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Virginian-Pilot supports greater judicial discretion in sentencing youths tried as adults, cites JustChildren transfer report
A Virginian-Pilot op-ed piece from December 22nd, 2010, calls for the General Assembly to support measures that would enable judges to give juvenile adjudications to youths tried as adults. Currently, it is possible for a youth tried as an adult to receive a juvenile sentence if convicted, but the conviction itself would still be of the adult felony charge.
Such a felony conviction can wreak permanent havoc on a child's education, job prospects and social development. If judges were able to give a youth a juvenile adjudication along with the juvenile sentence, the youth would conceivably have fewer barriers to a successful reentry into the community -- a goal that serves us all.
JustChildren has authored two reports on juvenile transfer. The 2009 report cited in the op-ed can be found here (PDF). The most recent report, titled "Unlocking the Truth" and released in November 2010, can be found here (PDF).
You can also find more information on the issue of juvenile transfer in Virginia via the Don't Throw Away the Key campaign.
Sign On and Share Your Story: Let the Virginia Department of Education know why homebound instruction needs improvement
Please click here to sign on to JustChildren's petition asking the Department of Education to improve homebound education for Virginia's students with disabilities and serious medical needs.
JustChildren represents low-income students across Central Virginia in matters such as special education and student discipline. In representing individuals and working with other attorneys and service providers, we routinely encounter serious problems with homebound instructional services, including inadequately trained teachers, watered-down curricula, scheduling difficulties, and gaps in coursework.
We also see home-based instruction used as the default disciplinary placement for students with disabilities, regardless of whether their unique needs require a different placement. These factors make it so difficult for students to stay on track to earn their diplomas.
The Virginia Department of Education is seeking public comment on your experiences with homebound instruction. They need to hear from you on why change is necessary. Some students need and benefit from homebound instruction. But the current system is not effective and puts homebound students at a disadvantage compared to their peers in the regular classroom.
Sharing your individual thoughts and experiences on homebound instruction with the Department of Education will help to give color and shape to the very real need for reform on this issue.
The public comment period ends on December 28th, so please don't wait too long. Please sign the petition, add your story, and spread the word -- let your voice be heard.
Thank you for your continued support of the Commonwealth of Virginia's children!
LSC programs please note: This request for public comment is not being conducted through Virginia's regulatory town hall, so the exception allowing LSC programs to participate probably does not apply.
UVA 3L Jeree Harris receives prestigious Skadden Fellowship; will join JustChildren team in Fall 2011
Third-year law student Jeree Harris was recently awarded a prestigious Skadden Fellowship to provide, as a member of the JustChildren team, direct educational representation to Virginia's incarcerated youth from entry into juvenile corrections facilities to reentry into their communities. Harris will spearhead the "Youth Entry to Reentry Education Project," made possible by the two-year fellowship, which provides a stipend and benefits to new attorneys in order to pursue greatly needed public interest projects through legal means. Harris won the fellowship based on her application, which required her to submit a project proposal and secure a sponsoring legal organization to host the project.
Harris is no stranger to child advocacy, or to the Legal Aid Justice Center. She interned with JustChildren in the summer of 2009, and has participated in several Legal Aid advocacy projects throughout her law school career. We can thank a certain Legal Aid Justice Center program director, however, for helping to inspire Jeree towards working with JustChildren: "As a senior in college, I met Angela Ciolfi at the [UVA Law] Conference on Public Service and the Law, and I thought 'I want to come to UVA Law'," Harris said. "I knew I wanted to be a child advocate, and when she talked about her work at JustChildren in Charlottesville, I was completely sold." Ciolfi is the Legal Director of the JustChildren program, and worked closely with Harris on her Skadden application.
Currently, there are close to 840 youth ages 11-19 in Virginia's juvenile correctional centers, many of whom are in need of special education services and many of whom are severely behind their peers in core educational areas like reading and math. Harris' project will seek to address these deficiencies through individual casework and community education, and pursue opportunities to build and strengthen the policies and procedures that govern the provision of education to these youth.
