Nearly Half of U.S. States Enact Juvenile Justice Reforms

The gate to to nowhere - Juvenile Court on New...
The gate to to nowhere – Juvenile Court on Newton Street – gate handles (Photo credit: ell brown)

Nearly Half of U.S. States Enact Juvenile Justice Reforms.

Nearly Half of U.S. States Enact Juvenile Justice Reforms

From the Campaign for Youth Justice's State Trends Legislative Victories from 2011-2013 Removing Youth from the Adult Criminal Justice System report.

Campaign for Youth Justice

From the Campaign for Youth Justice’s State Trends Legislative Victories from 2011-2013 Removing Youth from the Adult Criminal Justice System report.

WASHINGTON – Nearly half of U.S. states have made great strides in the past eight years toward reducing the prosecution of juveniles in the adult criminal justice system or preventing youths from being placed in adult jails and prisons, a report released Thursday found.

The report, by the Washington-based Campaign for Youth Justice — a national advocacy group that seeks to end the practice of trying, sentencing and incarcerating youth under 18 in the adult criminal justice system –- reviewed reforms among states nationwide.

The report highlights reforms in 23 states that include limiting states’ authority to house young people in adult jails and prisons; raising the age for juvenile court jurisdiction to 18 so older teens are no longer automatically prosecuted as adults; revising laws so youths are more likely to stay in the juvenile justice system instead of being transferred to the adult system; and changing mandatory minimum sentencing laws.

Carmen Daugherty, policy director at CFYJ, pointed out that many of the reforms had been passed unanimously, reflecting the results of research on prosecuting juveniles in the adult criminal justice system or placing them in adult jails and prisons.

“We know that a lot of research and data have come out to show that past policies didn’t work to increase public safety or reduce juvenile crime,” Daugherty told

“Policymakers are really taking into account the research, that data that is now available, in really realizing that the past practices of treating youths as adults did not work.”

The report notes many states enacted harsh laws in the 1980s and 1990s aimed at cracking down on youth crime by making it easier for young people to be prosecuted in adult criminal courts.

Despite juvenile justice reforms, the report said, about 250,000 juveniles are tried in adult courts annually and nearly 100,000 youths are paced in adult jails and prisons each year. And half the states have undertaken no juvenile justice reforms, the report said.

Jessica Sandoval, CFYJ’s vice president and deputy director, said the public remains largely unaware that 95 percent of juveniles tried in adult courts nationwide are non-violent offenders.

“We don’t think the public is aware of it mostly because of the news that we see highlighting the most heinous crimes but not the kid who …  gets in a schoolyard fight and gets charged as an adult,” Sandoval told

Despite the lack of progress in many states, the CFYJ officials said they’re heartened by reforms that have taken place.

The officials point out research showing youths placed in the adult criminal justice system have a much higher rate of recidivism than those in the juvenile system and that youths are 36 times more likely to commit suicide in an adult jail than in a juvenile detention facility. And the U.S. Supreme Court has noted research showing young people’s brains are still developing and that they lack the maturity of adults.

Among the reforms highlighted in the report:

    • Eleven states – Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Maine, Nevada, Hawaii, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Texas, Oregon and Ohio – have enacted laws limiting states’ authority to house youths in adult jails and prisons.
    • Four states – Connecticut, Illinois, Mississippi and Massachusetts – have increased the age for juvenile court jurisdiction. This means older teens are no longer automatically tried in adult criminal courts.
    • Twelve states – Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Nevada, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Ohio, Maryland and Nevada – have revised laws on the transfer of youths to the adult criminal justice system, making it more likely young people will remain in the juvenile justice system.
    • Eight states – California, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Texas, Missouri, Ohio and Washington – have changed mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Among other things, the changes take into account the differences in brain development between youths and adults and allow for post-sentencing review for young people facing juvenile court sentences of life without parole.

“We are finding that states are moving away from prosecuting youths in the adult criminal justice system and from placing youths in adult jails and prisons,” Sandoval said. “We think that there’s work to do obviously. But we think this is a good direction we’re heading in.”

Tracy McClard lobbied hard for the reforms in Missouri. She did so in memory of her son, Jonathan McClard, who hanged himself in a Missouri prison in January 2008, three days after his 17th birthday — and after a month of being held in solitary confinement for placing his hands in his lap, violating prison rules, during a visit from his mother.

Jonathan was 16 when he was tried as an adult, charged with first-degree assault with a deadly weapon in the shooting of a youth who was dating Jonathan’s ex-girlfriend — and who he believed had threatened to harm her. The victim survived the shooting.

