Chartock: Hi this is Alan Chartock. Juvenile recidivism rates are ridiculously high, as high as 81% in this state, and it’s pretty obvious that the system isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do, which is to deter juvenile crime through what could be described as ‘tough love’, and above all to transform troubled kids into productive members of our society.
Chartock: Instead all too often it seems that our juvenile centers are incubators for state prison.
Chartock: The State Division of Criminal Justice Services in New York is hosting a five-part series of symposiums to explore not only the problem of juvenile justice, but the potential remedies.
Chartock: This series, Enhancing Public Safety Through Cost-Effective Juvenile Reform, notes the emphasis on community safety, because when all is said and done, that is what we are talking about. That will highlight promising national models addressing crime committed by children.
Chartock: The series is exploring such issues and when children should be jailed while awaiting trial; fairness and racial equity; equities issues, how secure confinement can be structured to reduce juvenile crime; what can be done at the community level to address juvenile crime; and how large justice systems can be changed.
Chartock: One thing is clear: minority youths are overrepresented in the state’s juvenile justice system. Recent data shows that youth of color in New York State are arrested 1.68 times more often than white juveniles, but - and I guess this is very important -six times more likely than white youth to be sent to detention while awaiting trial, and five times more likely to be involuntarily confined to custody after disposition of their case.
Chartock: New York is hardly unique in this aspect. Across the country youth of color are arrested, charged and incarcerated more than white youth for similar conduct, and are overrepresented at every decision-making point in the juvenile justice system.
Chartock: Research demonstrates that youth of color are treated more harshly than white youth, even when charged with the same category of offense.
Chartock: OK, Disproportionate Minority Contact, or DMC in the parlance of the juvenile justice field… What are we specifically talking about, why is it a problem and what do we do about it?
Chartock: We’re very lucky today to have two of the most important experts in the country with us. I’m here with Barry Krisberg of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, and Laura John Ridolfi of the W. Haywood Burns Institute.
Chartock: They are, in fact, as expert on juvenile justice as you’re going to get, and particularly on the disproportionate impact on minorities and the need to create a fair and effective justice system for youth.
Chartock: Dr. Krisberg has been the President of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency since 1983. He is known nationally for his research and expertise on juvenile justice issues, and is called upon as a resource for professionals and the media.
Chartock: Dr. Krisberg is author of several books and articles on juvenile justice and has taught at several prominent universities, including the University of California at Berkeley, University of Minnesota, and the University of Hawaii.
Chartock: Ms. Ridolfi is the law and policy analyst for the W. Haywood Burns Institute. In that role she provides technical assistance and tries to figure out to what extent policies and practices contribute to racial and ethnic disparities in the local juvenile justice system.
Chartock: Ms. Ridolfi has worked with several criminal and juvenile justice organizations, and was a Fullbright Fellow in Kenya, where she researched this country’s juvenile justice system. She also sits on a Disproportionate Minority Contact subcommittee for a California Advisory Committee for Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
Chartock: Whew. So glad we’re done with that.
Chartock: Now, Mr. Krisberg, if you would Barry, would you sort of give us an introduction as to just how bad this is.
Krisberg: Sure. In most urban jurisdictions in this country, finding a white youth in a youth correction facility or detention center is like finding a rare penny. The kids on the street say, ‘It’s not justice, it’s just us.’ And so these levels of disparity are extraordinary, and we’ve only, I’d say maybe in the last ten years begun to pay any kind of attention to it.
Chartock: So, there are a lot of people listening to this on the radio as well as the experts sitting in the hall, here. There will be people who say, ‘Hey, you know it’s obvious that people of color have been mistreated in this country for years, and so it’s not surprising that they are incarcerated at much greater levels. When somebody thinks that or utters it, how do you respond?
Krisberg: Well, first of all I would certainly agree with the firs statement that there is just about no aspect of one’s life in this society that isn’t deeply affected by race: What church you attend, what cemetery you’re going to be buried, where you live, who you’re friends are, and so on.
Krisberg: So there’s no question that there’s extraordinarily high levels of racial isolation in this society. And some of the consequences of that play out into this disparity. But I think the key thing that people need to consider is that we cannot tolerate a justice system with this level of disparity.
Krisberg: In effect, it corrodes the legitimacy of that system. It’s why kids talk about no snitching; it’s why juries nullify verdicts. So if we permit this to continue, we won’t have a justice system. And so it’s not a problem for the minority community; it’s a problem for all of us that want to have a fair justice system and an effective law enforcement system.
Chartock: So, you’ve been the President of your organization for over twenty years; tell us, has juvenile justice changed for the worst since you’ve been in?
Krisberg: I think the answer is yes. There was a period of time in the late eighties, early nineties when actually juvenile justice was looking pretty good. A number of states had closed their youth prisons, there was a movement towards community-based services and more innovation, and this was sweeping the country.
Krisberg: But that reform movement ran right up against what I would describe as a moral panic. Princeton, now Penn, Professor John DiLulio introduced the lingo ‘super predator’ into our language. And all of a sudden we were being told that this country was going to be overrun by kids who possess no conscience, who were genetically damaged because they were crack babies, and that turned out to be largely incorrect.
