City of Richmond Debates Juvenile Detention

The City Council and Mayor in Richmond, Virginia, are looking long and hard at their juvenile detention policies.

A recent city council meeting included a discussion of a recently closed city-run juvenile detention facility in Richmond. An average of 39 juveniles were detained after arrest in the facility before the state put the facility on probation and the mayor closed it.

Officials sought to compare the facility to private options or facilities within a regional partnership, but were unable to do so as there was not sufficient data to assess how much the facility cost the city.

The meeting produced no final decision beyond an agreement that more study is needed.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation has undertaken such a study, and recently released a report on detention alternatives that can save municipalities significant money while improving outcomes for juvenile offenders. The open debate and recently closed facility in Richmond provides an excellent opportunity for consideration of those alternatives and how they may benefit Virginia residents as well.


Right-Sizing Texas Corrections

On May 8th, the Texas Public Policy Foundation hosted a primer titled “Right-Sizing Texas Corrections.” The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is under Sunset Review this year, and the commission will need to identify the core functions of the department which serve its mission most effectively in terms of costs and results. The Foundation’s primer looked at several policy options for enhancing public safety and controlling costs. Among the options discussed were better prioritizing prison space to focus on dangerous offenders and achieving operational efficiencies in areas such as correctional health care.

Marc Levin of Right On Crime, and the Director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Effective Justice, moderated the panel, which featured the following speakers:

The Honorable Joan Huffman
Texas State Senator

The Honorable Jerry Madden
Texas State Representative

The Honorable Ray Allen
former Texas State Representative

Peggy McGarry
Director, Center for Sentencing and Corrections at the Vera Institute for Justice

Listen to audio of the primer by clicking here.


Targeted Approaches to Juvenile Justice

Unique circumstances sometimes underlie juvenile delinquency cases. In order to properly handle those cases and prevent further wrongdoing, targeted approaches can specifically address those underlying circumstances in ways traditional juvenile justice systems cannot.

The circuit court in Winnebago County, Illinois, recently initiated the Youth Recovery Court for youths with mental illnesses or substance abuse issues. Specifically limited to youths charged with nonviolent offenses, the court seeks to treat the mental health or substance abuse issue to prevent further delinquency linked to those health issues.  This community based program incorporates a high level of family participation to ensure adherence to the treatment plan.

Livingston County, New York, has adopted a restorative justice approach to handle first-time non-violent delinquent youths through their Youth Court program. Administered by teenage volunteers who dole out community service sanctions, this court seeks to make young offenders aware of how their actions impact their peers, victims, and the community at large. With a quick turnaround (no more than 60 days) and initial success (30 out of 31 juveniles handled by the Youth Court fully completed their community service sanction), the Youth Court hopes to increase youth responsibility while redressing wrongs.

These targeted approaches offer a different course for specific low-level juvenile offenders who may benefit far more from diversion from the juvenile justice system without risk to the public safety.


12 Steps for Overcoming Overcriminalization

In 2010, the Texas Public Policy Foundation published “Analyze Before You Criminalize.” Policymakers appreciated the checklist, but they also asked an important follow-up question: “This checklist helps us prevent new overcriminalization, but how do we reverse the overcriminalization that has already occurred?” In response, the Foundation has now released a guide with some answers: 12 Steps for Overcoming Overcriminalization. The recommendations are as follows:

1. Identify weak mens rea protections;

2. Adopt a default mens rea statute;

3. Enact the Rule of Lenity;

4. Don’t criminalize offenses based on voluntary economic transactions;

5. Eliminate unnecessary occupational licensing requirements;

6. Eliminate delegation of power to agencies through rulemaking;

7. Require that criminal laws unrelated to controlled substances include potential or actual harm to an individual victim as an element of the offense;

8. Identify and consolidate duplicative laws which sanction essentially the same behavior;

9. Reclassify misdemeanors to remove jail time when unnecessary or convert to a civil violation;

10. Apply consistent criteria in distinguishing felonies from misdemeanors;

11. Create a commission to examine and identify all criminal laws that are redundant, unnecessary, or overbroad;

12. Apply the Tenth Amendment to criminal law.

The recommendations are followed by brief explanations and several notorious examples of overcriminalization. The complete document can be read here.


Protecting Public Safety and Reducing Costs in Louisiana

Right On Crime is distributing a short policy brief in Louisiana to encourage legislators and Governor Jindal to pass significant criminal justice reform during the state’s current legislative session. The brief discusses some of the policy problems confronting Louisiana and recommends the Right On Crime principles as the key to reform. You can read the policy brief here.