Children and the Law News Roundup

JuvenileJustice Fryarlegal

 

 

 

 

 

 

A good week for juvenile justice!

  • In Miller v. Alabama; the Supreme Court held that sentencing life without parole to juveniles was a cruel and unusual punishment. The issue was whether this 2012 decision should apply only to future cases or did it also include  past cases. In Montgomery v. Louisiana, the Supreme court held that the Miller v. Alabama decision was in fact retroactive, allowing about 2,1000 to have a life sentence with a possibility of parole. Justice Kennedy concluded:“Henry Montgomery has spent each day of the past 46 years knowing he was condemned to die in prison. Per­haps it can be established that, due to exceptional circumstances, this fate was a just and proportionate punishment for the crime he committed as a 17-year-old boy. In light of what this Court has said in Roper, Graham,and Miller about how children are constitutionally different from adults in their level of culpability, however, prisoners like Montgomery must be given the opportunity to show their crime did not reflect irreparable corruption; and, if it did not, their hope for some years of life outside prison walls must be restored.”

 

  • President Obama wrote the following opinion banning the practice of juvenile solitary confinement in federal prisons.

“In 2010, a 16-year-old named Kalief Browder from the Bronx was accused of stealing a backpack. He was sent to Rikers Island to await trial, where he reportedly endured unspeakable violence at the hands of inmates and guards — and spent nearly two years in solitary confinement.

In 2013, Kalief was released, having never stood trial. He completed a successful semester at Bronx Community College. But life was a constant struggle to recover from the trauma of being locked up alone for 23 hours a day. One Saturday, he committed suicide at home. He was just 22 years old.

Solitary confinement gained popularity in the United States in the early 1800s, and the rationale for its use has varied over time. Today, it’s increasingly overused on people such as Kalief, with heartbreaking results — which is why my administration is taking steps to address this problem.

There are as many as 100,000 people held in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons — including juveniles and people with mental illnesses. As many as 25,000 inmates are serving months, even years of their sentences alone in a tiny cell, with almost no human contact.

Research suggests that solitary confinement has the potential to lead to devastating, lasting psychological consequences. It has been linked to depression, alienation, withdrawal, a reduced ability to interact with others and the potential for violent behavior. Some studies indicate that it can worsen existing mental illnesses and even trigger new ones. Prisoners in solitary are more likely to commit suicide, especially juveniles and people with mental illnesses.

The United States is a nation of second chances, but the experience of solitary confinement too often undercuts that second chance. Those who do make it out often have trouble holding down jobs, reuniting with family and becoming productive members of society. Imagine having served your time and then being unable to hand change over to a customer or look your wife in the eye or hug your children.

As president, my most important job is to keep the American people safe. And since I took office, overall crime rates have decreased by more than 15 percent. In our criminal justice system, the punishment should fit the crime — and those who have served their time should leave prison ready to become productive members of society. How can we subject prisoners to unnecessary solitary confinement, knowing its effects, and then expect them to return to our communities as whole people? It doesn’t make us safer. It’s an affront to our common humanity.

That’s why last summer, I directed Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch and the Justice Department to review the overuse of solitary confinement across U.S. prisons. They found that there are circumstances when solitary is a necessary tool, such as when certain prisoners must be isolated for their own protection or in order to protect staff and other inmates. In those cases, the practice should be limited, applied with constraints and used only as a measure of last resort. They have identified common-sense principles that should guide the use of solitary confinement in our criminal justice system.

The Justice Department has completed its review, and I am adopting its recommendations to reform the federal prison system. These include banning solitary confinement for juveniles and as a response to low-level infractions, expanding treatment for the mentally ill and increasing the amount of time inmates in solitary can spend outside of their cells. These steps will affect some 10,000 federal prisoners held in solitary confinement — and hopefully serve as a model for state and local corrections systems. And I will direct all relevant federal agencies to review these principles and report back to me with a plan to address their use of solitary confinement.

