Well-intentioned, the tech world’s obsession with efficiency is more likely to hurt than help when it comes to incarceration, author Evgeny Morozov says in a recent New York Times editorial. The op-ed is a response to a report, “Beyond the Bars,” released by Deloitte, in which the company’s management consultants imagined a world where prisoners no longer spend time behind bars but instead, with the help of smartphone technology, are incarcerated at home under constant surveillance.
On a mission to find the most lucrative jobs for young folks at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, I began awkwardly asking every young person I saw, “How much money are you making right now?” I found volunteers, making what volunteers make, nothing. I also found crossing guards making 18 dollars an hour. These were the kind of jobs you expect to find at a major political event like this: coordinators, greeters, and support staff.
Two years ago Breyana Scales says she was stuck between a dead end job painting kids’ faces at a theme park while trying to get through college. The balancing act proved to be hard for her. “If I had to work a lot I wouldn’t be able to do homework and if I had to go to school and do homework I wouldn’t be able to afford rent,” she said.
Today however, 23-year-old Scales has a job she loves at the San Francisco based video game company Zynga, the Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory of tech companies. I’m talking arcades, themed kitchens on every floor, and a giant light-up tunnel at the entrance. Her offices are enough to make me lose my composure.
Teens in Tech, a tech and youth-centric company that encourages young entrepreneurship, recently created a jobs board that will allow startups to post jobs for high school students. It costs $15 to post a listing and some of the current ones include positions like Mobile Engineer Intern at Backplane in Palo Alto, California and Technical Analyst Intern at Kiip in San Francisco, California.
In an article on TechCrunch Anthony Ha writes, ” there are lots of internship sites. However, they’re primarily targeting college students, not high schoolers — who are, after all, almost certainly cheaper, while still being able to accomplish some of the same basic tasks.”
It’s widely assumed that most crimes committed by juveniles are sealed or expunged when the person turns 18, but that’s far from the case. In most states young people have to apply to seal their record, which can involve bureaucratic hurdles, fees and court appearances. Youth Radio spoke to Rourke Stacy, who has worked for the Los Angeles County’s Public Defender’s Office for nearly 11 years, as a felony trial lawyer, and an attorney doing juvenile delinquency trial work.
Turnstyle: How informed do you think the public is about sealing records?
Rourke Stacy: I think the public is not very informed at all. One of the reasons that the public is not informed [about sealing records] is because [they aren’t] very well-informed about juvenile delinquency court. There are a lot of misconceptions. One of which is that everything goes away when you turn 18. That’s simply not true. And that’s why it’s really important that we get the word out about sealing records so that people who do have experience with juvenile delinquency court can be better informed… and that hopefully can help them in the future with employment and other opportunities.
Turnstyle: If people commit certain crimes they become ineligible for record sealing, and this can happen for crimes committed when someone is as young as the age of 14. What does that look like and what does that mean for a young person?
Stacy: Most people when they’re 14 are in the 9th grade, and as we know all 9th graders are not the most mature. It’s very sad that in the state of California, conduct when you are a 9th grader can have a life-long effect on employment or maybe even denying you into the Marines or something in the future. That to me is the most tragic part of this, looking at how young individuals in a way…they’re branded for the rest of their life because they’ve committed a non-sealable offense. It’s a stigma. It’s something that they’re always conscious of every time they look for a job and they’re filling out an application. If they get to the interview process they have to drudge up their juvenile history and explain the circumstances, or why they’re different or why it shouldn’t be held against them. So to me, it’s a systemic problem that we see, and it’s really generally been in the employment realm.
Turnstyle: What could be improved about the process?
Stacy: I think one of the biggest improvements we can make to the system are some legislative changes that enable individuals, if they’ve committed one of those offensives, [to become eligible for sealing] after a certain window of time. For instance, if they’ve gone to college; that’s something we should reward individuals for, not punish them with by letting a mark of juvenile crime be on their record.
Turnstyle: The process of sealing records seems very involved. Do you think that aspect keeps people from going forward with it? What else do you think stops people from sealing their records?
