Wednesday, July 30, 2008

S. 3155: Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2008

Here is the information we have located on S. 3155 - Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2008:

The Senate Judiciary Committee will consider S. 3155, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2008, for markup in the coming days. The bill was introduced June 18, 2008.

This legislation will reauthorize the Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Act (JJDPA), which has provided states and localities with federal standards and supports for improving juvenile justice and delinquency prevention practices, and has contributed to safeguards for youth, families and communities since its inception in 1974.

The bill adds critical additions to the JJPDA to keep youth out of adult jails and prisons. Youth placed in adult jails with adults are at risk of physical and sexual assault. According to the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), 21% and 13% of all substantiated victims of inmate-on-inmate sexual violence in jails in 2005 and 2006 respectively, were youth under the age of 18, though only 1% of inmates are juveniles.

It strengthens provisions to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system. This is a critical change because at every level of the juvenile justice system, youth of color are disproportionately represented. This overrepresentation is evidenced at many stages of the juvenile justice system process.

It focuses on conditions of confinement in juvenile facilities, and assists States in their capacity to comply with the federal law. S. 3155 requires States to collect data regarding restraints and isolation and to adopt policies and procedures to eliminate the use of dangerous practices in juvenile detention and correctional facilities, such as hog-tying, use of pepper spray, and any forms of sexual abuse. It also ensures that States will receive technical assistance to comply with the law, and for States not in compliance, JJDPA funds that would otherwise have been withheld can be used by the States as improvement grants to regain compliance in that specific area.

Source: Campaign for Youth Justice

The following information is available at:

This bill is in the first step in the legislative process. Introduced bills go first to committees that deliberate, investigate, and revise them before they go to general debate. The majority of bills never make it out of committee. Keep in mind that sometimes the text of one bill is incorporated into another bill, and in those cases the original bill, as it would appear here, would seem to be abandoned.

Sen. Patrick Leahy [D-VT]

Co-Sponsors [as of 2008-07-26]:
Sen. Norm Coleman [R-MN]
Sen. Susan Collins [R-ME]
Sen. Richard Durbin [D-IL]
Sen. Dianne Feinstein [D-CA]
Sen. Herbert Kohl [D-WI]
Sen. Olympia Snowe [R-ME]
Sen. Arlen Specter [R-PA]

You can read and download the bill from our file-sharing site at the following link:

Friday, July 25, 2008

Life Without Parole Unfair to Juveniles?

by Dana DiFilippo
Philadelphia Daily News
July 25, 2008

For being a traitorous friend, Stacey Torrance was thrown into jail for life.

Torrance was just 14 when an older cousin convinced him in 1988 to lure a rich kid to a North Philadelphia corner, where the cousin and an accomplice kidnapped and later shot and strangled him.

Torrance didn't kill 16-year-old Alexander Porter and insisted he never knew of his cousin's murderous intent. But 20 years later, he sits in a state prison in Chester, with no prospect for parole or eventual freedom.

Such cases concern lawmakers like state Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montco-Bucks, who said he began to question the system's fairness when he learned that Pennsylvania leads the nation in the number of juveniles sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Greenleaf will convene a public hearing on Sept. 22 in Harrisburg to examine whether legislative relief is warranted.

"The purpose of this fact-finding session is to hear the experts in regards to what's going on and make sure there's no injustice being done," Greenleaf said.

Pennsylvania has 444 people serving life-without-parole sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles, according to Human Rights Watch. Nationally, 2,484 lifers are behind bars for crimes they committed as juveniles. No youth outside the United States are serving such sentences, said Alison Parker, deputy director of the group's U.S. program.

Pennsylvania also has the dubious distinction of ranking second nationally, behind Connecticut, in the racial disparity of juveniles sentenced to life without parole, Parker wrote in a report she released in May. In Pennsylvania, she said, black juveniles are 1.5 times more likely to be sentenced to life without parole as white youth, despite commensurate crimes.

Hearings like Greenleaf's are crucial to reforming the system, Parker said.

"We're absolutely supportive of any moves by legislators both at the state and the federal level to eliminate the sentence of life without parole for children," said Parker, who has studied the issue since 2005. "The sentence violates human rights; it's unjust and inappropriate for a child."

Some experts strongly disagree.

"We don't think it needs reform; [life without parole] is only applied in the most serious cases," said Christopher Mallios, assistant chief of District Attorney Lynne Abraham's legislation unit. "It's used because of the horrible nature of the crime, [when the defendant has] an extensive record as a juvenile and there's a finding that they're no longer amenable to treatment in the juvenile system."

Mallios, an assistant district attorney, said his office likely will participate in Greenleaf's public hearing.

The issue is landing on more states' legislative agendas.

