OJD Spotlight: A Discussion on School-Justice Partnerships with LaToya Powell

As we observe and prepare for the full implementation of North Carolina’s plan to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction, there are some elements of the new legislation that are worth highlighting, one of those being the mandate for school-justice partnerships.  The Office of the Juvenile Defender had the pleasure of sitting down with LaToya Powell to discuss the roll-out of the school-justice partnership project.

Office of the Juvenile Defender: Thank you for taking the time to be here with us today, LaToya.  Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your background in juvenile justice.

LaToya Powell: I have been working in the area of juvenile justice since I graduated law school in 2005.  First, as a prosecutor in Johnston County, then as an appellate attorney with the Attorney General’s Office where I handled juvenile delinquency appeals for the State.  After that, I worked as a law professor at the UNC School of Government, where I trained and advised North Carolina public officials, including juvenile court judges, prosecutors, juvenile defenders, and lawmakers.  Currently, I am with the Office of General Counsel at the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) where I work as the Assistant Legal Counsel responsible for addressing juvenile delinquency issues and policy changes like Raise the Age.

LaToya Powell headshotOJD:  What are school-justice partnerships?

LP:  A school-justice partnership is exactly what it says.  It’s a partnership between the schools and the courts and other community stakeholders, like law enforcement and juvenile justice, designed to reduce the school-to-prison pipeline.  The school-to-prison pipeline is what happens when schools rely heavily on exclusionary discipline, like suspensions, expulsions, and referring kids to court, to address minor misconduct in school.  We know from Juvenile Justice data that close to 50 percent of petitions are based on misconduct that happens at schools.  Ninety-four percent of those cases are minor misdemeanors, like simple assault, misdemeanor larceny, and disorderly conduct, such as a kid being disruptive in class or yelling at a teacher.  What we know from evidence is that when kids are referred to court, they are more likely to drop out of school, they are more likely to engage in future misconduct and they are more likely to be charged as an adult.  So not only does it produce negative outcomes for the students, but it also makes schools and communities less safe because it increases recidivism.

Rather than push kids out of school, school-justice partnerships keep kids in school where they have better outcomes.  And as a result of Raise the Age, we now have a directive from the Legislature to the Director of the AOC to create policies and procedures to expand school-justice partnerships throughout North Carolina.

OJD:  What results are you hoping to see from the expansion of school-justice partnerships?

LP:  What we would hope to see is a reduction in the number of school-based referrals that go to the court system, and as a result of that, better outcomes for students—greater academic achievement, lower dropout rates, increased graduation rates, safer schools—those are the main goals for this partnership.  Another thing that we hope to see is less disproportionality in the way that school discipline is administered because the school-to-prison pipeline has a disparate impact on certain groups of students, primarily students of color and disabled students.

OJD:  What questions or problems do you anticipate for these programs?

LP:  The biggest problem or obstacle that we anticipate is the lack of resources for schools that need to be able to address disruptive students without the need to suspend them or send them to court.  There are many counties in our state that have lots of programs, community-based and school-based, that support students who are misbehaving at school, but other counties are not so fortunate.  They don’t have as many resources or tools to help their teachers who have a classroom of 30 or more kids.  Often times, all they have is a school resource officer who they can ask “Can you help me with this kid who is disturbing my classroom?” So, we hope to see more funding to create additional programs that will serve this population of students.

We know that some of our counties have things like restorative justice programs, Teen Court programs, and other diversion programs that are very successful and produce really great results for children.  The Juvenile Jurisdiction Advisory Committee (JJAC), which is monitoring the implementation of Raise the Age, has requested additional resources from the Legislature to fund diversion programs for these school-justice partnerships.  Also, the AOC is creating a school-justice partnership toolkit that provides guidance on how to create and implement a school-justice partnership.

OJD:  How many counties in N.C. are currently implementing school-justice partnership programs and have there been any measurable levels of success?

LP:  To my knowledge there are at least six counties that currently have school-justice partnerships and several others are in the process of creating them.  New Hanover County established its school-justice partnership about two years ago under the leadership of Chief District Court Judge J. Corpening and under its model, schools use graduated responses to address minor misconduct.  A graduated response model is a tiered system of sanctions that essentially gives the child a second chance to get it right.  So, instead of a student immediately being arrested and charged the first time he or she gets into a fight, the school will first try to address the misconduct without resorting to exclusionary discipline.  For example, a teacher might reprimand the student or require the student to do an assignment that relates to the behavior.  And then the next time the student misbehaves, the school might refer the student to a program or a behavioral specialist at the school.  Under the graduated response model, a child would have to receive at least two graduated responses before a referral to court can be made.  As a result of this school-justice partnership, New Hanover County has reduced school-based referrals by 47 percent.

OJD:  What other solutions would you propose to derail the school-to-prison pipeline?

LP:  I think this project is going to help lots of children in North Carolina avoid contact with the juvenile justice system.  And that is really important, not just for our kids but also for our schools and our communities.  By reducing the population of students who are being referred to court for minor misconduct that happens at school, it will increase the capacity of the juvenile court system to serve the older population of juveniles, 16- and 17-year-olds, who will soon become a part of that system.  The successful implementation of Raise the Age is an important step in reducing the school to prison pipeline.

OJD:  How can people learn more about school-justice partnerships in North Carolina?

