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WASHINGTON – This week, the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice held a hearing on juvenile justice over three days via teleconference. Each teleconference featured expert witnesses who provided testimony and, subsequently, answered questions from the Commissioners.
On Tuesday, May 5, the Commission received testimony from Tim Irwin, Juvenile Judge, Knox County, Tenn.; Brett Kyker, Juvenile Division Chief, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, and; John F. Clark, President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC).
Testimony and discussions focused on framing the issue and the need for accountability. Judge Irwin stated that juvenile court is “not an independent kingdom.” It needs to work with all the other pieces of juvenile justice - especially social services - in rehabilitating children and keeping them, as well as entire communities, safe. Chief Kyker recommended to the Commission that law enforcement assess juveniles when they first encounter them and provide them with tailored services to steer them away from the criminal justice system. President Clark testified that NCMEC provides age-appropriate safety and prevention resources on topics of online and real-world safety. He emphasized that prevention education and awareness is especially essential in times of unpredictability for children, such as this current time-frame when COVID19 stay-at-home orders are in place.
On Wednesday, May 6, the Commission heard testimony from Mo Canady, Executive Director of the National Association of School Resource Officers; Tarrant County (Texas) Sheriff Bill E. Waybourn; Thomas Lemmer, Member, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #7, Deputy Chief, Chicago Police Department, and; Addison Davis, School Superintendent of Hillsborough County Public Schools in Florida. Superintendent Davis was joined by John Newman, Chief of Security and Emergency Management for Hillsborough County Public Schools for the Q and A portion of the hearing.
Testimony and discussion focused on how law enforcement addresses juveniles involved in crime. Executive Director Canady told the Commission that the number one goal of any successful school resource officer must be to “bridge the gap” between law enforcement and youth. He argued that positive relationships between students and school resource officers lay a powerful foundation for the exchange of information and the protective support of students. Sheriff Waybourn stated: “If we could take dollars that are spent on the juvenile justice system and spend those dollars on the front end while also reexamining our foster care program, we could focus on the forgotten children that we later call delinquents.” Deputy Chief Lemmer urged the Commission to acknowledge the core role of the juvenile court structure. He believes that a "multi-layer community response [to juvenile justice] is needed," including robust prevention measures and effective child welfare monitoring. Superintendent Davis urged the Commission to consider initiating a standardized threat assessment instrument that is accessible to all school districts in our nation.
On Thursday, May 7, the Commission completed its hearing on juvenile justice with testimony from Pam Iorio, President and Chief Executive Officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America; Steve Salem, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation; Wintley Phipps, Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of U.S. Dream Academy Inc., and; Jim Clark, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
Testimony and discussion focused on youth mentorship. President Iorio discussed the benefits of the Big Brothers Big Sisters’ one-to-one mentoring programs and the impact it has on keeping children out of the juvenile justice system. President Clark discussed how the COVID19 pandemic is presenting new challenges to juvenile justice… “The risk factors that kids face at home and in their communities are magnified – putting them at even higher risk than ever before." Clark believes that "prioritizing prevention and early intervention with youth will reduce the potential impacts of community violence, gang activity and engagement in high-risk activity." President Phipps testified that “intergenerational incarceration fuels the normalization of incarceration… Mentoring is the last great hope when the family disintegrates.” President Salem recommends that police executives encourage and reward officers that engage in youth development programs to provide positive interactions between police and youth.
For more information on the Commission, please visit: https://www.justice.gov/ag/presidential-commission-law-enforcement-and-administration-justice
Audio recordings and transcripts of the hearings will be posted online once available.