Today I am distributing information. I spend much time researching information so that I can keep my finger on the pulse of America and report on the slow but steady changes in criminal justice, prison and juvenile justice policies. Today seems to be news day so here I present a link to an article in Harvard Magazine and two reports that were released today on changes in juvenile delinquency and incarceration practices. ENJOY!
Since coming to Harvard in 2007, he has worked with Kaia Stern, a lecturer in ethics at Harvard Divinity School, to take groups of undergraduates into Massachusetts state prisons for courses on urban sociology. The Harvard students learn alongside inmates who are also pursuing bachelor’s degrees—and in the process, learn to view issues of crime and punishment in a more nuanced way. Because of this experience, Western, a married father of three daughters, has gained empathy for Jerry and others who have committed violent crimes. “Often we want to say that people in prison are criminal and evil and unredeemable, or that they’re innocent and victims of circumstance,” says Western. “The truth is that they’re neither of those things. You can do some very terrible things in your life and yet be deeply human at the same time.”
Excerpt from The Prison Problem
Justice Policy Institute - Juvenile Justice Reform in Connecticut: How Collaboration and Commitment Have Improved Public Safety and Outcomes for Youth
The Justice Policy Institute issued "Juvenile Justice Reform in Connecticut", which highlights the past two decades of Connecticut's successful efforts to improve responses to youth who engage in delinquent behavior and to end the automatic prosecution of 16 and 17 year-olds in adult court, as well as reduce the number of youth placed into detention centers, correctional training schools, and/or other residential facilities. Specifically, the state reduced residential commitments from 680 in 2000 to 216 in 2011 (nearly 70%), even though most 16 year-olds, who were previously treated as adults, are now handled in the juvenile system. The state has also closed one of its three state-operated detention centers, and reduced the under 18 population in Connecticut's adult prisons from 403 in January 2007 to 151 in July 2012. Meanwhile, Connecticut expanded its investment in evidence-based, family focused adolescent treatment programs from $300,000 in 2000 to $39 million in 2009.
Juvenile Justice reform in Connecticut - Executive Summary
Common Ground - Lessons learned from 5 states
One of the most controversial topics that I ever address is the impact prison has on the families of the offenders. No one really wants to hear that story. We are very victim sensitive in our society but we forget that victims are on both sides of the coin and the cost to our families, communities and nation are horrendous. There are some families that have lived with the reality that members of their families have spent time in prison...for a couple generations. There are families that never imagined, in their wildest dreams, that someone they loved would spend decades in prison. As I have worked advocating for prison reform, i have heard all kinds of stories but the impact is always the same. Families go to prison too.
It is now becoming evident, through research, that the impact of long term prison sentences is a destructive force in our communities. Poverty levels increase, illness, depression and dysfunction rise and the community becomes weaker...not stronger...as a result of long term incarceration. The cost of defense, the cost of prison to family members, the loss of income, the disruption in routine and the breaking of family ties through families into poverty and despair. Compound that with the lack of support or compassion for these families and you have a recipe for poverty and hopelessness.
We, who advocate for prison reform, have watched this for years. The point of prison is to arrest the behavior, remove the offender from their destructive influences and then re-direct the offender and give them the opportunity to create a better life. That SHOULD be the intention given that we call these facilities Department of CORRECTION. The last few decades we have moved away from a reform model and opted for punishment. Now we reap the consequences. The link below is for an article that gives clear research on the impact and the need for change. Read on. Prison and The Poverty Trap
It is a fact of juvenile incarceration in adult facilities that they will spend time in solitary confinement. The adult facilities where they must serve their sentences are not structured to accommodate or protect juveniles. These young offenders who are still maturing and developing into adults are held in "bathrooms" until they are able to function in general population. This leads to mental illness, depression and suicide. Yes these young offender have committed crimes...broken the law...maybe even caused death. However, we must also realize that they will one day be released from prison and the harm they suffer while in solitary confinement will have impacted their development. Conditions of confinement are important to any kind of reform. They are most important to kids.
It was in 2005 that the Supreme Court ruled the death penalty for a juvenile was cruel and unusual punishment. In 2010 the Supreme Court ruled that Juvenile Life Without Parole for crimes other than murder was cruel and unusual punishment. In 2012 the Supreme Court ruled that Juvenile Life Without Parole for murder was cruel and unusual punishment. With all these changes, there is hope that we will address conditions of confinement for juvenile offenders.
Imagine being confined in a bathroom for your entire life, having your movements scheduled and controlled, having your time outside controlled and never being free to make any choices. Imagine sitting in the bathroom knowing that you will die there. Life sentences are death sentences. Have we truly moved away from the death penalty?