Harris' passion for child advocacy and public service began well before law school -- she received her Bachelor of Arts from the College of William and Mary where she majored in Religious Studies and a self-designed major entitled Social Justice and Community Advocacy. She was the founder of the Academic, College and Career Enrichment (A.C.C.E.) Project, a program for students suspended or expelled from their traditional schools. Before attending law school, she served as an intern with the Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in the Child Protection Division.
We congratulate Jeree for her tremendous accomplishment, and so look forward to next fall, when she'll be joining the Legal Aid family!
The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region announced this week that Legal Aid Justice Center Community Educator and Organizer Edgar Aranda-Yanoc has received its 2010 Linowes Leadership Award, which recognizes "outstanding commitment and dedication to helping others." Edgar was presented the award at the Foundation's "Celebration of Civic Spirit" event on Dec. 9th, 2010.
The Community Foundation said that the Linowes Leadership Award is bestowed each year upon several of the Washington, D.C. area's "unsung heroes...whose service, leadership, activism, and vision lift up the Washington region's many diverse communities." Award winners have included non-profit and civic leaders, educators, caregivers, activists and "regular folks." Nominations for the honor are made in secret, and seek to identify contenders for the award whose work has gone unrecognized.
Edgar works with our Immigrant Advocacy Program in the Northern Virginia office, delivering crucial resources and information to emerging and existing immigrant communities in Virginia. As a community educator and organizer, Edgar puts together community forums on crucial immigration issues, advocates in opposition to anti-immigrant laws and policies, supports immigrant community leaders and advocates in their efforts to participate in the civic debate on relevant issues, and prepares and distributes educational materials on issues important to the Latino/Hispanic community.
He is the current chairman of the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations (VACOLAO), an alliance of Virginia organizations that serve or support the interests of the Latino community in order to secure equal opportunity, treatment and representation for Latinos/Hispanics. VACOLAO is currently working diligently to help ensure passage of the DREAM Act in Congress. In October, Edgar helped to organize the First Virginia Immigrant Advocates Summit in Northern Virginia, bringing together advocates from the Latino, Asian, Pacific Islanders, Middle Eastern and African communities, among others, to interact, network and strategize with fellow advocates on issues and policies related to immigration in Virginia.
"Edgar's exceptional ability to bring people together is clearly beginning to attract attention," said Tim Freilich, legal director of the Legal Aid Justice Center's Immigrant Advocacy Program. "When you consider all the people doing great work throughout the D.C. metro region, this award is a tremendous credit to both Edgar and the Legal Aid Justice Center."
Edgar joined the Legal Aid Justice Center staff in 2007. He is a graduate of the LLM Program in International Law at Temple University and was a practicing attorney in Peru. He received his undergraduate degree in Political Science and Law from the University of Ancash in Peru "Santiago Antunez de Mayolo."
Founded in 1973, The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region is a community of givers working to strengthen the Washington region. Through its initiatives and donor funds, The Foundation provides an effective and efficient means for charitable dollars to reach the people and organizations that need them. In FY2010, The Foundation and its donors awarded some $54 million in grants to nonprofit organizations in the Washington, DC region and beyond. The Foundation has two affiliates –The Community Foundation for Montgomery County and The Community Foundation for Prince George’s County. For more information, visit www.thecommunityfoundation.org.
New JustChildren Report on Juvenile Transfer Unlocks the Truth Behind Trying Youths As Adults In Virginia
Individuals With Firsthand Knowledge of the Transfer System Share Their Stories
The JustChildren Program of the Legal Aid Justice Center released a new report 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.
“As I listened to the people affected by transfer, I was struck by the very high hurdles these youth face upon their return to the community. These young people want to work, want to better themselves by getting an education, and want to contribute to their communities by voting or volunteering, but they often can’t. Their adult felony convictions prevent them from doing these things and will continue to be obstacles for the rest of their lives.” Kate Duvall, an attorney with JustChildren and primary author of Unlocking the Truth, comments on her findings while researching for the report.
