Vincent Schiraldi on Youth Justice
It's a disaster right now and everybody's really concerned about putting a kid into that disaster. We should always been concerned about putting that kid into that disaster not just now because they might get covert nineteen but owens because they might get beaten up. They might get raped. Their chances of success apartment lease go down and because it's dramatic racially and ethnically disparate though should have been are concerned every single day and now we add to that pile depend so all fired good idea before and we don't want to get back to that listening to works of. Justice against on any given day in the US nearly sixty thousand youth under the age of eighteen are incarcerated in both jails in prisons is covert nineteen continues to spread through the criminal. Justice system advocates are calling for the release of more minors in detention to learn more about the particular challenges. Covert nineteen poses for incarcerated youth. My fellow intern at Penn. America's prison injustice rating program. Liz Fury called up one of the strongest leading advocate in juvenile justice field. Vincent Trolley Benson is currently a senior research scientist at Columbia's School of social work in Director of Columbia Justice Lab. History in the field is expansive and impressive. Vincent founded the policy think-tank the Justice Policy Institute and even worked in government is director of juvenile corrections in Washington. Dc then as commissioner of the New York City Department probation where he pioneered effort to community based alternatives to incarceration in New York City in Washington DC. Most recently Schiraldi served as senior adviser to the New York. City mayor's Office of Criminal Justice. All of this history has gained Vincent a national reputation as a fearless reformer. Listen the opportunity to ask him about. America's youth incarceration problem in how this pandemic is further exposing it. They also talked about ways to support incarcerated youth by getting involved in advocacy efforts. My name is Keith Camel. I've been joining us for the last few weeks but I'm happy to turn the conversation over. Liz bringing her brilliant thoughtful in hard work behind the scenes. This past month the forefront. We're glad you're joining us again. For Penn America's New Rock Response Series Temperature Check Covey nineteen behind bars. Thanks so much for joining us. I'm joined by Vincent. I'm so glad we could sit down and talk about justice involve youth Start off with some questions and I could imagine as we talk. Maybe we'll get into some side tangents about things we're really passionate about. I know I'M PASSIONATE ABOUT YOUTH. Just having worked in it just for like a year and it really made me realize how important working with youth is for an overall a holistic view including like in schools and like. I'm sure you know about the school to Prison Pipeline. And all that stuff like that so I'm really interested in youth particularly youth justice. I know you are as well so I think like a good starting question would be I know that you were involved in The do see and working as a director. So then you transitioned into academia Do you WanNa talk a little bit about like how you started off with your career where you are now like what led you to wear. Yeah and I want to. I want to start by dedicating this to a friend and colleague who passed away this week. His name was pulled a mural in in the sixties and Seventies. Paul worked with a mentor of mine. Jerry Miller and they closed every juvenile facility in a state of Massachusetts during a about a two year period Sent allocates home except sixty kids. Total into thirty bed facilities were in small facilities. So it's really the first kind of major institutional has ation of juvenile's in American. Paul was a mentor of Mine and stuck with me all these years and helped me out when I ran youth corrections myself So I just want to dedicate this to him. I actually started working in a group home when I was an undergraduate at Binghamton statement of versity in upstate New York and then her Jerry Miller who just mentioned speak about closing prisons down in Massachusetts and I went to work for Jerry. I sort of chased him out of the classroom. I was enthralled by it. This was nineteen eighty-one probably and So I I You know so. That's early days. Really of mass incarceration and think probably mid to late seventies is when most people say mass incarceration started and grew every year between men in two thousand nine so Heard Jerry talk about how he was able to let all the kids out of these institutions provide them with kind of services and supports and I said okay. This is what I WANNA do until I worked for nonprofits from them from one thousand nine hundred eighty one all the way till two thousand five and I never really thought I was going to go into government But then the juvenile justice agency in Washington. Dc was under a court order was litigation over terrible horrible conditions staff beating the kids up sexually assaulting the kids rats and cockroaches crawling on the kids at night. Awful awful awful hair-raising stuff and surprisingly because I was a big critic of it is my nonprofit organization Justice Policy Institute. The mayor offered me job to