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JULY 21, 2011: Peg's Blogs on Hiatus...

As many friends and regular readers know, I've been dealing with a lot in my personal life, lately, while my workload has continued to grow. Rest assured that I'm in the best of company, and getting by with a little help from my friends. Still, I need to take a break and focus on centering myself. That means this site will be neglected even more than it has been.

Until I'm able to get a grip on blogging regularly and thoughtfully again here (or until someone else steps in to anchor the site), I encourage people to check out Carl Toersbijns' blog (he's a former Deputy Warden for the AZ Department of Corrections, and while not an abolitionist, he's a strong advocate for the prisoners with mental illness, and for broad-based prison reform in AZ). You may also want to drop in on Middle Ground Prison Reform's site for news.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Re-entry for youth with disabilities.

When young people with disabilities end up in the juvenile justice system, they're less likely to return to youth prisons after their sentence is up if they have jobs or go to school quickly after being released, a new paper says.

However, comprehensive programs that help these youth go from prison to the outside world are scarce, says this piece from Project Forum at the National Association of State Directors of Special Education. And juveniles with disabilities have a high recidivism rate—more than the 55 percent rate for youth without disabilities.

The report looks closely at the practices in four states—Arizona, Georgia, Hawaii, and Oregon—when it comes to supporting all juveniles, including those with disabilities, who are leaving the justice system.

Some common practices the report found in states with programs intended to reduce recidivism for these young people include: a continuum of supports for youth that begins in prison and keeps going once they leave; transition facilitators or coordinators who are dedicated to working with these youth; and programs for reentering society that are comprehensive, addressing education, employment, social and behavioral skills, mental health, substance-abuse issues, housing, and transportation. Another common theme in the report? Budget problems often keep these programs from going long-term.

Here are some details of individual state's programs:

•Before youths' release, Arizona's Department of Juvenile Corrections assigns them a transition coordinator who establishes a relationship and supports them after they leave. Four of these coordinators travel the state and work with parole officers, the state director of special education, and school districts to ensure these juveniles are enrolled in the right programs at the end of their sentences. These coordinators even go to students' IEP meetings.

•Georgia's "Think Exit at Entry" program provides educational planning, progress reviews, transition facilitators, and other supports to youth in the juvenile justice system, including those with disabilities. The program has been scaled back since a federal grant expired in 2007, although some parts of it have kept going because of the partnerships already established among state agencies.

•Hawaii's Olomana School serves students in the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility, and youth participate in regular meetings about their behavior and school work. Because the state runs all schools in Hawaii, transferring records back to schools when students are released is seamless—and transfer of records is critical to a successful reentry for students with disabilities, the report says.

•Oregon's Project STAY OUT—Strategies Teaching Adolescent Young Offenders to Use Transition Skills—is specifically for youth with an IEP, 504 plan, or mental health diagnosis. Youth work on self-determination skills, social skills, finding work, and other goals. One study found that 66 percent of STAY OUT participants were either employed or in school during the first six months after their release from juvenile justice programs, the very things that are likely to keep them from returning.

For the full report on re-entry programs for youth with disabilities in the juvenile justice system, go here.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Children's Action Alliance Research and Report

Children's Action Alliance does a lot of good work on juvenile justice issues in Arizona - check them out and support them when you can:

Phoenix Office:
Children's Action Alliance
4001 North Third Street, Suite 160
Phoenix, AZ 85012
Phone: (602) 266-0707
Fax: (602) 263-8792

Tucson Office
2033 East Speedway Boulevard, Suite 102
Tucson, AZ 85719
Phone: (520) 795-4199
Fax: (520) 319-2979

What follows is their page of reports on juvenile justice issues:

Juvenile Justice - Research & Reports

Who's For Kids and Who's Just Kidding? (July 27, 2011) Each year CAA keeps track of which state legislators voted for kids and which ones had other priorities. Today, CAA releases the 2011 legislative wrap-up and report card for kids, Who's For Kids and Who's Just Kidding?

In this wrap-up you will find the bills that we felt were the most important to the children and families of Arizona during the 2011 Arizona legislative session along with a record of the way your legislators voted on these bills.

Find out how your legislators voted!

Improving Public Safety by Keeping Youth Out of the Adult Criminal Justice System (November 2010)  This report documents recent research showing that Arizona youth and communities are safer and better served by keeping more youth in the juvenile justice system instead of the adult criminal justice system. With enhancements to current policies, Arizona can reduce recidivism, save unnecessary expenses and lead more youth to becoming law-abiding and productive. CAA outlines ten specific policy changes to help avoid unintended, undesirable and unjust consequences in cases of youth being prosecuted as adults. Read/Download the Executive Summary and/or the Full Report.

