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LBJ School Alumni Discuss Work on Newly Published Nation-Wide Policy Research Report Focusing on Juvenile Transfer to Adult Court

Survey of Statutes of 50 States Began as Supreme Court Certiorari Petition

AUSTIN, Texas-- July 28 2009-- LBJ School students who began work in 2007 on a nation-wide policy research project on juvenile transfer to adult court are now seeing their work come to fruition with the publication of the report "From Time-Out to Hard Time: Young Children in the Adult Criminal Justice System."

Michele Deitch, a professor at the LBJ School and Law School, was the primary author on the report that focuses on national practices regarding transfer of juveniles aged 12 and under to adult court and began as part of a collaborative project with the School of Law’s Supreme Court Clinic to research the case of Pittman v. South Carolina for a certiorari petition to the United States Supreme Court.

“The Supreme Court Clinic takes on a wide variety of cases that either have the potential to be heard by the nation’s highest court, or have already been selected by the U.S. Supreme Court for oral argument,” said Deitch.

The Pittman case (No. 07-8436) involved a 12-year-old child who was transferred to adult criminal court and given a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years without possibility of parole for killing his paternal grandparents.  The cert petition asked the Supreme Court to address whether its reasoning in the 2005 Roper v. Simmons decisions, which prohibited the death penalty for minors, would also protect 12-year-old children who receive lengthy mandatory sentences. The Supreme Court refused to hear the case. However, in doing this research, Deitch and her students discovered that there was very little research in the area of juvenile transfers to adult court and decided to proceed with a policy report focused on that area.

“In the fall semester of 2007, I worked with five great LBJ students, one of whom was actually a dual degree student with the Law School,” said Deitch. “We met regularly with the faculty and students of the Clinic and learned about the legal issues they were pursuing and their needs for policy information. The students studied the scientific literature, interviewed experts around the country, observed in juvenile court and visited a juvenile prison and juvenile detention facility, combed the literature and published news reports to find any accounts of young children who got caught up in the adult criminal justice system, and gathered statistics on the frequency of juvenile transfer to adult court. All of our findings were regularly reported back to the Clinic, to help shape the legal arguments they made in their petition to the court.”

Ryan Reyna, alum of the LBJ School and a policy analyst in the Education Division of the National Governors Association for Best Practices in Washington, D.C., was among the student researchers.

“The research project was a mammoth undertaking,” said Reyna. “Not only were we tasked with helping the law students understand the juvenile justice science and policy research, we were responsible for researching juvenile transfer to adult court statutes for all 50 states.

LBJ Alumna Amanda Barstow, who also assisted with research on the project, describes how the Supreme Court cert petition on the Pittman case turned into a national research project focused on juvenile transfer to adult court.

“Although cert was not granted by the Supreme Court—which was frustrating and sad—we felt that we could still do a service to Chris Pittman, and all youth tried as adults, if we brought this issue to the foreground and alerted the public to the fact that children as young as ten were given adult sentences and in some states, sent to adult prison,” said Barstow.

Reyna went on to point out the fact that their research filled an obvious hole in the body of work currently available on the issue of juvenile transfer.

“Through our research we were able to talk to lawyers and judges that worked on juvenile waiver cases, helping understand the significant amount of information that goes into a decision whether to waive a juvenile to adult court,” said Reyna. “I believe that the report will fill a critical gap in the scholarship in juvenile transfer to adult court, and I am very appreciative that I was able to contribute to such a meaningful work.”

According to Barstow, who intends to continue working in the juvenile justice policy field, this report is the first of its kind.

“It was very frustrating and tedious to do a 50-state survey on the transfer of children to adult court and the collateral consequences of this policy,” said Barstow, “But at the end of the day, it was very rewarding to know that we were compiling information that had never been synthesized before. Because the sheer number of young children who commit serious crimes is fairly small, their stories are rarely told and the issue hasn’t received much attention.”

Professor Deitch describes the involvement of the student researchers as essential to the report.

“The students were an invaluable part of the entire project, from the representation of Christopher Pittman to the drafting of this national report,” said Deitch. “There is simply no way that a project of this scope could have been done without the committed participation of each of the students.”

Barstow went on to describe the opportunity the research project offered for policy and practice to come together with the union of LBJ School student researchers and researchers from the Law School.

“Working with Professor Deitch was an amazing experience,” said Barstow. “Not only is she extremely well connected in the criminal justice world, she was also the person who was able to partner LBJ students with law students. I think the connection between law and policy is often overlooked and it was great to have the opportunity to learn from each other.”

Both student researchers agree that working with Professor Deitch on this research project helped to shape their career paths and policy interests.

“I think it solidified my interest in policy,” said Reyna. “It provided me with the knowledge that policy research can truly affect one individual’s life, let alone the lives of millions of adolescents in the nation. Ultimately, I chose to pursue a career path in education policy, yet this report served as an important step in the development of my research skills and commitment to improving the lives of all children.”

According to Professor Deitch, this research project provided the student researchers with real-world experience that many lawyers are never awarded.

“I have no doubt that this will be one of the most memorable experiences the students look back on when they think of their time at LBJ,” said Deitch. “They had a front row seat to observe the process of developing a high-profile Supreme Court case, something most lawyers, let alone policy experts, never get to see. And they know that the enormous amounts of time they poured into this project may really make a difference in the real world. Beyond this, they learned the importance of working on projects about which you are passionate.”

For more information on the "From Time-Out to Hard Time: Young Children in the Adult Criminal Justice System," visit: https://www.utexas.edu/lbj/news/story/856/

Related:

LBJ Student Team Under Leadership of LBJ Professor Michele Deitch to Prepare Policy Report on Juvenile Sentencing Practices in Aftermath of U.S. Supreme Court Decision; Legislative Reform Sought – April 14, 2008

The Daily Texan - Law clinic studies briefs for Pittman case – February 5,  2008

Professor Michele Deitch Leads LBJ Student Team in Policy Work Surrounding Major Juvenile Justice Case – December 18, 2007

Law School Clinic Asks U.S. Supreme Court To Hear Major Juvenile Justice Case - December 18, 2009