We’re still here!

Even though we haven’t been updating our blog lately, we’re still here! Check the www.FAVYouth.org web site for the most up-to-date info.

Natural Bridge News Coverage

Young people are being moved from Natural Bridge as DJJ prepares to close it very soon. The Roanoke Times has an article on the closing. Except for the unnecessary name calling (“baby-faced bruisers” and “pubescent thugs”), it’s a good article about what made Natural Bridge work.

More on Natural Bridge Closing

Yesterday’s post may have gotten the numbers of youth who have been moved from the Natural Bridge JCC wrong — this is a moving target — but the young people do seem to be getting shipped out quickly.

One of our members, whose son has been at Natural Bridge, has started a web forum for people to keep in touch with what’s happening and with each other, especially people who are connected to Natural Bridge Juvenile Correctional Center: staff, families, volunteers, alumni and community members. Here’s the address: http://naturalbridgeclosing.freeforums.org/index.php

Closing of Natural Bridge Juvenile Correctional Center

On September 8, Governor Kaine announced his budget reduction plan, which included $10 million of cuts to the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ).  Those cuts included closing Natural Bridge Juvenile Correctional Center, the least restrictive of DJJ’s correctional centers.  As of last Tuesday, 69 youth were there.  We now have heard that 38 will have been moved as of today, September 14.  For the most part, they are being moved to DJJ’s more secure facilities.

This is a very distressing development.  Natural Bridge served as an important transitional step for many young people, who earned their way there from more secure facilities through good behavior and positive accomplishments.  Other youth, after completing the initial DJJ assessment process, have spent their entire DJJ sentence at the facility.  Young people at Natural Bridge had the opportunity to take community college classes, participate in work release programs, or participate in paid on-site work.  Moving them to DJJ’s more prison-like facilities is a step backward, and a betrayal for those who have worked hard and played by the rules to reach this point.

A report from the NewsVirginian.com and one from WDBJ7 , along with a video highlight the opposition of many residents and state Del. Ben Cline to the closure.

What do you think about this issue?  Comment below, and if you want to email Gov. Kaine, go to his web site email form.

Special DJJ Board Hearing April 7 — We Need You!

Please Stand With Us to Help Our Children!

Special DJJ Public Hearing

Tuesday, April 7, 2009, 7-9 pm                                                                                                                                                          700 East Franklin Street                                                                                                                                                                    2nd Floor Conference Room                                                                                                                                                   Richmond, Virginia

Young people in Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) facilities need help from their families and communities.  But some DJJ policies make it hard for us to give them the support they need.

At this special public hearing, we are asking the DJJ Board to adopt regulations that will help families support their children so that they have a fair chance to grow into responsible adults.  Here are the 10 things we are asking for:

1.  Tell families how your facilities work: give them an orientation.  Give them contact information for their children’s counselors and for the superintendent and assistant superintendents.  Tell them when their children’s counselors change.

2.  Invite and enable parents and guardians to participate, either in person or by phone, in all decision-making and treatment meetings about their children.  Explain DJJ’s treatment and placement decisions to them, including Length of Stay calculations.

3.  Inform parents/guardians about DJJ’s grievance process, and let them use it to file grievances or appeal decisions on behalf of their children and themselves.

4.  Let parents and guardians have meaningful participation in their children’s treatment.  Give them the chance to meet confidentially, in person or by phone, with staff involved with their children’s care.  Let them be there when their children need medical treatment or hospitalization.

5.  Tell parents and guardians right away when their children are sick or injured, have attempted suicide, been taken to the hospital, or die.

6.  Tell parents and guardians when their children are being transferred.  Give youth a chance to call their families on the day they arrive at a new facility.

7.  Let children in DJJ facilities have visits from people who are important, positive supports for them, even if they are not “immediate family.”  Provide times to visit if families can’t come on Sundays, and don’t make families have to choose between their church communities and religious observances and visiting their children.

8.  Let families visit and talk on the phone with their children when they are in the infirmary or administrative segregation.

9.  Give parents and guardians access to their children’s records.

10.  Respect parents and guardians and treat them with professional courtesy and fairness, regardless of race, religion, national origin, language, economic status, disability, gender, sexual orientation, or age.  Return their phone calls and/or emails within one business day.

You can download a one-page summary of what we’re asking for, or read the 5-page full version of our request.

