In 2003, the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) — a federal legislative proposal that sought to curb incidents of sexual assault in both adult prisons and juvenile detention facilities — was signed into law by President George W. Bush.
The newly formed National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC) was then tasked with establishing PREA standards; ultimately, nine years would pass before the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) approved the final standards set forth by the NPREC.
Regarding juvenile offenders, PREA Standard 115.14, also known as the “Youthful Inmate Standard,” is perhaps the most significant aspect of the federal legislation. Under PREA, adult facilities holding inmates under the age of 18 are required to implement policies that guarantee the segregation of minors from older prisoners — a practice commonly referred to as “sight and sound separation.” Among other provisions, PREA prevents facilities from placing minors in cells with adult inmates, calls for constant supervision of juveniles in adult correctional facilities and limits the use of isolation as a penalty for young inmates.
In a bid to decongest the nation’s overpopulated prisons, the Obama administration has proposed leniency for certain drug cases, a move with uncertain consequences for juvenile inmates.
The president’s new Smart on Crime initiative has received national attention since Attorney General Eric H. Holder announced the policy at the American Bar Association’s annual meeting in San Francisco on Monday.
The initiative – highlighted by an easing of mandatory minimum sentencing laws for low-level drug cases – could help reduce the booming prison population. But it’s unclear what impact that will have on the country’s juvenile incarceration rate, the highest of any industrialized nation.
“This is all great language, but in terms of what reforms (Holder’s) proposing and how they will reduce juvenile incarceration – it’s an open question,” said Antonio Ginatta, Human Rights Watch advocacy director of the U.S. Program . “The real action needs to occur in state legislatures and in Congress.”
“Long story short, he identifies the right issues, but I don’t know if he has all the tools necessary to make the changes.”
Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters listened to the personal stories of several activists who have resided in Gov. Rick Scott’s office since Tuesday of last week.
While the group, mostly comprised of members of social activists the Dream Defenders, is adamant about working to abolish Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, they also have a developed focus on other laws that they say adversely affect the youth in the state.
They had the chance to outline what they would like to see from Walters in her capacity as the DJJ secretary.
Protesters are also working to remove zero tolerance laws where youth are suspended from school for minor offenses and stopping the school to prison pipeline that they say often push youth into prison with adults.
Gov. Rick Scott met Monday with his juvenile justice secretary, Wansley Walters, and directed her to meet with a group of student protesters who occupy part of the state Capitol for a sixth straight day
in opposition to Florida’s self-defense law.
Scott met with Walters at DJJ’s Tallahassee offices on Monday morning and they emerged to speak to reporters afterward in a hastily-called media availability.
Scott met with the protesters last Thursday night in his office and rejected their request that he call a special legislative session to repeal the self-defense law, known as “stand your ground.” The law is widely perceived to be at the heart of George Zimmerman’s decisions on the night he fatally shot an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin, during an encounter in Sanford in February 2012. Zimmerman was found not guilty of second-degree murder.
“I believe in our stand your ground and our self-defense laws in our state,” Scott said. “But I appreciate the fact that they expressed their concerns.” The governor reiterated his suggestion that the young protesters should focus their concerns on state legislators who passed the self-defense law in 2005.
LANSING, MI — State lawmakers are expected to hear testimony next month on proposed changes to Michigan’s “juvenile lifer” law, which was deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court more than a year ago.
Chairs of the House Criminal Justice and Senate Judiciary committees have scheduled a joint session on August 14 for testimony — but not a vote — on bipartisan legislation to update state law in response to the ruling.
Michigan law gives prosecutors broad authority to seek adult charges against minors convicted of certain crimes, including first-degree murder. If convicted, those minors face mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision released in June of 2012, said that such mandatory sentences amount to an unconstitutional form of cruel and unusual punishment that fail to acknowledge the potential for character and cognitive development in young people.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — More than a quarter of offenders in West Virginia’s juvenile detention facilities are actually young adults.
State law keeps many juvenile offenders in the custody of the Division of Juvenile Services system until they’re 21 years old. That might need to change, said Denny Dodson, deputy director of the division.
“We either need to change the code or have separate facilities . . .” Dodson said in a recent interview with the Daily Mail.
There’s no policy to keep adult and juvenile offenders separate in the facilities. At one point, advocates said it was good to mix offenders of different ages, Dodson said.
“We took some heat in trying to keep them separate. Obviously, we’re taking some heat for not keeping them separate now.”
A judge recently called the idea into question during a hearing about safety at the Harriet B. Jones Treatment Center, a juvenile corrections facility for sexual offenders and others.
The law arrived too late for Rodney Hulin, whose mother, Linda Bruntmyer, testified before Congress in 2002 about the brutal rapes of her son in adult prison and his suicide as a result.
In a grievance letter to prison officials, 16-year-old Rodney wrote, “I have been sexually and physically assaulted several times, by several inmates. I am afraid to go to sleep, to shower, and just about everything else. I am afraid that when I am doing these things, I might die at any minute. Please, sir, help me.”