An employee at a Kentucky juvenile detention center offered breakfast to Gynnya McMillen, 16, more than three hours before officials realized she had died in her cell, reports CBS News. McMillen did not respond to the 6:30 a.m. offer, according to the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet. It’s not clear if she was alive or dead at the time, conscious or unconscious. Two hours later, an employee offered a snack. Again McMillen did not respond.
A new ban on solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prison could bring momentum to reform efforts in states, says the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. President Obama announced the ban and other prison reforms Monday, saying he hoped the policies would be a model for state and local corrections systems. Jenny Lutz of the Center for Children’s Law and Policy, which is helping to organize a national campaign against youth solitary, said Obama’s action may be “a springboard for people in states who want to be active and weren't really sure there was a climate for it.” “I think this extra push from the Obama administration is just what this movement needs,” said Amy Fettig of the American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project. In California, children's advocates have been pushing a bill for several years that would strictly limit the use of solitary confinement for children, and the legislation was recently reintroduced. Alex Johnson of the Children’s Defense Fund-California said the administration's example will be a powerful one as the bill works its way through the state legislature.
Most states continue to house youth in adult prisons, putting them at risk for physical and sexual abuse, says the Campaign for Youth Justice. As the number of youth in both juvenile and adult facilities decrease, states have the chance to end the practice of housing youth in adult facilities entirely, said the group, reports the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. “These populations are getting smaller and smaller and smaller, which raises the question 'Why are we housing youth in these adult prisons?'” said the group’s Carmen Daugherty. The number of youth in the adult prison system has decreased 70 percent since 2000. On any given day at the end of 2013, states held 1,200 youth in adult prison, the campaign said in a report.
The juvenile justice system was created to ensure public safety while helping youth overcome difficulties and become successful members of their communities. For many young people who have been adjudicated by the juvenile court, though, the system has become a tool for broader intervention than simply preserving safety: a way of getting kids help. Consequently, well-meaning juvenile courts sometimes make decisions to incarcerate kids in hopes of getting them the services they need. This raises grave concerns. Young people should be placed in secure facilities only when they present a safety risk to the community.
The kids, nearly all black or white teenage boys, are sent hours away from their families to Pennsylvania youth correctional facilities, sterile lock-downs surrounded by barbed wire or cabins so far in the wilderness they're considered secure even without a fence. They are the toughest kids in the juvenile justice system, and, in some ways, the most vulnerable, reports PublicSource, writing for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. In the months they spend at correctional facilities, they receive mood-altering psychiatric medications at strikingly high rates, particularly antipsychotic drugs that expose them to significant health risks. Kids are more vulnerable to the severe side effects of antipsychotics, including rapid weight gain and diabetes, yet doctors and juvenile justice experts say they're confident the drugs are being used off-label in the state facilities to induce sleep or to reduce anxiety or aggression. Some child advocates refer to this use as “chemical restraint.”
A key Texas legislator is threatening to call a hearing and seek leadership changes at the state Juvenile Justice Department after reports of youths fighting, climbing onto rooftops, running away from staff in large numbers and barricading themselves in at state juvenile correctional facilities, the Texas Tribune reports. Eight disturbances have been reported at four of the state's five juvenile correctional facilities in the last three months, culminating in late September with a two-hour incident at the Giddings State School. About 40 youths began fighting, breaking window panes and climbing onto rooftops in a morning disturbance said to have been planned by two rival gangs. Giddings opened its doors Sept. 16 to former students for a reunion to extol the positive impact staff and programs had on their lives.
Following brutal accounts of San Diego juvenile hall officers using pepper spray on detainees who refused to submit to strip searches in front of staff of the opposite sex, the California Legislature has passed a bill that strictly limits how strip searches are conducted on minors in custody. The legislation, Assembly Bill 303, currently awaits Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature. The author of the bill, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzales (D-San Diego), took up the issue last summer after the Youth Law Center (YLC) filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice that alleged widespread misuse of pepper spray — also known as oleoresin capsicum, or OC spray — in juvenile facilities run by the San Diego County Probation Department. YLC’s investigation was spurred by a series of reports in the alternative newsweekly, San Diego CityBeat, as part of an ongoing collaboration with The Crime Report. Based on incident reports previously denied to reporters, YLC’s 34-page complaint described how two suicidal young women, and at least one young man, had been repeatedly hosed with OC spray to force them to submit to strip searches in front of staff of the opposite sex.
In video footage from inside Connecticut's juvenile correctional facilities, a distressed girl screams as she is restrained on the ground in a corridor. She is left alone, and she ties a shirt tightly around her neck, tries to pull nail-studded wood off the wall and ultimately is taken out of the facility on a stretcher. In another video, a boy who had reported suicidal thoughts is restrained and left lying on the floor, alone in a room. The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange says a chart in an accompanying report from the state's Office of Child Advocate tallies 55 instances of suicidal or self-harming behavior during a year in the facilities. The release of the video and report yesterday is the latest from the watchdog agency, which helped reignite a debate about the safety and efficacy of the facilities in July with a critical report on conditions.
The age of juvenile court jurisdiction should be raised to at least 21 years old, researchers propose in a new report released by Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government citing studies that show brain development continues past the teenage years. The research is part of a series published by the Executive Session on Community Corrections at the school, which aims to develop new correctional policy and explore the role communities could play in a more “age-responsive” criminal justice system. The age at which young people can be tried in adult court for criminal law offenses varies from state to state—in some states it has been as low as 16—and also can depend on the nature of the offense. In some states, an assessment of the youth’s age, offense and prior record can place a young offender under the jurisdiction of both the juvenile and criminal courts. “Our new understanding of the developmental process through young adulthood and historical shifts in the early life course demand new kinds of institutions,” write Vincent Schiraldi, Bruce Western and Kendra Bradner in Community-Based Responses to Justice-Involved Young Adults.”
Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved S. 1169, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) of 2015. First signed into law by President Gerald Ford on September 7, 1974, and most recently reauthorized in 2002, the JJDPA embodies a partnership between the federal government and U.S. states, territories and the District of Columbia to protect children and youth in the juvenile and criminal justice systems, to effectively address high-risk and delinquent behavior and to improve community safety. Moreover, at the time it first passed, the JJDPA represented a national consensus—that juvenile justice was a non-partisan issue, of equal concern to young people, families and communities all across the country. In fact, all but one United States Senator voted for the original Act. Now, more than seven years overdue for reauthorization and suffering from not-so-benign neglect, the JJDPA remains the only federal statute that sets out national standards for the custody and care of youth in the juvenile justice system, and that provides direction and support for state juvenile justice system improvements.