A lot of people don’t believe families or communities care when our children are locked up.  Let’s show we do care.  Please come to speak or to show your support!

Please spread the word with this flyer.

Read more about this issue in our blog post “Juvenile Justice Family Values.”

Juvenile Justice Family Values

“We’re still their parents!” cried one mother. “He’s still my child.” The rest of us around the table nodded and agreed, and told her we supported her.

Last month, we had one of our regular monthly meetings near Beaumont Juvenile Correctional Center, and our speaker had not shown up. So we did what we do best: talk among ourselves.

One major theme came up: the way the juvenile justice system treats families of kids who are in trouble. Two of the parents had not been informed promptly when their sons were moved to different facilities. Counselors were not returning phone calls, and parents did not know where to turn or who to call to get answers about what was happening to their children.

It does not have to be this way. Families & Allies has begun a Family Collaboration Project with several parts. The first part is finding out how other juvenile justice systems around the country are working with families as collaborators, rather than ignoring them, or worse, being outright hostile to them. We’re finding out a few eye-opening things.

In some facilities, families can visit and share a meal with their child! In Arizona, North Carolina and some other states, families get help with transportation to the facility to visit their children. Contrast that to the distraught mother and sisters I met last month, who were visiting for the first time, and who weren’t even sure how they were supposed to get into the facility to visit.

North Carolina requires its Youth Development Centers to offer visitation on at least one weekend day and one weekday per week. Their regulations encourage facility directors to offer visitation “as often as operations, staffing, safety, security, and programming permit.” Contrast that to the Sunday-only visitation in Virginia’s youth prisons.

Here in Virginia, we have seen a few gains in how the system treats families. For example, through persistent advocacy, one mother was able to be at her son’s side when he was hospitalized for surgery. One facility holds a family day each year, and counselors there make regular contact with parents. Finally, the Board of the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice held an evening session last year so that more parents could participate.

But there is more to be done, lots more. A big part of our Family Collaboration Project will be coming up with a set of actions and policies to ask DJJ to adopt. These might include providing a handbook and/or orientation for families, setting expectations for contacts with counselors, expanding visitation times, allowing pre-approved visitors outside the immediate family, and others.

We’d love your input. How do you think Virginia’s juvenile courts, court service units, detention centers and juvenile correctional centers can work better with families instead of against them? What’s your experience? What is working now? You can comment below or send me an email.

— Liane Rozzell

It’s Official — Transfer Backfires

Well, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) confirmed what lots of people already knew. In a report released this week (pdf), OJJDP says that transferring youth to the adult criminal system increases recidivism. It does not deter youth from committing crime. In short, it’s a public safety failure, and a failure to help youth become productive citizens.

The Campaign for Youth Justice news release gives this summary:

Key findings from OJJDP report:

— Laws to make it easier to transfer youth to the adult criminal court system have little or no general deterrent effect, meaning they do not prevent youth from engaging in criminal behavior;

— Youth transferred to the adult system are more likely to be rearrested and to reoffend than youth who committed similar crimes, but were retained in the juvenile justice system;

— Higher recidivism rates are due to a number of factors including the youth’s:

  • Stigmatization/negative labeling effects of being labeled as a convicted felon;
  • Sense of resentment and injustice about being tried as an adult;
  • Learning of criminal mores and behavior while incarcerated with adults;
  • Decreased access to rehabilitation and family support in the adult system;
  • Decreased employment and community integration opportunities due to a felony conviction.

The New York Times chimed in with an editorial:

This country made a terrible mistake when it began routinely trying youthful offenders as adults. This get-tough approach was supposed to deter crime…..

Young people who commit serious, violent crimes deserve severe punishment. But reflexively transferring juvenile offenders — many of whom are accused of nonviolent crimes — into the adult system is not making anyone safer. When they are locked up with adults, young people learn criminal behaviors. They are also deprived of the counseling and family support that they would likely get in the juvenile system, which is more focused on rehabilitation. And once they are released, their felony convictions make it hard for them to find a job and rebuild their lives.

Nearly every state now has laws that encourage prosecutors to try minors as adults. The recent studies of this approach should lead legislatures to abandon these counterproductive policies.

Amen to that. Are you listening, legislators? Let’s get smart about our crime policies and step back from sending children to the adult criminal system.

— Liane Rozzell