Stacy: I think what stops people from sealing their records is plain old time. Crimes that you’ve committed as a kid you might not necessarily fully realize the impact of. Most people are not going to carry around their juvenile court paper work in complete order and have everything with them. When you’re 14, when you’re 18, you may not be thinking about sealing your record. It’s just not something that may occur to you and because of that it often doesn’t get done. One of the reasons I think too is that people move around, we’re a fluid society. And individuals that may have committed crimes in LA county when they were a younger kid may have moved to a different part of the state, a different part of the country, or even to a different country and when they’re older they don’t really think, “Gosh I’ve got to go back to LA county and get my juvenile record sealed.” I think the more fluid we become as a society, the more people distance themselves from what they did as a kid, and therefore it’s not their priority to seal their record, especially if they’re one of the lucky ones where it hasn’t come into play.
Turnstyle: How necessary is it to have a lawyer? Does having money give you an advantage if you’re sealing your record?
Stacy: I do think that obviously the assistance of counsel is always helpful for a variety of reasons. One of which is that if the judge denies [sealing your record] for the wrong reason and you have the assistance of counsel they may be able to ask the court to reconsider or if they needed to, eventually file the writ to challenge it. Also you may be one of those cases where it’s borderline whether the judge should really grant sealing or not. Having counsel may help you present your case in a better way, give you tips on how to present in court, how to look in court, how to explain maybe some conduct that the judge has a question about. Again it’s all really valuable. And I do know of people who have successfully sealed their record without the assistant of counsel because they filled out the form, they got their paperwork together, and the court granted it. The more complicated your case is, the more likely you should have counsel, that’s definitely a key piece of advice. But at the end of the day it’s just important to get your record sealed. So I don’t want anyone to feel deterred from getting their record sealed because they don’t think they can afford it.
In 2005, California’s juvenile prison system got a face lift. The name changed from CYA, short for California Youth Authority, to the Division of Juvenile Justice or DJJ. And many policies began to change along with the name.
Today DJJ’s population is just over a thousand wards, or inmates, down from a high of 10,000 in 1996. And of the 11 state facilities, only three remain. Many of the reforms stem from a 2003 ruling by the Superior Court of Alameda County that found the state juvenile justice system to be poorly managed and unsafe, and while no one can argue that today’s system is the same as it was a decade ago, many critics argue that state facilities remain unequipped to manage juvenile detention and reform. On top of that, Governor Jerry Brown is pushing to close state facilities entirely in the face of unprecedented budget constraints.
Turnstyle spoke with Bill Sessa, the Director of Communications at DJJ, who hopes to dispel what he sees as outdated stereotypes about the way the state manages juvenile justice.
Turnstyle: How did the lawsuit by the Superior Court of Alameda against CYA change the institution?
Bill Sessa: It completely and dramatically changed what the Youth Authority had become. Back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s even, California was a national leader in juvenile rehabilitation. Unfortunately, in the 80s and 90s the state got caught up in tough-on-crime sentencing and a number of changes that just overloaded the system. The Youth Authority had too many youth in facilities with too little rehabilitation. So, we had a larger population than the Youth Authority had had before, with much more violent backgrounds, and we became more of a custody arrangement than we did rehabilitation.
The lawsuit, which is known as Farrell, is overseen by the Alameda Superior Court and it opened everybody’s eyes to the fact that we needed to change DJJ so that it got back to being a model of rehabilitation and not just a custody place for juvenile offenders. As a result practically every part of the Division of Juvenile Justice, as it is now known, is much closer to the national model that California used to be for rehabilitation.
Turnstyle: Can you give me some concrete examples of changes you’ve seen at DJJ facilities in the last few years?
Sessa: One of the biggest changes in the DJJ is the reduced size of our population. We have in California long believed that most juveniles do better in rehabilitation when they are closer to their families. Their families are a big part of their rehabilitation. Beginning in the late 90s, and really accelerating after the Farrell lawsuit, counties assumed more responsibility for the average juvenile offender and DJJ was reserved for the youth who have the most serious treatment needs and who committed the most serious crimes. Instead of 10,000 wards in eleven different facilities, we have about 1,000 wards in three facilities and that is the biggest physical change that you would see.
