New Report Provides Additional Data Supporting Illinois PTA’s Emerging Adults Recommendations

Since the release of our 2017 Report on Young Adults Involved in the Justice System, Illinois PTA has been a leader in speaking out for differentiated treatment of those youth ages 18 to 25 involved in the justice system. Last Thursday, Illinois PTA President Brian Minsker participated in the Juvenile Justice Initiative(JJI) Reimagine Justice Summit in Chicago. The event focused on a new report by the Justice Lab at Columbia University that highlighted new data regarding emerging adults involved in the justice system, noting that these youth are disproportionately incarcerated in Illinois, often for low-level offences, and racial disparities are greatest for this group.

State Senator Laura Fine will be introducing a bill again this year to gradually raise the age of juvenile justice for misdemeanor cases from 18 to 21. Illinois PTA testified in favor of this bill last year when then-Representative Fine introduced it in the house and anticipates supporting the bill again this year as well as its companion bill in the House. At the JJI summit, Sen. Fine noted that Illinois PTA’s support was a critical element in many legislators’ voting for the bill. Illinois PTA advocacy makes a difference, and your voice matters. Additional information on the Justice Lab report is below.

The Justice Lab at Columbia University released a new report today at an event in Chicago, entitled Emerging Adult Justice in Illinois: Towards an Age-Appropriate Approach. The report explains that the current justice system—which automatically prosecutes and sentences all emerging adults (ages 18 – 25) in the adult criminal justice system—generates remarkably poor results in terms of youth outcomes, racial and socioeconomic equity, and public safety:

  • Emerging adults comprised 10 percent of the general population in Illinois, yet accounted for 34 percent of total arrests and 28 percent of individuals sentenced to incarceration in Illinois state prisons in 2013.
  • Of those emerging adults admitted to state prisons in 2013, 73 percent were incarcerated for non-violent offenses.
  • Over a third of youth ages 18-21 admitted to the Cook County Jail in 2017—2,252 young people—were charged with misdemeanors or other petty offenses.
  • African American emerging adults are incarcerated at a rate 9.4 times greater than their white peers in Illinois. Illinois has one of the highest incarceration rates of African American emerging adults in the country, three times higher than New York and 2.5 times higher than California.
  • Nationally, 3 out of 4 emerging adults released from incarceration are rearrested within 3 years. These poor public safety outcomes are exacerbated by significant barriers to reentry, such as a growing prevalence of substance use disorders and homelessness among this age group.

Highlighting research in neurobiology, developmental psychology, and sociology, the Justice Lab reportexplains that emerging adults are a distinct developmental group and that most will mature out of crime in their mid-20s if given the opportunities to do so. The brains of young people continue developing into at least their mid-20s, far later than formerly thought. Emerging adults are more volatile in emotionally charged settings, more susceptible to peer influence, greater risk takers, and less future-oriented than fully mature adults. Yet, the criminal justice system treats emerging adults almost the same way as 40- or 50-year-olds, failing to provide effective, developmentally appropriate responses, and interfering with the normal maturity process.

“These disastrous justice outcomes are troubling but hardly surprising,” says Vincent Schiraldi, Senior Research Scientist and co-director of the Columbia Justice Lab. “Research shows what every parent of a young person knows, that young people are still maturing and should be treated in a developmentally appropriate way that provides them with a chance to turn their lives around. Publicizing their names when they make mistakes, putting them into jails with older adults, and denying them the rehabilitation that is available in the juvenile justice system makes no sense.”

“The Illinois Parent Teacher Association [PTA] recognizes that youth ages 18 to 24 are developmentally different than those 25 and older,” says Brian Minsker, the President of Illinois PTA. “As we recommended in our 2017 report, it is time for our justice system to recognize and address such developmental needs of all system-involved youth.”

Despite its challenges, emerging adulthood is also a period of opportunity, as youth are malleable and can be influenced by positive peers and enriching, supportive environments. “Illinois has been experimenting with alternative interventions for justice-involved youth with great success for many years,” explains Elizabeth Clarke, Executive Director of Juvenile Justice Initiative. “Our experience has shown that age-appropriate, community-based programs, such as the Redeploy Illinois, can achieve better youth outcomes, reduce recidivism and enhance public safety while resulting in significant cost savings. We should strive to extend this opportunity to all our young people, including emerging adults, who are at a critical developmental stage in their lives.”

As the Justice Lab reportshows, Illinois policymakers have already begun to experiment with policies and practices that treat emerging adults in a distinct manner. Selen Siringil Perker, Senior Research Associate and lead author, notes, “as the home of the first juvenile court in America, I am heartened to see Illinois pursue reform initiatives focused on emerging adult justice. These include, for example, a new restorative justice community court in North Lawndale to serve youth ages 18 to 26 charged with nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors.”