For the last five years JustChildren has spent extensive time examining Virginia’s system of trying youth as adults, including representing youth at various stages of the transfer process. Unlocking the Truth is the second of two reports examining Virginia’s transfer system. You can find JustChildren’s 2009 report, Don’t Throw Away the Key: Reevaluating Adult Time for Youth Crime in Virginia, along with more information about trying youths as adults, at www.dontthrowawaythekey.org.
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.
Liane Rozzell, the founder and director of Families & Allies of Virginia’s Youth, a grassroots advocacy organization and the parent of a youth confined in the juvenile justice system, hears stories about the problems associated with Virginia’s system of trying youth as adults from families across the state. “I have seen the impact an adult felony conviction has on the youth and families I work with. These youth have trouble finding jobs and getting an education. Labeling a young person, some as young as 14 years old, with an adult felony conviction does nothing to rehabilitate the young person or help them return to the community successfully.” Ms. Rozzell said.
Todd Petit, the Chief Public Defender for Fairfax County, oversees a staff of 5+ attorneys working on juvenile cases and represents youth in one of the busiest jurisdictions in Virginia. He reflects on the process by which the decision to try youth as adults is made, “For a wide variety of offenses, the prosecutor’s decision to try a child as an adult is completely unreviewable by a judge. The unfettered power to send a youth to the adult system means that the threat of transfer is a powerful plea bargaining tool often employed by prosecutors, and we are forced to consider the serious consequences for our clients of being tried as an adult in all strategic decisions in the case.” Mr. Petit also commented, “Resolving this problem is easy: give judges the authority to review the certification decision just like they can with almost every other decision made in our criminal justice system.”
Jennifer Woolard, Ph.D, an Associate Professor of Psychology and Center for Social Justice Research Fellow at Georgetown University, states, “Jails and prisons designed for adults do not have the facilities, staff training, or services to meet the developmental needs of juveniles incarcerated as adults.” Ms. Woolard goes on to comment on the effects of trying youth as adults, “Most studies indicate that trying youth as adults does not reduce recidivism. In fact, these youth may have higher recidivism than comparable youth processed in the juvenile justice system. This increased recidivism may be due to a number of factors, including the negative effect of incarceration in adult jails designed to punish rather than rehabilitate.”
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.
For a copy of Unlocking the Truth or Don’t Throw Away the Key, please call Kate Duvall at 434-977-0553, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Wednesday, October 20th, students, families, community partners, teachers, legislators, advocates and many others came out to the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville for our special event: "Dropped Out: How Our Students' Futures are Lost Every Day." All in all, we packed around 700 people into the theater, finding room up in the balconies when the seats filled up down below.
Emcee John Grisham welcomed the crowd with his usual humor and panache, and introduced a sobering but important part of the evening -- our student presentation, during which kids from Charlottesville, Albemarle and Richmond offered the audience some grim but motivating facts about our school dropout crisis. One by one, these students reminded the crowd of some startling statistics about the unceratin futures that kids who drop out of school must face. Large posters emphasized these numbers, and the youths themselves reminded everyone that behind every statistic is a kid, just like them, who needs our attention.
Following some additional opening remarks and thank-yous from LAJC Executive Director Alex Gulotta, we heard wise words from our special guest, U.S. Congressman Bobby Scott, who reminded us the value and virtue of preventive care. A highlight of Congressman Scott's remarks came when he recited a poem attributed to Joseph Malins from the turn of the 20th century, "The Ambulance in the Valley." The poem reminded us how futile it can be to merely bandage a problem after it happens, rather than spending the time and energy needed to prevent the damage from happening in the first place. Congressman Scott amplified the poem's metaphor by highlighting the great expense of our prisons and jails, versus our spending on educational efforts like early childhood education and dropout prevention.
Next, we screened the documentary "Pushed," a student-produced film shot in Connecticut, where schools face a similar dropout crisis as we do in Virginia. The film highlighted the good, the bad and the ugly that must be faced when it comes to addressing the drop-out crisis. We were also fortunate to welcome a group of the Youth Rights Media filmmakers, who stayed after the event to answer questions and chat with other guests.