But beyond that there is now a very strong emphasis on rehabilitation. Youth are housed in small units based on the kinds of treatment needs that the youth have. The staff has changed so that the vast majority of our staff are treatment professionals, they are not custody staff. We have youth counselors, psychiatrists, psychologists, other mental health professionals, medical professionals and teachers. Everything about the DJJ is different than it was even ten years ago.
Governor Jerry Brown is pushing to close all state run juvenile justice facilities. What are the pitfalls with that strategy?
Sessa: Well, we only know that we are here to treat the youth that we have and we are continuing to do that unless that changes.
The outcome of that proposal still isn’t known because not all counties are the same. You have some urban counties that have very sophisticated juvenile treatment programs that might be able to address the needs of the youth. There are other counties that don’t. Those discussions are continuing and so until the budget is formally adopted we don’t know what the final outcome of that will be.
One of the advantages of juvenile law in California is that we supervise juveniles to the age of 25. That means that if we get a youth in our system at the age of 16 or 17, who committed a very serious crime, we have more time to treat them and push them toward rehabilitative life before they go back out into the community. So we don’t have to release them at the age of 18 or the age of 21. Without the DJJ you have much more stark definition of whose a juvenile and whose treated as an adult.
Turnstyle: Some common arguments against DJJ are claims of abusive staff, overuse of solitary confinement, and poor educational opportunities. How do you respond to that?
Sessa: Well the fact is that all of those things are stereotypes of an organization that does not exist anymore. In the first place, every youth in our facilities that does not already have a high school diploma, goes to high school. We operate an accredited high school district. So they get the same education inside our facility that they would get if they were in their local community. And we look at a high school diploma or GED as a basic requirement for parole release.
Second of all, protecting the welfare of our youth, making our facilities safe, was one of the very first and most important things that we did in the reforms that were brought about by the settlement agreement. And that’s critical because the only way that a youth can learn, the only way they can benefit from the counseling, or the treatment, or the classroom education that we provide is by not having to look over their shoulders and worry about their safety. And we are gauged on that every single day.
For more than thirty years, it’s been Barry Krisberg’s priority to fight for reforms in California’s state juvenile correctional facilities, known as the California Youth Authority (CYA) or Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). And now a change is coming at the DJJ.
Only three of California’s state facilities still remain open, holding a total of about 800 to 900 youth, and soon the state will hand down responsibility of juvenile offenders to counties. But Krisberg, the Director of the of Research and Policy at the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute at UC Berkeley’s School of Law, isn’t so sure that this realignment is the wisest decision. Turnstyle sat down with him to discuss the coming changes to California’s juvenile justice system and what they will mean for both the state of California and its counties.
Turnstyle: You’ve spent much of your career critiquing DJJ, yet now you’re advocating to keep it open. Why?
Barry Krisberg: It’s true, for the thirty years I’ve been a critic of the California Youth Authority and the conditions of confinement and the problems there. But two things have changed in this situation. One is that the population is now only 10 percent of what it used to be. Many of the youth that we were advocating to get out of DJJ, are now out and in county programs and that’s gone generally pretty well. Now we’re down to a very small core of very troubled young people and so I think that people need to pay attention to the fact that these are not the youth who have been in the system in the past.
The second issue is that in the last eight years there have been significant improvements made—not enough, not as much as I would like. But one of the problems is that at the county level they’re at ground zero. My concern is that we’ve worked hard, we’ve developed policy and procedure, we’ve improved education and medical care, we’ve cut down on the use of force and isolation but at the county level they’ve done nothing. So it’d be going back to where we were eight years ago, very harsh conditions, very harsh practices, and having to start all over again.
Turnstyle: According to a 2010 DJJ report, youth released from DJJ had an 81.1% arrest rate at the end of 3 years. And almost two-thirds were arrested within one year of release. Is that a sign of the ineffectiveness of state facilities in rehabilitating youth?
Krisberg: Absolutely. I think that generally speaking, Youth Correctional Facilities are incredibly ineffective. We need to do a lot more in terms improve the quality of services. Particularly we need to pay much more attention to what happens when youth get released. I wrote a long time ago that therapy behind razor wire is not evidence-based programming. Unfortunately what I see is too many people paying attention to counseling and therapy behind lock doors. So you get some of that and maybe it helps you a little bit but then you go home and you face the same challenges you were faced with before: you don’t have a place to live, you don’t have a job, there’s a good chance you’ve been kicked out of school, your gang friends are saying, “Hey. Get back in the gang.” So all of these forces are pulling you back in the wrong direction and right now neither the state nor the counties do very much to support people during those very difficult times.
