Imprisonment Still Legal for Under-13s in Many States

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Campaigning for the passing of “Raise the Age Laws” in juvenile justice systems across the U.S. has become a very popular crusade for advocates in recent years, with the aim of keeping children under the age of 18 from being sent to adult prisons when they commit a crime. What has managed to fly under the radar of many of these advocates, however, is the fact that, in many states, children under 13 can still be legally sent to a juvenile detention facility for a crime. In fact, about two thirds of U.S. states have absolutely no minimum age at which a child can be found guilty of a delinquent act. This fact runs contrary to years of research that has shown young people’s brains continue to grow and change well in to their 20s, making them less competent than adults when it comes to making decisions and controlling their actions.

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Topics: Juvenile Justice Reform

Youth in Solitary Confinement

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AdobeStock_245216204Solitary confinement is defined as the isolation of an incarcerated person for 22 to 24 hours per day; often the only interactions a prisoner can expect during solitary are brief encounters with prison guards. Evidence found in the International Journal of Offender Therapy & Comparative Criminology points to the historical Quakers as being the originators of solitary confinement, and it was initially intended to be used as a way to make prisoners take a few days to reflect on their wrongdoings. It wasn’t long, however, before solitary confinement instead came to be used in prisons as a form of punishment, sometimes lasting for weeks, months, and in some cases, even years. The first research into the effects of solitary confinement dates back to the 1830s, after the practice had been introduced to the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. Many visitors reported seeing a high rate of mental breakdown among prisoners in solitary, one of the most famous being Charles Dickens, who toured the facility while visiting the United States. Dickens described solitary confinement as a “slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain,” that was “immeasurably worse than any torture of the body.”

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Topics: Juvenile Justice Reform

Helping States Comply With the JJDPA

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JJDPAWhen the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) was passed into law in 1974, a part of the legislation included the creation of State Advisory Groups (SAGs). While the official names for each SAG across the U.S. is determined by the state, they all have the same purpose: to ensure that states are following the JJDPA, acting as a liaison between federal and state governments. SAGs have the authority to help set program goals, to help guide the writing and implementation of new policies, to create a three-year state juvenile justice and delinquency prevention plan, and to administer federal funds received through the JJDPA. This role includes deciding how best to spend each state’s annual federal grants, which have in recent years been on the decline. This reduction in funding has required SAGs to adapt and become more creative with yearly budgeting in order to follow federal regulations, a task that is becoming increasingly difficult for them to manage in order to keep their state in compliance.

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Topics: Juvenile Justice Reform

When Funding Juvenile Justice Programs, Communities Need to Be Creative

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lightbulb fundingThe move away from traditional detention settings for juvenile offenders, and instead toward more rehabilitative ones, has been a process long in the making in juvenile justice departments across the United States. Many states have made great strides in relying less on incarceration and more on community-based alternative services for their young offenders. Often, the biggest roadblock that states run into in attempting to make these types of changes to their systems is figuring out exactly how to fund them. This very question is the subject of a recently released report by researchers at the Urban Institute, who suggest that communities simply need to get creative when it comes to funding juvenile justice programs. According to Samantha Harvell, a principal policy associate at the institute, “It’s time to shift the conversation to a solutions-based approach.” 

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Topics: Juvenile Justice Reform

Homelessness After Juvenile Detention

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Seattle resident David Vanwetter’s living situation as a teen was never entirely stable. He was often shuttled between his two divorced parents’ homes and the home of a family friend; and at just 13, Vanwetter began spending the majority of his time on the streets, where he began using methamphetamine and acquired a gun. Within a few short years, Vanwetter had already been in and out of the state’s juvenile justice system about a dozen times. Most of the times he was arrested, Vanwetter was homeless, which left him with no place to go once he was released. This entangled him in a cycle of detention and homelessness. “I’d get out of juvie and I’d already know, well, I’m going to be back to juvie soon,” said Vanwetter, who is now 21. “But what I didn’t know was how to not be homeless.”

