Category Archives: juvenile justice

The Best Days Inside are Family Days

field dayMy Spring 2014 Inside-Out class managed another first – my students were able to plan and host a Family Field Day for youth in the Hillcrest Youth Correctional Facility on Saturday.  As a service-learning project for our shared college class, students from Hillcrest and Oregon State University planned a day where youth and their families could be outside, play games together, and enjoy more freedom of movement than normal visits in the facility allow.

Family members were invited to either a morning session or an afternoon session, and students from the class and volunteers from OSU manned stations with the following activities: face painting; cookie decorating and eating; potato sack races; water balloon tosses; basketball; and soccer.  A lot of little kids – the children, siblings, or nieces and nephews of the young men of Hillcrest – were able to attend the event, and they seemed to have a great time playing and running around the facility’s front greens.

CIMG3536CIMG3534Students from the Inside-Out class also hosted a fundraiser during our Family Field Day, selling lunches of BBQ cheeseburgers, potato or macaroni salad, potato chips, and pink lemonade for $5 per person.  The students decided that the funds raised would be equally split between a Hillcrest College Scholarship Fund and a donation to a community group that works with at-risk youth in Portland, Oregon.  This fits perfectly with our class discussions on prevention and rehabilitation, and our guests seemed happy to support the cause.  I haven’t seen the final numbers yet, but I think the BBQ fundraiser (also held during regular visiting hours on Sunday) raised in the neighborhood of $1000.  Amazing.

A related service-learning project that my students are continuing to work on is to create a child-friendly space for families visiting at Hillcrest.  The administrators have given us a fairly large room to work with, and my students are helping to clean it out, paint it (including the use of chalkboard paint so kids can draw on the walls), decorate it, and furnish it with toys so that kids visiting the young men of Hillcrest have a place to be active and play together.  We are planning a grand opening of the kids’ room on Father’s Day.  Stay tuned – I’ll try to post photos!

Obviously to make any and all of this possible, we have had – and continue to have – tremendous support from the administrators and staff at Hillcrest and from the larger Oregon Youth Authority.  The Hillcrest administrators are pretty wonderful in letting my students and I pursue our ideas and projects.  And, to their great credit, my students came with positive attitudes and enthusiasm all quarter long, and we accomplished a great deal in a 10-week class.

I’m sad to see this class ending, but I know our efforts have made a lasting impact at Hillcrest and on each of us who had the privilege of participating in this unique and fun experience.

More photos from We are the 1 in 100

dougkelseydecourtneynickkatie

Representing the 1 in 100 Americans behind bars and those in the community who care about them and are affected by these incredible numbers, I ask my students in every Inside-Out course that I teach to share one key thought with the larger public.  I’ve shared photos from my previous Inside-Out classes on this Public Criminology blog, and will continue to do so as students put time and care into their messages.  This is the first time I’ve been able to put up photos of young men in the youth correctional facility.  I think the first photo here is all youth and vulnerability and this particular young man makes his case eloquently.  Please visit the We are the 1 in 100 tumblr site to see many more photos and sentiments of those inside and outside of correctional facilities.  I invite you also to submit your own photo.

Inside-Out Class in the Juvenile Facility

My first Inside-Out class in a juvenile correctional facility is quickly drawing to a close on our 10 week quarter system.  The word cloud featured here is how the students described the experience.  I asked each of the 27 students (from OSU and from the facility) to write three words that described our class, and this is what they came up with.  Fun, eye-opening, interesting, thought-provoking…I’ll take it!  Those are pretty good adjectives to describe any college class.

Along with Sarah Ferrer’s guest editorial in The Oregonian newspaper, there have been other interesting products from this short class.  First, we’ve added on to the We are the 1 in 100 tumblr site that was started in last fall’s class in the Oregon State Penitentiary.

Next, several of this quarter’s outside students were featured in a story in Oregon State University’s student newspaper, The Daily Barometer.  In the story, they share their enthusiasm for the experience and the group service-learning projects they are working on with the inside students.  The last lines of the story:

The students are all very grateful to have taken part in the class and encourage other students to take advantage of it in future terms. “This class is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Settelmeyer said. “It does a great job of sparking student interest in making a difference and walks us through starting to do just that.”

