Category Archives: Juvenile Justice

New Kids Count Report Shows Alarming Rise in Unconnected Youth

This week the Annie E. Casey Foundation released a new
Kids Count report focused on the alarming rise in the number of unconnected
youth. The report, Youth and Work: Restoring Teen and Young Adult
Connections to Opportunity, shows nearly 6.5 million U.S. teens and young
adults are neither in school nor in the workforce, and employment among young
people is at the lowest level since the 1950’s.  Many of these young
people, ranging from ages 16 to 24, face numerous obstacles. These youth are
encountering greater competition from older workers for increasingly scarce
entry-level jobs, especially in light of the recession. They often don’t
graduate from high school on time or are not prepared for college, further decreasing their employment options. And a number of them contend with hurdles beyond their control, such as growing up in poverty, having few working adults as role models, attending low-performing schools and living with a single parent.

The report emphasizes the need to provide multiple, flexible pathways to success for disconnected young people and to find ways to reengage high school dropouts. Youth and Work advocates creating opportunities for youth in school or other public systems that allow them to gain early job experience through such avenues as community service, internships and summer and part-time work. Its major recommendations include: a national youth employment strategy that streamlines systems and makes financial aid, funding and other support services more accessible and flexible; aligning resources within communities and among public and private funders to create collaborative efforts to support youth; exploring new ways to create jobs through social enterprises such as Goodwill and microenterprises, with the support of public and private investors; and employer-sponsored earn-and-learn programs that foster the talent and skills that businesses require — and develop the types of employees they need.

Supreme Court Rules Mandatory Life-Without-Parole for Children Unconstitutional

The Supreme Court yesterday issued a ruling that declared unconstitutional mandatory  life sentences without the possibility of parole for children. In its 5 to 4 decision the Court said that cases involving children and these sentences must take into consideration their age and other mitigating factors such as their family and home environment. The ruling overturns legislation in 28 states. Judges may still sentence juveniles convicted of murder to life sentences without the possibility of parole but must take into account mitigating circumstances. There are approximately 2,500 inmates serving life-without-parole sentences for murders committed before they were 18. Of those, 2,000 were because of mandatory sentences. Today’s decision requires the lower courts to conduct new sentencing hearings where judges will have to consider children’s individual characters and life circumstances, including age, as well as the circumstances of the crime.

Specifically, the Court holds that the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment “guarantees individuals the right not to be subjected to excessive sanctions,” and that this right “flows from the basic precept of justice that punishment for crime should be graduated and proportioned” to both the offender and the offense.  Sentencing courts’ discretion must be exercised in an informed and thoughtful way that acknowledges that children are biologically different than adults and less responsible for their wrongdoing, and that the courts should provide the individuals affected by the ruling a meaningful opportunity to show they have rehabilitated themselves and are appropriate candidates for release.

This decision follows the Court’s earlier rulings in Roper v. Simmons (2005) and Graham v. Florida (2010), which acknowledge the diminished culpability of children. In 2005 the court banned the death penalty for juveniles who kill ruling that the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment must be seen through “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress in a maturing society.” In 2010, the court said juveniles whose crimes did not include murder could not be sentenced to life in prison without the hope of release at some future date.

These Cuts Won’t Heal: May 2012 Budget Update

As we approach Memorial Day weekend a number of important developments in this year’s budget negotiations have already occurred.  Several more developments are  expected when Congress comes back into session after the holiday, while others are looming farther in the distance and may not be resolved until after the November elections.  Once again there are several different moving pieces to the budget discussions, including the 2013 budget and appropriations process and the sequestration cuts scheduled to go into effect in January, 2013.

Thus far the majority of the action has been on the House side.  In March, the House passed its budget resolution  which made steep cuts to discretionary spending, called on House committees to replace scheduled defense cuts with cuts to non-defense programs, and converted Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to block grants.  Then earlier this month, following up on instructions from the budget resolution, the House passed reconciliation legislation replacing the defense cuts with cuts to a number of human service programs including repeal of the Social Services Block Grant, a critical funding stream for child welfare systems around the country, and cuts to Medicaid and SNAP.  Finally, the House also passed its version of the 2013 appropriations bill funding the Department of Justice which again cut funding to juvenile justice programs.

Meanwhile in the Senate, while no appropriations bills have been brought to the Floor yet, six have passed through the Senate Appropriations Committee.  Last week the Senate also held votes on several budget resolutions, including the one passed by the House, all of which were rejected.  Senate leaders have maintained that it is not necessary to pass a budget resolution this year since discretionary spending levels for this fiscal year were set by the spending caps in the Budget Control Act.  Lastly, the Senate has thus far refused to take up legislation addressing sequestration.

As we look ahead to the coming months, the next major development is likely to be a markup in the Senate Appropriations Committee of the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill, the bill that funds the majority of child welfare and related programs (action is expected in the Senate in early June).  It is not yet known when the House will take up its version, though the House will probably continue to move through its appropriations work when it comes back into session as well.

Though the House and Senate will both be moving appropriations legislation throughout the summer, it is unlikely that many or perhaps any of the appropriations bills will be signed into law before the elections since the two chambers continue to disagree about the level of discretionary spending for the coming fiscal year.  The Senate supports the Budget Control Act spending cap, set at $1.047 trillion for fiscal year 2013, while the House wants to cut even deeper.  This disagreement on the overall discretionary spending level makes it exceedingly difficult to translate funding levels to individual appropriations bills.  Most likely, the appropriations process won’t be finished until after the elections and will be completed in the form of either an omnibus bill or a continuing resolution, with the latter seeming to gain more traction lately.

The fate of the sequestration cuts scheduled to go into effect in January will also likely not be settled until after the elections.  Much is at stake in that battle.  CWLA has detailed the impact that sequestration would have in each state on several important programs serving vulnerable children and families.  As bad as those cuts would be, they could be made even worse if the scheduled defense sequester is replaced with additional cuts to non-defense programs, as the House has advocated.  This week Senate leaders spoke out strongly against such a change, and President Obama has also threatened to repeal the House proposal.  Still, neither side is willing to give in easily and it should make for a very busy end of the year.

House Bill Eliminates Critical JJ Funding

Today the House of Representatives approved by an almost party line vote the Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations legislation for FY 2013, H.R. 5326. The spending plan sponsored by Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA) eliminates two critical funding streams for juvenile justice programs, the Title V delinquency prevention grant program and the Juvenile Accountability Block Grant (JABG). The bill also cuts funding for a third essential element of federal juvenile justice efforts. The Title II state formula grants are cut to $33 million from $40 million currently. The Senate companion bill, S. 2323, introduced by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) takes an entirely different approach, increasing funds for Title II and Title V and level funding JABG.

The cuts in the House bill will have a devastating impact on juvenile justice. They will erode nationwide progress on juvenile justice improvements that have led to historic low rates in youth-offending across all U.S. states and territories; jeopardize innovative and effective work across the nation to reduce racial and ethnic disparities at various decision-making points within the juvenile justice system; and eliminate support for cost-effective delinquency prevention programs and alternatives to incarceration shown to increase public safety and decrease recidivism, while producing cost savings to the public.

It is not clear yet when the Senate will take up its spending plan for juvenile justice or when final decisions will be made but it is likely these issues will be part of end-of-year negotiations which may take place after the November election.