Turnstyle: Do you feel the outcomes would be at all different if youth were housed locally or are there other factors that lead to such a high recidivism rate?
Krisberg: I don’t think that local is the key. I’ve seen excellent programs for serious juvenile offenders in very isolated setting. I think the question is the content of the program. Are people being treated decently and humanely? Are they given the kind of resources they need?
I’m a big fan of the Missouri Department of Juvenile Justice Model, to the extent that that we move away from treating young people as inmates and prisoners and start understanding that are going to rejoin our communities pretty quickly and be citizens, that’s the key. In terms of closer to home, the way to deal with that is to create opportunities for reentry.
To me the number one problem is that when you put someone in a high security locked facility you take away all of their decision-making. Then you turn them loose after years of not even having to do any of the basics like set an alarm clock or figure out what you’re going to eat for lunch. It’s really a shock to the psyche to be under such a controlled environment and then be thrown into the chaos of communities. Therefore I think the best programs prepare youth for going home by giving them more responsibility, more freedom, more opportunity to demonstrate that they can succeed. We haven’t done that in California. We haven’t done that around the country.
Turnstyle: So, it’s not a matter of state or local but the programs that would help those leaving either of those areas?
Krisberg: The biggest payoff in terms of reducing recidivism is in the programs that help people return home but having said that the current state facilities and most county facilities are basically jails. They look like jails, they smell like jails, [there’s the] the typical open toilet in the middle of the room. Everything about them is communicating that you are prisoner and that you should act like an intimate.
In Missouri it’s completely different. In Missouri the facilities, the conditions, even how you’re allowed to dress communicate that you’re an ordinary young person and I think that’s a critical ingredient. Ultimately what we’re looking for is for young people to adopt a different identity, a positive identity, a success identity and to the extent that we keep throwing in their faces that they’ve screwed up and they’re convicts then they’re going to act like convicts.
Here at Turnstyle we’ve been following the evolution of two internet campaigns that rose to prominence in the same week, and like others, we can’t help but to compare.
Invisible Children’s “KONY 2012″ campaign is aimed at raising awareness around the atrocities in Africa at the hands of warlord Joseph Kony and his militia. It has boasted 8 million views in the first 24 hours of its release on March 5th, and has now become one of the most viral videos of all time.
But there’s been another unsettling case of violence that advocates have been trying to draw attention to. It’s got one victim, not tens of thousands, and it took place here in the U.S. earlier this year.
On February 26th, about a week before KONY 2012 lit up , 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in the gated community where his family lives. The alleged killer was 28-year-old George Zimmerman, a member of the neighborhood watch.
It’s been nearly two weeks since the incident and despite Zimmerman’s admittance of shooting Martin in self-defense, he has not been charged.
Media began covering the Martin case March 7th.
The Work From Home journal posted this article a day after the shooting.
The hashtag, “Justice4Trayvon” began to make the rounds on twitter days later.
News One writer, Dr. Boyce Watkins, said this in an article about the incident: “The use of deadly force by a neighborhood watchman is enough to create suspicion in the mind of anyone with a working brain.”
Huffington Post reported that Trayvon Martin’s family were calling for the arrest of Zimmerman seven day after Martin was killed.
A BET commentary in response to the killing asks: Why should young Black boys feel as though their lives are endangered every time they walk out the door?
Martin’s story has yet to reach viral success– despite coverage in The Huffington Post and various daily news sites.
For comparison’s sake, on March 6th, hashtags including the word Kony or #StopKony sky-rocketed to somewhere near five million, with celebrities like Oprah and Rihanna also tweeting in support of the video. By March 8th, Tweets using those hashtags had hit 9.45 million.
So what do you think? What accounts for the discrepancy in these two stories’ virality? What can we expect to see next for both KONY 2012 and Trayvon Martin?