A legislative proposal to gradually raise the age of juvenile justice in misdemeanor cases up to age 21was also filed in the 2018 session of the Illinois legislature. “This legislative initiative is not without precedent,” explains State Senator Laura Fine, who sponsored the bill when she was a State Representative. “Illinois successfully raised the age of juvenile jurisdiction from age 17 to 18 for misdemeanors in 2010, then for felony cases in 2014. Despite concerns that the expansion would overwhelm the juvenile justice system, juvenile arrests, detention and incarceration rates all plummeted after the change in law. We did it before and we can do it again.”

Meanwhile, the Illinois legislature passed a new bill that provides parole eligibility for most youth who are under age 21 at the time of conviction. The Justice Lab report noted that other areas of public policy, ranging from laws on alcohol consumption to recent legislative proposals regarding gun purchases, treat emerging adults up to age 21 differently than older adults.

“It is important to rely on cutting edge research when reforming the criminal justice system,” Cook County State’s Attorney Kimberly M. Foxx said. “That is why I am grateful for the Columbia University Justice Lab’s reporton emerging adults in the criminal justice system. Our office is in review of this report and we look forward to collaborating with them and other stakeholders in the future to address the emerging adult population in Cook County.”

Illinois’ emerging adult justice reform efforts are indicative of a national movement to enhance public safety by providing more individualized, tailored, and developmentally appropriate responses to emerging adults. “Earlier this year, Vermont became the first state in the country to enact a law gradually raising the upper age of juvenile jurisdiction to a youth’s 20th birthday by 2022,” says Lael Chester, coauthor and Director of the Emerging Adult Project at Columbia Justice Lab. “There also have been bills filed to raise the age past the 18th birthday in Connecticut and Massachusetts in 2018. Many states will be watching Illinois with interest.”

Celebrating Legislative Successes in 2018—Child Safety

Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield is coming on February 6, 2019, and as a lead up, we are taking the opportunity to reflect on the substantial legislative gains Illinois PTA made on issues affecting our children and youth in the areas of health, including mental health, safety, gun control, social and emotional learning, and special education. Today’s article looks back at new laws covering children’s safety, including firearms concerns.

Firearms Safety

Every child deserves a nurturing environment that is free of the fear of violence. The reality for many is far different. The news is filled with stories of gun violence. According to the CDC, in 2013 there were 1,117 gun violence related deaths in Illinois. Of those, 151 were children and youths aged 19 and younger. PA 100-0606 amends the Criminal Code of 2012 imposing a 72 hour waiting period for the sale or delivery of firearms and adds restrictions for sales to the mentally ill and narcotic addicts. PA 100-0607, the Firearms Restraining Order Act, permits family members and law enforcement officials to petition the courts to remove firearms for a limited time from the home of someone they think might be a danger to themselves or to others.

Concussions

Concussions are one of the most commonly reported injuries in children and adolescents who participate in sports and recreational activities. According to the CDC, in 2012, an estimated 329,290 children and youth aged 19 or younger were treated in the USA for sports and recreation-related injuries that included a diagnosis of concussion or traumatic brain injury. From 2001 to 2012, the rate of emergency room visit for these issues more than doubled for this age group. Continuing to play with a concussion or symptoms of a head injury leaves a young athlete especially vulnerable to greater injury and even death.

PA 100-0747 (HB4226) provides for the much needed distribution of information concerning the effects of concussions in children detailing the related warning signs of a concussion to the child or the parent or guardian of a child who may have sustained a concussion at no charge by schools. The law also provides that the regional office of education of a public elementary, secondary, or charter school is to supervise the athletic trainer (or other responsible individual) with respect to the return-to-play or return-to-learn concussion protocol.

Child Car Seats

Another safety issue relates to the use of car safety seats. The AAP recommends rear-facing car safety seats for most infants up to 2 years of age. Recently enacted PA 100-0672 (HB 4377) requires the person transporting a child under two years old in a motor vehicle in the first or second division, is responsible for securing the child in a rear-facing child restraint system, unless that child is more than 40 pounds or over 40 inches tall.

Immigrant Children

Recent national policy has caused concern regarding the treatment of children based on their immigration status. PTA supports the confidentiality of school records, including records that pertain to the immigration status of children, and opposes unrestrained access to school records to determine that status. PTA further believes that school districts should not voluntarily report undocumented students to immigration authorities because such actions may constitute a denial of access to education under the 1982 United States Supreme Court decision Plyler v. Doethat determined that undocumented school-aged children are entitled to have access to a high quality and free public K-12 education.

Based on this, the Illinois PTA supported the Anti-Registry Program Act, now P.A. 100-1088 which prevents the creation of, or requirement to enroll in, a registry program (with certain specified exceptions) to collect and disclose personal demographic information in which individuals or groups are listed on the basis of information that includes, but is not limited to, race, color, gender identity, age, religion, disability, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, marital status, military status, order of protection status, pregnancy. The Anti-Registry Program Act also provides that no agent or agency may provide personal demographic information that is not otherwise publicly available.

Additionally, the Voices of Immigrant Communities Empowering Survivors Act, PA 100-1115,provides important protections concerning the immigration status of crime victims. Without those protections, undocumented immigrants might be afraid to come forward to report crimes in the community or domestic abuse, or, if they do come forward, the victims may themselves be incarcerated under the current federal policy; any children involved could be detrimentally impacted by this.

