We try to spotlight the work our members do every day at the state and local level to reform the juvenile justice system.
Here's a small selection of their recent work:
Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition
The Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition Helps Put an End to Unlimited Prosecutorial Discretion in Direct-File Cases
In this video, Kim Dvorchak, director of the Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition (an NJJN member) talks about the organization's successful campaign to end the practice of giving prosecutors unlimited discretion to charge youth in adult court.
Missouri Juvenile Justice Association
Real Progress on Reducing Disproportionate Minority Contact
Jurisdictions across the country have struggled to make significant, measurable progress reducing disproportionate minority contact (DMC) in the juvenile justice system. But the Missouri Juvenile Justice Association (MJJA)—an NJJN member – appears to be making remarkable progress.
MJJA noticed that African-American youths were 2.36 times more likely to be referred from to juvenile court than their white counterparts statewide.
According to MJJA’s DMC Coordinator, Carolyn Kampeter, the organization selected counties to work with based on: population aged 10-16; the county’s Relative Rate Index (RRI), or the comparative rates at which minority youth and white youth are referred to juvenile court relative to their proportion of the population; and community readiness for change.
To address the disproportionality, MJJA reached out to a broad range of stakeholders in each county – including juvenile probation, school leadership, law enforcement, youth and parent advocates, service providers, faith-based organizations, and community funders – and built a collaborative team to work on solutions.
Each community was unique, but one of the greatest challenges MJJA faced was joining together organizations that had not worked together previously. “It takes a little work to get to know the community,” Kampeter said. However, once MJJA’s team got the right people involved, they started seeing results.
MJJA began work in May of 2010 and by the end of the year, disproportionate minority contact dwindled across the board in the counties where MJJA was working— African-American youths were just 2.24 times more likely to be referred to juvenile court than their white counterparts, compared to 2.36 times as likely in 2009. While this may seem to be a subtle drop, it amounts to 1,019 fewer minority referrals in 2010 compared to 2009. Given that few communities have had success in affecting disproportionate minority contact, this represents a notable victory, and the value of this work can be seen on the local level when reviewing numbers county by county. (See chart below.)
Missouri’s lower numbers are a direct result of local collaborative teams identifying those offenses where youth sanctions were disproportionately applied, and working together to correct the overrepresentation of African-American youth. For example, in Cole County, MJJA orchestrated a change in school resource officer policy in which the schools started handling minor offenses; that change alone cut the disproportionality by half. The disproportionality diminished even further when, noting that many of the youth involved in these activities were new to the area, the Cole County school district hired a transition counselor to help new kids get settled.
While Kampeter acknowledges the difficulty of the task that lies ahead, she is optimistic. “I expect more results and things that we can replicate from one county to another,” says Kampeter. She cites persistence as the key to future successes. “It’s not easy and it’s not quick, but it is very important.”
The tools used in Missouri can be applied across the country for similar results. States interested in learning more about how they can duplicate MJJA’s results should contact Carolyn Kampeter, DMC Coordinator for Missouri Juvenile Justice Association.
MJJA’s DMC work was made possible through the Missouri Department of Public Safety and the Missouri Juvenile Justice Advisory Group from funding provided by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
Youth Justice Coalition (Los Angeles)
Breaking Up the School-to-Prison Pipeline
Youth advocates -- including one of our members, the L.A.-based Youth Justice Coalition -- united against a "daytime curfew" law that was criminalizing students in L.A. schools. Under the law, youth were indiscriminately ticketed by police for truancy -- many times when they had legitimate reasons not to be in school, or were even on their way to class.
Tickets carried heavy fines and were issued predominantly to youth and families of color, many of whom were unable to afford the fines. Receiving a ticket required the youth to appear in court at least twice with a parent, so students missed more school-time and their parents often had to leave work (and forego income) to make court appearances.
The Youth Justice Coalition and its many allies argued that this was unfair and criminalized youth, drawing them unnecessarily into the court system -- all without providing any attention or services to address root causes of why students were not in school.