States that have led the way are already seeing positive results. Colorado cut the number of people in solitary confinement, and assaults against staff are the lowest they’ve been since 2006. New Mexico implemented reforms and has seen a drop in solitary confinement, with more prisoners engaging in promising rehabilitation programs. And since 2012, federal prisons have cut the use of solitary confinement by 25 percent and significantly reduced assaults on staff.

Reforming solitary confinement is just one part of a broader bipartisan push for criminal justice reform. Every year, we spend $80 billion to keep 2.2 million people incarcerated. Many criminals belong behind bars. But too many others, especially nonviolent drug offenders, are serving unnecessarily long sentences. That’s why members of Congress in both parties are pushing for change, from reforming sentencing laws to expanding reentry programs to give those who have paid their debt to society the tools they need to become productive members of their communities. And I hope they will send me legislation as soon as possible that makes our criminal justice system smarter, fairer, less expensive and more effective.

In America, we believe in redemption. We believe, in the words of Pope Francis, that “every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes.” We believe that when people make mistakes, they deserve the opportunity to remake their lives. And if we can give them the hope of a better future, and a way to get back on their feet, then we will leave our children with a country that is safer, stronger and worthy of our highest ideals.”

Washington Post, Barack Obama: Why we must rethink solitary confinement, Jan. 25, 2016

How to end Child Sex Trafficking

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President Obama recently instated January as the National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. As he explains in his presidential proclamation, millions of men, women and children are still victims of this form of modern day slavery. Although one might think human trafficking does not happen in our backyard, it is unfortunately a practice way too common in the United States and around the world.

“Human trafficking occurs in countries throughout the world and in communities across our Nation. Children are forced to fight as soldiers, young people are coerced into prostitution, and migrants are exploited. People from all walks of life are trafficked every day, and the United States is committed to remaining a leader in the global movement to end this abhorrent practice.”

Through this awareness month and the creation of the Federal Office on Trafficking in Persons, under the Department of Health and Human Services, the government is showing their determination to fight human trafficking, which considerably impacts children. Additionally, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children  facilitated the reporting system of missing children and also seeks to give information on sexual exploitation.

At a state level, 2015 was an important year for Texas in the fight against child sex trafficking. The Texas Governor and Texas CASA provided workshops, trainings and information to child welfare organizations and law enforcement  regarding the recovery and protection of children from sexual exploitation and trafficking. National Center for Missing & Exploited Children Texas regional office hopes to do much more in 2016. In fact, we can all do more to spread awareness and find ways to combat children and human trafficking.

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children invites you to

 

 

 

The following video by Senator John Cornyn enlightens us on different ways we can all be involved to protect children as this is an issue around the world, but also at home.

Texas Senator John Cornyn speaks out about human trafficking prevention.

 

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LGBT Homeless Youth at Risk, Part 3 of 3

people tooRegardless of a person’s gender, sexual preference, or questioning manner, all people are entitled to have their basic human needs met and to be treated with equality and dignity. To this end, organizations that serve LGBTQ homeless youth need to provide a strong system of support and understanding for this vulnerable population. Comprehending the risks and challenges that LGBTQ homeless youth face is the first step in helping. Beyond this understanding, there are several specific actions that organizations at the federal, state, and local levels can take to provide support and create positive outcomes.

Many LGBTQ homeless youth have been stigmatized and mistreated by the very people who should love and support them. It is vitally important that organizations who serve LGBTQ homeless youth provide a safe and supportive environment where youth are treated with respect and dignity. A safe environment includes nondiscriminatory policies, a well-trained staff who understand LGBTQ issues, and physical facilities that are inviting, clean, and age-appropriate. Medical personnel and shelter personnel should receive population-specific training to understand the unique needs of the LGBTQ population, especially the transgender population. Supportive programs understand and are sensitive to the specific social and emotional needs of LGBTQ homeless youth, and they foster community connections with other organizations, mentors, and advocates (e.g., school-based advocates, attorney advocates, and the like). Advocates should familiarize themselves with the various homeless youth and LGBTQ support organizations in the local community and establish a working relationship with these groups. Furthermore, local groups should collaborate–something that is easier said than done–and share resources and expertise. Local organizations are typically the first point of contact for LGBTQ homeless youth but they need not act in isolation. State and federal programs can and should provide resources and training for local programs. Additionally, state and federal organizations ought to offer a forum for various interlocal organizations to collaborate and develop best practices.

