I Have to Go, But Make Yourself at Home

When I started this blog, I thought I had found a cause I needed to get behind. I came to learn that the issue is far more complicated than I’d ever imagined. I continue to believe there is something fundamentally wrong about trying and convicting juveniles as adults and incarcerating them in adult prison for life without the possibility of parole, but my reasons have changed.

I learned that most of these juvenile offenders committed unspeakable crimes. I learned that in cases where offenders could be said to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, someone was brutally murdered.

I learned that the loved ones of the victims of these crimes;  mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, children, friends and neighbors endure a lifetime of grief and pain. Marriages fall apart. Mental illness and substance abuse often ensue.

The loved ones of the juvenile offenders suffer similar fates, although often alone, shunned by relatives, friends and members of their communities.

I searched on line and read books on everything I could find detailing the crimes of the 46 offenders in my home state of Colorado who will die in prison, trying to understand how they could have done the things they did. I found no answers. Some of them made impulsive, stupid decisions and ended up being party to deadly crimes. And some of them are dangerous sociopaths who are incapable of feeling compassion for other people or remorse for what they’ve done.

I met with victim and offender advocates, exchanged emails with them and spoke to them on the phone for hours. I met the relatives of victims and the relatives of offenders. My heart truly aches for all of them.

I came to understand the pain to the victims’ families whenever they watch well-meaning offender advocates speaking on behalf of the murderers of their loved ones. I became attuned to the silent anger and pain most of them feel at displays of support for freeing the offenders and the insensitivity usually displayed toward the victims and their families.  I came to wince whenever I heard the offenders referred to as “children”. I learned of the fear and horror the victims’ families endure at the idea that those who they thought would be locked away forever could be free again or at the idea that they might have to relive the details of the crime and face the offender at parole hearings, maybe for the rest of their lives.

And the offenders?

I exchanged letters with offenders and conducted an extensive Q&A through the mail with one. Those questions and answers are here on this blog. I grew to like him. He’s now been incarcerated longer than he’d been alive at the time of his crimes. The more I learned about life inside a maximum security prison, the more pessimistic my view of the  justice and corrections systems concerning violent juveniles.

Some of the offenders may have been capable of rehabilitation at the time of their crimes if they’d been put into an intense correctional program focused on restorative justice and away from adult inmates. Perhaps after serving appropriately lengthy sentences some could have eventually been safely released into society. Those kinds of sentencing options weren’t available then and they aren’t available now.

I have come to believe that years of incarceration in a maximum security adult corrections system that provides no opportunity for rehabilitation and where a teenager’s fate as prey or as hardened convict is quickly decided begins to erode and eventually eliminates the possibility of rehabilitation and redemption.

So what do I think should change about all of this?

It’s too late to change the past.

I don’t think there is a good sentencing or corrections solution for violent teenage criminals. I think they’re too dangerous for juvenile facilities, and I don’t think they belong in Supermax.

There is nothing else.

In almost all of the cases I am familiar with, some kind of intervention by family, school, friends, social services or law enforcement might have prevented the heinous crimes that followed. In almost all of these cases, someone or something failed these juveniles and so failed all of us.

I’ve stayed away from this blog for almost a year, but I learned a lot from the research I did, the people I met and the comments people left here. I am grateful to all of those people who spoke with me, exchanged emails with me and shared their pain with me.

I believe there are things here that people can learn from. Despite my inattention to this site, it’s gotten over 38,000 hits since I started it. On some days over 100 people still come here.

This discussion will continue until we find a way to come to terms with why so many American juveniles commit violent crimes and until we find a way to make it stop.

My part in this dialog is finished.

All the posts will remain, so make yourself at home and stay as long as you like.

Peace.

Eight Year Old May be Charged as Adult

From the New York Times:

ST. JOHNS, Ariz. — A week after the police charged an 8-year-old boy in the premeditated shooting deaths of his father and another man, the boy’s mother, teachers and others who know him say they are no closer to understanding the roots of such a heinous crime.

“I don’t believe he did this,” said the mother, Erin Bloomfield, 26, who has shared custody of her son with his father, Vincent Romero, 29, since the couple divorced six years ago. She said she talked to the boy every week and visited an average of once a month, driving the 20 hours to St. Johns from her home in Mississippi.

Ms. Bloomfield had just returned from her latest visit when she got a call about the shooting and immediately returned to St. Johns, a windy hamlet of horse ranches, low-slung houses and double-wide trailers about 170 miles east-northeast of Phoenix. The largest buildings are a few churches and schools along the single main road, which has no stoplights.