Juvenile justice officials who reviewed Jonathan’s case concluded he could be rehabilitated and recommended to a judge that he be placed in a juvenile facility offering education and rehabilitation programs under the state’s dual jurisdiction program. The program allows youths to receive a suspended adult sentence and be placed in a juvenile detention facility.

Among other things, “Jonathan’s Law,” named for the teen, requires judges to state in writing why they reject Division of Youth Services recommendations that a youth be placed in a juvenile facility under the dual jurisdiction program.

The law also raises the age that youths must be considered for dual jurisdiction from 17 to 17 years and six months. (In Missouri, 17-year-olds are tried as adults automatically.)

Jonathan’s mother founded Families and Friends Organized to Reform Juvenile Justice, which urged legislators to approve the law and continues to seek juvenile justice reform.

“The general public really does not know what we do to kids when they get arrested, and policymakers don’t know what we do to these kids,” McClard said.

Michele Deitch, a professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, said her research has shown many young people charged with crimes can be rehabilitated through education and treatment.

“So the more we can expose these youths to the rehabilitative-type programs in the juvenile system, the better the outcomes are going to be for the youths and, as a result, for the community,” Deitch told

“It improves public safety. It reduces the number of victims. It reduces the chance that these kids are going to ultimately be repeat criminals or end up in the adult system and a burden to society in that way.”

Other research by Deitch helped persuade lawmakers to enact a 2011 law enabling those youths under 17 tried as adults to be held in a juvenile facility rather than an adult jail while awaiting trial.

“It’s a very poor fit to put children in adult facilities where they are at physical risk and their mental health is at risk and where the programs and services that are offered are just completely inappropriate for this age group,” Deitch said. “Jails are not equipped to provide children with education or treatment or services.”

She noted youths housed with adults are at high risk of being sexually or physically assaulted and if they’re placed in solitary confinement away from adults, it causes psychological harm and increases their risk of suicide.


500th Execution …



HUNTSTSVILLE, Texas (AP) — Texas marked a solemn moment in criminal justice Wednesday evening, executing its 500th inmate since it resumed carrying out capital punishment in 1982.



Mysanantonio wrote (look at Related articles) 500th killer put to death by Texas.

Locked Up: The son of Michael Douglas offered a compelling critique of U.S. justice system

English: Bo Goldman (left) and Michael Douglas...
English: Bo Goldman (left) and Michael Douglas on the set of Milos Forman’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Locked Up On A 10-Year Drug Sentence, Cameron Douglas Writes An Op-Ed From Prison

The son of actor Michael Douglas spoke from behind bars to condemn the way our criminal justice system treats drug addicts like him.

June 14, 2013 |

Earlier this week, Cameron Douglas – who is serving a nine-and-a-half-year sentence for drug law violations – wrote a stinging op-ed that was published and picked up by hundreds of media sources. Douglas, son of actor Michael Douglas, offered a compelling critique of the U.S. justice system and the way it harshly punishes people who are struggling with drug addiction

The son of actor Michael Douglas spoke from behind bars to condemn the way our criminal justice system treats drug addicts like him. …

Mental Illness Soars In Prisons, Jails While Inmates Suffer

Rethink Mental Illness
Rethink Mental Illness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

trauerkerze  Rest in Peace, Tony Lester!

Mental Illness Soars In Prisons, Jails While Inmates Suffer

Posted: 02/04/2013 12:58 pm EST  |  Updated: 02/04/2013  3:33 pm EST

Mentally Ill Inmates

Tony Lester committed suicide while incarcerated.

Armando Cruz tied a noose around his neck and hanged himself from the ceiling of his prison cell. He left a note that ended in two chilling words.

“Remember me.”

His mother Yolanda, who was shown the note after her son’s death, wants to make sure no one forgets.

“They took away my only son,” she says, her voice breaking.

Cruz killed himself on Sept. 20, 2011, during his incarceration at California State Prison in Sacramento, after a long history of mental illness. His story, first reported by the blog Solitary Watch, is an example of how the criminal justice system is ill-equipped to handle people with mental health issues.

Cruz spent years in solitary confinement and died while locked in a tiny solitary cell. The rates of suicide in solitary confinement tend to be higher than in the general prison population.

Suicide is the number one cause of death among inmates in local jails and in the top five for state prisons, according to a federal report.