Lawmakers in California, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan and Nebraska have considered providing parole relief for juvenile lifers, Parker said. Colorado in 2006 became the only state to pass legislation eliminating life-without-parole sentences for juveniles, she said.

"The idea is simply to give them access to a parole hearing, which is not a guarantee of release," Parker said. "It's not: 'Let's throw open the jail doors and let out dangerous people.' It's simply: 'Grant them a hearing.' "

At least one federal lawmaker also has moved to make early release possible for juvenile lifers.

Rep. Robert C. Scott of Virginia last December introduced the Juvenile Justice Accountability and Improvement Act, a bill that would require that juveniles get at least one parole hearing during the first 15 years of their life sentence, followed by at least one parole hearing every three years thereafter.

That bill was referred to a crime subcommittee in January.

Experts say Pennsylvania's top ranking results from tough state laws such as charging murder suspects as adults regardless of their age.

Some prosecutors argue that some kids commit such heinous crimes that they deserve to lose their freedom for good. But civil-rights activists say life-without-parole sentences are unfair for young people who are impaired by poor judgment and have a chance of being rehabilitated.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

D.C. Council Considers Bill to Separate Youth and Adult Offenders

by James Wright
AFRO Staff Writer

Two of the D.C. City Council’s key committee chairmen are co-sponsoring a bill that would remove offenders below the age of 18 out of the D.C. jail and give judges more latitude in sentencing them for adult crimes.

Councilmembers Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who lead the Public Safety and Judiciary Committee and Committee on Human Services, respectively, decided to sponsor a bill, the Juvenile Justice Improvement Amendment Act of 2008, after the two held a joint hearing on the topic of “Youth Incarcerated at the D.C. Jail” on July 14. The hearing came on the heels of a report released by Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) which criticized the practice of kids and adults sharing the same jails.

“We want to see what is in the best interest of the kids,” Wells said. “We want to know what benefit is it, if any, to have kids in the same jail as adults. Even though these kids have committed crimes, they are still kids and should be treated differently than adult criminals.

“We want to see what options are available to us to combat this problem.”

The act would authorize the Criminal Division of the D.C. Superior Court to consider whether a child who is charged as an adult should be adjudicated as a juvenile, and prohibit any juvenile from being detained in an adult facility.

More than 40 states permit youth offenders who have been locked up for adult offenses to be incarcerated with adults. In the District, the policy is to send a youth accused of a serious offense to the D.C. Jail.

If a youth offender is found guilty of a serious crime, he or she can be sent as far away as Montana to serve their sentence.

Fenty’s findings, “Report on Youth in the Adult Jail” found that:

*Ninety-nine percent of all youth at the D.C. Jail are Black or Latino;

*Most of the youth are not charged with the FBI’s list of most serious offenses; and

*About half of the youth charges are dismissed or are found not guilty.

Mendelson said at present there are 26 juveniles in the D.C. jail. There were as many as 45 in 2007, he said, which he called unacceptable.

“That is still too many young people in a place that is really not designed for them,” he said.

Liz Ryan, president and chief executive officer of the Campaign for Youth Justice, said at the hearing that the real travesty was incarcerating youth who are found not guilty or their cases are thrown out.

The youth ends up traumatized and emotionally scarred because of the experience, she said. She said that “it is important for D.C. to follow the example of Chicago and Los Angeles and end the practice.”

The law which governs this area, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, states that youth who commit adult offenses can be incarcerated with grown-up criminals. The problem, Ryan said, is that oftentimes the youth is neglected by the criminal justice system and is not provided the support services that are needed.

William Rivera, a budding writer who served several months in the D.C. jail in 2005 as a youth, testified that the jail is indifferent to the needs of young people.

“When I was in jail, I was the only Latino youth there,” Rivera said. “While I was there, I was jumped and beaten. Nobody tried to help me.

“When I requested mental health services, I could not get it. I tried to get my GED, but I saw that the classes were a joke.

“Several times, I saw suicide attempts. I even talked one guy down from hanging himself.”

Jail guards ignored most fights, Rivera said. They seemed more concerned with their careers than the care of the inmates, he said.

Devon Brown, director of the D.C. Department of Corrections, said that he believes, in theory, that youth should not be placed with adult offenders. However, there is the matter of what the law is, he said.

“It is important to note that everyone who is committed to the custody of the Department of Corrections is considered to be an adult in the eyes of the law, irrespective of their chronological age,” Brown said.

While Brown did not discuss Rivera’s experiences in the D.C. Jail, he did talk about programs that are offered to youth that are designed for rehabilitation.

“Juveniles are engaged in activities throughout the day designed to promote their physical, mental and social well-being,” he said. He mentioned programs such as a book clubs, art therapy, indoor and outdoor recreation, religious services, chess therapy and moral training.

Brown said that the Fenty administration is committed to seeing that youth offenders are treated fairly. He cited a town hall meeting in the spring held by the mayor at the jail for youth in which they talked about the problems that they had.

