Weekly Notes: Latino Youth in the System; Luzerne Update; Banning the Box in Minnesota; and more


***The Campaign for Youth Justice and the National Council of La Raza have released a new policy brief on Latino youth and the justice system, which is actually anything but brief. The 95-page piece, America's Invisible Children, is the third in the Campaign's Race and Ethnicity Series.

After reading the entire thing, here is what jumped out:

-The front (intake and court proceedings) and side (alternatives to incarceration) of the JJ system need work when it comes to Latino youth. The language barrier prevents families and offenders from understanding what is going on, the report states, and refusal to release juveniles to extended family members results in lots of detainment for Latinos. Berks County in Pennsylvania has sort of become ground zero for this issue. Under the MacArthur Foundation's Models for Change Initiative, the county is translating a lot of its forms, providing more translators for juvenile courts and conducting cultural competency trainings.

Also, the report stated, alternative programs that have shown success with white or black youth are not necessarily successful in helping develop and rehabilitate Latino youth. The few programs that have been tailored to Latino youth (Southwest Key is probably the largest) need replication.

-Obviously, California's treatment of youth is paramount in a discussion about Latino youth; nearly two million Latinos between 10 and 17 live there, almost half of the population for that demographic.

That group of Latinos makes up only 8 percent of total arrests, for any of the included age groups, in the state. But in the pie of solely juvenile arrests, it accounts for 51 percent of all arrests. Only 2 percent of those arrests are for murder, manslaughter, rape or robbery.

-According to the authors, one in four incarcerated Latino youth is held in adult facilities, and that is the figure that topped the news release on the report. There are no comparative data for whites or blacks calculated.

But looking at the footnotes, their calculation of that figure "includes the majority of detainees held by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)."

Including those youths inherently boosts the severity of that figure more than blacks or whites. Because ICE is holding very few youth who are not Latino.

Detained juvenil immigrants is a completely valid issue, but it seems like something that should be addressed separately from Latino youth brought into the system for crimes. At the very least, some disclosure that ICE figures were included should probably have been mentioned somewhere other than the footnotes.

-That said, the report makes compelling arguments about why Latino youth are predisposed by law to being tried as adults. Two of the four states with the highest Latino youth populations have ages of jurisdiction below 18 (New York 16, and Texas 17). Half of Latinos between 10 and 17 live in states that allow prosecutors to decide on transfers, and 69 percent live in states that automatically transfer certain offenses to adult court.

***Another interesting report released this month, this one by the Justice Policy Institute (JPI), examines the financial virtues of juvenile justice reform. States facing budget shortfalls could save millions of dollars while improving public safety by investing in community-based alternatives to the incarceration of juveniles, according to JPI research.

Approximately 93,000 juveniles are incarcerated in U.S. facilities at any given time - 70 percent in state-funded, post-adjudication, residential facilities at an average cost of $241 per day. States collectively spend about $5.7 billion annually to imprison youth, the majority of whom are held for nonviolent offenses, according to JPI.     

***It's been awhile since we updated readers on the scandal involving juvenile judges and private detention centers serving Luzerne County, Pa. What's happened recently:

-The county is behind the eight-ball when it comes to reviewing the thousands of cases handled by Judge Mark Ciavarella over the years. The county district attorney has asked the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency for $350,000 to add staff to review the cases, and Chief Judge Chester Muroski has asked for $209,220 from the commission to add four new court staff for the review process. The county court laid off more than two dozen staffers to help with a budget shortfall this year.

-Attorneys for the two facilities involved in the scandal - PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care - made a stunning admission in court documents filed this month. They claim that the kickbacks paid to Ciavarella were not a quid-pro-quo for him sending juveniles their way; it was for fixing civil cases.

We mentioned this before: Ciavarella already had a rep for detaining youths before the facilities went up, and this is clearly an attempt by the lawyers to prove that there was no direct quid-pro-quo involving adjudication. Juvenile Law Center (JLC), the group leading a large lawsuit, remains convinced that the actual motive for the kickbacks does not matter, as JLC attorney Marsha Levick's words in this article indicate.

-JLC has expanded its lawsuit to include the county.

***After 11 years, the U.S. Department of Justice has released Georgia's juvenile justice system from federal oversight. The feds got involved in 1998 because of "egregious" conditions at facilities that included overcrowding, child abuse and lack of education and health services.

Department of Juvenile Justice Commissioner Albert Murray said the system has been ready to stand alone for awhile now. At least one watchdog group, the Georgia Alliance for Children, isn't buying that.

We wonder how much transfers to adult court had to do with getting the population under control in JJ facilities. There are 3,650 people under 18 in adult prisons nationwide, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and Georgia has 1,113 of them.

***When advocates in Minnesota took to the state capitol building for Second Chance Day in February, one of the highest priority items on their agenda was to "Ban the Box," the slogan applied to legislation that limits the ability of employers to access and use information about a prospective employee's criminal record. On May 11, Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-Minn.) signed an omnibus public safety bill that gave them their wish. The legislation could have a major impact on efforts to improve the reentry of juveniles and young adult offenders into the community.

***Mary Lou Leary will join Laurie Robinson at the Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs, assuming Robinson is confirmed. Leary, who was executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime is already in as the deputy assistant attorney general. Leary was a deputy associate attorney general for President Bill Clinton, and filled in as an acting director of the Community Oriented Policing Services program during that tenure.

***It's been a couple weeks since Robinson became the nominee for OJP, and still no word whatsoever on who will be the nominee to run OJJDP. Heard this from someone who'd know: none of the frequently-mentioned names has been contacted for further vetting.

***Three conferences worth mentioning are coming up, two government-funded and one private.

OJJDP is looking for presenters for the Disproportionate Minority Contact Conference, which will be held in Austin, Texas in October. Get going though, the deadline for proposals is June 5.         

The Department of Education has slated its Safe and Drug-Free Schools National Conference for early August. That should be an interesting one; the president zeroed out grants to states under this office in his recently released budget for 2010.

The Performance Institute is hosting the 2009 Reentry Conference in late June. The agenda looks pretty interesting, there are a lot of state-level and local presenters presumably discussing things they have had success with regarding an issue that is front and center in JJ reform.

***The Center for Children's Law and Policy is looking for a project director to head up its Future Project, which seeks to develop the next generation of juvenile justice reform leaders.