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CA ACEs Summit: Juvenile Justice Panel

IMG_1140The morning breakout session on juvenile justice at the California ACEs Summit featured Susanna Osorno-Crandall (Center for Youth Wellness), Shanta Ramdeholl (Children’s Hospital Oakland and Alameda County Juvenile Justice Center), Karleen Jakowski (CommuniCare Yolo County), David Muhammad (National Council on Crime and Delinquency), and moderator Tshaka Barrows (Burns Institute).


First Susanna Osorno-Crandall gave an overview of ACEs in juvenile justice, and challenged the audience to think about what could happen in the next six months to reducing trauma in juvenile justice. She acknowledged that it can take years to make changes but suggested we needed to think about what we could do now to get started on these long-term changes. Susanna drew our attention to a 2014 OJJDP study by Baglivio et al. that looked at 64,329 juvenile offenders in Florida. They found that about 97% of these children reported at least one ACE and about 52% reported four or more ACEs. Susanna also suggested (with much agreement from other speakers) that in juvenile justice work, we should aim to put ourselves out of job.


 Shanta Ramdeholl introduced the audience to her CHAMPS program, which mentors struggling youth in Berkeley and Oakland to help them enter health professions. She emphasized that resilience, not risk, was the foundation of her work. In her engaging talk, made clear the affect she has had on these teens; in the time she has worked with Alameda County Juvenile Justice Center their juvenile justice residential population has dropped form 300 to around 170 individuals.


Karleen Jakowski discussed the traumatic effect that any contact with the juvenile justice system can have on youth. She suggested that even when probation asks about trauma, they may not real answers or may further traumatize juveniles during the questioning process. She gave the example of a girl, who is the course of being arrested, revealed that she had be sexually assaulted the previous night. Once this was revealed, officers began grilling the child about her sexual history. She also gave an example of how different ways of asking about ACEs can end or begin a conversation. She explained that they used to ask, “Have you ever experienced physical, sexual, or emotional abuse.” Children would respond no, and there was then no easy way to ask follow-up questions. She suggested that we need to ask questions that do not make it easy for the conversation to end. We also need to share information across agencies, so that children are not forced to reveal their history of abuse five times. And finally, she suggested an important additional ACE question that needs to be asked of children in the juvenile justice system—have you ever been removed from your parent. She says this is what most children see as their worst experience.


David Muhammad started with a simple, yet important, statement—“the best thing we can do for youth in the criminal justice system is to get them out.” He suggested that even when the system does its best, system involvement itself is bad. And incarceration for juveniles is harmful. He also drew the audience’s attention to the complexity of collecting information about risk. Well-intended information, gathered to help determine which juveniles are at highest risk for re-involvement in crime, can lead to traumatizing practices, like regular home searches. As remedies he suggested that the community be more involved in supervision (rather than probation) and that we separate the ideas of “risks” and “needs.”


Tshaka Barrows closed the discussion with a reminder that risk assessment is looking at things that already happened, while alternatively a “strength or asset assessment” looks towards what we can do to help children in the future.



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My experience with juvenile justice came 14 years ago when my 13 yr old brother who is intellectually challenged got in trouble with the police after they came to our trailer to request the family clean the yard. My parents weren't home and James (not his real name) told the police officer "Jesus loves you". My much younger brother's IQ is 52, significantly delayed.   He was handcuffed and taken to the adult jail. I was dismayed. This boy is one of the sweetest kids I ever met. In med school a friend and I got James a bike--- he didn't have anything and James gave it away to one of his friends telling me " He's got a lot less than I do". This turned out to be tragically true. This kid was being beaten by his father and the child moved with his family down state.   This poor kid really relied on the supports he got from my family. By this time my parents had transformed but still lived in poverty. This boy kept calling my family collect after the move but my mom couldn't afford the collect calls so she didn't answer. Anthony was alone (not his real name). One day he broke and shot his father after he couldn't reach the family. It was a tragedy that broke all our hearts!!
Anyway back to James, I gotta admit he's not bitter as I tend to be! I was in residency at the time in Indy. I got called by my sis to see if I could help out. I came. I did my best. My brother was given a court appointed lawyer who told him not to speak in the courtroom. I watched helpless as this sweet 13 yr old boy was completely incapable of understanding what was happening to him. He was told by the judge that he needed to apologize for his misconduct????? James did and was sentenced to community service but to this day he still speaks of how wrong he feels he was treated. I couldn't agree more!

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I met Tom Jarlock the Executive Director of Florida Parishes Juvenile Detention Center, he opened my eyes to the power of compassionate and courageous individuals -

These sound like great presentations. I am focusing on creating trauma informed classrooms in juvenile justice institutions by providing extensive teacher training. Using my book supporting and educating traumatized students

This reminds me of the shift I made in my own personal convictions and semantics as a central office administrator overseeing numerous federal programs in rural Washington State districts.....I moved away from "discipline" and "re-designed conditions for learning"....I decided I was not working to "prevent drop-outs" but was investing my professional energies in "engagement promotion"....and that to see the needs of children and feel empathy internally was no better than not seeing it at all if I didn't believe that "empathy feels, but compassion moves."   Perhaps these would seem like insignificant (or silly) semantic shifts to some - but they were so powerful on so many levels for me that on some of the most challenging days of being a public servant they were the only still, small voice I could hear saying "you know the right thing to do for this child - now do it." 

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