A thug named Steve

The other day I visited a young black man from Philadelphia doing time for an armed robbery.

First, let me say that there is no way I could have imagined spending time with a thug like Steve before I was led into prison ministry — and it’s safe to assume most people would feel likewise. That’s why I’d like to share what happened. If nothing else, maybe this story will make everyone hug their families extra close tonight and thank God for our blessings.

Steve is about 5 foot 4, with thick glasses and a nervous stutter. I first met him about a year ago. He was so anxious during our first interview, he could barely string three words together and his hands shook like someone suffering end-stage Parkinson’s.

Continue reading

Judges can do enormous good if they look at what works for juveniles

ATeske

By Judge Steven Teske

Champions for change is key to reform. No champions, no change.

No matter the number of evidence-based programs we identify, and the best approaches and models to deliver them, they are meaningless unless someone calls attention to them.

And when all else fails, the law must be changed to force leaders to lead.

Mandating change is sometimes necessary because leadership is like a flashlight — what we see depends on who is holding the flashlight. Not all leaders direct the circumscribed beam of light in the direction of what works.

Continue reading

Report: Juvenile Justice System must substantively revamp treatment of girls

By Sarah Barr, JJIE.orgGenderInjustice_infographic_web_midquality

Juvenile justice reformers risk leaving girls behind if they fail to consider how traumatic experiences push girls into the system, says a new report.

Continue reading

Justice system must not worsen harsh realities of life for LGBT youth

by  Judge George Timberlake, Ret., JJIE.org

Timberlake-headshot-2015-a-336x504

Judge George Timberlake, Ret.

Recently, I had a visit from a couple I have known for decades. Let’s call them Butch and Mary. They had a problem: Their daughter, Jane, had just split from the father of her child, and custody and other issues had arisen. During the conversation, I asked about family relationships and resources and Mary said that the whole family was supportive except one grandmother.

That grandparent had become estranged when she learned a few years ago that Jane was “dating a girl.” There was no hesitation in relaying this information, and no judgments about this history were indicated in this statement of fact. My friends’ willingness to openly discuss these family issues was enlightening.

If we were to seek a label for Jane — as her paramour’s attorney might do in a custody battle — would she be lesbian, bisexual, curious or “cured?” And what effect would that have on the court system in its duty to do justice?

If the U.S. Supreme Court has declared gay marriage to be part of the fundamental rights of privacy, speech and expression for all American citizens, does that signal the acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals as illustrated by my friends?

For the juvenile justice and child welfare courts, the answer is decidedly “No.” In a 2010 report, the National Council of Crime and Delinquency found that LGBT youth comprise 5 to 7 percent of the general population but approximately 15 percent of detained youth. Subsequent research has verified that finding and has looked for causes of this disproportionality.

Continue reading

California mentorship program offers comfort to sexually exploited young women

Through times of trauma and distress, often all a child needs is to be showered with love. It may sound corny, but for the estimated100,000 children who are sexually exploited per year around the country, it can be transformative.

The Lasting Links Mentorship Program at MISSSEY (Motivating, Inspiring, Supporting and Serving Sexually Exploited Youth), an Oakland, Calif., nonprofit, works to end child exploitation and help victims through the formation of healthy, supportive and loving adult relationships.

“Some of them will even just come in to the drop-in center for a hug; they’ve said that to us,” said executive director Falilah Bilal at MISSSEY.

In Oakland, MISSSEY’s efforts are more than necessary. The San Francisco Bay Area is one of the top three epicenters of human trafficking in the United States along with Los Angeles and San Diego, with 46 percent of all prosecuted human trafficking cases in California coming from the Alameda District Attorney’s office.

“People think that this is a problem that happens to kids ‘over there,’ whether it’s kids from other countries or poor black kids or boys from another place,” said Bilal. “People don’t think that this is an American-bred issue that happens across all class and all gender. This is something confronting and impacting all of us.”

MISSSEY partners with Girls Inc. and the Mentoring Center to match people who wish to volunteer their time to provide advice and emotional support to sexually exploited young women in need.

Continue reading

Report helps police protect kids while arresting their parents

By Stell Simonton, JJIE.org

Police-child-illustration-771x484

Each year in the United States, several million children witness the arrest of a parent.

These arrests are most likely to be for domestic violence, drug-related incidents and property crimes, according to a report from the Office of Justice Programs Diagnostic Center, an agency of the U.S. Department of Justice.

The experience can be excruciating for children.

“It turns their world upside down,” said Lisa Thurau, founder and executive director of Strategies for Youth: Connecting Cops & Kids, a Cambridge, Mass.-based nonprofit that provides training to both police and youth.