Krisberg: And so Americans and elected officials were frightened by this theory that we were going to be overrun by this new range of barbarians. And so what we started doing in the nineties was hardening and stiffening our sentencing laws, making our juvenile facilities much more punitive than they had been in the past… And so now we’re inheriting the consequence of a period of very harsh, very uncaring juvenile justice policy.
Chartock: And, what are the consequences?
Krisberg: Well part of the consequence is almost every state is being sued, by the federal government, by state litigators. So most states are confronting extraordinary time and expense associated in defending practices that they can’t defend.
Krisberg: Recidivism rates have skyrocketed. In some cases they’ve, like in my home state of California recidivism rates have doubled as a result of these harsher penalties. And in effect what we’re doing is we’re turning out on the streets youth who came in troubled, and leave even more troubled.
Chartock: And their chances of landing in prison later on are multiplied by this.
Chartok: Laura Ridolfi, you're a lawyer are you not?
Ridolfi: I am.
Chartok: And I wondered from a legal perspective, is there much sympathy for your brand of reform in the legal profession?
Ridolfi: I think there is. I mean what we're talking about here is equity in a system that's been running in an irrational manner for many years now. And there is federal mandates from the government on how to work on reducing racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system that, if utilized by all states, would result in a reduction in disproportionate minority contact and confinement.
Chartok: Laura, you're from California. Everybody who listens to NPR in the morning knows that the governor and the people are at loggerheads right now. They just voted down every revenue-raiser that was possible for them. How's that going to affect your message and what you're trying to do?
Ridolfi: Well the reductions that we're looking for... And at the Burns Institute we're particularly concerned with the entry point of detentions. So pre adjudication detention when kids come to the justice system before court, while they're awaiting their trial. And what we tend to see in pre adjudication detention is the large number of kids who are there for very low-level offenses, often technical violations of court orders or probation, failing to appear for court, so very low-level offenses that don't present any kind of community safety threat. And so by having those kids in the detention facilities we're running up the charges for the counties and we're doing so in a way that's not giving us the kind of results we're looking for. So we're spending, you know, ten times the cost that we could be spending on community alternatives, with a much poorer result.
Chartok: Dr. Krisberg, you are a Californian also. What are you seeing? Is there a dark cloud looming here?
Krisberg: Well I think the financial crisis in California may be an incredible opportunity. I mean it's quite possible that because of the severe financial problems we'll actually close our youth facilities altogether. I mean, one of the frustrating things is we're sending far fewer people to our state facilities than ever before and I know New York's doing something similar. But the unions in California are so powerful that we close facilities but we don't... We keep the same number of staff, no now California is spending close to $275,000 per kid, per year in their youth facilities. And the voters are looking at that and they're astounded by it. I mean this is, what, three times the cost of sending your kid to Stanford? And so I think there's a big push to reform and what Laura said is absolutely right. On the other hand, we're squandering money at the local level by using expensive secure confinement for very low-level offenders. And if we implemented proven, safe alternatives for those kids we could save millions of dollars which could then be reinvested in children's services. This has been proven in a number of cities across this country. You probably, some of you who attended the last symposium heard about this, and so frankly when elected officials shed their crocodile tears about we don't have money, you know the answer is look at your detention centers. You're wasting a tremendous amount of money there, and you could easily bring about a dramatic reduction in costs and then refund those programs that you say you can't fund. And Laura is absolutely right, we're locking up a lot of kids for minor offenses, and the studies consistently show that youth of color disproportionately are incarcerated for these minor probation violations, bench warrants, things where clearly we could do something different if our main concern was public safety.
Chartok: And so is this just a matter of skin pigment? Is that what's going on here?
Krisberg: It's not only skin pigment. Certainly in California some of this has a lot to do with cultural issues when, for example, immigrant kids, and we've got probably the largest share of immigrant kids in our state than anyone else. When they bounce up against this justice system, and they're confronted with staff who can't speak their language, can't speak their parents' language, have very little understanding of their communities, so some of it is plain old racial discrimination, but some of it has to do with cultural misunderstanding and etc. What I find striking is that so much of the disparate practice is unconscious and unintentional. But when you start pointing out to people the practices that are producing this, they're usually willing to consider change.
Chartok: And they don't know it? So when you're pointing it out to them they don't know that more black kids go to prison, more Latino kids go to prison than white kids. It seems to me anybody who comes home, any social worker, anybody else has got to have some handle on that, you know?
Ridolfi: I think that there's a, certainly there's a recognition that there's disproportionality in the system. I think that there's some real misperceptions about what's driving that disproportionality and how individual policy makers within the system can have an impact on reducing the disproportionality you see, so...
Chartok: How so? So, in other words, what's.. I'm sorry to interrupt you but what is the other explanation as to what's going on?