“People like their independence and freedom here,” said Wendy Guffey, 60, a substance abuse counselor at a local health clinic. “It’s sort of the redneck ethic. A lot of people haul their own water and live off generators and candles out here. Back to the land.”

Many of her clients struggle with unemployment, drugs and tedium. “A lot of people around here say there’s nothing to do,” Ms. Guffey said.

Ms. Bloomfield described her son as a “normal boy” who played video games nonstop and doted on his new dog, a boxer. But in recent months, she said, he “seemed to be changing.”

“There was a distance with me after a while,” she said.

Whenever she spoke with her son, Ms. Bloomfield said, “I had to go through Tiffany,” a reference to his stepmother, Tiffany Romero. “Tiffany would always sit there while he talked to me on the phone, and after a while, he became more and more distant.”

She worried, she said, that the boy might be being abused although she had no proof.

Before Judge Michael P. Roca of Apache County Superior Court blocked anyone connected to the case from talking to the news media, Police Chief Roy Melnick of St. Johns said there was no evidence that the boy had been abused at home or in school.

A person answering the door at the Romero home on Tuesday said Tiffany Romero would not discuss the case because of Judge Roca’s order.

Ms. Bloomfield said that after her son told her that his father and stepmother quarreled often, “I called Tiffany about that, and I think I got my son into trouble.”

“The next time I talked to him about it,” she added, “he said that Tiffany told him that ‘what happens in this house stays in this house.’ ”

Ms. Bloomfield also said that her son was close to his father, and that the two regularly played softball and basketball, and went hiking and hunting together, sometimes joined by the other man who was killed, Timothy Romans, 39. Mr. Romans worked in construction with Mr. Romero and rented a room in the family house.

Ms. Bloomfield confirmed that after first seeking permission from their parish priest, her ex-husband recently bought their son a .22 rifle for hunting, a common pastime of young boys and their fathers in this town of about 4,000 people.

The boy “took his religious faith very seriously,” said Sister Angelina Chavez, who has known him since he was a baby and taught his religious class every Monday at St. Johns Catholic Church. It is the church where the Romeros were married in September, and where hundreds of townspeople turned out for Mr. Romero’s funeral on Monday. “I just don’t know what happened to him spiritually, emotionally,” she said.

“This is going to take a while to get over,” Sister Angelina said. “Parishioners have come to me asking why it happened. I just don’t know.”

Ms. Bloomfield expressed disgust at rumors sweeping the town, among them that her son killed his father because he had not been allowed to go trick-or-treating on Halloween. “This town is too small,” she said. “Everybody thinks they know what happened. They’re saying all kinds of things about my son. They have smashed him down to nothing.”

Chief Melnick has said only that the boy unexpectedly confessed to the killings during the second of two interviews on Nov. 5. Neither a lawyer nor a family member was present either time, the chief said, because the boy was being questioned as a witness, not a suspect.

Prosecutors charged the boy as an adult, and Ms. Bloomfield said she was terrified they would also attempt to try him as one. The boy is scheduled to undergo three psychological examinations in the coming weeks to determine whether that is possible.

A Phoenix defense lawyer, Karyn Klausner, who is a former municipal judge, said that for the boy to be tried as an adult, the tests must show that he is competent to understand the charges against him, has a basic understanding of the court process and is able to assist in his defense. In addition, prosecutors must prove that he cannot be rehabilitated by the time he turns 18 and leaves the juvenile justice system.

Ms. Klausner said she was appalled that the authorities were considering such an option. “There’s no way on God’s green earth that an 8-year-old should be subject to the adult system,” she said.

Prosecutors also have what Ms. Klausner called the unlikely option of deciding that the boy is incompetent to stand trial, detaining him in a psychiatric facility until he is deemed competent, and then trying him as an adult.

In a separate case, a county judge in Bisbee, Ariz., on Monday denied a motion to try as an adult a 12-year-old boy accused of killing his mother. In that case, court mental health evaluators determined that the boy could be rehabilitated by the time he turned 18.

The sight of her young son being led into court in shackles on Monday was especially upsetting, Ms. Bloomfield said. His hands were bound to a security belt that had to be looped around his waist three times because of his small frame. The judge ordered the restraints removed.

“I blew some kisses at him and told him to put some in his pocket for later,” the mother said. “Later he told me he needed more kisses to put in his pocket.”

