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Saturday 19th of October 2019

Press Room

IJJO Interviews- Ms. Liz Ryan, President & CEO, Campaign for Youth Justice. USA.

Wednesday 20th of February 2013 | National, United States

Ms. Ryan provides us an analysis of the situation of children rights in the USA together with a description of the main activities and objectives of the Campaign for Youth Justice. In this framework, Liz Ryan underlines that The U.S. should ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other human rights treaties, as well as, she advocates recommendations to federal, state and local policymakers, such as the development of strategies to stop the flow of youth into the adult criminal system.


Liz brings more than two decades of experience to the Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ), an organization she founded that is dedicated to ending the practice of trying, sentencing and incarcerating children in the adult criminal justice system.  In her capacity at CFYJ, Liz is responsible for overall strategy, management and fundraising.  Liz currently serves on the steering committee of the National Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Coalition.  Prior to starting The Campaign for Youth Justice, Ms. Ryan served for five years as the Advocacy Director for the Youth Law Center’s Building Blocks for Youth Initiative, a project to reduce the over-incarceration and disparate treatment of children of color in the juvenile justice system.  Ms. Ryan previously served as Deputy Chief of Staff and Legislative Director to U.S. Senator Thomas R. Carper during his terms as Delaware’s Governor and member of the US House of Representatives. She also served as a lobbyist for the Children’s Defense Fund. Ms. Ryan is a former VISTA volunteer.  Ms. Ryan holds a BA from Dickinson College (Carlisle, PA) and an MA from The George Washington University (Washington, DC).

 

 

 

Could you please give us a brief description of the main activities and objectives of the Campaign for Youth Justice? What were some of the main reasons to create the Campaign for Youth Justice?

 

The Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ) was launched in 2005 to end the practice of prosecuting, sentencing, and incarcerating youth under the age of 18 in the adult criminal justice system.  The strategic goals of CFYJ are to reduce the total number of youth prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system and to decrease the harmful impact of trying youth in adult court, especially the placement of youth in adult jails and prisons. 

 

We are seeking reforms in all 50 states.  Our main aim is to substantially decrease the number of youth prosecuted in adult criminal court, so that children could only be handled in adult court on a very limited basis and only in exceptional circumstances, after a hearing and a decision made by a judge.  This would encompass less than 1% of the 2.2 million children arrested every year.  We are also working to end the placement of children in adult jails and prisons in every state and to put in place an oversight, accountability and monitoring capacity in all 50 states.  

 

In order to achieve CFYJ’s strategic goals, CFYJ utilizes a “campaign” model to effect change in a focused number of states by targeting opportunities for change in states seeking to accelerate reforms.  These efforts involve launching state-based campaigns utilizing the following strategies: Leveraging the strengths of state organizations & allies;  Building campaign capacity to launch state-level reform efforts;  Promoting research on the negative impact of state policies; Creating awareness and political will of key decision-makers; Engaging youth, parents and families most directly affected;  Legislative education & advocacy;  Media advocacy; Policy advocacy; and organizing, outreach & coalition building.  CFYJ plays a vital role in supporting state-based efforts in each of its partner states and serves as a “clearinghouse” of information and key strategies and a “peer-to-peer connector” between the different groups.  Additionally, we use a “campaign” model to effect change on a short-term, goal specific and targeted basis at the national level to drive reform at the state level. 

 

As President and CEO (Chief Executive Officer) of the Campaign for Youth Justice, could you explain the main risks for young people in adult prisons?

 

An estimated 250,000 youth are prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system in the U.S. every year and on any given day, 10,000 youth, charged or sentenced as adults, languish in adult jails or prisons where they are at risk of assault, abuse and suicide.  These youth face life-long consequences.  They carry the stigma of an adult criminal conviction and as a result, they may have difficulty finding a job or getting a college degree to help them turn their lives around.  The consequences of an adult conviction aren’t minor; they are serious, long-term, life threatening and in some cases deadly. 

 

Research shows that these policies decrease public safety.  No study exists that shows that sending more youth to adult court increases public safety or decreases crime. In fact, trying youth as adults has both a detrimental impact on the youth tried as adults and harms public safety.

 

The public supports reform.  A new national survey released in October, 2011 conducted by GBA Strategies reveals that Americans are squarely on the side of reforming our youth justice system— with a greater focus on rigorous rehabilitation over incarceration, and against placing youth in the adult criminal justice system and in adult jails and prisons.