run the place that so's one of those. Put your money where your mouth is moments and I decided to do it on. So you briefly. Talked About Your own nonprofit. Do you WanNa talk a little bit about that and why you started and what it does today actually started to nonprofits. One is called the center on juvenile and criminal justice. That's in San Francisco and that provided a combination of direct services in advocacy in research. So We'd put out these kind of high impact studies showing racial discrimination in the system war. How much more money? We're spending on prisons than higher education. You know things like that and we also providing direct services some of which were funded by the government so that became a problem because the government was not very happy about criticizing somebody who was funding and so I split off and created the Justice Policy Institute in Washington. Dc and back then it was not easy to get foundation money to do advocacy around criminal. Justice work nobody is wasn't this groundswell of both had the kids at formerly incarcerated people in philanthropy. There's the pickens. Were very slim if you wanted to be an advocate only and so you know that's fine. That's what we sign up for this in his field But that's what the Justice Policy Institute was and it still local still around but the Justice Policy Institute never provide any services because it wanted to be able to say whatever it wanted to be able to say without worrying. This governor that corrections administrator was going to enact reprisals You also touched on a reason why you got into the dot is because you were so knowledgeable about the harsh living conditions of prisons and jails. And I think that especially with everything going on right now. With covert in the spreading that has led to a lot of reforms in terms of like releases of people How do you think that Cova in particular is affecting youth detention because detention is obviously a little bit different than adult presence? Do you think that there's like a unique factor in youth detention how it's being affected during covert you know? I think it's I think it's a similar nightmare in a lot of ways to the adult system with with a couple of variations. But I think they're they're they share a lot more than they don't share on you know when when the pandemic started to become obvious I got together with a bunch of current and former youth correctional administrators and we issued a statement saying reduced the number of people. You're locking up. Close the front door And you know. Create a covert plan. There were many more elements to it there but that was basically it also provide support to families when their kids come home and we issued that and the reason we should is because every one of us the first thing you do you have a rumblings places you start imagining what's GonNa Happen. And here's the way it's GonNa play out is playing out in several places. The virus enters your system. Somehow someway somehow some way through staff through kid comes in the family member through maiden staff you know however and everybody starts to freak out staff start. Get SICK or call in sick. Because they're afraid of getting sick or because family members is sick. And now you've got an order thin staffing compliment. That gets thinner programs get closed down. Because you don't want people coming into might be sick. School gets closed. Visitation gets closed. Volunteers get closed so now. The kids are already in a stressful situation. Because they're Ori- in a juvenile correctional system in America so let's just every day starts stressful and now you up to stress many fault and you have to make this decision. Do I lock the kids down? Or do I let him out into a congregate setting where there is no frigging way. They're gonNA stay six feet away from each other and there's no way might staff who already didn't keep this place. Hygienic before this are GONNA clean it enough. And so that's the situation that person after person after person finds themselves in so that's kind of issued that statement somewhat early on was what we were trying to say. Is You know the doctor did the head physician at rikers island. Dr McDonald said a storm is coming. We need to get ready for right. That was his that was his sort of clarion call. Today it was a beautiful way of putting it and so I got to thinking about storms when it coming. What do you tell your citizenry? Get out there. Now get the plywood up in the hammer nails in board up the windows. You don't say wait till the wind is blowing one hundred miles an hour and then get the boards at hammer nails out. And that's what we're trying to say to. Juvenile correctional administrators politicians the governors mayors county council. Prepare for this now. Bar a bunch of people from coming into the city and released them anybody on a misdemeanor. Anybody on a probation violation anybody's got thirty. Sixty ninety days left to serve on her sentence. Get them the hell out of there. Nothing's going to happen next. Ninety days in your juvenile correctional facility. That is going to change the life of this young person except navy getting coded so get them out of your facility right now in big numbers. Don't do a bunch of individualized Blah Blah Blah. Which is what everybody