Following the film was a panel discussion of our own school drop-out crisis in Virginia. Congressman Scott, UVA Curry School Professor and Youth Violence Project Director Dewey Cornell, JustChildren Director Angela Ciolfi, and Charlottesville Schools Superintendent Dr. Rosa Atkins offered illuminating comments and fielded compelling questions from the audience on how to improve relationships between schools, parents, and students in order to prevent kids from dropping out of school and suffering the intense and debilitating collateral damage from doing so.
All in all, "Dropped Out" was a great success, and we owe a great deal of thanks to our guests, our Hosts and our Leadership Law Firms for helping to make it happen. And we owe a huge standing ovation to everyone who came out in support of Virginia's students -- showing up for our students is an important step in battling the school dropout crisis, and making sure that our students are 'showing up' for their education, prepared and supported and ready to learn. Thank you!
Click here to check out some great coverage of our event from the C-ville Weekly.
EVERY school day in Virginia, 55 students drop out of school.
On Wednesday, October 20th, 2010, the Legal Aid Justice Center and Master of Ceremonies John Grisham will present Dropped Out, a program that examines the school drop-out crisis, describes incentives that cause it, explains strategies to address it, and discusses ways for concerned community members to get involved.
While Virginians can be proud of the state’s bold leadership on graduation rate accountability, the problem is far from solved. Dropout statistics still show stark racial and economic disparities in both graduation rates and diploma awards. Recent unemployment data also indicate that the economic recession hits America’s dropouts the hardest. And the country’s student discipline rates are at an all-time high, a fact that contributes to the school to prison pipeline and affects the health of all our communities.
The evening’s events will include the film Pushed, a student-produced documentary that highlights the effects of this crisis in our nation’s schools as seen through the eyes of students, parents and teachers in a Connecticut school division. The film will be followed by a panel discussion by education experts, as well as our special guest panelist, Congressman Bobby Scott.
Please join us for a crucial and compelling discussion of this school drop-out crisis, and what we can do to improve public education for Virginia's students. Our program will be held at the Paramount Theater on Charlottesville's Downtown Mall. Private reception will begin at 5:30 p.m., with the program to follow at 7:00 p.m.
Please click here for more event details and sponsorship opportunities. You may also purchase your tickets online through a secure credit card transaction via Visa, Mastercard, Discover or American Express.
For more information regarding the public event or the private reception, please contact Susan Kruse, Donor Relations Manager, at (434) 977-0553 ext. 101, or email email@example.com.
Medical-Legal Partnerships improve health outcomes by harnessing the power of doctors, lawyers and social workers working together for their patients. In 2004, the Legal Aid Justice Center, University of Virginia Medical Center and the University of Virginia School of Law formed Virginia’s first Medical-Legal Partnership in Charlottesville. There are now nine sites throughout the Commonwealth. These Partnerships serve individuals, families, children, and elders with a wide range of medical, legal, and social work needs. Visit the Virginia Medical-Legal Partnership Network’s new website, www.mlpvirginia.org, to learn more.
Legal Aid Client Joins President Obama in the Rose Garden to Urge Extension of Unemployment Benefits
On July 19, 2010, President Obama addressed the nation and urged the Senate to pass legislation that includes an extension of unemployment benefits. By his side was Leslie Macko, a client of the Legal Aid Justice Center, who lost her job in 2009. She has persistently searched for work, but to no avail. She is one of many workers who are facing termination of their benefits if Congress fails to act.
The unemployment measure has been held up for weeks in the Senate. On July 20, 2010, Carte Goodwin will be sworn in to fill the West Virginia seat previously held by the late Senator Robert C. Byrd. It is anticipated that Carte Goodwin will cast the deciding vote in favor of the extension.
Watch the video of the President’s remarks from the Rose Garden and hear him tell Ms. Macko's story.
Read the Press Statement from the White House.
Read the Legal Aid Justice Center's Press Statement from July 29, 2010.
The proposed new Consumer Financial Protection Board may contain a gigantic loophole leaving consumers exposed to unregulated financial products. Legal Aid Justice Center contract attorney, Tom Domonoske, speaks out on National Public Radio (NPR).
Read the article and listen to the clip here.