The bill proposed by Mendelson and Wells will not be considered until after the summer recess, which ends the week after Labor Day. The bill will have to go through public hearings and votes in both committees before it can be scheduled for the full council.

Fenty has said that he supports legislation ending youth incarceration at the D.C. Jail.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Child's Play: Congress Must Act on Juvenile Justice Bill

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Monday, July 21, 2008

The poet William Wordsworth observed that "the child is father of the man." The truth of those words is seen every day in a setting that has no place for poetry -- the criminal justice system and its many crowded halls of despair.

Yet the poet's wisdom has to be accounted for in that part of the system that deals with children and young people, the juvenile justice system.

Truly, the child is father of the man (or woman). Young people are vulnerable, impressionable and sometimes trouble. When they commit crimes, how the authorities treat them can make the difference between whether they later waste their lives or become productive citizens.

The recognition that youths who commit crime deserve a separate system to adjudicate them is more than a century old. The earliest courts focused on rehabilitating young offenders instead of merely punishing them, a philosophy that also recognized that immature kids could hardly be held as responsible for wrongdoing as adults who knew better.

Not always wisely, the pendulum has swung back in recent years with various states passing laws that allow children to be tried as adults for serious offenses, a trend fed by a public opinion unsympathetic to anyone who commits a crime, regardless of age.

While the states are responsible for their juvenile justice systems, the federal government offers funding in return for state adherence to federal standards. In 1974, Congress passed a landmark piece of legislation, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, which has been updated over the years, the last time in 2002.

Now it is being reconsidered again as S. 3155 in the Senate Judiciary Committee. This is an opportunity to bring both a greater touch of humanity to the treatment of youth offenders and also incorporate practical steps based on the latest findings on what works best with them.

A co-sponsor of the bill is Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, who brings a prosecutor's experience and wisdom to discussing its merits. He believes it strikes a balance between providing federal support and guidance to state programs while respecting the individual criminal justice policies of states. In a statement after the bill was introduced last month, Mr. Specter praised the provisions for mentoring and other programs to prevent delinquency and promote rehabilitation.

The bill would make it harder to put kids in adult jails, which gives some officials in Allegheny County pause about whether those charged with very serious crimes should be held with other youthful offenders. But the principle of keeping kids out of adult facilities is an important one and the practical problems for juvenile facilities shouldn't stand in its way.

The legislation will increase federal funding, perhaps by as much as $272 million for fiscal year 2009, no small thing at a time of deficits. But this is a very good investment for the future. Congress should pass S. 3155.


Monday, July 14, 2008

Juvenile Justice: Some Changes Would Improve Legislation in the Senate

The Washington Post
Sunday, July 13, 2008; Page B06

SINCE 1974, federal law has required that juveniles picked up for breaking the law be kept separate from alleged adult offenders -- and for good reason. Juveniles held in adult facilities are more likely to be attacked, more likely to commit crimes once released and more likely to commit suicide than those held in facilities that house only minors. This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to consider reauthorizing an updated version of the 1974 bill. The Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2008 strengthens protections for juveniles while safeguarding judicial discretion to deal with exceptional cases. It also calls for preservation and expansion of programs that have been particularly effective in combating delinquency and crime among youth, including mentoring and after-school supervision. The bill should be passed, with some changes.

Over the past decade, an increasing number of states have adopted laws allowing juveniles to be charged as adults for certain serious crimes; prosecutors in these jurisdictions often have the last word on charging decisions. Those jurisdictions often also require that these juveniles be held in adult facilities. Under the proposed bill, even juveniles charged as adults must be held in juvenile facilities or out of "sound and sight" of adults in adult facilities unless a judge specifically orders otherwise. A judge must take into account the alleged offender's age, his physical and mental maturity, and the nature of the crime, among other factors; a judge must review every 30 days the decision to send a juvenile to an adult facility. This approach is sensible. The bill should be amended to explicitly allow prosecutors and other state officials to flag for the judge juveniles they believe would be a danger to other minors and so would be better held in adult quarters.

The legislation also takes a step in the right direction by setting stricter limits on detentions for status offenders -- those youths who are picked up for skipping school or running away from home. Such youths have not committed crimes and would not have been locked up for these infractions had they been adults. Studies show that these juveniles -- and the community -- are better served when they are directed to mentoring or school-based programs. As it is, judges in many jurisdictions may hold juveniles indefinitely for status offenses; the proposed bill would limit that to seven days. That's an improvement, but lawmakers should consider eliminating these detentions altogether.

The Congressional Budget Office has not yet estimated the cost of the new juvenile justice bill. According to Justice Department figures, the existing version of the law cost taxpayers just under $300 million last year -- real money but a fair price to pay for smart and effective programs.