This week, the Adler School Institute on Public Safety and Social Justice (IPSSJ) will host Chicago’s only pre-release screening of the new documentary of “Kids for Cash,’ with a panel discussion with the film’s director Robert May, chief counsel from the Juvenile Justice Center, and Illinois juvenile justice and reform experts. Moderating is Elena Quintana, Ph.D., IPSSJ Executive Director and a community/clinical psychologist consulted throughout Chicago and nationally for her work with juvenile justice, trauma-informed care, and socially just violence prevention
Why are we hosting this event? With our event sponsors Active Voice, SenArt Films and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, we believe it’s critical to examine and call attention to these social justice, human and community health, economic and policy issues raised in the film as they pertain to Illinois and the rest of the country:
- Youths’ right to counsel. Parents and youth should insist on the ability to consult an attorney from the moment police or court involvement begins. The consequences are otherwise dire, often with permanent, life-altering effects.
- The collateral consequences of juvenile records. Parents, youth, teachers, school administrators and everyone who cares about youth need to know the ongoing, damaging consequences of having a juvenile record. Contrary to popular belief, expungement is not automatic.
- Zero-tolerance policies. Rigid school and community policies allow no room for common sense, extenuating circumstances, or age appropriate responses throughout the justice process. They often simply an easy means for removing children with behavioral problems or providing cover against potential litigation.
- Disruption with long-lasting effects. Beyond the obvious disruption in the educational progress, removing a child from his or her school often exacts a permanent emotional toll. Children who leave school lose entire support systems—teachers, friends, friends’ families, and coaches. More than 60% of teens removed from their schools ultimately drop out. If they go back to school, they rarely return to the same level of academic achievement.
- Adolescent brain development. Numerous studies confirm that while many teens possess the physical attributes of an adult, they do not possess adult emotional maturity of adult. Key functional parts of the human brain are not fully developed until about age 25.
- Trauma to youth and families. Going to court and being taken from your family, treated like a criminal, and placed in confinement with other troubled youth are all traumatizing events. Many youth who go through it have already experienced trauma. The juvenile justice system should not exacerbate that trauma. The long-term mental health effects of such treatment alters a youth’s view of the world, and can lead to life-long emotional instability, greater dependence on public services, and less successful transitions to adulthood.
- Financial costs to families and taxpayers. Unnecessary contact with the justice system doesn’t take an emotional toll on kids and families alone—the financial impact ripples through the entire community. The high cost of attorney fees, court expenses, fines, restitution, placement support fees and probation fees can be overwhelming for families. Additionally, the costs of placing a child in criminal justice detention can be as high as $600 a day, averaging $88,000 a year—costs that are ultimately paid by every taxpayer in the community. Unfortunately, the high financial and human costs do not reflect improved outcomes. Proven alternatives to costly residential facilities can help children and families in their own communities, and in their own homes and schools, with a price tag that is a fraction of the cost.
- Inappropriate overuse of the juvenile justice system. Each year, 95% of youth arrests are for non-violent crimes or probation violations. While this highly punitive approach sounds great during election campaigns—“ I’m going to get tough on crime”—there is no evidence it actually increases public safety. Schools, communities, mental health providers and families can hold youth accountable and manage risk to public safety without ruining children’s lives. Policy makers should follow the “What if this was my child?” approach.
- The United States is the country most punitive of its youth. No other country in the world punishes children as harshly as the United States. We incarcerate five times more youth than the next closest country, and are the only country in the world that sentences youth to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The U.S. is also the only country in the world that allows children as young as 7 years old to be arrested and prosecuted. Other countries successfully teach youth how to behave, while arresting or confining far fewer youth than the United States.
Our special screening of “Kids for Cash” takes place Thursday, Dec. 12, at Chicago’s ShowPlace ICON Theatre, 1011 South Delano Court East. A reception begins at 4:30 p.m., followed by the film at 5 p.m. Admission is free with RSVP but seats are limited. Click here for details and to RSVP.