Any organization that purports to serve the LGBTQ homeless youth population has a duty to ensure they are providing the types of services mentioned above. The government also has an obligation to the LGBTQ youth population to reduce the incidence of homelessness and to improve the services and treatment these youth receive if they do become homeless. According to the Center for American Progress, the government ought to take specific steps to address the needs of LGBTQ youth:

  • Schools should be a safe haven for all youth, including LGBTQ youth. We need to address the role of unsafe schools have in promoting youth homelessness, and aggressively address school bullying. We also should better ensure that homeless youth are able to continue their education.
  • LGBTQ homeless youth, and homeless youth in general, should be recognized as special-needs populations, protecting them from discrimination by federal grantees.
  • LGBTQ homeless persons need safer access to housing options that will respect their sexuality and personal identity, as well as provide a safe environment. This includes training for shelter staff on how to be an ally to LGBT individuals and written policies to keep discrimination from occurring.

While we have a long way to go, an encouraging trend is developing. Organizations like the Happy Hippie Foundation, founded by musician Miley Cyrus, provide a forum for LGBTQ homeless youth to share their stories and develop a sense of community and shared experience. Happy Hippie collaborates with various other NPOs/NGOs such as CenterLink (LGBT community centers), Covenant House (homeless youth shelter), The National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (education advocacy for homeless youth), The National Center for Transgender Equality (social justice advocacy for transgender people), and True Colors Fund (works to end homelessness among LGBT youth), to name a few. Through collaborative efforts these organizations provide a safer space for LGBTQ homeless youth, providing access to basic needs–food, shelter, education, and the like–and offer other organizations an example of best practices for serving LGBTQ homeless youth.

The best approach to protecting and empowering LGBTQ homeless youth combines government protections and support with national, state, and local action. Government protections at the federal and state level may lag behind developing social norms, but they are gradually catching up to our social evolution. What needs to happen most now is local protection. Local protections should be aimed at providing more safety and acceptance for LGBTQ population in general. A safe and accepting legal environment is necessary to continue the trend of a more safe and accepting social environment. The best way to foster both legal and social change is to get involved.

The recent outcome of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, Proposition 1, attests to the need for local action from LGBTQ advocates and local protection from city and municipal government. Prejudice and fear thwarted progress toward equal treatment because scaremongering drowned out the voices of empathetic advocates. Opposition to the ordinance in Houston framed it as the “bathroom ordinance” and, more despicably, the “Sexual Predator Protection Act” in a (successful) effort to scare many voters into believing that a vote for the ordinance would give child molesters and perverts incentive to enter women’s restrooms. Equal treatment for LGBTQ people was equated to violating women and children, and the LGBTQ community was unfairly stigmatized in the process. It isn’t enough to privately support equal treatment for LGBTQ; change will only come about when individuals collectively add their voices to the sea change sweeping through the nation.

Education, volunteering, and political advocacy–as simple as voting–are all actions that individuals and small groups can take to make a positive impact on the LGBTQ homeless youth population. The problem is one of national importance that has a local solution, and that solution starts with caring, concerned advocates.

[This article is part 3 in a series of 3 articles on LGBTQ homeless youth. Part 1 identifies origins and challenges for LGBTQ homeless youth. Part 2 identifies federal, state, and local initiatives aimed at LGBTQ homeless youth. Part 3 summarizes best practices and offers a state & local approach based on best practices.]