Ridolfi: Well, let me just give you an example of why I think the perceptions are off. We have done several different surveys with probation staff and police and other juvenile justice stakeholders in several counties around the country and cities around the country and asked them is their disproportionality in the juvenile justice system from your perspective, and what's driving the disproportionality that we see. And what we tend to get in response is yes, I do recognize that there's an issue of disproportionality and I think that it's largely because of violent offenses coming into the system. And so when we look at the data compared to that we find out that actually that's not true, that it's a fallacy. What we find is, you know, seventy percent of kids that are in detention facilities are there for these low-level offenses. And so even those folks that are working within the system have a misperception about what's happening in their juvenile justice systems.
Krisberg: Let me give you an example. One of the most, I think, important pieces of research that was done on this issue was done by Professor George Bridges when he was at the University of Washington. What they did was they gave out scenarios, different crime scenarios to probation officers. And what they found was probation officers were much more likely to view a minority youth as possessing a character flaw, responsible for bad behavior, whereas white youth it was attributed to being a victim of something or other. They were also far more likely to choose harsher dispositions, again, just based on a written scenario. In fact, another one of my colleagues did a study where we gave out identical scenarios to probation officers and all we changed was the name of the person. So we gave certain people a Latino-sounding name, other people an African-American sounding name, and others a white name, and invariably the probation officers would come up with harsher penalties for the minority kid. And I think what we're dealing with here is deeply embedded concepts, ideas that are below the surface. I mean, just recently in a nearby town, they were having a homecoming festival. And the symbol of the homecoming festival was a racial stereotype out of the 1920's, something that a lot of people would doubt that we would even have those anymore and here was California, 2009 using this as they symbol of this whole city's homecoming event.
Chartok: What was it? What was the symbol?
Krisberg: Well, it was a.. If you know this racial imagery.. It was a kind of, it was a black-toned thing that wasn't quite a person and wasn't quite an animal. It had huge eyes, it had big lips.. I mean it was the classic racial stereotype that we think about as something in the past. And yet this was, in fact, Sacramento County just last week. So we're talking about these deeply embedded racial conceptions that are in the media, that are in our consciousness, that even show up in terms of products we buy. A judge once said to me it's kind of like tuberculosis, you know, you catch it, and maybe for a while it's dormant, but at some point under certain pressures it'll come to fruition. So I think what we're seeing is, it is impossible, virtually impossible in this society I believe, to grow up without all these ideas in your head. I mean even when we refer to something.. Good things are light and white and bad things are dark and black. And this is embedded in our language, embedded in our thinking. And suddenly we're imagining probation officers trying to make decisions and this is wrapped up in their head. Or their lack of cultural understanding may result in the fact that one family is regarded as intact and fine and the other one, because maybe Mom and Dad aren't there but there are grandparents and aunts, that's considered an inappropriate family.
Chartok: What's the fix?
Krisberg: Well, it's a complicated question.
Chartok: Yeah, but that's why we're here..
Krisberg: Well, what is.. what I think is not the fix, although it's helpful, is simply diversity training. I mean we've had a cottage industry of diversity training, and I'm not against the people who do that, but there's no evidence that if you just expose people to training on diversity that, per se, is going to solve the problem. The research I'm familiar with suggests that the critical ingredient is, one, moving toward more objective decision making in the system, trying to get rid of the subjectivity that people exercise. Secondly, increasing legal representation and access for minority kids. It makes a big difference if you come in with an attorney that's competent and knows what they're doing. And the third things that's emerging from more research is, to the extent that you can locate alternative services in the communities in which kids live, the police and probation are much more likely to drop the kid off at the program than waste a bunch of gasoline and take them to juvenile hall. And yet if you look at most communities and you look at where the services are, and where the kids live, there's often a tremendous mismatch.
Chartok: Laura, you want to take a whack at this?
Ridolfi: Sure I mean I think that juvenile justice issues are, juvenile justice systems operate at a local level, so solutions to crises in the juvenile justice system also can be found at the local level. And I think it starts by bringing together a group of traditional and non-traditional stakeholders at a variety of different decision making points throughout the juvenile justice process - from police, prosecutors, public defenders, probation - everyone who has some decision making discretion within the system. And looking at data, so looking at each decision making point in the system - arrest, referral to detention, admission to detention, adjudication - and finding out whether and to what extent disproportionality exists at each of those decision making points and then looking at some of the causes for that. So what are some of the offenses that are driving those arrests and admissions and adjudications, and what do we know in terms of any disparities there.
Krisberg: The other thing is that, I mean I think getting people to think about the information is critically important. But it's also important to realize that even within the juvenile justice system, there's a racial divide. For example, most probation officers are white. And most people who work in juvenile correctional facilities, or more of them, are likely to be people of color. And what we've found in the work we've been doing in a number of places is that there's a two-class system in most probation departments. And so the white probation officers get more training, they get paid more, they get accorded more respect, and the other folks are at the low end of the totem pole, to the point that oftentimes youth correctional workers refer to those facilities as 'the plantation'. So a long as you have those ideas and those concepts among the staff, it's not surprising that it's going to play out in terms of the clients as well. And I think, you know, the other thing that I want to raise here is, which is critical, is what happens to the white kids? Where are they? Are they not committing crimes? Well of course not, they're committing all kinds of crimes. They're smoking dope, they're sticking one another up for lunch money, they're doing a lot of things. The difference is, there are diversion programs for them. If my kid gets into trouble, if he's busted with drugs, I'm going to walk into court and I'm going to say to that judge, 'You know judge, I have a healthcare plan, I'm going to enroll my son in a drug treatment program, don't worry about it, I'll pay for it'. And more often than not the judge is going to say, 'Oh yeah, that sounds good'. But then replay that scenario with a parent who's working three jobs, who maybe even can't show up because they can't get away from work, who isn't going to walk in with health insurance and all the options, and maybe doesn't even know how to talk to a probation officer in a way.. That's going to result in a bad outcome.
Chartok: This is Allen Chartok. I'm talking with Barry Krisberg of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency and Laura John Ridolfi of the W. Haywood Burns Institute. So, I used to take my class of folks to watch a particular judge in Kingston, New York - long gone. And watch the difference between the way he treated white and black kids. And it was extraordinary. It was a real eye opener. So is there something like a court-watching program that we could call these guys to account on?
Krisberg: Well, better, we'd have quality representation. Seems like court-watchers is a cheap version of that. But I think if you've got good legal representation, you're not going to make this problem completely go away. I mean, I'll give you an example that often, I was involved in, I often talk about. Two kids in Los Angeles County 814 were arrested and charged with murder. And this was right in the wake of a new law which allowed fourteen-year-olds to be sent to prison. The white kid who ended up being defended by a good public defender, pretty much put on a capital defense for his client and as a result the judge decided to put the white kid in the California Youth Authority for a treatment program. By the way his murder was he took a gun and blew his mother's head off because she wouldn't give him cookies. The Latino kid ended up being sentenced to thirty years in prison. What was his crime? He was an accomplice to a 711 robbery. He didn't have any gun, he didn't shoot anybody, but he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. In the case of the second kid, his lawyer just filed papers, didn't put on a defense. And when I challenged him afterwards and I said 'Why didn't you bring to the attention of this judge the facts about this child that maybe would've led to something other than a forty-year prison sentence?' And he said to me, 'Doc, in Los Angeles there's a sea of kids like this. And it would've been a waste of my time to even deal with it.' And I think this an example of again, two kids, one crime, arguably much more scarier than the other, and yet the kid who committed the scarier crime got the better outcome because he had adequate legal representation.
Chartock: So, in this time of want, when we don't have enough money, you said it was an opportunistic time. Is it? I mean do we have to figure out other ways to do this? Because I don't think Arnold Schwarzenegger or David Paterson's going to be going around handing out a lot of money right now.. For that very, that adequate legal representation you're talking about.
Krisberg: Well, it's interesting. A number of public defenders are now actually challenging this and basically saying that their ethical obligation is to adequately defend clients. And they're actually withdrawing from representation and throwing these cases back on the court, saying well it's your problem now. Because if we can't provide adequate representation we're abridging our own responsibilities. So I think we're going to have a battle over legal representation. But again, back to Laura's point, we have demonstrated in places like Chicago and Portland, Oregon, and a number of places around the country that you can significantly reduce detention populations. And in all those cases when we reduce detention populations, minority kids benefit. Portland Oregon basically eliminated racial disparity in its system.
Chartok: How'd they do that?
Krisberg: Good risk assessment instruments, objective screening, and also they paid attention to these bench warrants, I mean what I call the recycled kids, kids who aren't there because they've committed a serious felony, but because they basically got some adult mad at them.
Ridolfi: And the solutions to those are oftentimes very simple. So, for example, in Baltimore County we found that about 65% of the kids that were in detention were there for non-criminal related activities. And 45% of those were because of bench warrants because they failed to appear in court. So then the jurisdiction did a study of how many kids are showing up for court, and found that about 40% of kids were showing up for court, and said, well, what policy or practice do we have in place to remind kids to come to court. And the policy was, well, we give them a letter at their last court appearance and then a month later they'll come to court. Now, we're grown adults, and when we have to go to the dentist we get a phone call the day before we go to the dentist, we get a flier in the mail a week before we go to the dentist saying don't forget to come to the dentist. And so we're talking about..
Chartok: And we still forget.
Ridolfi: And we still forget. And we're talking about kids who, you know, they're kids, so their brain development isn't even there yet to think a month in advance about the responsibilities that they have. And they have a variety of other challenges in their life. So getting them to come to court with just a month reminder is not going to do it. So we instituted a call notification program and when we made contact with a person 75% of kids showed up for court. So, you know, a very small operational change that had a huge impact on who was showing up for court. And incidentally in Baltimore County it's about 35% black kids in the population, 60% black kids in detention and about 65% for those bench warrant failures to appear. So we're having an impact not only on inappropriate detentions generally, but on youth of color being detained.
Krisberg: Another great example is Chicago, Illinois. You know, not exactly an easy community by any means in terms of violence and crime, was able to reduce its detention population in half by putting kids into community-based programming that was a fraction of what running a secure detention center was going to cost. Actually increased the ability, the odds that kids were going to show up at their hearings, reduced the amount of crime they were committing while they were awaiting their hearings.
Chartock: Let me stop right there, because that's very interesting. If you decrease the amount of time in detention, you just said, that the amount of crime actually went down?
Krisberg: That's right. Because what happens now in most systems is kids get detained and at some point, either because of legal technicalities or something else, we just let them go. This was a system in which youth were being placed with community agencies that were maybe running homework centers or doing counseling or mentoring. so suddenly these youth, they probably needed some supervision and help, were getting some, whereas before the system was just expelling them whenever it got tired of them or needed an empty bed.
Chartock: So we have a couple of examples of geographic success stories. Are the rest of the political entities running to replicate those?
Krisberg: Well, I think by last count there were over 200 cities that are implementing some version of the Casey Foundation's Juvenile Detention Alternatives initiative. You know, by the way, New York City was one of the big successes for detention reform until they elected somebody named Rudy Giuliani, who decided to just completely ignore or eliminate detention reform in New York City, and then also New York City was facing a detention crisis.
Chartock: Although interestingly, and I ain't no fan, Giuliani is given a tremendous amount of credit for having reduced crime in New York City.
Krisberg: Well, and I think he takes most of it for himself. The fact of the matter is crime rates in New York were dropping during the Dinkins administration, and crime rates have been dropping all across the country, you know, before Giuliani, after Giuliani. I mean I think the crime link is pretty weak. But the point I do want to make is these kind of reforms do take political leadership. I mean I'm struck with the fact that in this whole nation the number of elected officials willing to stand up and talk about disproportionate minority incarceration, you know, I could count them on one hand.
Chartok: And how do you deal with that? How do we deal with it, Laura, or anybody want to jump in here either way..? How do we get public officials to say 'I'm not going to get Willie Horton-ed, you know, on this, and I’m going to do what's right?
Ridolfi: I think that a lot of people who are resistant to doing this work are resistant because it feels like it's going to be a finger pointing exercise. It feels like, they're not sure how it's going to fall out in their position. And so that's why I think the use of data and breaking down system decision making to a place that's manageable and looking at what's actually happening within the system and where can we have an impact? What does the data tell us, and where are decisions being made well and what can we learn from that? What types of diversion programs are we offering to those white youth and can we replicate those in other communities? And so, what are we doing well and what can we improve upon, and using data to tell us that story sort of allows people to come to the table with less resistance.
Krisberg: And I really agree with Laura. You know, recently a lot of us heard Attorney General Holder talk about, I think he said we're a nation of cowards when it comes to talk about race. Later on he said maybe he wouldn't have used that same wording again, but this is a tough topic for us to talk about for all kinds of reasons. What Laura's talking about and what we've found is if you focus in on the facts, and you get a group of people first trying to figure out what the facts are, and who really are we locking up and why, and if you move at this issue in terms of practical, doable reforms, we found that a number of communities where it started out that people didn't want to be in the room together, started collaborating, working together, and making some progress forward. I mean, maybe it was stationing probation officers in schools so instead of locking the kids up you had a probation officer who could do counseling and keep the kid out of detention. I mean there's a bunch of very practical alternatives that can be implemented if you start getting people to think about what are the real things we can do and what are those things driven by information as opposed to, again, us just yelling at each other and being unhappy with each other.
Ridolfi: And, I think today we have the benefit of a number of years of research that tells us that best practices are treating kids that don't need to be in the system, outside of the system. We know that community alternatives have lower recidivism rates, following their youths, we know that they're far less expensive, and we know that kids get a lot more out of them. And so, you know, in whatever your incentive is in coming to the table, one of those.. There's something there for.. There's something there.
Krisberg: Well, and the other thing is, this is not only a problem of the juvenile justice system. The child welfare system, by the way, has the same racial disparity, and in fact, as high or higher. I mean, African American kids are six times more likely than similar white youth to be put in foster care. If you look at who is getting suspended or expelled from public schools, the racial disparity is enormous. So the juvenile justice system is just one step along the road of what increasingly we call cumulative disadvantage. And the real conversations we need to have in communities is not just within the criminal justice fraternity, but we need to bring the child welfare people in. We've got to ask the question.. I was just mentioning to your commissioner today about how people are thinking if we could do better mental health diagnosis of minority kids early in the system, we could probably keep a lot of them out of the system. But they're not getting these mental health diagnoses; they're not getting mental health treatment. So they gravitate into the deep end of the system.
Ridolfi: And I think that along with all of the systems that we have to have at the table, we have to remember to always include the community voice at the table as well. When we talk about stakeholders at the table, you know, who has more stake in the life of the youth than the youth, their parents and the communities they come from? And so I think that, by neglecting to bring the community voice to the table, we miss out on both the urgency that they bring to the issue, as well as the insight in what's going on in the community and what kind of resources are available in the community that we might be able to tap into as juvenile justice systems.
Chartok: So, what war stories can you tell us, with what specificity can you tell us about those community resources you've seen work?
Ridolfi: Well, there’s a variety of community resources that are existing that can serve, you know, to come to court with the youth so that they’re not standing there alone and have, and the judge feels like there’s no one there who is vying for that youth. In one of the jurisdictions we’re working with in Baltimore City, we tapped into a community organization that was right in the courthouse and it was an organization that was working with families to teach them a little bit more about the court process and what the process was and how to sort of navigate their way through. And so, they existed in that function, but when we looked at the data about who was coming into the juvenile justice system we found that 30% of the kids that were detained were held because of a parent-related issue, meaning Mom and Dad weren’t available to come pick me up, or Mom and Dad refused to come and pick me up, and so we tapped into that resource that was there, that community resource that was there and said let’s work together and figure out how we can, you know, get parents to court so that we can reduce the number of kids that are held for that reason.
Krisberg: Another example, in California there have been a number of killings involving Hmong youth, and the police were freaking out. I mean, they didn’t know what to do. And we, working with groups in the community organized a statewide conference; brought people from up and down California, from the Hmong community to meet with the police, talk to the police, begin, I mean down to basic things like do you need somebody to talk to the parents? We have people who can speak this language. We know you can’t, Officer Joe. And a little better understanding of what was going on and what things might make a difference. And so I think there’s a tremendous power of including and involving those communities, because after all, they have a vested interest in keeping their kids out of these facilities.
Ridolfi: And one thing that we see and that we try and caution against in engaging the community, or in stakeholders as they work toward engaging the community is to make sure that we’re not just talking about tokenism here, that we’re including the community in a really meaningful way, so we’re not having our DMC council meetings from 12:30 to 1:30 at the courthouse and expecting that we’re going to have relevant community members there…
Chartock: What is DMC?
Ridolfi: Disproportionate Minority Contact or Confinement. Ah, we’re not having our meetings on ethnic disparities in the system at a time that’s convenient for everyone but the community. And when they come to the table, we’re not using our DMC and legal jargon without explaining what those terms mean that are used daily amongst those in the juvenile justice system, but without any sort of coach-up to the community.
Chartock: Now, Barry Krisberg, I have to ask you a question. Justice Souter as we speak has just given a speech, retiring Justice of the Supreme Court, in which he fears for democracy because he says basically people don’t know anything and they don’t get educated by the media, they don’t read, they don’t do the rest of the stuff and he fears for democracy. And yet, your solution is that people have to learn about this thing. And the data, and I’ve heard that from both of you. But what’s the hope that they’re going to be ready to absorb any of this?
Krisberg: I think; my experience is that people in the community are hungry for good information and they want to know. It’s a matter of engaging them. And I think Laura’s right, you don’t engage the community in the government buildings during the day. You have to go into the community, into the community centers, into the schools, where you meet the parents and you meet the young people. And we’ve had a highly successful collaboration with probably 35 groups that work in immigrant groups in California, working on the issue of youth violence. And what we found is when we said to these groups, what is it you need to know, what are the facts, what’s the information you want to have. They had all kinds of questions they wanted to know. And if we could deliver for them, by coming back to the next meeting with the answers to those questions, which by the way often were pretty easy; Now, I can go on the Oakland school district website and get information that these community groups were desperate to have, but we knew how to manipulate it, manipulate the web so that we could get this. People were very happy and they found this incredibly useful and the next time they were in those meetings with school officials, which is to me the subversive part of this, they were armed with solid information. So the superintendent could no longer shine them off when the community members could pull up data from his own school district to show the disparity that was going on. So again I think the potential here is huge. I remember at one point we were able to attract five hundred parents and kids who came to an Oakland middle school on a holiday to talk about violence in the community and what the community could do about it. And they had parent tracks, and they had youth tracks… And there’s no question that communities are very concerned about violence, they’re concerned about what’s happening to the kids and they will get engaged if they get an opportunity, so I think that’s, you know, the fact that if traditional media is not the way that most people get their information, you know, so be it. You know, let’s get over it. But there are alternative media, and there’s alternative ways to reach people. And I think, if you’re committed to educate people, people will want to be educated.
Chartok: Gangs. How do gangs, especially in California, how to gangs impinge on all of this?
Krisberg: Gangs have a big impact on disproportionate minority confinement in the system. Probably the most pernicious of these are the so-called gang injunctions. I don’t know if New York has any of these, but in California they spring like, all over the place. And essentially gang injunctions take us back to an era…
Chartok: What is, I’m sorry, what is a gang injunction?
Krisberg: A gang injunction is a civil proceeding in which, basically, a city attorney can describe everybody who lives in an area as a member of a gang and prohibit, without evidence of behavior, their congregating together. You know, essentially it’s restricting the behavior and limiting the activity of individuals who haven’t done anything other than they happen to reside in a certain geographic area. No lawyers are needed, no proof is required. So injunctions are probably; and by the way once you get in a gang injunction there doesn’t appear to be any way you can prove that you’re not a gang member and get out of it. So it’s a permanent issue, and even worse now, if I’m an employer and you come to me for a job, I can get on the San Francisco County website and I can find out if you’re named in a gang injunction. And therefore I can exclude you from, I can decide well I’m not going to hire you because you must be a gang member even though maybe you just, you know your name just happens to be Willie Randolph, and there’s another Willie Randolph who maybe is doing gang activity. So gang injunctions are number one. The second one.
Chartock: Well, let me make sure that everybody understands this listening, that gang injunctions are something you don’t like.
Krisberg: Oh, absolutely. But it’s, I mean again it takes us back to the dark ages when we didn’t, before the Gault decision when we didn’t have rights, and didn’t, people were basically, you didn’t have to confront your accuser and there were no transcripts and on and on and on... I mean, again, it takes you back to the 1950’s. The second big issue are.
Chartok: I want to leave that there for a moment. I just want to know something. Since these gangs are often, the sides are chosen up on the basis of race, ethnic identification, how does that impinge on the subject at hand today?
Krisberg: It certainly has some effect on this, but I think it’s the response to it more than the behavior itself. In other words, you could imagine a whole different response to gangs that would focus in, like Home Boy’s Industries in Los Angeles on jobs, on conflict resolution like the Cease Fire program in Chicago, which doesn’t assume that incarcerating people has anything to do with stopping gang violence. And there’s some pretty solid evidence that these non-incarcerative solutions are at least, and probably way more effective than the things we do. I also want to raise the other very big issue is police gang intelligence, information systems. Again this is a situation where the police, with very little evidence or vetting, can put your name in one of these intelligence systems and you can never get off of it. And in fact in Seattle they found that there were more African American youth in the Seattle gang intelligence information system than there were African American youth in the City of Seattle. So these systems are huge. Anybody can put you in. You don’t even know that you’re in it. And what this translates into is you get stopped driving a car and the police officer dials this up and it says Ah! Known gang member. And all of a sudden a whole series of new activities kick into play because of this and, again, these gang intelligence… The definition of what’s a gang or how you get into it is extremely vague.
The third thing which is critical, which would be, and again California’s gone hog-wild on this, which is enhanced penalties for supposed gang involvement. And again, how you proved somebody is gang involved, I mean, I might just say yeah, I’m a Norteno. Well, am I or am I not, do I actually do anything or not, I may have just told a social worker this. Kids are getting huge additional penalties or getting prosecuted as adults in California, you’ll see that in the data I’m presenting later, essentially based on these gang enhancements. Now, again, there’s no shred of evidence that this actually reduces gang behavior. There’s no evidence that it deters anybody from doing anything, but what the net effect is, it ratchets up dramatically the penalties that youth of color get. And particularly now with the hysteria we’re having in the Latino community. I mean almost every kid who is arrested is almost by definition is being defined as a member of one gang or another gang, so all you have to do is say I’m from the south, and suddenly you’re a Sureno. And again, in fact the most bizarre reflection of this is when I was doing my investigation of the Youth Authority, I’d go into these units and on the cell that the kids were locked up in it would say the gang they were allegedly a member of. Well, if you were in that cell, and you had a gang name on your door, you better become a member of that gang in a hurry. Otherwise your life was in danger. And you know, even pointing out to them that publicly labeling people as members of gangs, putting it on their cells, you know, was making this problem worse not better, took some time. Well the signs are down, they don’t do that anymore. But I think the hysteria over gangs has led to a whole series of policies that specifically adversely affect minority youth, because after all we all know there are no white gangs, right? At least according to the National Center on Gangs, there aren’t any. But that’s an example of how ridiculous this can be.
Chartok: But if the perception out there is what we want to change, and you just talked about, I was fascinated but you skipped right over it, the hysteria over the Hispanic members of the community. That hysteria has to do with the Swine Flu, is that what you’re talking about?
Krisberg: No, I’m talking about a hysteria over thinking that gangs are endemic to the; You know it’s, when I grew up in Coney Island, everybody thought everybody who was Italian was a Mafia member. So now, everyone’s who’s Hispanic, we think they’re members of Hispanic gangs. We used to think there were thousands of Asian gang members in California. Now it turns out that’s grossly exaggerated and overrated. So I think it’s again, certainly there were people of Italian descent and Jewish decent and others that were connected with the Mafia, but it wasn’t the average or typical Italian person, and I think that’s what we’re seeing here playing out again.
Chartok: There must be some people who are listening to this right now who are saying, you know, what I really need here is protection. Barry Krisberg is a brilliant man, but is telling us we need a more liberal approach towards this. And I’m still wondering, sitting here with both of you, how we transmit to these people who are living in a state of fear that they are, if they are, mistaken. How do we do that?
Krisberg: Well, first of all, public opinion polls do not show the public is living in a state of fear.
Chartok: I thought you said that before.
Krisberg: The politicians use crime for a variety of objectives, but I think the argument is not liberal or conservative. The argument is we all want to be safer, so let’s evaluate every policy and program in terms of does it make us safer or does it just pad government payrolls. Because very often that’s what we’re talking about. We’re talking about, well, we’ll hire more police and more probation officers and more whatever, and that’s the result of those policies. I mean, it’s no surprise that the prison guards’ union has been the major law and order advocate in a number of states. I think the way this gets, we have to talk about is in terms of smart and sensible public safety. I don’t view myself as an advocate for youth. I view myself as an advocate for safety, and if that turns out, and if teaching a kid a skill and getting him a job is going to keep him from hitting me over the head, I’m for that. And so I think we can reach the public, and by the way the public is there. Every poll we’ve seen, basically the public is saying we don’t believe incarceration is making us safer. We understand that prisons actually make people worse. And what they’re looking for is our correctional system to equip offenders with life skills.
Ridolfi: And for juveniles, that the intent is rehabilitation and not a punitive approach. And that there is potential within youth to make a difference, and not to go deeper into the system. And I think that, you know, when we approach all kids and, again, going back to these low-level offenders I feel like a little bit of a repeated record here, but I say that because the perception is that we’re talking about, you know, that the DMC issue that we have, the disproportionate minority confinement and contact with the system that we have is because of violent offenses that are being perpetrated. And it’s not. I mean we’re talking about really low level offenders. We’re talking about kids being kids, and then they’re getting wrapped up into a system that they never get out of. And you know, so studies have shown that about a third of kids, and probably more, engage in delinquent behavior. And I mean that, everyone here knows that when you were a kid you did some things that you probably shouldn’t have done.
Chartok: Not me.
Ridolfi: But what we know is that the vast majority of kids, upwards of 90% some studies say, age out if it. I mean you age out of being a delinquent kid. Everybody tries things out. Everybody some things and you get older, and you move on. But when you get involved in the system, you don’t’ move on as easily. You get into the system and it becomes a cycle, and you keep coming in and out, in and out. And you go deeper and deeper, the further in you go. And so by focusing, you know, on what works, and keeping kids out of the system and recognizing that we’re just talking about kids here, we’re not talking about kids here who are committing these really violent offenses, hopefully we can steer the conversation in that direction.
Chartok: Now, Laura Ridolfi, what is your foundation doing to make that happen?
Ridolfi: Well the Burns Institute is a national non-profit organization that works with juvenile justice systems around the country to go through a data-driven process to learn where disparities exist in the system, what decision making points to we see disproportionality at, what’s driving the disproportionality, and then bringing all the relevant players to the table to talk about how do we come up with a solution.
Chartok: Barry, are you an optimist?
Krisberg: I would describe myself as an eternal optimist, because if somebody had said to me twenty years ago that the City of Chicago would drop in half the number of kids in secure detention, and its crime rate would continue to drop, and basically would be accepted in that community, I would’ve said you’re nuts. But it’s changing. Across this country we are locking up far fewer kids. California used to have 10,000 kids in its youth prisons. Last week it was only 1,400. We know New York State has dropped its numbers. Texas has cut down the number of youth in its youth prisons in half. So I think we’re beginning to move in this right direction. I think that we’ve just got to make sure that as we move towards a system based on putting troubled youth in youth prisons, to putting troubled youth in programs that actually might help them, that we don’t’ leave minority youth behind.
Chartok: And how about you, Laura? Are you optimistic?
Ridolfi: I’m optimistic on several fronts, and one of them is something that we haven’t touched on yet that I want to just talk about briefly, and that’s the federal mandates about doing work to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the system. And it’s been something that, you know the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act has been around, you know, since 1974. And it’s the premier federal legislation that has the premise that youth who are who are involved in juvenile justice systems in the states should have federal protections in their care and custody. And, since 1988 there’s been a mandate in the Act to say states should address the disproportionate minority contact and confinement with the juvenile justice system. And right now, it’s gone through various different amendments throughout the years, and hasn’t had a lot of traction as we see in many states, largely because the mandate to address disproportionality is terribly vague. So what does address mean? Does it mean having a conference? Does it mean doing research? Does it mean talking about the issue? Or does it mean looking at what the issue is and taking action based on that? And right now, the JJDPA, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, is up for reauthorization…
Chartok: You said that fast. Can we have that a little slower?
Ridolfi: Sure. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevent Act is up for reauthorization and has been introduced with bipartisan support to the Senate Judiciary Committee, and in the requirement to reduce racial and ethnic disparity, has listed out some very specific things that you need to do. You know, gather a collaborative of people, look at your data to identify where the disparities exist and what the causes of the disparity are, and have some measurable results in, and develop some measurable benchmarks in doing the work. And so, you know, states that are getting their money, the federal monies that are attached to this may actually have to take some real steps in doing the work, instead of just having, you know, conferences or research that - quote, unquote – addresses the issue.
Chartok: I want to thank you both being here. I want to thank our wonderful audience. I think people who are listening to this, and public radio listeners are smart people, I know that, will be very interested in this. Very quickly, Laura, if they want to get in touch with your organization, is there a website?
Ridolfi: There is. www.burnsinstitute.org.
Chartok: And, Dr. Barry Krisberg, how can the find you?
Krisberg: The National Council’s website is www.nccd-crc.org.
Chartok: Whoa. Do that one more time.
Krisberg: nccd-crc, which does our child welfare reform work, dot org.
Chartok: Well, thank you so much, again. This is Allan Chartok, I’ve been talking with Barry Krisberg of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, and Laura John Ridolfi of the W. Heyward Burns Institute. This series is the second symposium in a five-part series, Enhancing Community Safety through Cost-Effective Juvenile Justice Reform. The series is being sponsored by the Division of Criminal Justice Services, DCJS; The Office of Children and Family Services, OCFS; The Division of Probation and Correctional Alternatives, DPCA; Assemblyman William Scarborough, and Senator Velmanette Montgomery. Thank you all for coming.