The next hearing, set for next Wednesday, is to focus on requests by defense lawyers for DNA, blood samples, ballistics and other forensics evidence from the crime scene.

Two of the boy’s friends, Lucas Graf, 12, and Jude Chavez, 11, said they, too, were baffled as to how someone with whom they wrestled and swam in the scorching summer just past could have committed such a brutal act.

“He’s a nice kid,” Lucas said. “He’s normal.”

From Inside Supermax: Q&A With Jacob Ind, July 2008

This post is a continuation of a Q&A through the mail I’ve been having with Jacob Ind, who is currently serving Life Without Parole in the Colorado State Penitentiary (CSP), also known as Supermax. This news broadcast about Jacob Ind’s case aired on April 29, 2008. To read more about Jacob Ind and how this dialogue started, please see From Inside Supermax: Part 1 of 8. In all there are 18 posts From Inside Supermax. Simply select the tag, “Jacob Ind” to sort through the older posts and find them.

Lisa: Are you ever afraid in there anymore? What kinds of things were you afraid of at first, that you no longer are afraid of now? What kinds of things can still scare you? Do many people seem to be afraid?

Jacob: Fear…Yeah, I still get afraid in here, but for different reasons than I used to be. When I first got locked up I was scared when it came to conflicts. I didn’t like to fight or get into confrontations. After a few fights and confidence which comes from growing up I stopped being scared of fights and even grew to enjoy the adrenaline rush. It is actually fun to fight. Now fighting carries different fears. My biggest fears these days revolve around getting in trouble. I really hate getting in trouble and having my life up-ended. I like to get settled in and get my life set on a routine. Going to the hole usually means that I’ll end up in a different unit afterward, with different people, possibly losing my job, losing extra property, not to mention having to explain to my family and friends that I’m a screw up. It sucks all the way around. The hole time itself is nothing. I can do Continue reading

Juvenile LWOP in Israel

Juvenile LWOP in Israel, isn’t really LWOP — exactly. See this post from the University of San Francisco:

“The Center For Law and Global Justice has issued a report on the sentencing of child offenders – those convicted of crimes committed when younger than 18 years of age -to a term of life imprisonment without the possibility of release or parole (“LWOP”). The sentence condemns a child to die in prison. It is the harshest sentence an individual can receive short of death and violates international human rights standards of juvenile justice.

NEW INFORMATION ON JUVENILE LWOP GLOBAL PRACTICE

FEBRUARY 2008–The Center has now confirmed with Israeli officials that children given life sentences, including those in the Occupied Territories which have been the subject of serious concern by the Center and other human rights groups, are entitled to parole review. There remains the concern that parole review is difficult to pursue and rarely granted. The new confirmation by Israel means that the United States, with 2,381 such cases, is now the only country in the world known to either issue the sentence or to have children serving life without parole.

Authors:

Michelle Leighton
Director, Human Rights Programs
Center for Law and Global Justice
mleighton@usfca.edu
University of San Francisco School of Law

Professor Connie de la Vega
Director, Frank C. Newman International Human Rights Law Clinic
delavega@usfca.edu
University of San Francisco School of Law

This report may be accessed in .pdf format here.”

Pendulum Foundation Responds to Former DA Piece on Ending Juvenile LWOP

This piece was published on March 9th at Vindy.com. A response to Mr. Mangino from Mary Ellen Johnson, Executive Director of the Pendulum Foundation is posted immediately following this article.

With the introduction of HR 4300, a call to end the Juvenile LWOP sentence nationally I suspect the dialogue surrounding this charged issue will be picking up. There are significant, legitimate concerns on both sides of this debate, but so far, positions appear to remain polarized. An attempt to find solutions that address public safety, the victims of the crimes, the age of the offenders at the time of the crimes, the circumstances surrounding the crimes and alternative approaches to rehabilitation do not seem to be a part of the larger discussion. Perhaps that will change. I would like to hope so.

Published:Sunday, March 9, 2008

Matthew T. Mangino

Handle juvenile lifers cautiously

There is a renewed urgency to abolish life without parole (LWOP) for juveniles. In the last several weeks The New York Times, among other outlets, have called for a halt in sending juveniles to prison for life with no hope of parole. With mounting public pressure, policymakers would do well to proceed with caution.

Life without parole is not unlike the death penalty. Paul Wright, a former lifer, told The New York Times, “It’s a death sentence by incarceration. You’re trading a slow form of death for a faster one.” Only three years ago the United States Supreme Court banned the execution of juveniles. The decision in Roper v. Simmons resulted in the commutation of 72 juvenile death penalties; a significant majority of those juvenile offenders were re-sentenced to LWOP.