LP:  For more information about School Justice Partnership North Carolina, please visit SJP.nccourts.gov.

OJD Week in Review: Jan. 8-12

This week we are lighter on the usual training notifications, but there are some important updates to be shared.

Training, Job Opportunities, and Events

wvpviwDue to the winter weather and the holidays, the UNC School of Government has announced that the deadline to register for the 2018 Child Support Enforcement:  Representing Respondents seminar has now been extended until Jan. 15.  Registration and other information can be found here.

Registration is also now open for the School of Government’s Regional Training for Indigent Defense: Defending Sexual Offenses.  This event will offer 3.0 CLE credit hours and will have sessions covering cross-examining experts, physical evidence, and motions and legal issues in sexual offense cases.  The training will be held on Thursday, Feb. 8, in Room 103 of the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center at 1801 Nash St. in Sanford, N.C.  The deadline to register is 5 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 29.  An $85 registration fee will be required which will cover materials, snacks, and CLE credits.  For registration, contact details and other info, please go here.

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) will be supporting National Drug and Alcohol Facts week, sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.  From Jan. 22-28, these organizations will be supporting community events nationwide and beyond that bring people together, from adolescents to experts, to discuss alcohol and drug abuse.  The National Institute on Drug Abuse will be providing free booklets about how to deal with drug abuse, in addition to other educational resources.

OJJDP will also be accepting nominations for their 2018 National Missing Children’s Day awards until Jan. 24.  They are seeking nominees for their Missing Children’s Citizen Award and Missing Children’s Child Protection Award.  These awards are meant to recognize private individuals who helped to recover a missing/abducted child and professionals, such as law enforcement officers and child protective service agents, who have worked to protect children from abuse and victimization.  For further details and to submit your nominations, please check here.

Finally, for those interested, there are four juvenile court counselor positions available in Iredell, Union, Cleveland and Forsyth counties that will be closing today.  Interested parties can view and apply to these jobs here.

Progression of Raise the Age

On Thursday, Jan. 11, the N.C. Juvenile Jurisdiction Advisory Committee (JJAC) met for its second meeting since the passage of the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act.  During the meeting, several presenters addressed the Committee with research data and considerations for the juvenile justice system prior to and after the changes to the law are implemented.

AOC Director Marion Warren and Brad Fowler, manager of the AOC Research, Policy, and Planning Division, shared AOC’s analysis of the possible workload increase and need for more staff.  Fowler emphasized the need to assess the resources going into the cases we have now to prepare the juvenile justice system for the arrival of more cases.  “The system to handle 16- and 17-year-olds will not drop out of the sky the day the law changes,” he said.  “Having [the pieces] in place before that time is the goal.”

William L Lassiter, deputy secretary of juvenile justice for the Department of Public Safety, went on to discuss considerations for fiscal year (FY) 2018-2019.  Lassiter pointed out the need for subcommittees within JJAC, the success of raising the age in other states, and the need for more staff, improved facilities and community programs to assist youth.  Lassiter said that when Raise the Age was implemented in other states, complaints and recidivism rates dropped significantly, especially for kids younger than 12, because more diversion programs were explored as more kids were brought into the juvenile justice system.  While discussing community programs, he praised the success of North Carolina’s own Teen Court program.  “Teen Court is much more consequential and has a higher level of accountability than regular court.  Kids don’t want their friends to get away with something they didn’t get away with,” he said jokingly, pointing out how juveniles had to admit their guilt for a crime in Teen Court and a jury of their peers would ensure that juveniles would receive a suitable punishment in the form of community service, in addition to a term on the Teen Court jury.  Lassiter stated that participants in the Teen Court program only had a 12 percent recidivism rate and he desired for every district to have their own program.  He gave JJAC a breakdown of potential costs for community programs, new transportation for juveniles, and hiring of additional staff over the next few years, up to FY 2020-2021, which included about 292 new positions.

JJAC

Juvenile Defender Eric Zogry offered a brief presentation on the history and structure of North Carolina’s juvenile indigent defense system and the Office of the Juvenile Defender’s plan in preparation for the implementation of the law.  Zogry emphasized the need for a dedicated juvenile defender system in our state while pointing out that the majority of N.C. counties lacked a designated juvenile defender.  Mary Stansell, Juvenile chief of the Wake County Public Defender’s Office and member of JJAC, backed Zogry’s point, citing examples from her own personal experience of working with lawyers who were not familiar with or just not committed to the specialized practice of juvenile defense.

The last presentation by the Honorable J. Corpening, chief district court judge of District 5, discussed several phases to develop the school-justice partnership program.  Corpening talked about establishing relationships with other judges at leadership training, the progression of the program so far for specific counties, and the need for a comprehensive toolkit, website, and other resources to assist counties in implementing their own school-justice partnership programs.

Finally, the Committee returned to Lassiter’s suggestion to establish subcommittees to assist in the planning and execution of the new initiatives they would have to address in the coming months.  Several members of JJAC and others in attendance were selected to serve on the subcommittees before the chairs called for the meeting to be adjourned.

That is all the news for this week.  To catch up on upcoming training seminars, please be sure to check out our past posts.  We will be providing further updates on training, the progress of the Raise the Age initiative, job opportunities and more each week, so be sure to subscribe to the blog, Facebook page, and Twitter for all the news we have going forward into 2018!