Take Action

Do we have more to do? Every day! How can you help? Sign up for the Illinois PTA Takes Action Networkto stay up to date on issues, and  join us for Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield on Wednesday, February 6, 2019.

Questions concerning advocacy issues? Please contact Illinois PTA Legislative Advocacy Director Lisa Garbaty at lgarbaty@illinoispta.org.

National PTA Response to Federal School Safety Commission Report

After eight months of public input, commission meetings and field visits across the county, the Federal School Safety Commission released its report on ways to keep students safe at school. The report includes several recommendations aligned with National PTA positions and A Framework for Safe and Successful Schools–joint recommendations written and endorsed by our nation’s leading education stakeholders and practitioners – on improved access to school-based mental and behavioral health services, threat assessments protocols, comprehensive school safety plans, and role of school resource officers (SROs).

However, we would have liked to see the Commission include common sense proposals to limit youth access to firearms, strengthen background checks, fund gun violence research efforts, and ban assault weapons. Our association believes any effort to improve the safety of our nation’s youth must be comprehensive and include gun safety and violence prevention measures.

National PTA supports positive school discipline policies that include a strong family engagement component and keep children in school and learning over exclusionary discipline. We are disappointed to see the report recommends the rescission of the 2014 school discipline guidance from the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice. Without this guidance, we are concerned that students of color and students with special needs will face even more disparate levels of discipline compared to their white peers.

Our association also believes that to promote positive school climates that encourage nurturing relationships, connectedness and mutual trust and respect among students, staff and families, there must be people and practices within the school building to ensure a safe and supportive learning environment. While the report focuses on the need for increased use of evidence-based frameworks to support and implement behavioral, health and mental health services, the report does not include a recommendation to increase the staffing ratios of school counselors, school psychologists, school social workers, and school nurses who can provide those supports.

“While the Commission’s report does not explicitly recommend arming educators, National PTA believes the most effective day-to-day school climate is a gun-free campus—which includes not arming teachers and administrators. Teachers and administrators should be able to focus on their primary responsibility, which is to educate our children,” said Jim Accomando, president of National PTA. “Our association opposes any attempt to use federal funds to arm or provide firearm training for educators. National PTA recognizes that school safety is a multi-faceted issue with no one clear solution for every community. We believe any effort to address school safety must involve all stakeholders who should consider a variety of factors, including the physical and psychological safety of students.”

“All of us share the responsibility to create and ensure safe, supportive and welcoming learning environments. We look forward to working with the Commission, the administration, Congress, and state and local policy makers to shape policies based on evidenced-based best practices in school safety and climate, discipline, student mental health, instructional leadership, teaching and learning” said Nathan Monell, executive director of National PTA.

National PTA Response to Federal School Safety Commission Report

After eight months of public input, commission meetings and field visits across the county, the Federal School Safety Commission released its reporton ways to keep students safe at school. The report includes several recommendations aligned with National PTA positions and A Framework for Safe and Successful Schools–joint recommendations written and endorsed by our nation’s leading education stakeholders and practitioners – on improved access to school-based mental and behavioral health services, threat assessments protocols, comprehensive school safety plans, and role of school resource officers (SROs).

However, we would have liked to see the Commission include common sense proposals to limit youth access to firearms, strengthen background checks, fund gun violence research efforts, and ban assault weapons. Our association believes any effort to improve the safety of our nation’s youth must be comprehensive and include gun safety and violence prevention measures.

National PTA supports positive school discipline policies that include a strong family engagement component and keep children in school and learning over exclusionary discipline. We are disappointed to see the report recommends the rescission of the 2014 school discipline guidance from the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice. Without this guidance, we are concerned that students of color and students with special needs will face even more disparate levels of discipline compared to their white peers.

Our association also believes that to promote positive school climates that encourage nurturing relationships, connectedness and mutual trust and respect among students, staff and families, there must be people and practices within the school building to ensure a safe and supportive learning environment. While the report focuses on the need for increased use of evidence-based frameworks to support and implement behavioral, health and mental health services, the report does not include a recommendation to increase the staffing ratios of school counselors, school psychologists, school social workers, and school nurses who can provide those supports.

“While the Commission’s report does not explicitly recommend arming educators, National PTA believes the most effective day-to-day school climate is a gun-free campus—which includes not arming teachers and administrators. Teachers and administrators should be able to focus on their primary responsibility, which is to educate our children,” said Jim Accomando, president of National PTA. “Our association opposes any attempt to use federal funds to arm or provide firearm training for educators. National PTA recognizes that school safety is a multi-faceted issue with no one clear solution for every community. We believe any effort to address school safety must involve all stakeholders who should consider a variety of factors, including the physical and psychological safety of students.”

“All of us share the responsibility to create and ensure safe, supportive and welcoming learning environments. We look forward to working with the Commission, the administration, Congress, and state and local policy makers to shape policies based on evidenced-based best practices in school safety and climate, discipline, student mental health, instructional leadership, teaching and learning” said Nathan Monell, executive director of National PTA.