Key survey findings show that Americans:

 

•           Strongly favor rehabilitation and treatment approaches, such as counseling, education, treatment, restitution, and community service (89%);

 

•           Reject placement of youth in adult jails and prisons (69%);

 

•           Strongly favor involving the youth's families in treatment (86%), keeping youth close to home (77%), and ensuring youth are connected with their families (86%);

 

•           Strongly favor individualized determinations on a case-by-case basis by juvenile court judges in the juvenile justice system than automatic prosecution in adult criminal court (76%); and

 

•           Support requiring the juvenile justice system to reduce racial and ethnic disparities (66%).

 

 

As far as we are concerned, Campaign for Youth Justice asks for more investment into guiding young people to rehabilitation. Which kind of programs would be most appropriate? What are the ways for states to obtain more profits on the long-term?

 

The current juvenile justice system in states is a much more viable alternative than the adult criminal justice system in treating young people in conflict with the law.  Rather than continuing to spend public dollars on the adult criminal system, federal, state, and local policymakers should redirect public investments into the juvenile justice system to more effectively treat youth currently in the adult criminal justice system.

 

New research shows that programs, including ones that treat serious, chronic, and violent offenders in the juvenile justice system, reduce juvenile crime.  In a brief by former state legislator and juvenile court judge Ted Rubin, Return Them to Juvenile Court, [available online at:

http://www.campaignforyouthjustice.org/documents/ReturnThem.pdf]

Judge Rubin provided examples of several effective programs that have worked effectively to treat youth in conflict with the law that would treat youth in the juvenile justice system instead of the adult criminal justice system.  

 

Other promising approaches to promoting public safety and assisting youth include:

 

•           The evidence and theory-based practices and programs set outside of a correctional setting featured in Blueprints for Violence Prevention, released by the Center for the Study of Violence Prevention in Denver, Colorado.  [Information is available online at: http://www.colorado.edu/cspv/blueprints/]

 

•           The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI). [Information is available online at: http://www.aecf.org/MajorInitiatives/JuvenileDetentionAlternativesInitiative.aspx]

 

•           The Missouri Youth Services model approach to juvenile corrections.  [Information is available online at: http://www.aecf.org/MajorInitiatives/~/media/Pubs/Initiatives/Juvenile%20Detention%20Alternatives%20Initiative/MOModel/MO_Fullreport_webfinal.pdf]

 

What are the specific ways in which your organization helps young people who have been involved in the adult criminal justice system? What is the role of the family and community and where do they fit in this framework?

CFYJ is actively working to engage youth, parents and families who are most directly affected by policies that allow for the prosecution of youth in adult criminal court and placement in adult jails and prisons, as well as allies.

We established the Alliance for Youth Justice (AYJ) where currently more than 500 families in 40+ states participate.  The overarching goal of the Alliance for Youth Justice is to expand the number of parent and family leaders to launch campaigns to change state policies on the prosecution of youth in adult criminal court and placement in adult jails and prisons. The target populations for this project are the parents and families of youth who are directly impacted by the prosecution of youth in the adult criminal justice system.  These youth and their families are disproportionately poor and people of color.  This is not an already organized constituency, and the Alliance for Youth Justice is a national clearinghouse and support for new organizing efforts. 

 

In addition, we provide on-going training and support to a core group of parents and families who are interested in leading advocacy efforts in their states.  We have documented first-hand accounts of youth prosecuted in adult criminal court, as well as the impact on their parents and families as part of the Case Profiles project.  These are posted on the website, profiled on our blog, through facebook and other social media, and in reports & policy papers produced by CFYJ.

 

We manage an extensive correspondence project with currently incarcerated youth and individuals who were prosecuted in adult criminal court as youth, including holiday cards, Valentine’s Day cards and birthday cards. In addition, every year, we send cards to the mothers, sisters, daughters and family members of the currently incarcerated youth and individuals who we correspond with.  And since the campaign started, we have managed an annual holiday gift drive for currently incarcerated youth prosecuted in adult criminal court.

 

From a wider perspective, what is the approach of your organization towards US low ratification rates of core international human and children’s rights instruments such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child?

 

The American criminal justice system is unique in the world in that it allows for hundreds of thousands of children (under 18) to be tried, sentenced and incarcerated as adults and leads the world in incarcerating children.   The U.S. violates major provisions of international human rights conventions.

 

For example, Article 37 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) – an international instrument that the US has not adopted – states unequivocally that children who are detained should be separated from adults and that they should not be subject to ‘torture’ or other inhumane forms of punishment.  However, laws in most states allow for children charged as adults to be placed in adult jails without any separation from adults.  Less than half the states provide any safeguards that require some form of separation from adults. 

