Weekly Notes: Is it Missouri Model’s time?; LWOP goings-on; and more

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***As noted in last week’s Notes, the October issue of Youth Today includes “Psych Meds Behind Bars,” a look at what is known about the use of atypical anti-psychotic medications in juvenile justice facilities. The article is free online. You can click here for that link, or download this pdf of the article.

However you feel about mental health’s interplay with in the juvenile justice system, it is beyond dispute that many youths show up to locked facilities with behavioral issues. Some have conditions that will require therapy, and/or psychiatric medication, to get better.

Atypical anti-psychotics are one type of psychiatric medication, and only recently were atypical approved for use with bipolar and schizophrenic children by the Food and Drug Administration. They are also very potent drugs, with serious side effects including potential weight gain and diabetes.

Two things became clear doing the research for this feature:

1) Thirty-four states did not respond to our questions, and very few states appeared to have any aggregated information on anti-psychotic usage by its juvenile facilities. That in and of itself does not prove that medication is not being monitored at juvenile facilities, but on the other hand, there isn’t much evidence we turned up to suggest that there is a lot of monitoring going on.

2) Information from the states that did respond suggest thats anti-psychotics are mostly used for conditions other than bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Among the prescriptions from five states that broke down prescriptions by diagnosis, 75 percent of prescriptions were not for bipolar or schizophrenia. .

We set out to get a national view of the use of anti-psychotics, but ended up with a much smaller sample. We hope this starts a discussion, particularly in the states where no information was forthcoming.

***JJ Today heads to Kansas City on Monday for Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative Inter-Site Conference. This is routinely one of the best JJ events of the year, and as usual this year’s agenda is full of interesting topics. But while most of the sessions will focus on detention practices, the conference may also serve as a coming-out party for the host state’s post-adjudication system.

The Missouri juvenile justice system – in particular its approach to working with incarcerated juveniles – emerged as a model for humane treatment and public safety a long time ago. And two years ago, it was legitimized with the Harvard Innovations in American Government award.

But years from now, history might remember Fall 2010 as the time when the Missouri Model got some national propulsion behind it. Late last month, Missouri Division of Youth Services Director Tim Decker wowed the federal Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention with a presentation on the model, prompting one council member to muse bluntly, “so ... why isn’t everybody doing this?”

Decker followed the ever-charismatic New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu at the council meeting, after Landrieu used his time to tell the council why he believes the Missouri approach could save New Orleans juvenile justice.

Now Casey will host one of the biggest JJ events of the year, which brings in policy leaders and practitioners from 30 different states, in a city that is home to one of Missouri  DYS’seven secure facilities. It is not a coincidence.

JDAI boss Bart Lubow has made known Casey’s interest in working on reform of post-adjudication incarceration practices, even though JDAI’s focus is on changing the way its sites think about admitting youth to detention centers before they see a judge. Folks who show up early for the conference will have the opportunity to take a Casey-organized tour of the DYS facility.

And just days before the conference is to begin, the Justice Policy Institute released a Casey-funded report entitled The Missouri Model: Reinventing the Practice of Rehabilitating Youthful Offenders. It is a 60-page explanation, written by occasional Youth Today contributor Dick Mendel, of how Missouri DYS works, and what results it gets compared with other state systems.

“For years, Missouri’s approach has been widely cited and often praised – but seldom replicated,” wrote new Casey CEO Patrick McCarthy in the preface. “We hope that will change in the near future, and that this publication will help build the momentum for this long-overdue reform movement.”

***Orlando, Fla.’s Barry University Juvenile Justice Center received a $100,000 grant from the Florida Bar Association to create the Juvenile Life Without Parole Defense Resource Center. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Graham v. Florida this year, which banned the death penalty for juveniles convicted of non-homicides, meant 77 inmates in Florida prisons had to be resentenced. There was, and is, concern that judges would simply vacate LWOP sentences for them and replace them with a term of years so high, it would essentially be a life sentence anyway.

At Barry, the center’s mission will be to help conduct legal research for Florida lawyers representing juvenile LWOP inmates.

***Speaking of Graham, Philadelphia Daily News reporter Dana DiFilippo looks at the case of Qu-eed Batts, who is currently fighting his life without parole sentence in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Batts was convicted in 2007 of murdering a teenager at the behest of a Bloods street gang leader. Batts was 14 at the time of the murder, and his case was intentionally held off the docket by the court until the Graham ruling came down. Now Batts’ lawyers almost certainly will use Graham’s case to build an argument that juvenile LWOP sentences for murder are also cruel and unusual punishment.

***Two good reads on states that account for about a fifth of the nation’s youth population and are both well into reform efforts aimed at downsizing their troubled networks of state-run juvenile facilities. First is “A New Era in California Juvenile Justice,” which was authored by current and former employees of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. While some JJ observers in the state want to see the state’s juvenile buildings done away with, this paper suggests that such a move could lead to more transfers of juveniles into adult courts and prisons unless better juvenile options surface at the county or state level.

Second is the excellent rundown of a joint meeting of the Texas House Appropriations Criminal Justice Subcommittee and the House Corrections Committee by Grits for Breakfast, a Texas justice blog. The breakdown of this meeting paints a pretty good picture of where Texas is with state-level downsizing and county build-up right now.

***Was this a rational application of scared straight? Tulsa juvenile judge Carl Funderburk was vexed by the amount of juvenile crime going on at the Tulsa State Fair, which after seeing this photo, JJ Today fully intends to visit someday (apologies to our vegetarian readers).

So Funderburk set up a courtroom right there, at the fairgrounds, and started juvenile proceedings immediately for youth who got picked up. The result? There were 90 proceedings in 2007, and 20 last year, according to Paul Crockett of local radio station KRMG.

Obviously, that is hardly a scientific endorsement of remote court sites. It did get us thinking, though, that such sites could deter crime in certain juvenile hotspots such as malls. Anyone know of this idea working in the field? Let us know!