Reclaiming Our Way promoting the well-being of African American children & families


It’s Time To End Solitary Confinement For Minors

From HuffPost Live...

Ian Kysel, a fellow at Georgetown's Human Rights Institute, is calling for an end to solitary confinement for juvenile inmates. He joins us to discuss how solitary inhibits teen rehabilitation and what can be done to bring the practice to an end.

Originally aired on December 30, 2014

Hosted by: Marc Lamont Hill

  • Ian Kysel (New York, NY) Adjunct Professor of Law, Georgetown University; Dash/Muse Fellow
  • Dakem Roberts (Brooklyn, NY) Served Solitary Confinement as a Teen; Secretary General of The Negation; Member of the Jail Action Coalition
  • James Burns (Cape Town, South Africa) Served Solitary Confinement as a Teen; Filmmaker; Poet & Activist


Kids For Cash: Inside One of the Nation’s Most Shocking Juvenile Justice Scandals

Democracy Now
Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Today a special on "kids for cash," the shocking story of how thousands of children in Pennsylvania were jailed by two corrupt judges who received $2.6 million in kickbacks from the builders and owners of private prison facilities. We hear from two of the youth: Charlie Balasavage was sent to juvenile detention after his parents unknowingly bought him a stolen scooter; Hillary Transue was detained for creating a MySpace page mocking her assistant high school principal. They were both 14 years old and were sentenced by the same judge, Judge Mark Ciavarella, who is now in jail himself — serving a 28-year sentence. Balasavage and Transue are featured in the new documentary, "Kids for Cash," by filmmaker Robert May, who also joins us. In addition, we speak to two mothers: Sandy Fonzo, whose son Ed Kenzakoski committed suicide after being imprisoned for years by Judge Ciavarella, and Hillary’s mother, Laurene Transue. Putting their stories into context of the larger scandal is attorney Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Juvenile Law Center. The story is still developing: In October, the private juvenile-detention companies in the scandal settled a civil lawsuit for $2.5 million.


Juveniles Facing Lifelong Terms Despite Rulings (New York Times)

Despite some incremental progress on the issue of unjust life sentences for youth, there remains far more work ahead to really see the fruits of what was supposed to mean a new opportunity at a productive life for some incarcerated youth. As one might predict, much of the resistance to more just sentencing laws and guidelines for youth wreaks of the same over-generalizations they accuse of proponents of the law of.

From the New York Times...

In decisions widely hailed as milestones, the United States Supreme Court in 2010 and 2012 acted to curtail the use of mandatory life sentences for juveniles, accepting the argument that children, even those who are convicted of murder, are less culpable than adults and usually deserve a chance at redemption.

But most states have taken half measures, at best, to carry out the rulings, which could affect more than 2,000 current inmates and countless more in years to come, according to many youth advocates and legal experts.

“States are going through the motions of compliance,” said Cara H. Drinan, an associate professor of law at the Catholic University of America, “but in an anemic or hyper-technical way that flouts the spirit of the decisions.”

Lawsuits now before Florida’s highest court are among many across the country that demand more robust changes in juvenile justice. One of the Florida suits accuses the state of skirting the ban on life without parole in nonhomicide cases by meting out sentences so staggering that they amount to the same thing.

Other suits, such as one argued last week before the Illinois Supreme Court, ask for new sentencing hearings, at least, for inmates who received automatic life terms for murder before 2012 — a retroactive application that several states have resisted.

There remains huge resistance to more just laws for youth.

The Supreme Court decisions built on a 2005 ruling that banned the death penalty for juvenile offenders as cruel and unusual punishment, stating that offenders younger than 18 must be treated differently from adults.

The 2010 decision, Graham v. Florida, forbade sentences of life without parole for juveniles not convicted of murder and said offenders must be offered a “meaningful opportunity for release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.” The ruling applied to those who had been previously sentenced.

Cases like Shimeek’s aim to show that sentences of 70 years, 90 years or more violate that decision. Florida’s defense was that Shimeek’s sentence was not literally “life without parole” and that the life span of a young inmate could not be predicted.

Probably no more than 200 prisoners were affected nationally by the 2010 decision, and they were concentrated in Florida. So far, of 115 inmates in the state who had been sentenced to life for nonhomicide convictions, 75 have had new hearings, according to the Youth Defense Institute at the Barry University School of Law in Orlando. In 30 cases, the new sentences have been for 50 years or more. One inmate who had been convicted of gun robbery and rape has received consecutive sentences totaling 170 years.



Saving Our Boys, Part 2: Advocating for Education

Here's the follow-up discussion to the previous post, Saving Our Sons, with the same three researchers and advocates.  This piece is a bit longer, approximately 60 minutes.

The following are among some of the important points they're raising:

  • Children want to be respected by their teachers, and are particularly responsive when they sense a genuine connection with the teacher or other school staff.
  • The content and curriculum need to have practical relevance to the children's lives.
  • Strategies that allow children to problem solve and explore/engage their own community are particularly effective.
  • Black male teachers and school professionals are very important; not only as teachers, but also the impact their presence has on the school climate and the dialogue between teachers and school administrators about students and their families.
  • Research is important, and can also be misleading.  We have to use current research and data, and understand the research and data within the context in which is conducted/obtained.  For example, youth violence is indeed problematic, yet it is also less prevalent today than it has been in at least the last two generations.
  • We must be attentive to the family protective factors that really promote excellence in schools.
  • We have to be mindful of the consistent restatement of racial disparities and problems among.
  • The solution for an inexperienced and underqualified workforce is a more experienced and more qualified workforce.  (My note... This is most acutely relevant for many of the schools located within lower-income communities and/or schools that are lower-performing, many of which have a greater share of newer and less-experienced teachers.  They may very well be/become excellent teachers, but our schools should not be treated as laboratories.)
  • We know enough about what effective schools look like and do, and we have many examples of effective schools within lower-income communities, within African American communities, and among children with various types of challenging backgrounds.  This should drive our school reform and educational improvement efforts.  Educational excellence is absolutely achievable, and happens in many places every single day.

This is definitely worth  listening to, and a conversation we should all be continuing in our own families and communities.  Keep in mind a key point that Dr. Ivory Toldson continues to make, however, which is that we need to have these conversations with real and up-to-date information (including data and research) so that we're not trying to improve schools in 2013 with an understanding of student experiences from 2002.  Some of the outcome and experience patterns may very well persist, but the context continues to evolve.

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Saving Our Boys – Concerned Black Men National

Below is a 30-minute audio podcast of three advocates and scholars working tirelessly for more accountable and responsive systems and opportunities for young African American males.

The big take-away here is that our young boys are not in fact seen and treated as young boys and adolescents - with the right to experience a normal childhood and developmental process, but are seen through a prism of fear and criminality by the larger American society.

Change and success for our young African American boys depends on us (parents and extended family, or those others of us in positions of authority) becoming far more consistent, deliberate and thoughtful in our advocacy and championing of them - and with a sense of urgency.  We have to create opportunities for our young children, and hold others accountable for doing the same.  We have to be our children's biggest advocates!

Here's the 30-minute CBM National Podcast from July 2013...

CBM National Executive Director George Garrow is joined by Dr. Ivory Toldson, editor of The Journal of Negro Education, and Dr. James L. Moore III, director of the Todd Anthony Bell National Resource Center on the African American Male, to discuss solutions to issues facing our young Black boys and men, what can be done at the highest levels of government, business and society to help them achieve and succeed in America.


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