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February 14, 2009

Experts Explore Strategies for Juvenile Justice Reform

The criminal justice system is facing its biggest crisis ever–the rise of juvenile offenders. Professor Charles Ogletree, Harvard Law School, led a dynamic panel on this subject during the Friday ABA Midyear Meeting program, “The New Paradigm of Juvenile Justice,” exploring ways to address the problem.

Program moderator Charles Ogletree, Harvard Law School professor, joins other juvenile justice experts to explore the increase of juveniles in the criminal justice system.

According to panelists, one of the primary reasons for the increase is the widespread use of incarceration as a means of punishment for typical acts of teenage rebellion, such as skipping school, disrupting the classroom and fighting. These incarcerations have not been effective, instead causing long—term negative effects on teens, they said.

Incarceration also does little to reform students, said panelists, citing that almost half of incarcerated teens never return to school and are at risk for recidivism. The panelists support community-based alternatives that keep teens at home, in their communities, as more effective than current punishments.

Panelists also advocate the elimination of “zero–tolerance” rules that have funneled too many small-time offenders into the criminal justice system.

Other reforms cited by panelists included leveling the education “playing field” for minorities, addressing the needs of impoverished children and implementing best practices that decrease the likelihood for racial discrimination in the criminal justice system.

Panelists included James Bell, director, Haywood Burns Institute; Jay Blitzman, judge, Middlesex Juvenile Court; Phil Heymann, former deputy attorney general, Clinton administration; Robert Schwartz, executive director, Juvenile Law Center; Jane E. Tewksbury, commissioner, Boston Department of Youth Services; and Linda Uttal, acting chief, Cook County Public Defender Juvenile Division.

“The New Paradigm of Juvenile Justice,” was sponsored by the ABA Criminal Justice Section, ABA Council on Racial and Ethnic Justice and the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants. For more information, visit the Criminal Justice Section’s Juvenile Justice Committee’s Web site here.