2010 Legislative Wrap-Up (May 7, 2010) The 2010 legislative session was again dominated by painful budget cuts and intense disagreements over policy. Many large budget cuts are still phasing in, with families losing behavioral health services, therapy for special needs, basic cash assistance for food and shelter – and more.

With a whole range of services being dismantled, there were some bright spots for kids from the legislative session. A few new laws will help children in foster care and one new law will clarify and improve juvenile justice policy. Thanks to a strong and strategic coalition and Arizona voices speaking loud and clear from all over the state, payday loans and their triple digit interest rates will sunset on June 30, 2010.

Click here to read our legislative wrap-up and see how representatives and senators voted on key issues for kids and families.

Prosecution of Youths as Adults(January 25, 2010) SB 1009 is designed to bring our justice policies for youth more in line with the current research, to recognize that youth are different from adults, and to minimize the unintended consequences of our laws that allow youth to be prosecuted in the adult system.

Please Support SB 1088 (January 25, 2010) SB 1088 is designed to bring our justice policies for youth more in line with the current research, to recognize that youth are different from adults, and to minimize the unintended consequences of our laws that allow youth to be prosecuted in the adult system.

Legislative Report Card for Kids(December 22, 2009) CAA today released its 2009 Legislative Report Card for Kids. Each year, the 90 members of our state legislature vote on dozens of pieces of legislation that shape the health, education, and safety of Arizona children and families. Children’s Action Alliance believes that every lawmaker has the responsibility to vote for kids. And our legislators should be held accountable and measured on their performance.

No on SB 1420(June 24, 2009) SB 1420 increases minimum incarceration periods and fines for youth involved in DUI offenses. If a youth completes a drug/alcohol screening and treatment program, the sentence may be suspended. This bill is an expensive mandate for locking up youth with no prospect for improvements in public safety or youth rehabilitation. 

Racial Disproportionality in the Juvenile Justice System in Maricopa County(2008) In most juvenile justice systems across the country, youth of color are overrepresented. Data examined for Maricopa County show that at each stage of the juvenile justice system and as consequences become more restrictive, the gap between Anglo youth and youth of color becomes much greater. This report presents the data and asks important questions for decision-makers and stakeholders to examine why this is happening so that strategies can be developed to assure equal justice for all youth. 

Children Charged with Sexual Offenses Are Different Than Adult Sex Offenders (2007) - Provides information on SB1628, recently signed into law by Governor Napolitano, regarding treatment of youth sex offenders.

Juvenile Justice Publications

Prosecuting Juveniles in the Adult Criminal Justice System (June 2003) CAA and the Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee have released this publication that includes Key Issues and Recommendations in treating juveniles in Arizona's criminal system.


Criminalizing youth resistance: Truancy in MESA

I swear I don't know I escaped being criminalized in my youth...

-------from the Arizona Republic------

Courts cracking down on truancy

Students warned of charges that can stem from skipping school

The excuses for missing dozens of days of school this year ranged from insomnia to asthma to not liking the "drama" in high-school hallways.

But Judge Dan Dodge wasn't having any of it at a new special hearing he holds for truants and their parents once a month.

"Chronic truancy is a criminal offense. Do you want to start out your life with a criminal record?" Dodge said as he stared down from the bench at Gilbert's Highland Justice Court at a sleepy-eyed 15-year-old Dobson High School student.The freshman said he has missed dozens of days of school this year because he usually struggles to fall asleep until 3 a.m. He then has trouble getting up for his 8 a.m. class. And Mom, typically asleep herself at the hour school starts, is no help, the student said.

"I don't really care about school," he had said before walking into the courtroom. "I would rather stay up late and play music."

Dodge was unsympathetic, saying the problem could easy be solved with fewer late-night jam sessions and a louder morning alarm clock. Or maybe Mom should just pour a glass of water on his head every morning at 6 a.m., the judge said.

Dodge told the young insomniac to have no more unexcused absences this year or he could lose his right to apply for an Arizona driver's license until he turns 18.

Potential prosecution

On a recent afternoon, Dodge looked around a courtroom full of accused truants, their parents and their guardians and told everyone to shape up or face prosecution by the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.

Parents in the room eyed each other with chagrin as Dodge told them that they, along with their teens, could face Class 3 misdemeanor charges -- meaning fines and possible jail sentences -- if they did not get their kids to school on time or make arrangements for them to study at home because of chronic illnesses.