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Topics: Juvenile Justice Reform

A Juvenile's Right to an Attorney

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AdobeStock_162624090More than a decade ago, Utah resident Tanner Atwood-Bowen was a teenager the night he and two friends found a four-wheeler and took it for a spin around their neighborhood. Although the boys knew this was a mistake, officers soon arrested them. Atwood-Bowen later admitted to a felony theft charge in Utah's juvenile justice system and was required to pay the court about $5,000 in fees. A year later he was able to have the record expunged -- and yet the conviction has still managed to follow him into his adult life. In 2017 Atwood-Bowen was in the process of training as a probation officer, which requires the disclosure of felony convictions. As his juvenile record was expunged, Atwood-Bowen did not include it on his application per a court worker’s instructions. But a police standards board accused Atwood-Bowen of lying on his application, and ultimately barred him from working in law enforcement for two years. Since then he has gone on to open his own real estate business, but the police standard’s board decision, as a matter of public record, comes up in Google results when his name is searched, and Atwood-Bowen says this has hurt his ability to grow his business. Atwood-Bowen, who is now 29, believes that he could have avoided these professional issues related to his conviction if he had been allowed access to an attorney.

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Topics: Juvenile Justice Reform

Criminal Records Can Follow a Youth Into Adulthood

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AdobeStock_196632447As soon as a juvenile comes into contact with law enforcement, a criminal record is opened on them, and this record will contain every single document that is created by the police department, court, district attorney and probation department in relation to the juvenile’s criminal activity. A common misconception about juvenile records is the belief that, once a juvenile turns 18, the record disappears; this, however, is often not the case, and a juvenile criminal record can create serious obstacles in adulthood. A juvenile record can prevent a young person from receiving financial aid to assist with college tuition, harm their ability to get a job or join the military, and impede licensure eligibility for certain professions. It can also affect eligibility for public housing, not only for the juvenile, but also for the family they are residing with. In recent years, some states have added laws to try and keep juvenile records from haunting adults, but not all states have such safeguards in place.

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Topics: Juvenile Justice Reform

Special Needs Youth and The Juvenile Justice System

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special needs juvenile justice systemWhen Toney Jennings was arrested in 2010, he was a 16-year-old being raised by his grandmother in Caledonia, Mississippi. He loved playing football and going fishing. Despite having a diagnosed learning disability and an Individualized Educational Program (IEP), by the time he was in high school, Jennings was so far behind in school that he was labelled as illiterate. A series of behavioral issues led his teachers to recommend that Jennings’ grandmother send him to an alternative school. When he entered the school, Jennings read at a kindergartener’s level and his math skills were that of a first grader. But he began making progress there, where teachers were able to give him the individual help his IEP entitled him to. Being arrested, however, stopped his progress in its tracks. That’s because, for the six months that Jennings was in a juvenile detention facility, he didn’t attend any classes at all. Instead, Jennings says that he watched television, played basketball, and “basically just stayed to myself.”

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Topics: Juvenile Justice Reform

Student Drug Testing: Helpful or Harmful?

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AdobeStock_185014259Providing students with a safe and healthy learning environment is the goal of school administrators across the nation, and in the last few decades this goal has grown to include preventing students from using tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. One of the first programs to address this issue was D.A.R.E., which began in Los Angeles in the early 1980s. Studies on the program’s efficacy, however, have shown the results to be mixed at best, and in some cases, the prevalence of drug use in teens increased. In response to this, school administrators began looking elsewhere to find solutions to this issue. Some administrators drew inspiration from workplace drug testing policies, the result of which has been the implementation of random drug testing programs for students in schools across the nation. Such policies have left both parents and students alike uneasy about the process, and experts unconvinced of such a policy’s effectiveness to curb youth substance use. 

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Topics: Juvenile Justice Reform, Substance Abuse

Pepper Spray Still Allowed in Some Juvenile Facilities

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AdobeStock_193733239Twenty-five-year-old Lonnie Wright grew up in East Oakland, an area well known for its high levels of crime. “We were just in the heart of drugs, violence and guns and death,” says Wright of his childhood. Growing up, his involvement in his school’s football team kept Wright out of trouble; when he lost his spot on the high school team, that began to change. Wright lost interest in school and began getting into trouble. The first time he ended up in juvenile hall for stealing a car, he was just sixteen, and it didn’t take long for Wright to find that pepper spray was used with alarming frequency when the inmates didn’t listen to instructions, or when fights broke out.

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Topics: Juvenile Justice Reform