipline policies and the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
Here are the listed events in California between Sept. 28 and Oct. 5:
Los Angeles, CA:
DSC-Los Angeles Chapter Members
(CADRE, Public Counsel, Children’s Defense Fund-CA, ACLU of Southern California)
Youth forum and other local events promoting School-Wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS)
Long Beach, CA:
Youth Committee of Building Healthy Communities
Saturday, October 5 at 1:00pm
The Art Theater of Long Beach
2025 E 4th St., Long Beach, CA
Talk it Out: A Community Conversation to Fix School Discipline performance and discussion
Black Organizing Project
Monday, September 30 at 6:00pm
Oakland Peace Center 111 Fairmount Ave
Pushback on Pushout Potluck to engage youth and partner organizations
DSC Bay Area Chapter
Monday, September 30
Youth Council Meeting to discuss school pushout
ACLU of Northern California
Monday, September 30
Produce video of 3-5 youth talking about how school pushout impacts LGBTQ youth
GSA Network of CA
Thursday, October 3 from 4:00pm to 5:30pm
Zimmerman Boys and Girls Club
540 N. Augusta St.
Rally and Youth Speak Out on Restorative Justice, in alliance with Black Student Union clubs, Californians for Justice clubs, and Friday Night Live clubs
CONTRACTED PROBATION COMPANIES FORCE PROBATIONERS TO PAY HEFTY SUMS FOR THEIR SUPERVISION, LOCK ‘EM UP WHEN THEY DEFAULT
With all the attention focused on the conflict of interest presented by the private prison industry, which has to keep its cells full in order to make money, we are now finding a newly alarming area in which private industry intersects with criminal justice: the world of probation.
This week’s story by Nicole Flatow of Think Progress offers a disturbing example:
She writes of how a Georgia judge ruled last week that the private probation company Sentinel Offender Service had been illegally increasing sentences of probationers who could not pay their monthly probation fees, essentially creating a work-around debtors prison.
Here are some clips:
In January, Nathan Ryan Mantooth was sentenced to 12 months of probation for an improper lane change by a county judge in Georgia. He was ordered to pay a $420 fine, attend a driver improvement course, and pay a monthly probation supervision fee of $35 to Sentinel Offender Services, a private probation firm. He paid the fee and completed the course within a week of his sentencing. Twice, he went to Sentinel to submit his certificate of completion but was told his name was not yet in the computer. But when he was pulled over two months later for failure to wear a seatbelt, police found an outstanding warrant filed by Sentinel for a probation violation, and took him into custody.
Last week, a Georgia county judge ruled that Sentinel Offender Service had illegally extended the sentence of Mantooth and potentially thousands of others who were required to pay the firm monthly probation fees, and was illegally ordering electronic monitoring for misdemeanor offenders — prohibited by state law — while charging probationers for their own monitoring.
In this class action lawsuit, Sentinel’s lawyer admitted to Judge Daniel Craig that, when the firm finds individuals have violated their probation, it makes no attempt to find them immediately and bring them before a judge. Instead, employees just issue probation warrants that can sit for years until an individual’s next encounter with the police reveals an open warrant that lands them in jail. At that point, they cannot dispute their incarceration until they can be brought before a judge during a regular session of court to show that their probation has ended, or that they have already completed their obligations.
At least ten states used private probation as of a 2007 report published by Georgia State University.
And here’s another look at the issue by the president of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, Harry C. Alford:
Like our current prison system, probation is no longer about rehabilitation. It has turned into a profit game and recidivism makes business better. Yes, probation is being privatized and local, state and federal governments no longer have to be responsible for funding the program. The programs are being turned over to private corporations. The funding is coming from the offenders.
Most offenders have lived in poverty for the majority of their life. It is hard, if not impossible, for people living below the poverty level to be able to fund their own probation. This fact makes our new system evil and oppressive.
It doesn’t improve our society by rehabilitating our offenders but ensures that the offenders are forever in trouble. The chances of escaping are remote. Because private probation services are motivated by income, the heavier the caseload, the more the revenue.