"And if you want to drop out and ruin your life at age 16, that is your prerogative. But before that, it is not your privilege," Dodge told the students, who are not identified because The Arizona Republic typically does not print the names of juveniles accused of crimes.

Dodge ordered the kids and parents to return to his courtroom in March with report cards and attendance records. If things have improved by then, charges will be dropped.

At least one student in the courtroom was already on her way to a new life. Wearing a charter-school uniform, she told Dodge that she hated the "drama" at her former district high school and had been in class every day since she transferred.

Truancy court is a no-nonsense year-old partnership between the Mesa Public Schools Safety and Security Department and East Valley justice of the peace courts, including Dodge's.

Mesa, the largest school district in the state, has a long history of being the toughest on truants.

Most schools traditionally let attendance clerks and counselors deal with kids who play hooky occasionally and report chronic truants to local police. Peoria Unified School District in the West Valley has an innovative on-campus program called "Sweeps" that requires kids who are late or loitering around campus to spend at least one class period away from other students explaining to a teacher why they were AWOL.

In contrast, Mesa employs nine uniformed, body-armor-wearing, pepper-spray-carrying security officers who spend at least half of their time tracking truants and their parents. The officers are not sworn law-enforcement officials but have been trained to restrain young offenders until police arrive.

The annual cost in salaries is about $140,000 for the anti-truancy program, said Mesa schools security director Allen Moore, who believes the expense is more than worth it.

Pathway to crime

While the district wants as many kids in school as possible -- it gets nearly $5,000 a year in funding for each child enrolled and has lost 9,000 students in the past decade -- it's even more important to turn around truant kids before they get involved in crime, Moore said.

After performing normal school-security duties, the nine officers patrol areas that truants like to frequent -- shopping malls, electronics stores and restaurants with deals on breakfast -- in search of kids who should be in a classroom.

While one ditch day here or there probably does not mean the start of a criminal career, juvenile-crime experts say habitual truancy often is the first step toward involvement with drugs, vandalism, burglaries and gangs.

"We get calls from the parks, from the malls ... sometimes the kids have already been involved in burglaries," said Tim Pinsonneault, security supervisor for Mesa Public Schools.

"Habitual truants like to hang out with each other," Mesa security officer Nathan Wax said. "Kids all have cellphones. They text each other and meet up at houses where parents aren't home."

In most cases, truancy problems are solved with a simple visit with the child and parents from a school security officer.

"We meet with parents and the student, we explain the state law to them. We say our goal is not to cite them," Pinsonneault said. "But if they don't correct the behavior, they are served by a process server and they have to go to court. If they don't show up, a warrant is issued for their arrest."

Moore said his officers have stumbled onto meth labs and dwellings where the conditions were so uninhabitable that they called Mesa police and the state's Child Protective Services.

But, he said, truancy is a middle-class problem, too.

"We have parents who want to take their kids out of school for a cruise," he said. "That is not allowed. And some parents want to start holiday break by going on vacation early. We don't call that vacation. We call it truancy."

Tutoring, counseling and parenting classes are made available to kids and parents who need them. But Moore said in many cases families just need to be made aware of the law. He said in the last calendar year, his officers have tracked down and given warnings to 1,184 truant junior-high and high-school students and 1,972 parents of truant elementary-schoolers. All but 606 middle- and high-school students and 234 elementary-school students returned to school with no additional action, he said. Those who did not heed the security officers' warnings were summoned to truancy hearings in a court like Dodge's.

Pinsonneault said that before last year, Mesa schools, like most other districts in the county, referred its habitual truants to the county's Juvenile Probation Department. The problem, he said, was that some parents failed to take the juvenile citations seriously.

"Bringing everyone to a justice court gives the process more teeth," he said.

Of the 79 chronic truants who appeared in Dodge's court last spring, only 12 still have charges pending, Moore said. The rest "have corrected their behavior and are attending school successfully," he said.

"It amazed me what a difference a little bit of the fear of the law would make," Dodge said.

Arizona's truancy law

Arizona law requires students to attend a public, private or home school until they turn 16 or finish 10th grade.

Students must be present 90 percent of the time -- 162 days of a 180-day school year -- to get a passing grade and credit in a class.
Kids are considered chronically truant after they miss 18 days of school, even if some of the days were excused absences.

Schools can issue citations that refer students to court or truancy-diversion programs after five unexcused absences.

Kids who fail to return to school after getting warnings face penalties ranging from fines to loss of eligibility for an Arizona driver's license until age 18.
Parents who fail to get their kids back to school can face fines or, in extreme cases, jail time.

Sources: Mesa Public Schools, Highland Justice Court, Maricopa County Juvenile Probation Department