Finally, I’m working again the with the Think Out Loud crew from Oregon Public Radio.  They are going to be taping their hour-long show tonight in the youth facility with my class.  The show is scheduled to air tomorrow morning at 9:00.  It should be available on OPB’s website (to stream or download as a podcast) shortly after.  The major question that emerged from our pre-show interviews, “From inside Hillcrest Youth Correctional Facility we ask inmates: what is happening in prison to make them better citizens when they are released?”  I’m hoping for a fun, eye-opening, interesting, thought-provoking (sound familiar?) and very positive show.

So, for one brief class, I think we’ve done our part for public criminology and bringing attention to issues surrounding prisons and juvenile correctional facilities and their impacts on both those inside the walls and on the larger community.  I’ll be sorry to see this class end, but I am looking forward to a long and rewarding relationship with Hillcrest Youth Correctional Facility and the Oregon Youth Authority.

longing to get away

I spent part of my evening in a juvenile correctional facility last night with a group of smart, articulate young women serving time for a variety of offenses and literally growing up while behind bars.  I spend quite a bit of my time teaching and volunteering in prisons and juvenile facilities, and I always enjoy talking with incarcerated young people.  While most have made some very serious mistakes, I very often come away impressed with their thoughtfulness and their resilience.

What particularly struck me last night was when several of the girls spoke about their dreams and fantasies about flying.  In doing so, they evoked – and perfectly quoted – the line from Forrest Gump, where young Jenny is praying to God to help her escape her father’s house and his abuse: “Dear God, make me a bird so that I can fly far, far, far away from here…Dear God, make me a bird so that I can fly far, far, far away from here….”

I’d seen the movie years ago, but that line never held the same resonance for me.  Lucky me.  I was fortunate enough to grow up cared for and loved, and as a child I never had to worry about protecting myself or getting out of the way of harm.  I wonder how many incarcerated youth can say the same?  How many children have their innocence destroyed and are never able to find a legal escape?

I think part of the reason these issues of youth, pain, and longing are lingering in my mind is because one of my favorite songs at the moment is “Take Me Away” which shares some of the sentiment of the girls’ discussion and Jenny’s prayer.  Some of the lyrics (written by Scott Alan):

Let me climb to the top
Of the highest mountain peak
Let me scream at the top of my lungs
Until I can no longer speak

Can’t remember the last time
I said live and let things be
And it’s just been way too long
Since I felt alive and free

So I’ll sail away
Until I reach the sea
So I’ll soar the sky
Until I feel the breeze

I am ready to return
To the place I last felt stillness
To return to the heart
I had when I was five

Where the only thing that mattered
Was making colors I can paint with
I’m much too young
To let my life hang out to dry

So I’ll sail away
Until I reach the sea
And I’ll soar the sky
Until I feel the breeze

If you have not heard this song, do yourself a favor and take 4 minutes to listen to Hadley Fraser sing it – his performance is absolutely brilliant:

“Take Me Away”

youth and consequences

imagesin november, i wrote about the 8-year-old boy from arizona who was charged with 2 counts of premeditated murder for the deaths of his father and his father’s roommate. you may remember that he apparently confessed to the crime while being questioned by two female police officers without a parent or legal representative in the room. i was cynical, and suggested we all remember the ryan harris case in chicago where the 7- and 8-year-old defendants eventually settled wrongful arrest suits for millions of dollars.

well, the boy in the arizona case is now 9-years-old and he has pleaded guilty to one count of negligent homicide. under the agreement, the boy pleaded guilty in the death of his father’s roommate and charges of premeditated murder for both deaths were dropped.

this is a bizarre case. bits from the news story:

The boy’s mother cried throughout the hearing and, through her lawyer, objected to the plea deal. But Superior Court Judge Michael Roca accepted it….

(Apache County Attorney) Whiting said he spoke with the Romero family before giving final approval to the plea deal, and they agreed it was in the child’s best interest for him not to be forced to admit to killing his father.

“If the kid is ever going to have a chance at a normal life, how is he going to deal with `I pleaded guilty to killing my dad,’” Whiting said….