In the last few months the lives of LGBTQ people in America have been pulled into the light, with the overturning of Prop 8, the sporadic legalization of gay marriage across the U.S, and the Tyler Clementi trials. That’s where, “I’m From Driftwood” steps in. The project, founded and directed by Nathan Manske, seeks to capture the stories of LGBTQ people from across the world, either through video testimonials or user-submitted stories. The subjects, all varying in age, creed, and race serve as a portrait of modern life for LGBTQ people in the U.S.
Turnstyle:Can you start off by just telling me what the inspiration for “I’m From Driftwood” was and how the project came to fruition?
Manske: Back in 2008 I saw the film “Milk” and, as many people were, I was very inspired by it. In particular, there’s a photograph of Harvey Milk, which actually isn’t in the film, but the film inspired me to think about the photo a lot. It’s Harvey Milk sitting on the hood of a car in the San Francisco Pride march and he’s holding a sign that reads, “I’m from Woodmere, New York.” I just thought that very curious because, why is he proclaiming he’s from this obscure town in New York when everyone associates Harvey Milk with San Francisco?
It really called out to me because I was here in New York City when I thought about that, but I’m from Driftwood, Texas. And it just said to me that gay people and LGBT [community members] are from everywhere, even though they’re known to be typically living in bigger cities and gay meccas. And I thought that would be a comforting thought to LGBT youth to know that no matter where you are, or what you’re going through, you’re not alone.
Turnstyle:When I was first looking at the “I’m From Driftwood” videos I immediately thought of the “It Gets Better” video campaign. Obviously your approach is very different, and the stories are varied, but do you feel that your intentions for the project are similar in any way?
Manske: I think there are definitely some obvious parallels between the two. “It Gets Better” has a very laser-focused goal of talking to troubled youth, and I think with “I’m from Driftwood,” there’s a broader message which is, let’s get to know each other. The testimonials are more about what our lives are like. I don’t want to talk at people. I don’t want to hit people over the head with this one singular message which is what ‘It Gets Better’ does very well. I want to appeal to a larger market. I want straight people to be able to look at these stories and relate to us as a community.
I also want other people within our community to learn more about the community. What if you don’t know much about people who are transgender? This is the opportunity to [learn]. It’s also about learning more about yourself. You watch these videos or you read the stories and how do you feel about yourself, what do you think after learning more about the community?
Turnstyle:The stories you gathered aren’t all sad stories. You’ve got folks who telling happy, coming out stories, and ones that are humorous. I think that’s interesting considering that currently so much emphasis is kind of put on the tragic aspects of gay life. Can you speak to that at all?
Manske: That was something I was very mindful of when I started the project. I didn’t just want “coming out” stories. I don’t just want very serious, depressing stories, or stories of challenges. The only thing I tell people when I collect a story from them is, “Tell me a story that’s meaningful from your life involving you being LGBT.” And meaningful is really the key word. Some people go to the first date they had with their long-term partner or sometimes they do tell me a coming out story and sometimes it’s good, and sometimes it’s bad.
I want these stories that truly represent a meaningful LGBT life is like. And sometimes people put up a struggle; they’re like, “Tell me more. What kind of story are you looking for?” and I say, “I don’t know your life. I don’t know your stories. I only know my life and my stories. And what is meaningful to me is completely different from what is meaningful to you or somebody else.” So I don’t really give people much help in the topics of stories I’m looking for.
Turnstyle:Was it difficult listening to any of the stories you had to record? Like I mentioned before, there are a lot of funny or upbeat stories, but there are also some that seem painful to tell. What was it like listening to those?
Manske: There have been plenty of different emotions. In a way it’s almost like a therapy session. The only difference is that I’m not a trained therapist. Really I just sit there and listen to what’s important to people. There have definitely been tears shed many times before. They don’t tell me what their story is going to be about. Marquise starts filming and they start talking. I have no idea where it’s going to go.
The story tour is a good example of when that shook things up. I was listening to a story and the person who was telling the story was really upbeat and all smiles and just a really warm, friendly personality. And all of a sudden he starts talking about when he came out and his dad just started hitting him and it just became an incredibly violent and terrible story about conversion therapy and electroshock therapy and it was a terrible, graphic story. I was in shock, sitting there listening to the story for the first time. I never know what story I’m about to hear. So I guess I brace myself in the beginning every single time now. Am I about to laugh? Am I about to cry? I kind of hope the viewer has that experience too, of not being sure about what they’re about to listen to.
