Weekly Notes: Texas bans LWOP; White House Boys; Public Welfare Foundation Grants; Why Ban-The-Box Helps Juvies


JJ Today has returned from a much-needed vacation out to Northern California. Despite trying to stay work-free, I managed to chew the fat with Dan Macallair of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, who is busy trying to get the state to close its $383 million-a-year juvenile training schools. From the outside looking in, it's hard to believe this isn't a no-brainer with the state in an economic free-fall. The state is paying employees with IOUs, there is a ton of bed space at the county level, and moving the youth out would basically save $350 million per year, forever (minus whatever the state granted to counties to handle the influx of juveniles).

What are we missing? Obviously, slashing union jobs in a recession would be politically unpopular, but couldn't some deal be reached that would guarantee them jobs elsewhere? Also, we know the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative at Annie E. Casey Foundation is looking to work with a state that would shut down training schools; why not jump at the chance to get some help from a private entity with money and resources?

Any California advocates who don't buy the shut-it-down approach, please e-mail us or post a comment explaining why.

***The biggest JJ news of the summer happened in Texas, where Gov. Rick Perry (R) signed a bill that banned the life-without-parole option for juvenile offenders. The local media pretty much passed on covering the bill, we didn't do any better. The best coverage of the law, not surprisingly, came from the ever-excellent Texas justice blog Grits for Breakfast.

The changes makes an enormous statement as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to consider two cases related to LWOP for juveniles. The second largest JJ system has now said it does not believe in that option; California, the largest JJ system, could potentially ban LWOP by the time the high court meets again. That would go a long way to establishing the kind of "prevailing trend" basis that the justices applied when the juvenile death penalty was abolished in 2005.

Neither state is among those with a known proclivity to send juveniles to prison for life; Pennsylvania, Michigan, Louisiana and Florida account for more than half of such sentences. So bans in Texas and California probably carry more impact nationally than they would locally.

***In other Texas news, the U.S. Department of Labor has chosen the state to host a new one-stop service center for juveniles set to return home from correctional facilities. Labor will give the state $2.9 million to establish a center that connects outgoing offenders to mentors, counseling, educational opportunities and job training. The project will focus on youth living in Bexar County and San Antonio-based Baptist Child & Family Services will open up a youth transition center in downtown San Antonio to carry out the project.

***Great narrative piece by St. Petersburg Times reporter Ben Montgomery on the polygraph test of Jerry Cooper, a former resident of the now-infamous Florida School for Boys in Marianna. Cooper says a lifetime of anger and violence started with a brutal beating given to him by Troy Tidwell, who was a guard at the school. Tidwell said he never doled out more than a spanking; Cooper took the polygraph to prove he is telling the truth.

What is going on with this case? In December, prompted by former residents of the juvenile home who call themselves the White House Boys, Gov. Charlie Crist (R) vowed that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) would investigate 31 unmarked graves at the school. That investigation concluded in May that 31 bodies were buried there, and that there is no evidence that the school staff caused any of them. The White House Boys issued a statement on YouTube that questions the methods and integrity of that investigation.

For more details on the case, read the larger piece that Montgomery and fellow Times reporter Waveney Ann Moore wrote in April.

***Here's how stingy it's going to get as states crack down on spending. Red Wing, a juvenile correctional facility in Minnesota, spent $60,000 on some technology upgrades, money it was able to spend due to "responsible management of the budget," according to the state corrections department.

Now, facility management is being criticized by one state legislator for spending lavishly when "schools are getting huge funding cuts and we've eliminated health care for people making less than $8,000 a year."

That is a pretty dramatic statement; it isn't like returning Red Wing's new equipment would save a school or the health care system. Imagine, even two years ago, this much ado over a $60,000 expense, which went in part to upgrade facility's capability to hold remote parent-juvenile meetings for families who could not afford the time and expense of traveling to Red Wing.

***A quick update on the judges scandal in Luzerne County, Pa.:

-Several area police departments are fighting subpoenas for records related to juveniles who appeared before former judge Mark Ciavarella.

-Luzerne County District Attorney Jackie Carroll Musto got some money to add more assistant DAs for the year, because the leg work surrounding the scandal is creating a backlog while the county deals with an unusual number of homicides. 

-In June, the Juvenile Law Center got $100,000 from the Public Welfare Foundation "to help advance reforms of Pennsylvania's juvenile justice system in the wake of [the] far-reaching corruption scandal."

***Other JJ grantees receiving funds from Public Welfare Foundation last month:

-Arkansas Department of Human Services, $155,000 to support JJ reform.

-Campaign for Youth Justice, Washington, D.C., $250,000 for general support.

-Children and Family Justice Center, Chicago, $150,000 for its Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth.

-Children's Law Center, Covington, Ky., $75,000 to support the Ohio Juvenile Justice Reform Initiative.

-Families & Allies of Virginia's Youth, Arlington, $30,000 to advocate for the end of transfers of youths from juvenile to adult courts.

-Justice Policy Institute, Washington, D.C., $150,000 for general support.

-Mental Health Association, Harrisburg, Penn., $30,000 to advocate for juvenile justice system reform in Pennsylvania.

-W. Haywood Burns Institute, San Francisco, $100,000 for general support.

***In May, we mentioned that Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) had signed legislation that included a "ban the box" provision, limiting the ability of employers to access and use information about a prospective employee's criminal record. We asked Sarah Walker, the COO of Minneapolis-based 180 Degrees and a staunch advocate for the provision, to explain why it was important to the juvenile justice field. Her response was long and enlightening. Walker:

Many people believe that juvenile offenses are not serious and that they are extinguished or sealed when a juvenile reaches the age of 18.  Unfortunately, that is not correct.  A juvenile record can be long lasting and it can have a significant impact on a juvenile's ability to find employment or rent apartments as an adult. In addition, juveniles whose records do become public face the same barrier created by increased and unfettered access to records from data mining companies. Too often, juveniles and their parents and guardians are unaware of these life-long implications or simply have incorrect information.

We also know that meaningful employment is critical to reducing recidivism and desistance from crime. It is particularly important for youth involved in the justice system to ensure that employment and educational opportunities are not limited before they even have a chance to mature into adulthood.

Certification to adult court may also occur based on a motion from the prosecution.  Juveniles over the age of 13 can be certified into adult court when the prosecutor files a motion for adult certification in a felony case. That is often the case in matters involving criminal sexual conduct, assault or murder. Having experienced counsel to combat that certification can mean the difference between an indefinite criminal record and a record that is sealed to the public or only partially accessible.

Any court order requiring registration of a juvenile ages 16 or 17 as a sexual offender is a public record.  If the juvenile is considered a level 3 sexual offender, the registration record is also public. So, too, is a juvenile order certifying a juvenile as an adult and convicted of a requisite felony.

Juvenile records may become public records if a juvenile is 16 years or older and charged with an offense that would be a felony if committed by an adult.  This is codified under Minnesota Statutes Sec.  260B.171.  Interestingly enough, parents are often confused when felony charges are reduced or dismissed.  If the original charge would have been a felony for an adult, any plea to a reduced charge or a dismissal would remain a public record."

So there you go.