When the U.S. Supreme Court made the landmark decisions in Roper as well as Atkins v. Virginia, banning the execution of the mentally retarded, the justices cited “evolving standards of decency.” In the analysis of evolving standards of decency the court considers the action of state lawmakers to establish a national consensus. When Atkins was argued, 30 states had banned the execution of the mentally retarded. When Roper was argued, the same number of states had banned the execution of juveniles. Today only eight states have banned LWOP for juveniles. California is considering a bill that would eliminate LWOP and limit juvenile sentences to 25 years to life. Michigan, Illinois, Nebraska and Florida are considering similar legislation, which would make a significant number but not a national consensus.

At the time of the Atkins and Roper decisions death penalty abolitionist argued that LWOP was an appropriate alternative sentence to the death penalty. Today, the same arguments made to abolish the death penalty are being incorporated into the argument against LWOP for juveniles.

Juvenile’s brain

Those who are advocating for the end of juvenile LWOP often cite research suggesting that the juvenile brain is not yet fully developed. Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote in Roper that juveniles are cognitively immature and therefore less culpable. The brain development argument is being used with more frequency in courtrooms across the country.

The juvenile criminal court system is distinctly different from the adult criminal court system. The juvenile system is not punitive. The focus is on rehabilitation and is oriented toward the treatment of young offenders. However, it has been suggested that some young offenders are not amenable to treatment and are so dangerous that only a lifetime of incarceration would protect the public.

Justice Kennedy wrote in Roper, “It is difficult even for expert psychologists to differentiate between the juvenile offender whose crime reflects unfortunate yet transient immaturity, and the rare juvenile offender whose crime reflects irreparable corruption.” He goes on to write that it is impermissible to render an opinion about antisocial disorders in offenders under age 18. That is precisely the point; the diagnosis should be made after the age of 18 with the ability to keep that rare offender with “irreparable corruption” from harming another innocent person.

LWOP for juveniles convicted of first degree murder should be an option for judges, not a mandatory requirement. Sentences, especially for juveniles charged as adults, should be specifically tailored for each individual offender. This could be effectuated by giving judges the discretion that legislatures rushed to take away when getting “tough on crime.”

A juvenile sentenced to LWOP need not be doomed to a lifetime of hopelessness. Governors across the country have the ability to grant clemency. The pardon is a long accepted method of invoking fairness and justice.

States would do well to follow the lead of Colorado and establish juvenile clemency boards. The board would be charged with reviewing antisocial disorders in offenders now over the age of 18 who were sentenced to LWOP as juveniles. The legislature could establish parameters for consideration and guidelines for recommending clemency to the governor.

The question is not whether some violent juvenile offenders deserve to be locked away for life, but rather, do law abiding citizens deserve the protection that total incapacitation of dangerous offenders affords. Policymakers should not blindly rush to abolish an appropriate sentencing option, without first considering judicial discretion and executive authority.

X Matthew T. Mangino is the former district attorney of Lawrence County. He is a featured columnist for the Pennsylvania Law Weekly. He can be reached at matthewmangino@aol.com) .

The following response was sent to Mr. Mangino by Mary Ellen Johnson, Executive Director of the Pendulum Foundation.

Subject: Response to your article: Handle JLWOPS Carefully

Mr. Mangino,

Just a few words in response to your thoughtful article. The Pendulum Foundation, the head of the CO DA’s council, and a CO legislator agreed on a juvenile clemency board in response to several years of bruising legislative battles dealing with kids serving life. The board will soon have its first two candidates (a juvenile can be serving less than life to apply.) Iremember at the time Governor Ritter signed the executive order that defense attorneys said, “Watch what he does. He NEVER has to grant a commutation but it sure makes him look good.” I thought the attorneys were being cynical.

In a few weeks two young prisoners will have their cases heard. Not being an attorney but merely an advocate, I have to admit I no longer  have much faith in the system either. The board is stacked with law enforcement. The head of the board is a former prosecutor who testified against and prosecuted several of the young men and women who will be seeking a pardon or commutation. Despite the fact that Colorado ranks 5th in the disproportionate number of minorities serving juvenile LWOP, no African-American is represented. Even though The Pendulum Foundation conceived the very idea of the juvenile clemency board originally, we are not allowed to have any interaction with the board. We had hoped to be able to suggest a certain set of criteria most suited to juveniles.

