Weekly Notes: Arizona 8-year-old pleas; Crime Summit; JDAI’s Federal Agenda; Reentry in Cleveland

Short notes for this relatively quiet week. But to start, we are now on Day 10 without any explanation or information on the delay of the suicide report from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

***The tragic case in which Christian Romero was arrested for the shooting of his father, Vincent Romero, 29, and another man, Tim Romans, 39, appears headed for closure. You might remember that the boy, who was 8 at the time of the shootings, told detectives – on videotape – he had killed both men.  But the tape was thrown out as evidence because officers had not read the boy his rights and he did not have a lawyer or guardian present during questioning when he made the statement. 

The decision reached by lawyers in the case looks reasonable. The boy pleaded guilty on Thursday to one count of negligent homicide for killing Romans, for which he will be in the custody of the state of Arizona until he is 18. As part of the plea agreement, Apache County lawyers will not seek commitment to a state correctional facility and will not file any other charges against him related to the killings. The charge in connection with the killing of the boy’s father was dropped as a condition of the plea. 

The next step will be determining where the state will hold the boy: a detention center, a therapeutic facility or at home with his mother, where he has lived for the past month as the case has progressed. The decision will be made by Judge Michael Roca after a psychiatric evaluation is performed.

There is no perfect way to resolve this. The excellent chronicling of the plea by The Arizona Republic raises questions about exactly how much the third-grader really understood the proceedings, and his mother still believes he didn’t do the shooting at all. But the resolution seems significantly better for the boy than the alternative contemplated by the county: Complete unsupervised release of the boy until his 15th birthday, at which time prosecutors could have charged him as an adult for murder. 

***Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), author of the Youth PROMISE Act, continues his campaign to push conventional wisdom on crime reduction away from law enforcement strategies and toward community prevention work. He will host a three-panel crime summit on March 3, which he has dubbed “Smart on Crime Policies: Increase Public Safety, Reduce Costs, and Improve Lives.” The three panels will address prevention and intervention, sentencing and alternatives, and reentry and collateral consequences.

PROMISE Act appears to have some momentum behind it. Scott and Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) reintroduced the bill last week with 69 co-sponsors attached. It now has a companion in the Senate: Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Bob Casey (D-Penn.) introduced S. 435 on Feb. 13.

***The Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative has been prolific of late. The initiative released a handbook on interacting with the media in early February, and last week it produced this issue brief on reforming the national’s juvenile justice system. It entreats federal lawmakers and the administration to pay particular attention to six priority areas:

-Combating overreliance on secure confinement, before and after adjudication.

-Getting aggressive about reducing racial disparities at all points in the system.

-Stepping up investigations of abuse in juvenile facilities.

-Curbing the number of youth subject to transfer to adult court.

-Aligning research and demonstration grant dollars at OJJDP with the biggest weaknesses in the field.

-Closing the valid court order loophole, and allowing states to handle youths convicted as adults in juvenile facilities for early parts of their sentences.

JDAI boss Bart Lubow also contributed to Mandate for Change, a 47-chapter progressives manifesto released this week by the Institute for Policy Studies. Lubow and Doug Nelson, president of JDAI parent Annie E. Casey Foundation, wrote “A Roadmap for Juvenile Justice Reform.”

***The Public Welfare Foundation announced about $5 million in grants following its February meeting. A few juvenile justice grantees:

-Coalition for Juvenile Justice, Washington, D.C., $50,000 to survey state compliance with the core requirements of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (much needed, in light of recent coverage).

-National Center for Youth Law, Oakland, Calif., $150,000 for support to assist in reform of juvenile justice systems in Arkansas and Wyoming.

-Texas Public Policy Foundation, Austin, $75,000 for a juvenile justice project at its Center for Effective Justice.

***Ohioans, take note of this solicitation from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas. It is looking for proposals to provide reentry services to youths coming home from facilities controlled by the Ohio Department of Youth Services.



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