JDAI Day Two: The Choir and The Kool-Aid

Philadelphia, Pa.

Day Two of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) conference is in the books! The host, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, estimates about 800 in attendance. Yowza!

Click here for a rundown of day one. Following is a breakdown of all the action we took in during day two.

Before we begin though, a quick message for the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown: let’s get some more air circulating into Franklin Hall, and let’s have that air be below 70 degrees.

You’ve got some nice, intimate rooms down there, which in YSI’s opinion are always better than soulless, gigantic ones. But we saw more than one person succumb to the heat and nod off.

Ben Franklin was an innovator and a pragmatist, even if he favored the turkey as a national bird. His hall deserves more air.

On to the conference:

Weaning off solitary

“Everybody wants a watch. I have no idea why, they don’t have any dates or appointments.”

That was uttered by Louisiana’s Anthony Celestine, assistant director of the Calcasieu Parish Office of Juvenile Justice Services, as he discussed his agency’s gradual move away from the use of solitary room confinement.

Solitary of juveniles is a hot topic these days, though the focal point in the media has been the use of confinement on juvenile offenders in adult facilities.  You can click here for an excellent, nationwide breakdown of juvenile solitary policies in the United States.

What does Celestine doling out timepieces have to do with that? It is the very center of a simple philosophy he hopes will continue to push his solitary numbers down: by increasing incentives for good behavior, he can encourage good behavior and create other ways to reprimand misbehavior.

“The more you give kids, the more you can take away,” said Casey consultant Kelly Dedel, describing the theory.

Calcasieu started its process like the rest of its fellow parishes, by meeting some basic standards established by the state for juvenile facilities: no punitive confinement for more than eight hours without a hearing, no confinement over 72 hours without a mental health examination aimed at finding a more appropriate placement.

After that, Celestine began to introduce more limitations on confinement as the parish signed off on a broader incentive plan, which was blessed on the strength of declining violent incidents at the parish facility.

“Incentives was an easy sell,” he said. “It’s way cheaper than a lawsuit, or worker’s compensation.”

As Louisiana stems the use of punitive confinement, Massachusetts did away with it altogether, said Nancy Carter, who oversees residential operations for the state Division of Youth Services.

The state abolished the practice recently, following “a suicide related to room confinement,” Carter said. Staff were not thrilled, she said, because confinement was long used as a valuable tool in controlling behavior.

“Our most veteran staff were against this,” Carter said. “You have to let naysayers in on the decision making.”

Celestine told YSI that he would like to at least get close to eliminating confinement as a punishment. A breakdown of the facility’s recent confinement cases shows plenty of low-hanging fruit to start with: only 10 percent of solitary punishments were for violence or threats to staff. Here are some others:

  • Not Following Staff Instructions, 25 percent
  • Yelling Down the Hall, 15 percent
  • Disrespecting Staff, 10 percent

Florida’s love affair with transfers

“There is lots of room for pessimism, but I am absolutely certain Florida is going to address this and move in the right direction.”

That was outgoing Florida juvenile justice director Wansley Walters, in reference to efforts to lower the use of juvenile transfers to adult court in the state. There is no mystery about what needs to happen: limitations on, or an end to, prosecutorial discretion.

Human Rights Watch researcher Alba Morales shared an overview of her recently released report, “Branded for Life,” a district-level study of prosecutorial discretion in Florida. The study identified 1,500 youths charged as adults, and 98 percent of those youths were sent to criminal court by a prosecutor.

Recent phenomenon? Nyet. There were 31,973 direct files of juvenile offenders into criminal court, according to data compiled by the National Center for Juvenile Justice. Of those, 96 percent were filed by prosecutors, who in Florida can make that move without any ability of a judge or agency to reverse back to juvenile court.

“Branded for Life” really provides some excellent, localized breakdown of transfers. What caught YSI’s eye were the charts that compared transfer rates of black and white juveniles for a number of charges, in all of the state’s district.

Bottom line: There are a number of districts that should probably be made to explain why the rates are so much higher for black youth than white youth. Particularly in the categories of drug offenses and violent offenses other than murder.

Walters, who will step down at the Department of Juvenile Justice soon, told YSI she plans to stay involved on this issue. Also involved: veteran litigator and watchdog David Utter of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Enter Marcy

As The Chronicle reported yesterday, the Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ) has finally named a successor to its founder, Liz Ryan, who left in December. For Marcy Mistrett, a former violence prevention operative who has since led local education organizations in the D.C. area, the first couple days in charge were spent at JDAI.

If one needed a reminder of why CFYJ came into existence, here is an article about two 12-year-olds who will stand trial in adult court for stabbing their friend in order to gain the good graces of a fictitious ghoul.

Twitter Telephone Game

In a keynote address that ended the day, author Nell Bernstein dropped a surprising stat: Black youths were 48 times as likely to be locked up for a drug-related crime as a white youth adjudicated for the same offense.

How that stat made it into the Twittersphere, care of a group called Concerned Black Men:

African American youth are 48 times more likely to be incarcerated than white youth for identical acts.

Whoa! This is the dangerous nexus of Twitter and research. A staggering, albeit pretty old number on drug offenses becomes a completely inaccurate and sensational figure.

Big Lubow-ski

“I’ve never known the justice reform field without Bart Lubow. Watching him make his pre-retirement talk is quite poignant” -@jeffreybutts

YSI could not put it better. We have covered juvenile justice to some extent since 2000. In that nearly 15-year period, we’d be hard-pressed to say there was one person who had more direct influence on the field than Lubow. JDAI has clearly contributed to the decline in juvenile detention; helped popularize the concept of data-driven decisions; and now will seek to make a mark in deincarceration.

Lubow doesn’t get the credit alone, but he has been charting that course for decades.

Here’s a completely self-interested position: YSI sincerely hopes Lubow now evolves into an unhinged assailant of injustice and champion of reform. He should write at least weekly. We know one news site that would be happy to accommodate such a venture!

Youth Services Insider is mostly written by Chronicle Editor-in-Chief John Kelly.

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John Kelly
About John Kelly 1131 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.