Upon entering the system young offenders have MANY different problems from those who are incarcerated in their twenties or thirties. One major difference is gang involvement. Kids going into the adult system WILL join a gang for protection. Only after they’ve been inside for a while will they feel confident-and safe enough–to find their own friends. That involvement often sends them directly to a control unit. More than half of our kids have spent up to 8 years in our Super Max. They can’t apply for a commutation – and they can’t work their way back out into general population. The reality is so very different from the theory and from the tidy declarations of the board that the dominant emotion among many of us is simply despair.

The liaison between advocates and the board assures us that our voices will be heard via my emails and that we must give the board a chance. However, when we look beyond the board to the governor, we ask: If I were Governor Ritter, would I give ANY of these young men and women a clemency or commutation? No, not when they get no programs or therapy or any sort of rehabilitation. So The Pendulum Foundation has offered extensive cognitive behavior therapy, beginning with young LWOPS who are mandated by law to receive programs,  to all  Colorado prisoners.

Cost to the state: ZERO.

We’ve received lip service and no actual interest. So we wonder, does anyone really care about lowering recidivism? Does anyone really want to slow the growth in the three-quarters of a billion Colorado corrections budget? (With less than 3% of that budget going to any sort of programs.)  IS the juvenile clemency board just for show? It’s too early to tell but you know that in the best of times, clemency and commutation are seldom granted. One CO governor granted 4 for battered women years ago. Needless to say, there is no such outcry on behalf of battered children – of whom we have two serving life sentences for killing their abusers. I will end this too long letter with another thank you for addressing this difficult issue. I suspect that we can both agree on one thing: the implementation or dismissal of a juvenile clemency board will not fix a very fundamental problem. The real problem is with the devolution of our justice system, and more deeply with the shifting in the American psyche away from redemption and rehabilitation to a mindless embrace of retribution.

Sincerely,

Mary Ellen Johnson, Executive Director

<http://www.pendulumfoundation.com/&gt; http://www.pendulumfoundation.com

Colorado Children’s Code Authorizes Restorative Justice Conferences for Adjudicated Youth

This article is from a publication of the Restorative Practices eForum, a free email information service from the International Institute for Restorative Practices.

“On March 31, 2008, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter signed into law House Bill 08-1117, which authorizes the use of restorative justice (RJ) in the state’s Children’s Code and gives Colorado the legislative edge among states that sanction the use of RJ. The bill passed 63-1 in the House and 33-0 in the Senate.

Upon signing the bill, Governor Ritter said, “By making juvenile offenders take responsibility for the consequences of their actions, we can teach them that the decisions they make, both good and bad, will affect the course of their life. Repairing the harm that someone has caused can be the thing that matters most in the criminal justice system.” Added Ritter, “As a former prosecutor, I’ve seen too many people start out committing minor crimes as juveniles and escalate to committing serious crimes as adults. We must do everything we can to intervene early and break this cycle.”

The law, sponsored by State Representative Michael Merrifield in the House and by State Senator John Morse in the Senate, gives judges the authority to offer accused young offenders the legal option to voluntarily participate in RJ processes. The law encodes a well-defined definition of restorative justice and practices:

“ ‘Restorative Justice’ means those practices that emphasize repairing the harm to the victim and the community caused by criminal acts. Restorative justice practices may include victim-offender conferences attended voluntarily by the victim, a victim advocate, the offender, community members, and supporters of the victim or the offender that provide an opportunity for the offender to accept responsibility for the harm caused to those affected by the crime and to participate in setting consequences to repair the harm. Consequences recommended by the participants may include, but need not be limited to, apologies, community service, restoration, and counseling. The selected consequences are incorporated into an agreement that sets time limits for completion of the consequences and is signed by all participants.” Continue reading here.

OJJDP Bulletin Examines Violence by Teenage Girls

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) has published “Violence by Teenage Girls: Trends and Context.” The first in a series of publications from OJJDP’s Girls Study Group, the bulletin assesses trends of juvenile arrest rates for violent crimes, focusing on simple and aggravated assault. It also examines the context in which girls and boys offend, including the type of victims targeted and environments where offenses commonly occur.

Resources:

“Violence by Teenage Girls: Trends and Context” is available online only at http://www.ojjdp.ncjrs.gov/publications/PubAbstract.asp?pubi=240649.

For further information about OJJDP’s Girls Study Group, visit http://girlsstudygroup.rti.org/.