In the coming months the state of California will see much of its juvenile state prison responsibilities handed down to counties. It’s all part of a reform effort spearheaded by Governor Jerry Brown called “realignment.”
Turnstyle sat down with Sumayyah Waheed—the director of the Ella Baker Center’s Books Not Bars campaign, which encourages families to champion alternatives to the state’s youth prisons—to talk about these reforms.
Turnstyle: Do you consider this a step forward for California’s juvenile justice system?
Waheed: Yes, definitely. While we’ve been working on this campaign, it’s actually been since 2004, so it’s been eight years and we’ve seen a huge difference. The state has moved away from its state youth prisons, in keeping more youth local. Since we started, it was 4,500-5,000 youth across the state in youth prisons and now it’s 1,100—so it’s dropped down dramatically. It went from eight youth prison to three today, so we’ve seen five youth prisons close, and it’s just been going in that direction for a while now. And so we see great promise in cutting off the rest of the beast and releasing the hundreds of millions of dollars that are being wasted on the current system, for better approaches and better treatment for youth that will actually make our communities safer.
Turnstyle: What are the benefits and the challenges to realignment?
Waheed: The immediate benefit is spending money on something that works better at the local level. Some of the challenges in doing this are in planning for the best kinds of programs to take youth. [Another challenge is] insuring that counties can actually do better with the money because we have 58 counties in California and some of them do better than others.
One of the biggest concerns is around the possibility that some counties will just be lazy and decide that instead of developing programs for those youth who would have gone to DJJ [Department of Juvenile Justice], they will just send them to the adult prison system, which unfortunately, is possible under our laws. At Books not Bars, we’ve brought proposals to actually de-incentivize that, so that counties would have to pay if they wanted to send more youth to the adult system.
Turnstyle: How does the juvenile justice system affect families and young people?
Waheed: It’s really stressful for the families. The thing I hear most often from families again and again is that you’re locked up right there with their child. For a mom she can’t really separate it, knowing that her child is locked up isn’t something she can just put aside. For families there are the everyday challenges of planning around visitation, and the hours of travel, and the money, and staying in a hotel over night depending on how far it is. And then there are the challenges of youth who are facing trouble inside in, trying to advocate for them to be safe and then at the same time trying to get something better for all youth.
Turnstyle: And do you feel that keeping youth at the local level will actually help with the issues that families deal with, like the separation and anxiety, and the day-to-day problems they face?
Waheed: It definitely helps. Right now you have some youth from L.A. who are in Stockton—so being in their county is going to make a huge difference. At the local level there are more avenues for having a voice. At the state level there’s Sacramento and most parents can’t make it out there on a regular basis. By allowing youth to be closer to their families it allows the families to be engaged in insuring that the youth can actually come out and do better once they’re out.
Turnstyle: What counties are you looking to as leaders, and what counties are you most worried about and why?
Waheed: Alameda County has been really optimistic. The chief probation officer David Muhammad comes from Oakland and has had experience with the system and really believes in his ability to keep the youth local and do a better job than the state has. And that’s just one example. In Santa Clara County we’ve promoted as reforming their juvenile system.
And then there are the counties that are just kind of what you described, very invested and addicted to the punitive approaches and that’s Riverside and Orange County, the more conservative counties where the emotions of the “tough on crime” and fear mongering distract people from the actual results which is that prisons don’t actually make us safer, whether they’re for youth or adults.
Turnstyle: In your ideal world, what is the best case scenario of what juvenile justice reform would look like here in California?
Waheed: Going back to Chief Muhammad: I think he’s the one who said that our jobs are to put ourselves out of business. Ideally there wouldn’t be a need for a juvenile justice system because we’d have real systems of support—so that youth who have had troubles have more productive ways to work them out and have their needs met.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and promise you that this will be the first of two posts on Present Shock, the Douglas Rushkoff book that has been getting a mountain of attention in the tech press since it was released earlier this month.