always wants to do. And then with whoever's left do the individualized plan because yes we get. Some of the kids will be in your view too dangerous to release but not the misdemeanor. It's not the probation. Violators not the kids to fail the program. Not The kids that are coming out in ninety days anyway all of them pretty much or not too dangerous for you to be worrying about so get them out of your facility and then start to take a very careful look at anybody who's left especially anybody with asthma. Honsik kids in my facility had asthma and we know that having asthma mixed the symptoms of covert worse or any of the medically vulnerable kids very carefully. Start looking at them. Very carefully stuck to release plans with prosecutors judges people But step one is get big numbers out so in terms of the kids. That are released Have you or people you know organizations that you know of? Have there been any like solid aftercare programs because I know in talking to Some people I was connected with at my previous job which is the Youth Justice Center in Staten Island That the kids being released from Like horizons or other detention centers. That normally in after care plan takes quite a bit a while to plan like six months prior to release you. Start thinking about after care. Plans like what's going to go on Do you know anything about either. Your nonprofit or other people that are Helping with this kind of relief. I've heard that there are a bunch of groups actually have gotten together on this and that a lot of youth correctional administrators are starting to sorta amp up their release planning We should all been doing this. The first day to kit arrived the first aid kit rhyme. You should start thinking okay. Six months from now nine months from now we have this Gig go. What's that GONNA look like? What kind of after care plan will ever be so shame on you? If you already haven't been doing that but one of the things I've been thinking is you know we're all wishing life was back to normal. I wish I was sitting in a room with you. Do in this interview. I wish I could go to a bar tonight. I wish I could go to a game right and which kids could go back to school but there are some places where we don't want to go back to normal and mass incarceration is one of them. We don't want to fill these facilities backup. We don't WanNa do Lousy aftercare plans for these kids and so we should really be looking at this moment. Not just as an opportunity to keep young people safe but as an opportunity to improve stuff. We should've been improving anyway. It's a disaster right now and everybody's really concerned about putting a kid into that disaster. We should have always been concerned about putting that kid into that disaster. Not just now because they might get covered nineteen but always because they might get beaten up they might get raped their chances of success upon release go down and because it's dramatically racially ethnically disparate does should have been our concerns every single day. And now we add to that pile the pandemic so this was all fired. Good idea before and we don't want to get back to normal right and I think what you're saying is like a percent accurate really hitting the money on that one where like I hate that. It took a pandemic for people to Kinda be at this level of like a quick reaction for reform. Like mass incarceration like you said was starting to be prominent in the sixties and Seventies. Shame that it took so long to get to this point but at the same time it's kind of like this was kind of like a kick out the door to you know. Start this type of stuff. How do you think that this pandemic is affecting the court systems in terms of youth and their timelines? Like obviously kids. That are released. We hope that there's no re-offending in that their time in the court system is done. What about kids? That are still in youth detention or that. Were you know on probation or whatever. How do you think it's affecting their court time line yet? It's different different places so some courts have shut down so if you were detained you might be just stuck sitting there. Other courts have sort of done rocket dockets where they all get on the computer. They they resolve a bunch of cases consensually so some kids might be moving more quickly but again it's something that needs to be looked at not just now but going into the future if we could move this kid's case quickly to get them out of detention when there was an emergency. Why can't we do it all the time? 