 

However, “separation” is not a real solution as many corrections officials will then place children in isolation or solitary confinement so that they do not have contact with adults.  Placing children, or adults, in solitary confinement is mentally debilitating, can lead to suicide and is considered ‘torture’ by some.  In a report released in October, 2012, “Growing Up Locked Down”, the ACLU and Human Rights Watch documented egregious cases of youth held in solitary confinement in adult jails and prison.

 

In Article 40, the CRC states that “prison sentences should only be imposed if a child is convicted of a most serious offense.”  In most states children are tried, sentenced and incarcerated as adults for offenses that would not be considered the most serious offense.

 

The CRC’s article 37 also states that they must have access to services that meet their needs.  We know for example that youth have limited access to education while in adult jails and prisons.  According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), 40% of adult jails provide no educational services at all, and only 11% of adult jails provide special education services.

 

The U.S. should ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other human rights treaties, and in the meantime, we will work to change laws, policies and practices in the states and at the federal level to bring the U.S. more into line with the CRC and other treaties.

 

 

On 25th June 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court decided that mandatory life-without-parole sentences are a 'disproportionate punishment' for young people, what is your opinion on this decision? How can this help Campaign for Youth Justice to achieve its objectives?

 

This decision is a positive step forward.  It places an emphasis on treating children as children and encourages individualized decision-making, rather than mandatory provisions, which is what the juvenile court was founded on.

 

 

According to your research, youths of colour are disproportionately affected by justice system for adults. In particular, you say that “the average rate of new commitments to adult state prison for Native youth is 1.84 times that of white youth.” What is the explanation to this current situation and, according to your experience and knowledge on this issue, how can this discrimination be combated?

 

Youth of color are disproportionately impacted by policies that allow for children to be prosecuted in adult criminal court. 

 

For example:

 

African-American youth overwhelmingly receive harsher treatment than white youth in the juvenile justice system at most stages of case processing. African-American youth make up 30% of those arrested while they only represent 17% of the overall youth population. At the other extreme end of the system, African-American youth are 62% of the youth prosecuted in the adult criminal system and are nine times more likely than white youth to receive an adult prison sentence. 

 

Compared to white youth, Latino youth are 4% more likely to be petitioned, 16% more likely to be adjudicated delinquent, 28% more likely to be detained, and 41% more likely to receive an out-of-home placement.  The most severe disparities occur for Latino youth tried in the adult system.  Latino children are 43% more likely than white youth to be waived to the adult system and 40% more likely to be admitted to adult prison. 

 

Native youth are more likely to receive to the two most severe punishments in juvenile justice systems:  out-of-home placement (i.e., incarceration in a state correctional facility) and waiver to the adult system.  Compared to white youth, Native youth are 1.5 times more likely to receive out-of-home placement and are 1.5 times more likely to be waived to the adult criminal system.   Nationwide, the average rate of new commitments to adult state prison for Native youth is 1.84 times that of white youth.    

 

We are working to dismantle laws, policies and practices that have a disproportionate impact on young people of color, especially focusing on efforts to reduce the prosecution of youth in adult criminal court.

 

What are the three most important recommendations that you would give to federal, state and local policymakers? What are the basic legislative reforms that you consider inadequate and in greatest need of reformulation and amendment?

 

States have undertaken numerous reforms to remove youth from the adult criminal justice system and from adult jails and prisons. The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) released a report in August, 2012, Juvenile Justice Trends in State Legislation, 2001-2011, that shows trends in juvenile justice state legislation over the past decade reducing the prosecution of youth in adult criminal court with legislators using a growing body of research on adolescent development and responding to this by changing state policies such as expanding the jurisdiction of juvenile courts by increasing the upper age of jurisdiction.

 

We advocate these recommendations to federal, state and local policymakers:

 

Strategies to Stop the Flow of Youth into the Adult Criminal System

 

  • Raise the age of original juvenile court jurisdiction (i.e., states where jurisdiction ends at age 16 or 17 rather than age 18). 

 

  • Increase the age of extended age of jurisdiction to age 21 or 25 to reduce prosecutorial incentives to transfer youth to the adult system.

 

  • Return to discretionary/presumptive judicial waiver for all youth by removing automatic mechanisms allowing youth to be directly filed in adult court.

 

  • Return to discretionary/presumptive judicial waiver for all youth by removing prosecutorial mechanisms allowing youth to be directly filed in adult court.