Here are two articles with insight into juvenile solitary confinement and also the death penalty (from the executioner). Perhaps they will stir you to help change our current criminal justice practices.
Solitary Watch - Scarred by Solitary: Experiencing Prison Isolation As a Kid
Washington Post - Ex-Virginia executioner becomes opponent of death penalty
All across this nation there are draconian laws being repealed through moves in our legislature. In Colorado they are calling for an end to the death penalty. Colorado joins other states across the nation asking for the end of the practice of putting a person to death. At the same time, California has amended it's three strikes law and is now in the process of reviewing 1000's of sentences that have caused people to be condemned to prison for life over packs of cigarettes. Slowly our "tough on crime" and severe punishment policies are crumbling. Why?
Because it doesn't improve the health of our communities, it does nothing to lower crime rates and we just might be punishing an innocent person or putting an innocent person to death.
There are advocates all across this nation who have worked tirelessly to get us to this place in time and they have spoken very eloquently about these issues. Nothing speaks more clearly than one who has lived through a wrongful conviction, prison and a fight for freedom. Here is an Oped from Tim Masters who was wrongfully convicted for murder and fought 10 years for his freedom.
Death Penalty Must Be Repealed
As parents of a teenager, you may have found yourself asking this question....more than once. Teenagers are not known for their decision making abilities, their ability to use common sense and their ability to think of consequences before they act. These typical behaviors are trying for parents, educators, coaches and anyone who is trying to mold and shape the life of a teenager. This is also why we protect them (much to their dismay) from decision making and adult behaviors. We know that they are impetuous, spontaneous, larger than life and they have no fear. These traits will carry them fare wen facing the obstacles of the future but the same behaviors do little to protect them from harm.
Teenagers are also intrigued by the outlawed. Meaning that if you tell them not to do something, that hanging out with a certain group of people or not to date a certain young man....well you have just invited a war. What makes adolescence so difficult? It is their maturing brains. They aren't adults yet, they aren't children and the in-between is very dangerous. This video outlines the developing brain of a juvenile in a very concise and clear manner. The good news? They will mature!
Through the years that I have advocated for criminal justice reform, I have heard horrendous stories of tragedy and sorrow. Being at the receiving end in a crime of violence leaves a permanent mark on your soul. It leaves a void, that for a time, seems so big it will swallow you. I know, I have been there.
For me to reach the other side of that void I had to confront that which broke me. That which caused me to wall myself in and cement myself in anger and bitterness. When I did that, I found freedom. I found the strength to take apart the wall that I hid behind and life came back to my soul.
Unresolved pain, anger and ill will causes the death of both the perpetrator and the victim. It leaves both suspended in darkness with no hand hold. Fear and grief press in on you and there is room for little else. Relationships fail, dreams die, success is elusive.
In order to free myself from this darkness lest I die I had to step forward and find a way to heal. It was the only way. Here is a story of someone else who faced the same and found herself changed.
Killing-A Life Sentence-
The landscape of juvenile justice is slowly changing. We are coming to realize the need for this change.
Today I want to help drive home the reason for the need to change our policies of transferring juveniles into adult court with adult sentences and prison. Today I want you to remember what you were like when you were 15 years old. What were your concerns? What was your focus? What were your responsibilities? What were your greatest challenges and disappointments? Now what were you doing when you were 17 years old? What was your focus, what held your attention? What were your responsibilities and dreams? What were your greatest challenges? What were your priorities? What were your greatest failures as a kid?
Now fast forward to 30 years of age. What were you like then? What was your focus, your dream? What responsibilities and challenges did you have? What were your priorities? What were your failures?
From age 15 to age 30 we see incredible changes in people. At age 15 a person's focus in on peer groups, sports, a peaking interest in the opposite sex, entertainment and, if they are reminded often, their chores. We manage their lives, their decisions, their travels and the influences around them as best we can. Why? Because we know that 15 year old's do not make the best decisions and the decisions that they make come from need and emotion....not reason. At 17 we are battling with them over their independence, trying to get them to focus on the future long enough to set an intelligent course and encouraging them to find out what purpose, skill and talent is held inside them.
When we look at the same person at age 30 it is "amazing transformation time". They have started a career path, maybe started a family or married a special someone. They are making wise, rational decisions with a reasonable mind and they have found focus and direction.
Why this incredible change? MATURITY. When youth commit crimes, even horrible crimes such as murder, they are that youthful person with limited rational ability. They tried to fly and harmed a lot of people in the process. That doesn't mean that we throw them away. That means we pick them up, dust them off, put them in time out, then help them to become strong responsible people and let them fly again.
I advocate for the end to long prison sentences for juveniles, not because someone MAKES me.....because it is THE RIGHT THING TO DO.
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