JJC has developed questions for Ohio’s citizens who are interested in juvenile justice reform to ask state candidates. The following questions & background information are offered as guidance.
1. While locking youth up for criminal behavior may seem politically expedient, research shows we actually do more harm than good by sending youthful offenders to prison and that large correctional facilities are costly and ineffective. Currently, Ohio spends about $300 a day (NOT including education costs) to incarcerate a single young person (well above $100,000 per year), while 53%-57% youth released from ODYS facilities will reoffend. Evidence-based alternatives located in communities are proven more successful and less expensive than incarceration. Recognizing this, the Ohio Department of Youth Services is supposed to develop a new footprint, downsizing or closing existing facilities and using a regional service delivery model with a continuum of care. What would you do to help ensure ODYS transform its system into one that is both more cost-effective and rehabilitative rather than one that relies on over-incarcerating youth and wasting tax dollars?
2. Research and experience tells us that adolescents are fundamentally different from adults – they are less mature in many significant ways. Neurological research now shows us how brains of teens continue to develop, particularly in the areas controlling executive functioning like impulse control, assessing risk, planning ahead and thoughtful decision-making. Policymakers have begun to rely on what we know about brain development to inform better policies and practices. Indeed, the United States Supreme Court has relied on this research to find youth less culpable than adults, most recently ruling juveniles cannot be sentenced to death (Roper v. Simmons) or to life without the possibility of parole (Graham v. Florida). Even car rental and insurance companies recognize the inherent limitations of simply thinking and behaving like a teenager. How would you ensure that age and maturity level of young people and other basic principles of adolescent development are taken into account throughout Ohio’s system of juvenile justice (from the juvenile court process through treatment, accountability and supervision)? Would you agree, for example, that leaders and key staff should have significant expertise in adolescent development?
3. Public schools have increasingly become portals to the juvenile justice system – what is often referred to as the “school-to-prison pipeline”. The pipeline is a reference to the growing common practice of children and youth being shuttled to the juvenile court system for behaviors that were historically handled in the school setting. Moreover, schools themselves have become more “prison-like” with metal detectors, school police officers, and more arrests on school grounds. Student suspensions and expulsions have grown exponentially in the last 10 years and school zero tolerance policies have led to many inappropriate cases clogging up the courts and unnecessarily involving youth in the criminal justice system. What would you recommend to reduce the school-to-prison-pipeline through the inappropriate and overuse of the court system? Would you support polices that reserve the most serious consequence – court involvement – for only the most serious delinquent behaviors?