Weekly Notes: OJJDP Upcoming Events; Young Children in Adult Court; Luzerne Update; and more


***There are two future events for which the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) is searching for participants.

The Girls Study Group, a project of OJJDP, will host a workshop that trains individuals in selected programs on rigorous evaluation of programs specifically for girls. Any program operating a gender-specific program can apply to send one or two staff members to the workshop, which will be held in Chapel Hill, N.C., Oct. 28-30.

Apply here by Aug. 15.

This one is well ahead of time, but the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges is also looking for presenters for the National Conference on Juvenile and Family Law, which will be held from March 14-17, 2010, in Las Vegas, the first city anyone would associate with law or family.

Apply to present at the conference here by Sept. 15; details for people looking to register for the conference are here.

***We think, after reading University of Texas Prof. Michele Deitch's From Time Out to Hard Time, that she started out trying to figure out how many really young children (she alternates between 13 and 12 as her threshold) ended up being transferred into the adult system (or at least to adult court). And she discovered something that JJ Today runs into all too often: Nobody really knows.

Deitch was able to find out how many were transferred by judges, because those numbers are reported to the feds as part of the required juvenile court statistics. But even then, the figures she got only go through 2004.

According to the data collected by Deitch, judges transferred an average of 80 youths who are 13 or under every year from 1985 through 2004. Thirteen-year-olds made up more than half of the total transfers with 961; 12-year-olds made up 23 percent.

What about really young juveniles transferred automatically by statutes, or by prosecutors able to file charges directly? There is no telling how many young juveniles landed in adult court through those avenues. We talked to Liz Ryan at the Campaign for Youth Justice about the report, and she suspects that the totals would be much higher if direct files and automatic transfers were included.

Deitch presents several recommendations at the end of her report, and one caught our eye: prohibit mandatory sentences for young children who appear in adult court.

Now, obviously, most advocates don't want those youths under adult jurisdiction at all, but change like that won't happen overnight and maybe won't happen ever. But Deitch's idea seems like a politically feasible one: if really young offenders are going to go to adult court, at least give a judge discretion on the sentencing.

A recent example where this change might have a huge impact is 13-year-old Blade Reed's case in Indiana. Prosecutors believed the maximum of five years to which he could be sentenced in the juvenile system was not enough for his alleged role in the killing an elderly man and the stabbing of  the man's wife. A judge agreed, and transferred Reed to adult court.

But the minimum Reed will do in adult jail, if he's convicted, is 45 years. If you gave a judge the ability to toss the minimum, maybe give a youth like Reed 10 years, that's a huge difference. Then Reed would have a second chance at freedom by 24 or 25, instead of starting anew at 58 and knowing little of a world outside prison.

Who is opposing that law if it's proposed?

***Luzerne Update! Lawyers involved in the civil case against the corrupt judges and other named defendants got their way last week with the cases of their 400 or so plaintiffs. The juvenile records of those plaintiffs, all of whom had been adjudicated by former judge Mark Ciavarella, will be preserved but also expunged.

For the more than 6,000 others who faced Ciavarella in juvenile court, the Pennsylvania supreme court's current plan is to expunge their tainted juvenile records ­and destroy them. Not good for lawyers in the class action lawsuit, led by Marsha Levick and Lourdes Rosado at the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center. Those are 6,000-plus people who still could join the suit. At the very least, their records could be used to bolster the evidence from the current 400 plaintiffs.

Meanwhile, both Ciavarella and fellow disgraced judge Michael Conahan are claiming immunity in the class action lawsuit, as is Luzerne County.

We are not sure Rosado, Levick and company can prove there was a quid pro quo. Ciavarella was sending youth to detention for ridiculously low offenses before the privately-run PA Child Care existed. Detentions did spike right after it was opened though.

Last bit of news: Gov. Ed Rendell (D) is establishing a commission to investigate the Luzerne scandal, which involves not only court officials but also members of the Board of Education.

***The W.T. Grant Foundation doled out some research grants in July, and JJ Today will be very interested to learn from the proposed study by Case Western Reserve University. James Spilsbury and Denise Babineau will study 150 Cleveland children between age 8 and 16 who are referred by police to mental service agencies for trauma stemming from violence they have witnessed. The point: Measuring how exposure to violence affects sleep and, in turn, how that affects other aspects of a child's health.

***A nice amalgamation of the research on youth and gangs was released this week by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. Page five has the best chart, demonstrating how much more frequently gang-involved youth report victimization than non-gang counterparts. It puts a dent in the whole "joining gangs for protection" theory.