Questioning the Validity of Using Risk Assessment Tools

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has recently criticized using risk-assessment tools as part of determining a sentence or disposition, such as the Indiana Risk Assessment System (IRAS) in criminal cases and the Indiana Youth Assessment System (IYAS) in delinquency cases.  In his speech to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers on August 1, 2014, he stated:

“…[L]legislators have introduced the concept of “risk assessments” that seek to assign a probability to an individual’s likelihood of committing future crimes and, based on those risk assessments, make sentencing determinations. Although these measures were crafted with the best of intentions, I am concerned that they may inadvertently undermine our efforts to ensure individualized and equal justice. By basing sentencing decisions on static factors and immutable characteristics – like the defendant’s education level, socioeconomic background, or neighborhood – they may exacerbate unwarranted and unjust disparities that are already far too common in our criminal justice system and in our society.

Criminal sentences must be based on the facts, the law, the actual crimes committed, the circumstances surrounding each individual case, and the defendant’s history of criminal conduct. They should not be based on unchangeable factors that a person cannot control, or on the possibility of a future crime that has not taken place. Equal justice can only mean individualized justice, with charges, convictions, and sentences befitting the conduct of each defendant and the particular crime he or she commits. And that’s why, this week, the Justice Department is taking the important step of urging the Sentencing Commission to study the use of data-driven analysis in front-end sentencing – and to issue policy recommendations based on this careful, independent analysis.”

Support for U.S. Attorney General Holder’s position includes this New York Times op/ed piece, Sentencing, by the Numbers by Sonja B. Starr, which advocates that the “punishment should depend on what the person did, not on who he is or how much money he has….Evidence-based sentencing also raises serious constitutional concerns. The Supreme Court has consistently held that otherwise-impermissible discrimination cannot be justified by statistical generalizations about groups, even if those generalizations are on average accurate. People have a right to be treated as individuals, and individuals often do not conform to group averages.”

A risk assessment summary is part of every pre-sentence report and pre-disposition report in Indiana.  For an overview of the IYAS and IRAS process, go here.

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The Way We Interrogate Children Must Change

It makes no sense that adults who may face felony criminal charges are afforded more protections while being interrogated than a vulnerable teenager or preteen child.  Yet, that is true today in Indiana.  With a few exceptions, a confession cannot be used in a felony criminal case unless it was electronically recorded.  Indiana Evidence Rule 617.  The rule by its nature does not apply to juvenile cases, which are not criminal cases.

By modifying the rule to require that all custodial interrogations be electronically recorded, law enforcement would not have to guess about when the rule applies and when it does not.  The interrogation would be recorded and available for review.  All law enforcement now have the necessary equipment, so there would be little additional expense.  And, the recorded statement gives both the State and the defense more information about the demeanor and actions of the person being interrogated, as well as the actions of the interrogators.

The lack of protection for our children flies in the face of the science and developing case law that recognizes that children are different than adults and should be afforded different levels of protection to ensure that the child understands his or her rights, knowingly and intelligently waives those rights, and is not overwhelmed during the interrogation process.  See Barry C. Feld, Behind Closed Doors: What Really Happens When Cops Question Kids23 Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy 395 (2013).

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Teen Suicide — Become Aware of the Signs and Resources

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 10 and 24.  The top three methods of suicide in this age range is firearm (45%), suffocation (40%) and poisoning (8%).  “A nationwide survey of youth in grades 9-12 in public and private schools in the United States (U.S.) found that 16% of students reported seriously considering suicide, 13% reported creating a plan, and 8% reported trying to take their own life in the 12 months preceding the survey.”

Risk factors include:

  • History of previous suicide attempts
  • Family history of suicide
  • History of depression or other mental illness
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Stressful life event or loss
  • Easy access to lethal methods
  • Exposure to the suicidal behavior of others
  • Incarceration

Additional information and resources are available from:

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BMV Suspensions, Reinstatement, and Insurance Forms

A juvenile adjudication may result in a driver’s license or permit suspension, or prevent a child from obtaining a license or permit.  If that happens, the juvenile enters the world of Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicle (BMV) jargon and procedures that can be confusing.  For information on the various forms that may be needed to obtain a valid license or permit following a suspension, see this BMV page on suspension, reinstatement and insurance forms.

Some driver’s may be required to take the Driver Safety Program, and failure to complete the program by a specified date may result in an indefinite suspension of the person’s driving privileges.  The link also has information on the three ways to complete the program.

Some driver’s may be required to provide proof of financial responsibility (proof of insurance).  Failure to provide the proof by a specified date may also result in a suspension of the person’s driving privileges.