'cause if it's my kid it's always an emergency right of course and how do you think that would kind of be implemented like? I know it's great to say all these things that we wish would be done. But how do you think from your government experience? This actually could be done. That kids could be released more often that they could you know. Have the rocket docket. You know all these things that seem so great now and they weren't in place before. How do you think on a like administrative level? This can be pushed to be you know something. That's not just for now but in the future and stays sure so a lot of what? I'm hearing people doing right now. Is Looking to the list of everybody whose incarcerated by the way on the adult and juvenile side both in Taking a look at everybody's circumstances what crime in four with prior record like are they likely to get sick and then Trying to make decisions about who can get out right and so the way. That's typically playing itself out. Is the defense attorneys. Take a look at it. They make motions bring those motions to a special court. A special court is set up to rapidly here that the district attorney's are open to hearing it and are agreeing to more of those than they did in the past. None of that has to go away. You can literally keep that very same process going after depend over in the courts reopen just to have people constantly re looking at the kids in detention and saying who of these kids can go home on. The good news is even that absorbs resources that means a judge of defendant a prosecutor to sit and do that at the same time it's costing about a quarter million dollars a year in most places to put a kid in juvenile detention so if you can close the syllabus or even a wing of a facility you can more than pay for that court and so that's the way we gotta start thinking as we've gotten these numbers down. Casey Foundation and Casey Foundation released a report today showing twenty six percent decline a number kids in detention in sites that responded to a survey they issued right. And that's an a month a one month so if we could get down like that and keep it down like that that has to result in cost savings that can be used not only to finance that process but also to finance programs for these young people at help them when they get out right and I think that's a perfect segue Into my next question so I had worked at a Youth Court where we used restorative justice practices and community based programs to keep kids out of detention centers in out of the court system. And it's it has like as you probably know like away better rate through rehabilitation and things like that than just a being incarcerated. So how do you think that with Cova D- This is going to affect legislation in terms of restorative justice community based programs and things of that nature. Do you think they'll be more prominent? Do you think that Judges will be more open to you. Know like an after school program with a mentor as opposed to being in a group home for a week. You know what I mean. I think this is a really good time for advocates to start asking that exact question so when we emerge from this what are the public policies or two practices we wanNA start urging the legislature to pass and administrators to enact. By the way it's tons of this can be done today. Administratively I when I ran a Washington DC system. I had released power over the kids. I was probation. Commissioner New York and I had the power when kids came to detention to send them home right. Those are powers and nobody needed to pass a bill to allow me to do that stuff so I sent a ton of kids home. So advocate should be looking to legislation. They should also be looking. What can our administrators do within their current power to keep these facilities with a low population? My bed is what's going to happen now is a bunch of people are gonNA retire from your city and state systems. They're scared to death of catching this virus in the facility. Several staff members of died several kids of died. So they're legitimately scared. I'm not putting them down for that. I'd be scared 'cause they're in there with with everybody. There's never enough equipment. All those conditions I described for the kids. Staffers living conditions as well and in going home every night and hugging their husbands and wives in your kids and their work right. So my bet is a lot of people are gonNA leave this field and find other jobs and that might not be a all a bed thing. What we should be saying is don't replace these people replace. These people were restored. Justice programs. Replace these people with mentorship programs that formerly incarcerated people can staff like shift the system from his institution prison based system to a truly community based system where members of the community are cold designing the kinds of things they need to help their kids survive and thrive in their neighborhoods. 'cause trust me. They have way more of a stake in those kids making it in Brownsville. Then the guys and gals working at the correctional facility. Do I think that's a genius idea? I hope people listening to this. Take that into consideration So I think we just have like one or two more questions for you So our program always gets requests for volunteer efforts what our listeners or readers can do to be active in a social justice particularly criminal justice. I know it's kind of hard To volunteer on administration for like legislative level. But I do know of any organizations or even your own that have any volunteer Efforts that people could be a part of an also on the topic of like you're saying community based programs. Do you know of any that you could mention that people could look into and how to get this kind of like we'll going sure Community connections for you. The lebrons is one of my favorites. It's run by Ruben Austria. And he really is trying to push this kind of thing where people were communities figure out the best way of for their kids to stay home. I I liked the youth advocate program. It's gap INC DOT ORG and