After at least five years of work, the campaign successfully convinced the Los Angeles City Council in February 2012 to change the law. Now, students cannot receive truancy tickets on school campuses, and the first two offenses must be dealt with in school. The third offense carries a $20 fine ($150 with court costs). Furthermore, L.A. County's presiding judge, Michael Nash, has indicated he will not be fining youth in his courtroom.
Wisconsin Council on Children and Families
When we hear about a policy victory, it can seem as though it came out of thin air. The truth is, it's usually the result of years of dogged effort by committed individuals and organizations.
Just ask Jim Moeser, Deputy Director of our featured NJJN member this month, the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families (WCCF). One of the Council's key priorities is raising the age of adult court jurisdiction from 17 to 18, and it's very close to achieving that goal: legislation was introduced last year to raise the age, and legislative leaders will reintroduce it this fall.
But as Moeser explains, that didn't happen overnight. "It's been a five-or-more-year process of building a foundation bit by bit for a common understanding on why 17-year-olds aren't adults and shouldn't be treated like adults,” he says. “And then doing the same to show that the adult system is not effective for kids."
First, Moeser's predecessor at WCCF, Wendy Henderson, gathered information on research about adolescent brain development. Then she did an analysis on the long-term recidivism of 1,000 17-year-olds charged as adults in 2001 (summarized in "Risking Their Futures: Why trying nonviolent 17-year-olds as adults is bad policy for Wisconsin").
What followed was an ongoing campaign to educate the public on the issue through meetings and presentations with a variety of organizations and educators. WCCF also sought out partners who would support legislative changes to raise the age, such as the Wisconsin Council of Churches, the bar association, public defenders, and the Wisconsin Disability Board.
Finally, WCCF staff held a lot of one-on-one meetings with legislators over time, finding a few champions to take the lead on submitting legislation, and then advocate for it.
As Moeser says, WCCF is "on the right track." They have bipartisan consensus supporting their “raise the age” bill; their only barrier right now is the state's fiscal crisis, which is bringing up questions of cost.[A common problem in other states. For some help, see NJJN’s Fiscal Policy Resource Center, and our collection of sample cost-benefit analyses in the juvenile justice system. –Ed.]
WCCF is also actively involved in two other key areas of juvenile justice reform. First, the Council promotes increased use of evidence-based practices in local jurisdictions. WCCF is working collaboratively with the other stakeholders and the Wisconsin State Advisory Group to develop a curriculum and provide training for county jurisdictions and juvenile justice staff on what the research shows works best in dealing with youthful offenders.
Second, the Council promotes increased use of community-based alternatives to short- and long-term confinement. WCCF has supported the consolidation/closing of two juvenile correctional institutions and will be developing a compendium of information about successful alternatives to short-term detention that have been developed by counties throughout the state.
DC Lawyers for Youth
JUSTGeorgia Campaigns to Rewrite the State's Juvenile Code
Members of the JUSTGeorgia coalition are working hard to change Georgia’s juvenile justice landscape. During the 2011 legislative session, JUSTGeorgia continued its work on a complete rewrite of Georgia’s juvenile code, the Child Protection and Public Safety Act (SB 127). This bill reorganizes the code for ease of understanding and application, modernizes substantive provisions to reflect advances in research and practice, and brings Georgia in full compliance with federal laws applicable to juvenile court proceedings. A companion House bill was also introduced and both Governor Deal and Speaker Ralston have pledged their support. Hearings are anticipated over the summer in preparation for a vote in the 2012 legislative session.
Another notable bill passed the legislature and was signed by the governor this session. The “Good Behavior Bill” (HB 373) allows the Department of Juvenile Justice or a child to bring a motion to modify custody when the child has been committed to the Department following an adjudication for a designated felony. The law now allows the court to recognize a child’s good behavior and academic and rehabilitative progress by granting release from restrictive custody.
Click here to learn more about the incredible work of the JUSTGeorgia coalition to improve treatment of youth in conflict with the law. Click here to learn more about other NJJN members doing similar work across the country.