Weekly Notes: Age-raise push begins in New York; Florida dismisses state advisory group; and more

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***When New York Chief Judge Lippman proposed a revolutionary change to the state’s juvenile justice system last week, Michael Corriero – a former New York judge, and a person who likely will be Lippman’s key advocate for the plan – was 3,600 miles away helping policymakers in Peru develop restorative approaches to juvenile justice.

Lippman wants to shift jurisdiction over at least some 16- and 17-year-old New Yorkers from the criminal courts to the juvenile courts. Currently, New York juvenile courts handle only status offense cases for that age group, which puts New York in league with North Carolina as the only two states where a 16-year-old misdemeanant is an adult in the eyes of the law.

“I had an inkling” the chief judge would address juvenile justice at some point, Corriero said last week, still jet-lagged from his transcontinental flight. “I was surprised he embraced [an age-raise] at this particular moment,” Corriero continued. “He has my whole-hearted endorsement.”

Expect Corriero to play a major role in pushing for Lippman’s plan. He was a a New York judge for 28 years before stepping down to head Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City for two years. Corriero left BBBS New York to start the New York Center for Juvenile Justice, which has one mission: keeping alleged offenders under the age of 18 in the juvenile justice system.

He said Lippman already has called on him to work with the sentencing commission to move raising the age from concept to reality. “The focus right now,” Corriero said, is “legislation that’s competent and really implements his vision.”

After speaking with Corriero, this appears to be the checklist of major issues to address on the way to an age-raise in New York:

-Who is included: Lippman proposes to shift jurisdiction of most 16- and 17-year-olds to juvenile court, but keep those accused of violent offenses within the purview of the adult courts.

“I think Judge Lippman’s idea is good, starting with nonviolent offenders,” Corriero said. “The judges in adult court are frustrated with their lack of resources to respond” to nonviolent juvenile cases.

-Drafting a bill: “That’ll be the easier part of it,” Corriero said. “It’s not that complex” to raise the age of jurisdiction and include a specified universe of offenses within the criminal code for which the change does not apply.

-Selling it: Age-raise proponents “have many stakeholders” to persuade if any legislative change is to be made, said Corriero, including district attorneys, legislators, unions, civil servants, prosecutors and New York’s “vast media network.”

Oh, and the governor. One of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) first actions was to order a number of juvenile facilities to be shut down; now the state’s chief judge is leading the charge to add 40,000 more teens to that system. 

One big challenge here, particularly with selling legislators, is that dangerous little phrase “initial investment,” which is reform-ese for “new money in the budget.” Lippman, Corriero and others will have to make a strong pitch that the costs of am age change will be offset in the near future by cost savings from lower arrests, less crime, etc.

-Feasibility: The Lippman plan would mean about a 40,000-person increase in the juvenile court caseload.

To gauge the ability of the system to handle such a move, Lippman is going to set up pilot programs around the state where specially trained criminal judges will handle nonviolent teen offenders as juveniles, using options that normally would only be available to juvenile judges.

-Fiscal realignment: The cost of handling teenagers who commit crimes won’t change much, Corriero expects, but the extent to which various systems pay those costs will. There will be significant “shifting…of fiscal responsibilities,” he said, including at: the New York Department of Corrections, the Office of Children and Family Services, county probation offices and county court systems.

For starters, the county adult probation systems theoretically will need fewer personnel and the juvenile systems will need more. Juvenile judges will need bigger budgets for therapeutic interventions.

“These are not insurmountable problems,” Corriero said. “In conjunction with prosecutors, we will be able to make these adjustments.”

-Secure space: Right now all 16- and 17-year-olds are detained in jail before a judge sees them, and some go on to jail or prison. Presumably, those alleged offenders would be held in juvenile detention centers and secure facilities, or facilities managed in the community by the county juvenile systems, under the Lippman plan.

New York City will have thousands of juveniles in this situation. Two of the 10 city jails on Riker’s Island now house most of the teens. One that has a capacity of 2,238 houses detainees and another with a capacity of 2,351 houses teens and adults sentenced to a year or less.

***Day 981 of the Obama administration and still no nominee to serve as administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Today is the last day of the fiscal year, by the way, and not one peep from OJJDP or any other Office of Justice Programs division on 2011 grants. Juvenile Woodstock is a week away, and one JJ insider speculated to us that there are plenty of leaders who might forgo the trip down to National Harbor if their organization isn’t getting funded by Justice for 2011.

Jimi Hendrix isn’t available to play the national anthem, of course, so OJJDP is going with Wintley Phipps, world-renowned gospel singer and CEO of the U.S. Dream Academy, a longtime grantee of the agency.

***Last week, JJ Today covered Florida’s new law allowing counties to place juveniles in county jails before adjudication. We also learned that Gov. Rick Scott (R) parted ways with his entire State Advisory Group board last week, ending all of their tenures and inviting them to reapply as desired.

The SAG in each state is responsible for advising the governor on juvenile justice and delinquency prevention issues and is responsible for awarding sub-grants from the state’s federal allotment of juvenile justice funding.

