[R-G] HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH Acts: Reforming Juvenile Injustice; etc..

james m nordlund realiteee1 at yahoo.com
Mon Jul 7 00:47:44 MDT 2008

Reforming Juvenile Injustice


Reforming Juvenile Injustice
By Carol Chodroff, advocacy director, US Program, published in The Huffington Post

WASHINGTON, DC – I was Anthony's teacher and I couldn't help him. Anthony, a 15-year-old boy who suffered from depression, was beaten up and slashed with a razor in a California juvenile detention center. He was incarcerated as a "status offender" for running away from his group home. (A status offense is not a crime if committed by an adult.) I tried to bring Anthony his books so he could do his homework. But Anthony was not allowed to have books in his cell. So he turned to the older kids, with more criminal experience, for lessons. Upon release, Anthony was addicted to meth.

Our nation's juvenile justice policies are replete with contradictions between practices proven to prevent crime, and punitive laws politicians promote to get elected. Juvenile and criminal justice principles, scientific research on prevention, intervention, and adolescent brain development, and US treaty obligations argue against the "lock 'em up and throw away the key" policies that harm children, increase recidivism and exacerbate crime.  
The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act (JJDPA), first enacted in 1974 and overdue for reauthorization, is pending in Congress. Next week, the Senate will consider this legislation and amendments to improve juvenile justice in this country. And improvement is long overdue.  
Current juvenile justice practices ignore children's age and amenability to rehabilitation. On any given night in the United States, almost 10,000 children are held in adult jails and prisons, where they are particularly vulnerable to victimization because of their size and youth. The Centers for Disease Control recently reported that after release, children who are incarcerated in adult prisons commit more crimes, and more serious crimes, than children with similar histories held in juvenile facilities.  
But sentencing children to die in prison is not the solution. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which only the United States and Somalia have failed to ratify, prohibits sentencing youth to life without parole. In the United States, 2,484 people are currently sentenced to die in prison for an offense they committed when they were under 18. In contrast, not a single youth is serving this sentence anywhere else in the world.  
Nearly 100,000 children, some as young as 10, are confined in juvenile detention and residential facilities, which are often plagued by harsh and abusive conditions. Representative George Miller (D-CA) recently lamented the thousands of documented child abuse and neglect cases in youth residential programs, including examples of children being forced to remain for hours in "stress" positions that make the facility "look more like Guantanamo Bay than a care facility for American children."  
Study after study shows that over-reliance on institutionalization neither protects the public nor rehabilitates youth. And correctional confinement is not cheap: up to $300 per youth per day, far more than even the most intensive home- and community-based treatment model.  
The good news is that effective prevention and intervention programs, mental health and drug treatment services can foster resiliency and help children move out of the criminal justice system, return to school, and become responsible, hard-working members of our communities. And voters appreciate sound policy. MacArthur Foundation polling reveals that taxpayers overwhelmingly favor paying for rehabilitation programs rather than incarceration of youthful offenders.  
Reauthorization of the act will provide federal support to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system, increase mental health and drug treatment services for youth, and eliminate disproportionate sanctions for minor and predictable adolescent misbehavior. Reducing unnecessary and inappropriate incarceration of youth will increase opportunities for positive youth development and community safety.  
There is no question that youth who commit crimes must be held accountable. The government has an obligation to keep the public safe and protect the rights of victims. But no juvenile court disposition, regardless of the offense, should ever include abuse, mental health deterioration, or death in prison. Nor should it increase crime. Children are different from adults, and the punishment imposed for their offenses should reflect their age, level of development, and greater potential for rehabilitation.  
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), a former prosecutor and co-sponsor of the act, put it best:
"I know well the importance of holding criminals accountable for their crimes with strong sentences. But when we are talking about children, we must also think about how best to help them become responsible, contributing members of society as adults. That keeps us all safer."
Congress should act now to improve juvenile justice. Winston Churchill said you can judge a civilization by how it treats its prisoners. If so, we're in trouble – especially when our prisoners are children.  
Carol Chodroff is the US Program advocacy director at Human Rights Watch and a former teacher for high school students in the juvenile justice system. 

Related Material

More on juvenile justice
Thematic Page 

More on children's rights in the United States

France: Guilty-by-Association Prosecutions Violate Rights


France: Guilty-by-Association Prosecutions Violate Rights
Improve Criminal Justice Safeguards, Provide Legal Counsel for Terror Suspects 
(Paris, July 2, 2008) – In its effort to fight terrorism, France routinely arrests and prosecutes people for being associated with possible terror suspects, undermining international fair trial standards, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today. 