Under the agreement, the judge will decide later whether the boy will be institutionalized or live with relatives. He will receive diagnostic evaluations and mental health examinations when he’s 12, 15 and 17. The reviews are intended partly to determine whether the boy will pose any danger in the future.

i guess i’m surprised that the plea was accepted against the express wishes of the boy’s mother. and, while the boy didn’t have to admit to killing his father, he did essentially admit to committing murder (at age 8!). won’t that significantly hinder his chance for a “normal life”?

and now, another case with an extremely young defendant. an 11-year-old pennsylvania boy is charged with shooting and killing his father’s pregnant girlfriend. the victim, 8 months pregnant, was shot in the back of the head while lying in bed. the boy, jordan brown, was charged as an adult with criminal homicide and criminal homicide of an unborn child. the boy is currently being held in a county jail. the jail warden, aware that his 300-inmate jail cannot offer proper care for a pre-adolescent defendant, plans to ask the judge to move the 11-year-old jordan brown to a juvenile detention center.

these cases certainly test our notions of youth, accountability and consequences. what is the right thing to do with child defendants? is there any hope that they can go on to lead productive adult lives in the community? what is or what should be society’s role in these situations? big questions, all, but i think the answers might go a long way toward revealing the hidden assumptions about crime, justice, and punishment in the united states today.

girl trouble

january will bring new challenges. i will be taking 8 or 9 oregon state university students (all female) into our state’s primary girls’ correctional facility to share class once a week with 8 female inmates. i’ve taught a number of inside-out classes with adult males in the maximum-security penitentiary, and my dissertation research was with violent males in an end-of-the-line juvenile facility, but working with young females will be a whole new experience.

i chose/volunteered to do this for many good reasons, and i am hopeful that we will have a positive outcome for all involved. this facility just reopened in february to house the majority of the females committed to close custody by the oregon youth authority. oya is planning to implement gender-specific programming in the facility, and i am hoping to build strong connections and to get my students involved from the beginning.

the latest news, however, is that eight girls in the facility assaulted and injured three staff members in a premeditated escape attempt. apparently, they staged a fake fight and then attacked the staff members with homemade weapons. the girls ranged in age from 13-17. all three male staff members needed medical attention; one had a head wound that required 32 staples to close it.

i’m not sure what to think of this. strange as it may sound, i feel completely safe in the maximum-security men’s prison, but somehow these teenage girls seem more volatile and more of a risk to work with. it may have something to do with the numbers. i have 15 students in the penitentiary at any given time out of approximately 2300 inmates. the girls’ facility only holds about 70, so to have eight involved in an aggressive escape attempt is to have more than 10% of the population plotting against the staff. i’ll have eight girls in my class, but my girls/young women will presumably be a different eight than those involved in the escape attempt, and it’s likely that most of them will be 18 or older (oregon youth authority can hold young people up to age 25).

it’s a lot to think about before our first class session in january. if anyone has any thoughts or advice for working with this population, i’d love to hear it.

intent at age 8

seriously?  an 8-year-old boy in arizona has been charged with two counts of premeditated murder in the deaths of his father and another man.  i see all kinds of problems with this case — first, how do you prove intent and premeditation in one so young?  current research is suggesting that human brains aren’t fully developed until individuals are in their twenties, let alone double-digits.  can we really hold an 8-year-old fully responsible for this kind of crime?  second, police apparently questioned the boy without parents or legal representatives present.  assuming he did confess, how much is this confession worth?  wouldn’t anyone be terrified and overwhelmed under these terrible circumstances?  this case will be interesting to watch as it will test the boundaries of our beliefs about kids, crime, and the juvenile justice system.  stay tuned.

news from iowa on racial impact statements

i’ve written about how racial impact statements might be an effective vehicle for assessing the racial effects of proposed measures to protect public safety. this week, iowa governor chet culver signed off on a bill “requiring a “minority impact statement” for any legislation related to a public offense, sentencing, or parole and probation procedures.” like some other midwestern states, iowa has a small african american population, but great racial disparity in criminal Justice.

via iowapolitics.com:

Gov. Culver: Signs minority impact statement bill into law 4/17/2008

Des Moines – Today, at the John R. Grubb YMCA in Des Moines, Governor Chet Culver signed into law HF 2393, a bill requiring a “Minority Impact Statement” for any legislation related to a public offense, sentencing, or parole and probation procedures. The legislation also requires that any application for a grant from a state agency must also include a minority impact statement.