that is located in Harrisburg Pennsylvania but they have programs all around the country And they just really intensely work with young people to help keep them out of institutions and in communities in back home the arches mentoring program And transformative mentoring in general really very specifically looks to formerly incarcerated people to mentor young people so that they don't you know sort of travel the same path that those of only incarcerated people have traveled in they have been some really good research on it by the Urban Institute that found much lower rates of reconviction for kids that were part of the arches program. So that's kind of cool and then but if you're if you're interested in advocacy to try to Nick System Change Youth. I is bar none the best organizations in the country. It's run by woman. Liz Ryan and they have Worked very carefully and closely with advocates. In I think they're up to nine states now trying to get all of their youth prison closed and Money transferred from the system into the communities youth. I can't remember what they were getting. Mail address is but your school youth. I Yeah I actually before coming onto interview you last week. I was supposed to interview. Liz and I had been excited about that was researching Yada the no kids imprison movement and it seems like a really awesome organization. I'm glad that you mentioned that. I think that's actually. There are email address. Not Think it's actually no kids in prison dot org so you reminded me okay I think we got a lot of insight through this conversation. I'm really excited for our newsletter to come out that we can possibly Plug these organizations for people to follow up with. Click a link sense what they can do to help I guess is there anything else that you would want to say To the people listening at home sometimes I feel like we make this too complicated. In America. We have a really excellent juvenile justice system. That's the juvenile justice system. That kicks into gear every time a white middle class kid gets in trouble and they get in trouble they do. I was one of them and I got in trouble. But all sorts of resources get brought to bear programs staunch advocacy people. Fill the courtroom to try to keep that kid out of a debilitating locked institution because it's felt that kid has a future. That boy girl has a future and we want to build towards that future with the expectation that they're going to mess up when you're young what they're going to get over that they're Gonna. WanNa live a good decent life. They're gonNa WanNa College when we get jobs when they get married and you don't want to mess that up right so so we we don't have to invent something new. We just have to apply that to everybody equally. I don't want the white kids to suffer in the youth. Prisons and leave crappy lives with the black and Latino and native American kids to be able to get the same kind of CAIRN concern that any of us would want for our child if they got in trouble with the law. And so. When you're thinking about Jesus is complicated. What do we do next? It's not complicated. Is what any of US would want to do if I could got in trouble with the law and the rest is frankly details. I think that's really excellent and you're quite honestly genius in my eyes. I know for some people might seem so simple. That like this would be you know. Everyone's train of thought but unfortunately it's not everyone train of thought as I'm sure you've seen working in the system for a long time but I'm thankful that there are people like you vouching for Some positive changes and I appreciate the work that you do. I appreciate you letting US interview today and I think that this is going to be an awesome podcast and yeah just want to say thank you. Thank you for your damn small packages around one street. GotTa Find Out stone. Nobody's Admiral Street by street stone. Learn Open doors reality streets. Don't love nobody which is both a message to the youth in a timely reminders. Stay Hav Open doors is an Arts Justice Initiative on Roosevelt Island base in the long term. Care Facility where many members lip the open doors. Reality Poets are black. Mattino man who use wheelchairs largely due to street violence and who worked to save lives through arth appearing is the reality. Poets members educate young people in underserved communities about the consequences of running the streets. Letting kids know that guns lead. Not only to jailer death but also to life in the chair right now. These artists are living in a long term care facility. Currently being appropriated for cove in nineteen overflow and are forced to be locked in with positive patients. We encourage you to find out more about their work in join the conversation with them on their website open doors and my c Dot Org. This podcast is part of our weekly temperature check series which also includes original reported by currently incarcerated writers and least other journalism and advocacy efforts temperature. Check can be found through a works. Justice portal at Penn Dot Org Slash Works of Justice. This episode was researched and hosted by. Liz Fiore is equipped for myself. He can't on Knicks. Play Robert Pollock and produced by keats. Meissner propen America's prison injustice writing program things listening.