Thurau wrote the report “First Do No Harm: Model Practices When Police Arrest Parents in the Presence of Children.”

“[Children] often want to see domestic violence against the mother stopped, but the way the police conduct the arrest … can scare and traumatize them,” she said.

Continue reading

OP-ED: Obey the signs or end up like me

By Miguel Quezada, JJIE.org

1280px-HarrisCoJuvenileDetentionCenter

Harris County Juvenile Detention Center, Houston, Texas.

Seventeen years ago, at the age of 16, I sat in a juvenile hall holding cell waiting to be booked in on first-degree murder charges, three attempted murders, a gun and gang enhancement.

In writing this, I had to think about how I ended up in that holding cell. What advice could I give that would help you avoid some of the mistakes I made? How could I put into words the destruction I caused to myself and so many other people so that it could be a lesson?

I asked myself: What went wrong? What did I miss? Why did no one stop me?

What I realized is that people did try to stop me. Things did happen that were the lessons I needed to put my life back on track to avoid that holding cell. There was plenty of advice but I did not care to hear or see it.

There were signs telling me to slow down, to stop, that I was moving too fast. So I will sum up my life lesson, using the signs I missed along the road.
Continue reading

OP-ED: Justice foiled by ignorance of trauma

By Judge George Timberlake, Ret, JJIE.org

New-Timberlake-color-336x504

At the supermarket last week, I saw a young woman who looked familiar, but I could not recall her name. I said “Hello” and continued looking for kale, quinoa and 15-grain bread — staples at my house since we are eating healthy.

Two aisles over, I saw her again. She was thin, almost gaunt, dressed in worn clothes that didn’t fit, but I now recognized her from an appearance years ago in my juvenile courtroom. Let’s call her Kera.

Kera recognized me, too. I tried to start a conversation. She mumbled a short response and hurried out of the store without making a purchase.

In the parking lot, I sat in my pickup for several minutes thinking about this woman who had the outward appearance of a meth addict. I wondered how she came to be the person I just saw and what I might have done differently to improve her outcome.

My thoughts turned to remarks delivered by Abigail Baird, a developmental neuroscientist studying brain development and decision-making by teenagers. She was addressing a symposium sponsored by the National Center for State Courts and the MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change initiative.

Continue reading

The credible messengers: Youth Organizing to Save Our Streets

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 10.11.33 PMBy Pilar Belendez-Desha, YouthToday.org

NEW YORK — The step at the bottom of the ladder was titled calm and the step at the top was titled — in big red letters — RAGE.

“How can you go from calm to rage?” said Heather Day. “We’re going to think at each level how you’re feeling.”

“Peaceful,” a young woman started off the conversation.

“Chill,” said another.

Day took notes at each step and etched her red pen up the ladder as emotions intensified.

“It’d start to get weird,” said a young man.

“Weird? Why weird?” replied Day.

“Cuz, I’m used to crazy things happening.”

“I don’t like people screaming at me,” one youth said.

The group went on like this for 45 minutes on a Tuesday in December. Twenty-two young people from the Crown Heights area were at a biweekly after-school program that’s part of a growing anti-gun violence movement called Save Our Streets.

The youth version of the program is called YO S.O.S. — or Youth Organizing to Save Our Streets. Begun in

Continue reading

Children need caring adults, a chance to make mistakes to succeed in life

By Jill Roche, Youth Today

Jill-Roche-2

For the better part of the last decade, I’ve worked as an education advocate in Hunts Point, an isolated community in the south Bronx. As many New Yorkers know, Hunts Point is consistently cited as the most at-risk neighborhood for children in the city based on low education attainment, record joblessness, housing conditions, health outcomes and other factors. Over 59 percent of the children in the community live in poverty.

Despite the difficult environment, we work with students to prepare them for success in high school, in college and beyond. Recently, a colleague wondered aloud: What is the difference for students who are able to move beyond the neighborhood legacy of low high school graduation rates and poverty?

I believe that the primary difference is the connection to people like him — youth development professionals, teachers, parents, caregivers and grandparents. The difference is a relationship with a supportive adult. Research stretching back close to 20 years has identified the support of a caring adult as a strong protective factor contributing to resilience in at-risk students. As youth advocates have always known: Every child needs a champion.

The presence of a caring adult in any child’s life is often pivotal: the undivided attention they offer, the experiences they share, the reassurance they can give as a child becomes a teenager and begins to explore the larger world. Becoming an adult requires that we take risks and make mistakes. It is only by making mistakes that we learn to assume responsibility for our actions, to ask forgiveness and begin to understand our relationship to others.

Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: