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Several articles about JustChildren’s new report, Unlocking the Truth: Real Stories About the Trial and Incarceration of Youth as Adults in Virginia, have recently run across the Commonwealth. Check out the articles by following the links below:

Advocacy Group Report Criticizes Virginia’s Treatment of Juvenile’s in Adult Court, Richmond Times Dispatch, Nov. 10, 2010

Tough Prison Sentences Throw Away the Key on Teen Offenders, Virginian Pilot, Nov. 14, 2010
Juvenile Justice: Drawing Lines, Richmond Times Dispatch, Nov. 21, 2010

The JustChildren Program of the Legal Aid Justice Center released a new report today that tells the often untold and overlooked stories of youth tried and incarcerated as adults in Virginia.  The report, Unlocking the Truth: Real Stories About the Trial and Incarceration of Youth as Adults in Virginia, is a result of JustChildren’s listening tour with youth convicted as adults, families, community members, and attorneys during the summer and fall of 2010.  The report confirms that Virginia’s system of trying youth as adults is unfair, unsafe, and ineffective.

The report’s findings and recommendations are timely as the Virginia State Crime Commission is currently studying the issue of trying youth as adults and considering two bills carried over from the 2010 legislative session specifically focused on altering the current process for trying youth as adults.  It is expected that the Crime Commission will issue their recommendations on December 8, 2010.

Unlocking the Truth is the second of two reports examining Virginia’s transfer system. Click on the following link for a copy of  JustChildren’s 2009 report, Don’t Throw Away the Key: Reevaluating Adult Time for Youth Crime in Virginia.

The Key Findings from Unlocking the Truth: Real Stories About the Trial and Incarceration of Youth as Adults in Virginia:

  • Adult convictions undermine successful reentry.  Youth tried, convicted, and incarcerated as adults in Virginia face numerous obstacles to living productive and crime-free lives upon their return home due to a lack of services and opportunities in the adult correctional system and the barriers associated with an adult conviction.
  • Adult correctional institutions are not safe places for young people.  The youth and families JustChildren interviewed recounted numerous stories about victimization and isolation of young people incarcerated with adults.
  • There is a lot of variation in local practice around making certification decisions.  The time and attention paid to the decision to try a youth as an adult often varied from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.  As a result, similar youth charged with similar offenses face extremely dissimilar outcomes based on the jurisdictions in which they are tried.
  • Unequal bargaining power produces unjust results.  Because Commonwealth’s Attorneys have virtually unlimited authority over certification decisions for a wide array of offenses, they have a tremendous amount of bargaining power when it comes to negotiating pleas.  Defense attorneys expressed frustration with how the threat of transfer inhibits their ability to pursue a meaningful defense for their young clients who are facing serious consequences and puts a lot of pressure on youth to plead guilty.

In the report, JustChildren makes recommendations that would give Circuit Court judges more options for returning youth to the juvenile system or for reducing the barriers to reentry posed by an adult conviction.

Faith based organizations are often called upon to support both adults and youth when they return to the community after incarceration.  The support these organizations provide extends far beyond just spiritual guidance and into everyday needs, such as assistance finding work or educational opportunities, obtaining housing, and therapeutic services.  While faith based organizations are adept at facilitating individuals’ return to the community after incarceration, this can be an especially daunting task when it comes to young offenders who received adult felony convictions.

These youth face unnecessary obstacles to rehabilitation and reintegration.  Youth convicted as adults face not only additional but also more serious and longer lasting consequences than their peers who received juvenile adjudications.  These consequences impact a youth’s ability to find employment, educational services, and public assistance, among other things.

In light of these serious consequences and the lasting impact they have on a youth’s ability to become a productive member of society in addition to the special and significant role faith based organizations play in reintegrating formerly incarcerated youth into the community, the Don’t Throw Away the Key Campaign is asking faith based organizations to sign on in support of reforming our system.

By signing the faith based organization sign on letter, your organization will be showing its support for having the best and most experienced decision makers in our juvenile justice system deciding which youth should be tried as adults after a full and fair hearing.  The specific requests for reform are:

  • Grant youth the right to appeal prosecutorial certification decisions. Support Senator Edwards’ SB 205 carried over from the 2010 General Assembly session.  This bill provides youth with a right to appeal to the Circuit Court a prosecutor’s decision to certify the case to Circuit Court OR
  • Grant Circuit Court judges the authority to give juvenile adjudications for transferred/certified youth consistent with the sentences they impose.
  • Oppose measures that would expand the number of youth who are tried as adults. Bills such as SB 389, which increase the number of crimes eligible for transfer to adult court are likely to increase the problems noted above, without making our communities safer.

To include your organization’s name on the sign on letter, please email or call Kate Duvall at kate@justice4all.org or 434-977-0553 ext. 146.

An article published in Lynchburg newspaper The News and Advance on Thursday, September 23rd, explains that Shandre Saunders, a teenage who was sentenced last year to serve time in an adult prison, will have his case considered on appeal by the Supreme Court of Virginia. The Court will be addressing the issue of jury sentencing versus judge sentencing in the cases of youth convicted as adults.  For the full text of the article, click here.

An article published on Thursday, September 23rd in The Macon County News explains that North Carolina’s Youth Accountability Planning Task Force, along with several advocacy groups, is seeking to raise the age that children can be tried as adults from 16 to 18. Their goal is supported by many individuals working within the justice system, as well as studies that prove adult prison is less effective at deterring individuals from committing future crimes and harmful to underage children sent to adult prison. To read the full article published in The Macon County News, click here.

“Congress has just 10 days to move forward fundamental federal juvenile justice legislation that will protect our most vulnerable children. Help keep children out of adult jails, end the over-incarceration of youth of color in the justice system, and devote more resources to effective juvenile justice programs that protect our young people and keep our communities safe.

Reauthorization of this important law is nearly 4 years overdue and Congress is scheduled to adjourn on October 8, leaving just 10 days for them to act.

Children and teens already caught up in the system can’t wait another day.

HOW YOU CAN HELP:

Urge Congress to pass a reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act this year by signing the petitions below:

·         Sign the House of Representatives Petition

·         Sign the Senate Petition

Help us reach our goal of over 15,000 signatures by the end of September by forwarding this Action Alert to your networks.

Learn more by visiting http://www.act4jj.org  or by viewing this video clip.”

A Washington Post article released yesterday explains scientists’ work to measure how the brain matures. The study reveals that this new type of scan can differentiate between the development in the brains of adolescents and the development in the brains of adults with 75% accuracy.

For the Washington Post article, click here.

For the full conclusions of the neurological study, published in Science journal, click here.