To ensure that all suspension and other notices are sent to the current address, the contact information should be up-to-date at all times.  The BMV notes the following concerning addresses in their system:

“The BMV maintains two addresses for each customer: a legal address and a mailing address.

A legal address is the address the BMV requires to validate your permanent place of residency in Indiana. The legal address is necessary for your credentials, such as your driver’s license or identification card. It is very important that you provide two approved documents to establish or update your legal address. For a complete list of approved documents, please visit this page. You must visit a license branch to update your legal address.

The mailing address is an alternate address which you may provide to the BMV for mailing your correspondence – including license plates, renewal reminders, and other communications. Visit this page to update your mailing address. You may also update your mailing address at any BMV branch.”

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“Kids Behind Bars” Documentary Series

The Indiana Department of Correction Wabash Valley Correctional Facility unit that houses juveniles who are sentenced as adults was featured in a documentary series, Kids Behind Bars, that recently aired in the United Kingdom.  Among the children who were featured was Blake Layman, one of the so-called “Elkhart 4.”  At the time this post was written, there were no links to the documentary that allowed it to be viewed in the United States. A previous episode of the Kids Behind Bars documentary series focused on the thousands of children who are locked up around the world, including children in the United States.  The earlier documentary can be viewed here.

A review of the most recent episode appeared on August 6, 2014, in The Guardian newspaper in England, which read:

“Kids Behind Bars (ITV) bore all the hallmarks of a bleak examination of America’s broken justice system. But it wasn’t that, quite. Yes, it was about teenagers doing unimaginable stretches in a maximum security facility big enough to have a dedicated block for underage offenders. But there was also an emphasis on the humanity at work behind the fences. Block D staff take seriously their obligation to raise and educate deeply troubled boys, in an environment designed to offer shelter from the general prison population.

Lest we forget, they are also boys who have committed serious crimes. To be tried as an adult in the state of Indiana, you must have repeatedly reoffended in the youth system, or done something of a particularly horrific nature. Jesus, aged 17, is serving 65 years for murder. Marquise, meanwhile, is serving 15 years for aggravated battery, a charge that rather obscures the nature of his offence: he joined his mother and uncle in a concerted attack that left the victim dead of a gunshot wound. “They charged me like a man,” he said. “I’m gonna step up like a man and do my time.” Having turned 18, he will soon be moving in with the adult prisoners.

For some of the boys it’s likely that prison provides a more stable home environment than anything life outside has to offer. “We have several in there right now that have seen a parent kill another parent,” said case worker Alita.

This was a sobering look at an intractable problem; it left one feeling that Block D was a regrettable but wholly necessary part of the penal landscape, a place where young offenders are cared for as children by a state that didn’t have the sense to try them as children. But if you were simply looking to be outraged by America’s broken justice system, you needed to look no further than Blake, who just turned 18 in jail. Blake’s crime – committed when he was 16 – was to break into what he thought was an empty house with four of his friends, only for one of them to be shot dead by the homeowner while the rest cowered in a closet. Under Indiana law, it is possible for the four surviving burglars to be charged with the murder of their friend. Blake is currently serving a 55-year sentence.”

For more information on the Elkhart 4 case, see this prior post.

The post “Kids Behind Bars” Documentary Series first appeared on the Indiana Juvenile Justice Blog.

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National Conference on Trauma Informed Care – October 17, 2014

The Leadership Center at the Children’s Institute, Inc. and the National Child Traumatic Stress Network will be presenting Trauma-Informed Care: A National Conference for Helping Professionals on October 17, 2014, at the Sheraton Universal Hotel in Universal City, California.  The announcement indicates that registration can be done here, but at the time of the post, the registration link does not exist.

The focus will be on the latest about trauma-informed practice in child welfare and children’s mental health.  Lectures and workshop topics will include:

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USC Adolescent Trauma Training Center

The University of Southern California Adolescent Trauma Training Center is a designated Treatment and Service Adaptation Center of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.    The Center’s focus is “the evaluation and treatment of complex trauma effects — including substance abuse — in multiply-traumatized, socially marginalized adolescents who come in contact with mental health, substance abuse, child welfare, and juvenile justice environments.”

Various guides may be downloaded by going here, including:

  • Guide for Treating Substance Use Issues
  • Integrative Treatment of Complex Trauma for Adolescents Manual (2nd Edition)
  • Tools, worksheets, and handouts for clinicians.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has a variety of resources focused informing judges, attorneys, and mental health and juvenile justice professionals about trauma-informed youth that are available here.

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