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African-American Youth in The Juvenile Justice System

African-American Youth in The Juvenile Justice System

targeted media campaign

targeted media campaign to shift public opinion, the Campaign succeed in passing legislation through the annual budget to phase out and close Cheltenham, and to increase state spending on community-based alternative programs for youth offenders. Taking on Tallulah The Tallulah Correction Center for Youth in Louisiana had been open for only three years when it was first sued by the United States Department of Justice (in collaboration with local activists in the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana) for violating the civil rights of youth held in its confines—marking the first time in U.S. history that the federal government has actively sued a state over the conditions of its juvenile detention facilities. That same year the filthy conditions, brutal violence and chronic understaffing earned the center a citation as "the worst in the nation." In 1999, even after the federal government had taken over partial responsibility for improving conditions, things were so unsafe for the youth that the staff of the center walked out, leaving 400 boys completely unsupervised. Youth and adult activists appealed to the state legislature to shut down the prison once and for all. But their aspirations didn't stop with the abolition of one prison—they sought to redefine the juvenile justice system in the state, to change it from one based almost entirely on incarceration and punishment to a new system focusing on communitybased alternatives to incarceration. In 2003 the state of Louisiana became nationally recognized for its leadership in reforming a broken juvenile justice system. With the passage of the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2003 (Act 1225), then Governor Kathleen Blanco and the Louisiana State Legislature ushered in a period of reform in which the notoriously brutal Tallulah prison for youth was shut down, conditions were improved in other abusive youth prisons throughout the state, and a commitment was made to both the increased use of alternatives to incarceration for youth and to revamping secure care prisons to be small, therapeutic facilities that were regionalized to keep children closer to their families. Before the passage of Act 1225, over two thousand children were held in prison in Louisiana. Today the system holds just over 500 children statewide. In 1998 the rate of recidivism, or children returning to prison after release, was 56% as compared to 11% today. This decrease in the number of children incarcerated has contributed to an increase in public safety. Proposition 21 in California In 2001 California residents passed Proposition 21, a multi-faceted proposition designed to be tough on youth crime, incorporating many youth offenders into the adult criminal justice jurisdiction. Page 34 of 114

Opponents to this law included activists from Californians for Justice, Critical Resistance, the Youth Force Coalition, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and the American Civil Liberties Union. Advocates in the ACLU challenged many portions of the law, including a provision automatically sentencing youth 14–17 years old in adult court. This portion of the law was struck down by the California Courts of Appeal in 2001. Opposing Zero-Tolerance Policies The term "zero tolerance" is not defined in law or regulation; nor is there a single widely accepted practice definition. The United States Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, defined zero tolerance as "a policy that mandates predetermined consequences or punishments for specified offenses". The purpose of zero- tolerance policies, according to their proponents, is to send a message that certain kinds of behaviors are not tolerable on school grounds. About 94% of public schools in the United States have zero-tolerance policies for guns; 91% for other weapons; 88% for drugs; 87% for alcohol and 79% for tobacco. Opposition to zero- tolerance policies, especially at the local level, focus on critiques including charges that the program is discriminatory, unconstitutional, harmful to schools and students, ineptly implemented, and provides harsh punishment (suspension of education) for minor offenses (possession of tobacco). A few infamous cases have been used by opposition groups, such as Amnesty International, to further their case against the policy. The Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice released a story in 2003 about a 13-year-old girl in Tuscaloosa, Alabama arrested and detained for 5 weeks for possession of what was thought to be marijuana, but turned out to be oregano. The zero-tolerance practice in Illinois of sending any youth charged with drug crimes within 1,000 feet of any school or public housing project directly to adult court has resulted in the largest racial disparity in the country—over 99% of youth affected by this policy were minority youth. Opposition to zero-tolerance policies nationwide and locally is broad and growing. Organizational leadership has been provided nationally by Amnesty International and the American Bar Association, who has officially opposed such policies since 2001. Page 35 of 114

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