 

  • Remove or modify presumptive judicial waiver statutes to ensure youth have a fair chance of remaining in the juvenile justice system.

 

  • Raise the minimum age for automatic transfer provisions.

 

  • Remove certain offenses from the automatic waiver statute (e.g., certain offense codes like assault and robbery).

 

  • Disallow automatic transfer provisions to be applicable in accomplice or solicitation liability situations.

 

  • Limit the application of the felony-murder rule to be applied to juveniles.

 

  • Disallow automatic transfer provisions to be applied to first-time offenders.

 

  • Enact a reverse waiver provision.  Consider the timing of when reverse waiver is available and how it will influence the plea bargaining process. 

 

  • Ensure youth are competent to stand trial in the adult court by addressing the competency statute (e.g., ensuring competency standards are appropriate for youth tried as adults).

 

  • Address issues for mentally-ill youth charged in the adult system by increasing diversion options and or modifying civil-commitment laws.

 

  • Ensure youth have adequate and quality counsel representing them during their trial (e.g., preventing youth from waiving counsel, improving public defender systems, or requiring special qualifications for representing youth charged with the most serious offenses)

 

Improving Conditions of Confinement for Youth Already in the Adult Criminal System

 

  • Ban the placement of youth in adult jails.

 

  • Ban the placement of youth in adult prisons.

 

  • Improve the conditions of confinement for youth in adult facilities (e.g., independent monitors; regular facility inspections; clarifying in statute the specific services they are entitled to; improving family/community contact for youth in facilities by ensuring proper visitation and/or location of placement).

 

  • Develop community-based alternatives to incarceration including resolving any statutory barriers entitling youth to early release from incarceration facilities.  Change statutes allowing youth to be out in community supervision settings in lieu of mandatory incarceration.

 

Help Youth Make a Successful Re-entry into their Community

 

  • Require that all adult court convictions that are for offenses that could not have been originally tried in the adult system be automatically considered juvenile adjudications. This is a reverse waiver/criminal-blended sentence option.  In other words, deny criminal court jurisdiction over lesser offenses for youth under the age of 18 at the time of the offense.

 

  • Remove all mandatory minimums with respect to youth prosecuted in the adult system.

 

  • Remove “once and adult always an adult” laws.

 

  • Develop automatic expungement laws for youth (i.e., allow youth to clear their record if they have not committed an offense for a period of years).

 

  • Establish parole/clemency boards.

 

  • Develop “Second-look statutes.”

 

  • Address sex abuse registration requirements for youth.

 

 

What have been the main challenges, progresses and developments of The ACT 4 Juvenile Justice (ACT4JJ)?

 

We advocate for federal policies that will support states in their efforts to substantially reduce the prosecution of youth in adult criminal court and remove children from adult jails and prisons.  Opportunities to advance this agenda include the implementation of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) regulations, the Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) reauthorization; federal data collection efforts initiated by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, and other federal initiatives such as the National Center for Youth in Custody, the Federal Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice, the U.S. Attorney General’s Defending Childhood initiative, the National Girls Institute and the National Institute of Corrections.

 

CFYJ is a member organization of the National Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition (NJJDPC), a collaborative array of youth- and family- serving, social justice, law enforcement, corrections, and faith-based organizations, working to ensure healthy families, build strong communities and improve public safety by promoting fair and effective policies, practices and programs for youth involved or at risk of becoming involved in the juvenile and criminal justice systems.  CFYJ staff serve on the Steering Committee of the coalition.  Additionally, CFYJ staff co-chair the Act 4 Juvenile Justice campaign of the NJJDP Coalition. The Act 4 Juvenile Justice campaign is working to reauthorize and provide adequate funding for the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA).

 

To date, the Act 4 Juvenile Justice campaign has:

 

  • Reached out to the juvenile justice field to engage constituencies on the JJDPA;
  • Organized a broad juvenile justice stakeholder coalition;
  • Developed a policy platform and agenda on the JJDPA reauthorization;
  • Created informational resources and an educational website (www.act4jj.org);
  • Educated policymakers through meetings, briefings and hearings; and
  • Advocated for the appointment of a permanent OJJDP Administrator.

 

Our challenges are that the JJDPA reauthorization legislation has been introduced twice in the past six years but has not successfully made its way through the Congress and the funding for the JJDPA is at risk of additional cuts from the Congress.

 

We have a broad stakeholder coalition that has worked effectively over many years and we look forward to working with our allies to advance the JJDPA reauthorization and adequate funding support during the 113th Congress.

 

 

 



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