Building Blocks to Success – Celebrating Achievements in Your Drug Court

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Almost seven years ago, New York Times columnist Allina Tugend wrote an insightful column on redefining success, quoting author Katrina Kenison: “There’s a beauty in cultivating an appreciation for what we already have.” This National Drug Court Month, I wanted to congratulate all Juvenile Drug Treatment Court (JDTC) practitioners on your tireless work and encourage you to cultivate an appreciation of what you have accomplished; to think beyond the traditional measures of success, specifically the expectation we place on our participants to graduate.

Almost every time I travel to work with a JDTC, I end up telling this same story. It’s not even my own, it’s Dr. Jaqueline Van Wormer’s, but it’s a good one, so I’m going to share it with you:

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Examining the role of public defenders in disrupting racial injustice

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Photo used with permission from Richard Ross.

www.juvenile-in-justice.com

 

Michelle Alexander wrote in The New Jim Crow: “The fate of millions of people—indeed the future of the black community itself—may depend on the willingness of those who care about racial justice to re-examine their basic assumptions about the role of the criminal justice system in our society.”

February is Black History Month. It’s a time for everyone to reflect on the legacy of progress that black leaders have left throughout history in the fight for liberation, equitable treatment, and empowerment. It is also a time for white allies to examine what they could be doing better to interrupt their own racism and that of others, what it means to support black leadership, and how our nation’s policies continue to oppress black lives. And indeed, it is a time for white allies to heed Alexander’s call to re-examine the role of the criminal legal system in society.

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Modest Reform: How JJDPA matters and why it is still not enough

On December 21, President Trump signed H.R.6964 – Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2018. This law reauthorizes the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) Reauthorization Act. First authorized in 1974, the act ensured certain minimum standards for the treatment of youth in the justice system, banning incarceration for status offenses (such as drinking, which is prohibited only based on the age of the accused) and adopting a requirement that youth incarcerated in adult facilities have sight and sound separation from adult inmates. Since 1974, reauthorizations of the law have included provisions that require states address racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system and incentives for states to use evidence-based interventions to reduce juvenile delinquent activity.

However, despite seeming longstanding federal commitment to the idea that all young people deserve a second chance, the JJDPA had languished, pending reauthorization, for more than ten years. So, when Trump signed the reauthorization act on the coattails of the much anticipated Second Chance Act, juvenile justice practitioners everywhere (myself included) were relieved and elated.

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Reframing our perception of young people in the juvenile justice system

I believe in art! I see it as a powerful tool whether used in teaching, as I’ve seen first-hand through the eyes of my good friend, Sara, who is an art teacher in a DC elementary school, or as I experienced this week during a remarkable photo exhibit, by Richard Ross, which focuses on juvenile injustice.

As I looked at the photos of young people not much older than my daughter, incarcerated and isolated I wondered: is it possible to reframe our perception IMG_20190205_160355of young people in the juvenile justice system to see them as young adolescents who are still developing, instead of, in a discriminatory manner, labeling and incarcerating them as offenders for adolescent behavior –ultimately causing irreparable harm?

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The role of local institutions in the criminal justice reform debate

The truth of the common quip “all politics is local” has seemingly eroded in the last several years. The modern method of consuming news means our collective attention is squarely aimed at the actors we can all recognize or the systems which we are all familiar. We are less informed and less engaged in the issues in our own community. But whether or not the public is engaged, the American political system hinges on decentralized power spread over millions of jurisdictions. This is especially true of the criminal justice system. woman writting on boardDespite what is taught in high school civics classes, the justice system is not a single body or multiple bodies under a clear hagiarchy. Police, prisons, jails, public defenders, prosecutors, the judiciary, and the various ancillary services all operate independently with virtually no meaningful oversight or coordinated direction from a higher body. Each, however, can affect what justice looks likes in a community. Continue reading “The role of local institutions in the criminal justice reform debate”

Validate Me!! In Defense of [Properly Utilized] Risk Assessments

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How do you know whether the young person in front of you in court is likely to commit another crime? Historically the American justice system has looked at somewhat subjective factors like, “what crime did you commit?” or “have I seen you in court before?” In the past twenty years, the justice system has attempted to standardize the assessment of an individual’s likelihood of recidivism, reduce subjectivity, and target intentions at those who need them most. Continue reading “Validate Me!! In Defense of [Properly Utilized] Risk Assessments”

Community Approaches to Public Safety on Halloween

My first Halloween experience was when I was 12 years old. As a recently arrived immigrant to the United States, Halloween was a uniquely American experience for me and it was thrilling to discover haunted houses, carved Picture of pumpkinspumpkins, and elaborate costumes. I still remember staying up late on Halloween and trading candy with my siblings after trick-or-treating. Today, I feel like I am a pro at Halloween, I have a collection of cute decorations, I create jack-o-lanterns, I plan my kids’ costumes, and I make sure my house has the best candy on the block. As an adult, I still appreciate the innocent Halloween fun, but I am also aware of the public safety challenges this celebration can pose. This includes keeping kids safe as they explore en masse, protecting pedestrians and drivers, and preventing intentional mischief that could result in serious harm.

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In Re Gault – Progress or Regression

“The Road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” – Unknown

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As I walked into my first (and only!) law class in grad school, there was a quote written on the whiteboard. Our professor looked at us and asked, “How does this apply to our case today?” The case in question was “In re Gault,” the landmark US Supreme Court case which established the right to counsel for juveniles in delinquency cases in 1967. That may have been my only law class, but I continue to grapple with the issues raised by this case through my work training and providing technical assistance to juvenile drug treatment courts. In the 51 years since Gault, we’ve come a long way to ensure justice for youth, but there are still steps we need to take, especially when it comes to the right to counsel.

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Integrated Case Planning

The goal of juvenile justice interventions is to motivate adolescent behavior change—not an easy task, as any parent can attest. Teen behavior can be baffling; adolescents are impulsive, they love to take risks, their peers are essential to their self-image, and their emotions play a key role in their decision-making process. But there are strategies that have been proven to help adolescents, even the most at-risk youth, to live healthy lives.

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