The 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.