“Using the criminal justice system is the right way to fight terrorism,” said Judith Sunderland, Europe and Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “But prosecuting people because of who they know and what they think sacrifices basic rights, and that is wrong in principle and dangerous in practice.”  
The 84-page report, “Preempting Justice: Counterterrorism Laws and Procedures in France,” looks at how France uses a vaguely defined ‘terrorism association offense’ to arrest large numbers of people based on minimal evidence. Human Rights Watch documented credible allegations that terrorism suspects are subjected to oppressive questioning in police custody, linked to a policy that delays a suspect’s access to a lawyer. Many suspects go on to spend long periods in pre-trial detention. Human Rights Watch talked to two dozen people caught up in terrorism investigations and trials, and conducted interviews with counterterrorism officials and judicial authorities.  
The lack of appropriate safeguards within the criminal justice system puts France on the wrong side of human rights law.  
France is renowned for its preemptive criminal justice approach to countering terrorism. Specialized prosecutors and investigating judges work closely with police and intelligence services to break up alleged networks before they commit a terrorist attack. But reliance on the broad offense of “criminal association in relation to a terrorist undertaking” means that large numbers of people are arrested on the basis of minimal evidence and detained for extended periods. Prosecutions are often based on intelligence material, including from countries with poor records on torture, which defendants cannot effectively challenge.  
“France is too eager to set aside rights for the sake of efficiency,” said Sunderland. “To be a real leader, France should uphold rights while confronting terrorism.”  
Human Rights Watch will discuss its findings and recommendations during a round-table on human rights and the fight against terrorism in Europe at the Third World Forum on Human Rights in Nantes, France, on July 2.  
Safeguards in police custody are a particular concern. Terrorism suspects can be held for up to six days in police custody. Suspects can only see a lawyer after three days of police questioning, undermining the right to an effective defense and putting detainees at risk of ill-treatment. When they do finally see a lawyer, the visit is limited to 30 minutes and the lawyer usually knows almost nothing about the reason for the arrest. By law, police do not have to tell suspects that they have the right to remain silent, and anything they say can be used against them if charges are filed.  
Rachida Alam, 34, was arrested along with her husband in May 2004. She was subjected to 25 hours of interrogation during her three days in police custody without once seeing a lawyer. A diabetic, Alam had to be taken to the detention facility’s hospital three times.  
Human Rights Watch interviewed suspects who said that sleep deprivation, disorientation, constant, repetitive questioning, and psychological pressure are common in police custody. Human Rights Watch also documented credible allegations of physical abuse.  
Emmanuel Nieto, 33, was arrested in October 2005 largely on the basis of statements made by a man detained arbitrarily in Algeria. Nieto claims he was subjected to physical abuse at the hands of the police during his four days in custody, including being punched, forced to kneel for long periods of time, and grabbed by the throat. He was questioned for a total of 45 hours in 13 different sessions.  
Suspects charged with terrorism offenses are usually remanded to long periods of pre-trial detention. A reform from 2001 allowing decisions on custody to be made by a separate “liberty and custody” judge has made little difference in limiting pre-trial detention in such cases.  
The breadth of the terrorism association offense can lead to a conviction based on a low standard of proof and weak evidence such as that suspects know each other, are in regular contact, or share particular religious and political beliefs.  
Interviews with French counterterrorism officials, terrorism suspects and their families, and defense lawyers suggest that France’s approach risks alienating Muslims, potentially radicalizing individuals, and eroding trust in law enforcement and security forces. Neighbors are less likely to tip off the police about suspicious behavior if they don’t believe the accused will be treated fairly.  
“Sarkozy has called the fight against terrorism a ‘battle of ideas,’” Sunderland said. “The way to win that battle is to ensure that countering terrorism doesn’t come at the expense of the human rights of suspects.”  
The report contains concrete recommendations to the French government to strengthen safeguards in the criminal justice system, including:

Making the offense of criminal association in relation to a terrorist undertaking more precise and requiring proof of intent to participate in a plan to commit terrorist acts;  

Improving safeguards in police custody, in particular access to a lawyer from the outset of detention and during all interrogations;  

Reinforcing the role and independence of the “liberty and custody judges;” and  

Ensuring that evidence obtained under torture and ill-treatment, including from third countries, is inadmissible in any criminal proceedings. 

Related Material

Preempting Justice: Counterterrorism Laws and Procedures in France
Report, July 2, 2008 

In the Name of Prevention
Report, June 6, 2007 

Universal Periodic Review of France
Written Statement, May 5, 2008 

More of Human Rights Watch's work on France


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