PHOTO: Multnomah Youth Commissioner Violeta Alvarez (center front with glasses) was one of the speakers at the Justice4Youth event in Portland's Pioneer Square, Saturday Sept. 13. Alvarez and other youth volunteers handed out information about a new campaign to repeal Measure 11 laws that allow teens to be tried and sentenced as adults. The Partnership for Safety and Justice partnered with youth groups to create Justice4Youth. Multnomah Youth Commission, NAACP youth and the Momentum Alliance are at the forefront of the campaign.
The Multnomah Youth Commission, NAACP youth and the Momentum Alliance are calling for a reform of the Measure 11 law that allows teens to be tried and sentenced as adults.
“Their environment, their upbringing , their education all plays a part in who they are, and they may make a bad decision as a youth, but their lives should not be affected in the long-term,” said Princess Funchess who was volunteering at the event.
The Justice 4 Youth campaigners may have a difficult fight ahead of them. Oregon District Attorneys are mobilizing to oppose any changes to the law. Clackamas District Attorney John Foote and retired Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney Charles French put out a report last August arguing that Multnomah County's approach, which has been praised around the country by juvenile justice experts, is not working.
Why? They say the proof is that Oregon has a high rate of youth arrests for drugs (second highest in nation) and property offenses (12th highest).
Judge Nan Waller, a longtime member of the county's Local Public Safety Coordinating Council, has set up a task force that will take a look at the issues. She said the task force will take a comprehensive look at how the entire juvenile system in Multnomah County is working.
"We want fair and equitable outcomes for all of our kids," Judge Waller said.
The Partnership for Safety and Justice worked with youth groups to create Justice 4 Youth, an educational event in Portland's Pioneer Square, Saturday Sept. 13. Youth read poetry at the event, including a poem by Precious Anderson, an 18-year-old former foster child who killed herself inside Coffee Creek adult prison in 2013. A moment of silence commemorated her short life.
A report for the Partnership for Safety and Justice, Misguided Measures, says trying and sentencing youth as adults doesn’t work. Youth who are tried and sentenced as adults are more likely to reoffend not less.
Rusty Butler, a substance abuse prevention coordinator for youth in the Siletz nation, spoke at the event. He said he has seen the negative impacts of incarcerating youth with adults up close.
“I’ve seen a lot of kids fall under Measure 11, first-time offenders on really petty crimes—quite a few of the first to ones sentenced under Measure 11 –and because of the mandatory minimum sentences, they were sentenced as an adult and they went to adult prisons. They entered the system because they made a mistake as a juvenile, as a young juvenile too –15 and 16 years old. Then they were incarcerated as adults, and they started living that prison mentality. They started learning new things and it wasn’t positive. And now a lot of my friends that I’ve seen go that route have continued their career in the criminal field and a lot of them are doing 15-20 years in prison now because of it”
Find more photos from the event on The Skanner News Flickr page
The report points to research that suggests youth are more vulnerable to impulsive behaviors because their brains don’t finish developing until around age 25. And it says we now have safer and more cost-effective alternatives to locking up the majority of youth offenders. In fact, long-term, international studies show that even without intervention many young offenders grow out of criminal behavior.
Black youth make up 4 percent of the population, but almost one in five of the youth charged as adults. The majority (70 percent) are charged with robbery or assault. Almost three-quarters of those youth are never convicted of a Measure 11 crime. Nevertheless they return to the community with an adult criminal record and without services from the juvenile justice system.
Misguided Measures makes the following recommendations.
Remove all youth from adult jails. Jailing youths with adults runs counter to the research on what is most likely to help a young person avoid reoffending, and it may place youth at a greater risk of coming into harm’s way. House Bill 2707 changed the law to allow youth to be held in juvenile facilities, and counties now must move forward to fully implement this law to comply with this policy.
Remove second-degree offenses from Measure 11. Hundreds of youth charged with second-degree Measure 11 offenses end up pleading down to a non-Measure 11 conviction that, nonetheless, keeps their case in adult court. Most of these youth end up on adult probation and therefore return to the community but with the baggage of an adult conviction and without the age-appropriate services available in the juvenile justice system.
Extend Oregon’s “Second Look” law to all young people convicted as adults. Youth with a “Second Look” would receive a review hearing halfway through their sentence to assess their progress and determine if they could serve the remained of their sentence under supervision outside of a secure facility.
Speakers at the Justice 4 Youth event included: Andy Ko, PSJ's new executive director; Violeta Alvarez, Multnomah Youth Commission; Tony Funchess of Portland NAACP; Carlos Herrera of the Momentum Alliance; Sharon Gary Smith of the Mackenzie River Foundation; Alex Zhang of Multnomah Youth Commission and more. Performances by: Mic Crenshaw, Klavical; Sonny Lerma and LaRhonda Steele.
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