According to Governor Culver, “This means when members of the General Assembly and Executive branch are considering legislation of this nature, we will now be able to do so, with a clearer understanding of its potential effects – positive and negative – on Iowa’s minority communities. Just as Fiscal Impact Statements must follow any proposed legislation related to state expenditures, with my signature, Minority Impact Statements will serve as an essential tool for those in government – and the public – as we propose, develop, and debate policies for the future of our state.”

This bipartisan legislation passed the Iowa House of Representatives unanimously and passed the Senate overwhelmingly with a vote of 47-2.

During his remarks, Governor Culver said challenges remain in Iowa on our way towards achieving true equality and opportunity for all.

* Currently, while 2% of Iowa’s population is African American, 24% of Iowa’s prison population is African American. This makes Iowa first in the nation in the ratio of African Americans in prison.

* And although African American kids made up roughly 5% of the school population last year, these students were involved in nearly 22% of suspensions and expulsions.

* Nearly 40% of all residents at state juvenile detention centers are minorities. Of that number, a full two-thirds are African-American.

Governor Culver said simply: “We can do better, and we must do better.” He went on to outline progress which has led up to signing this legislation:

* First, In April, the Governor convened a group to review the problem of racial disparities in Iowa’s prisons, and to make specific recommendations to him on how to tackle this problem head-on.

* Second, the Governor’s office is working directly with the Iowa Department of Education to identify why African-Americans are suspended at a higher rate than their white student peers.

* Third, the Governor issued an Executive Order, creating the Youth, Race, and Detention task force. This task force will make recommendations to assure young minorities are fairly and justly treated by our criminal Justice system, and to develop policies to specifically address the rate of repeat offenses among juveniles.

“I am committed to making sure government at all levels reflects our shared values of fairness and Justice,” Governor Culver said in closing. “And so, while I am very proud of the steps we have taken, and are taking, I want to be clear: our efforts are the first of many steps.”

cnn on lawsuits v. state juvenile institutions

via sothea: a cnn report on abuses in juvenile institutions.

The U.S. Justice Department has sued nine states and two territories alleging abuse, inadequate mental and medical care and potentially dangerous methods like the use of restraints. The department doesn’t have the power to shut down facilities — states do — but through litigation it can force a state to improve its detention centers and protect the civil rights of jailed youths.

Arkansas
Georgia
Hawaii
Indiana
Maryland
Mississippi
New Jersey
Oklahoma
Texas
Puerto Rico
Northern Mariana Islands

nathaniel abraham emerges on friday

as the detroit news reports, nathaniel abraham turns 21 on friday and will be released from state custody. we just talked about abraham’s case in my delinquency class last week. i often start the course with the basic facts of his case — in 1997 at age 11, nathaniel shot and killed 18-year-old ronnie green. in spite of his youth, he had a history of contacts with the police and had basically fallen through the cracks of the juvenile Justice system. his mother had sought help in controlling his behavior but was put on a waiting list. the wait proved to be too long and ronnie green and his family paid the ultimate price.

the interesting question in this case was what to do with an 11-year-old murderer. should he be held as responsible as an adult offender? under michigan law, nathaniel abraham was tried as an adult. when a jury found abraham guilty in 2000, the judge had a big decision to make — he could sentence nathaniel as an adult where he could face life in prison without the possibility of parole; he could sentence him as a juvenile in which case he would be out on his 21st birthday; or, he could give a blended sentence in which they would re-evaluate nathaniel at 21 and potentially move him into an adult prison.

judge eugene arthur moore sentenced nathaniel as a juvenile (for some of his reasoning see here) and has had regular contact with him over the last 7 years. now, after being raised in juvenile correctional facilities (and, yes, costing the people of michigan nearly a million dollars in their attempts to rehabilitate him), nathaniel will be a free man on friday.

as the article reports, he will walk into the world with no job and no ongoing education. and the world will be watching. nathaniel abraham is perhaps the test case for what the juvenile Justice system can do to rehabilitate young offenders in this day and age. will he be able to build a successful life in the community? what will it take? what do you think?