Depending on whom you ask, Scott’s move was either a necessary procedural step for expanding the board or it was a deliberate firing of its current members.

When we asked Department of Juvenile Justice spokeswoman C.J. Drake why the board was relieved of duty, she said that “The State Advisory Group (SAG) members serve at the pleasure of the governor, who wants to expand the SAG’s membership from the current 12 to 20 members.”

So, we replied by e-mail, it was that Scott “had to do that statutorily so that he could expand it to 20 from 12, it isn't possible to leave those 12 members and add another 8 slots?”

Drake didn’t exactly take that follow-up question head on: “Correct, the Governor asked all incumbent SAG members to re-apply for their seats if they want to.”

If terminating the existing board was a procedural necessity for expansion, that is news to the now-former SAG board chair Jim Clark, who is the CEO of the Daniel Foundation, a major child welfare and juvenile justice service provider in Florida.

“In my opinion, we got fired,” said Clark. “My understanding was that the board would go up to 30 members, but that he could have just appointed” more people.

The board was informed of their dismissal on Monday, Sept. 21. Clark said the group met the Friday before, partly in preparation for new members. “Nobody at all knew this was coming.”

***Some interesting reads:

-Transfer study, part two: In 2008, OJJDP published a report that said youth in adult lockups go back to jail more often, and faster, than youth who end up in juvenile justice programs for comparable crimes. This was largely based on existing research and evaluation of state transfer laws, but it was a big deal to advocates because it was the first official Justice Department document saying, in effect, “trying juveniles as adults is a lousy idea.”

This week, the office released its own analysis of state transfer laws. This report doesn’t pass judgment on the strategy of trying juveniles in adult court, it simply provides a breakdown of how transfer laws have evolved since 1970, when only eight states made it mandatory to transfer any juvenile into adult court (by 2000, 38 states had some sort of automatic transfer policy).

Among the more notable findings in the report:

-There are about nine judicially waived cases for every 1,000 cases petitioned in juvenile court.

-The number of judicial waivers to adult court for violent crimes rose and fell in tandem with juveniles arrests for violent crime between 1985 through 2002. Since then, the arrest rate has leveled of, but the number of waivers has ticked up about 33 percent.

-The percentage of judicially waived cases involving black youths decreased from 44 percent in 1994 to 37 percent in 2007.

There is no regular collection of information on transferred juveniles on the federal level, the report said, and only 13 states publicly report all transfers. The hope is that a Bureau of Justice Statistics survey now in the works on transferred juveniles will lead to a more regular collection of data on this population.

-Restorative practices in schools: Laura Mirsky, assistant director of communications and technology at the International Institute for Restorative Practices, lays out the case for schools to scuttle disciplinary policies that are long on suspension in favor of efforts to make students discuss their transgressions and make amends for them.

Mirsky suggests conferencing or restorative circles, where victims and perpetrators are both asked to communicate about a problem, or training teachers and other school leaders on how to make “affective statements” to students. 

-Teen brains: “In scientific terms, teenagers can be a pain in the ass. But they are quite possibly the most fully, crucially adaptive human beings around.”

That is perhaps the best quote of many from reporter David Dobbs’ article on teenage brain development, which appears in the October issue of National Geographic. Dobbs does a fantastic job making the piece enjoyable while still getting across the complexities of emerging research on teen brain function.

“Our brains undergo a massive reorganization between our 12th and 25th years,” Dobbs writes. “This process of maturation, once thought to be largely finished by elementary school, continues throughout adolescence.”

***The Annie E. Casey Foundation, home of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, is set to release a major report making the case for reduced reliance on incarceration in the juvenile justice milieu, with a focus on two principal arguments: incarceration doesn’t produce the desired results with juveniles, and many systems fail to keep juveniles safe behind bars. Check YouthToday.org next week for more on this.  

***The Interstate Commission for Juveniles, is taking public comments on proposed rules to be considered at a public hearing on Oct. 24 in Norfolk, Va. The commission governs the interstate compact that guides the transfer of juveniles from one state’s jurisdiction to another, as well as the return of juveniles who have run away or absconded from custody.

A new compact went into effect in July, and every state except Georgia has adopted it.  
You can read the proposed rule changes here. Mostly, these changes make the language of the new compact more consistent. A few of the more noteworthy changes up for discussion:

Page 21: Listing specific criteria for states to determine whether a juvenile is eligible for transfer from one state to another under the compact.  
Page 31: Makes more clear that accepting a juvenile is mandatory if he or she is moving to the new state with a custodial parent and no custodial parent remains in the sending state.
Page 36: Spells out how allegations of abuse by a runaway are to be investigated before a runaway is returned home.

To provide input on the rules, contact commission executive director Ashley Lippert:
836 Euclid Avenue
Lexington, KY 40502
E-mail: icjadmin@juvenilecompact.org
Phone: (859) 721-1062

***If you can make it to Las Vegas at the end of October, the Joyfields Institute is hosting its second annual “Working with Youth” workshops and conference. This year’s theme: Implementing Evidence-based & Strength-centered Practices to Prevent & Reduce Youth Delinquency & Crime.

Click here for more details.