Yolanda Cruz describes her son as a warm, funny person who was an easy child to raise. When he became a teenager, he began to change. He started to experiment with drugs and alcohol. Then, he was arrested for stealing tools from his neighbor’s garage.

When he was 15, he admitted that he heard voices in his head. Psychiatrists first diagnosed him with psychosis. Later, he would be diagnosed with schizophrenia.

A 2006 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that over half of all jail and prison inmates have mental health issues; an estimated 1.25 million suffered from mental illness, over four times the number in 1998. Research suggests that people with mental illness are overrepresented in the criminal justice system by rates of two to four times the normal population. The severity of these illnesses vary, but advocates say that one factor remains steady: with proper treatment, many of these incarcerations could have been avoided.

“Most people [with mental illness] by far are incarcerated because of very minor crimes that are preventable,” says Bob Bernstein, the Executive Director of the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. “People are homeless for reasons that shouldn’t occur, people don’t have basic treatment for reasons that shouldn’t occur and they get into trouble because of crimes of survival.”

Bernstein blames these high rates on a lack of community mental health services. In the past three years, $4.35 billion in funding for mental health services has been cut from state budgets across the nation, according to a recent report. Because of the cuts, treatment centers have had to trim services and turn away patients.

State hospitals have also been forced to reduce services. A report by the Treatment Advocacy Center even found that there are more people with severe mental illness in prisons and jails than in hospitals.

Yolanda Cruz tried for years to get her son the right kind of care. But it wasn’t easy. She says that the first doctor she took him to refused to prescribe him any kind of medication, saying that he was only getting into trouble because he was using drugs and hanging out with the wrong kind of people. Other doctors would later prescribe him a host of medications but the one that eased his symptoms the most left him nearly catatonic.

In 2000, when Armando Cruz was 17, a local police officer was attacked with a knife from behind. His throat was cut but he survived. Cruz confessed to the crime and was arrested. To this day, his mother swears he was manipulated by the voices in his head or by the real perpetrator.

The courts didn’t see it that way. Cruz was convicted of the attempted murder of a police officer and sentenced to life in prison, with the possibility of parole after 8 years. Three years had passed between his arrest and his sentencing, most of which he spent in county jail.

Eric Balaban, an attorney with the ACLU’s National Prison Project, said that mentally ill people who have contact with the criminal justice system are too often incarcerated while awaiting trial, rather than sent to hospitals or treatment centers.

“There has been a very disturbing recent trend to keep them in jails and not send them to a hospital which is done as a money saving measure,” said Balaban. “They’re not receiving the appropriate level of care.”

Once people with mental illness are incarcerated, Bazleon’s Bernstein says, it becomes a tough cycle to break.

“Most people are there for minor crimes but then they deteriorate,” he explains. “They can’t follow the rules there and so they stay a long time, and they become difficult to release.”

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics report, most inmates with mental illness don’t receive treatment while in prison.

Patti Jones’ nephew Tony Lester was sent to state prison in Tucson, Ariz., for aggravated assault. Like Armando Cruz, Lester heard voices. He told his aunt that before he was incarcerated, he had only heard two voices. After he was admitted, there were seven.

Lester was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He was prescribed medication but didn’t always take it while in prison, Jones said. Lester was placed among the general prison population with little treatment available.

His symptoms grew worse.

“He started saying he thought his attorney was the Antichrist,” Jones says. “He thought Obama was an alien. He thought he was a time traveler.”

Jones says she begged the jail to force him to take his medication, but staff told her he was allowed to refuse treatment.

In June 2010, Lester stopped taking his medication completely. After he told a guard he was contemplating ending his life, he was placed on suicide watch. On July 9, he was deemed stable. On July 11, his roommate woke up to Lester’s blood dripping on him. He had stabbed himself vigorously in the neck, wrist and groin with a razor.

“Treating the mentally ill is different than acting with a normal population,” says Joe Baumann, a corrections officer at the California Rehabilitation Center. “The problem is there’s so many of them either self-medicating or not taking medication at all. No one monitors whether inmates take their medication.”

Corrections employees are not properly taught how to recognize and handle mental illness, he says.

“There’s a lack of any real training to identify specific issues and how to deal with them,” says Baumann, who says he only receives a few hours of mental illness training each year and it isn’t enough. “There’s a lack of direction from management.”

Corrections officers on staff at the time of Tony Lester’s death said that when they arrived at his cell, they weren’t sure what to do, according to a state investigation of the incident. One officer said that he “was never trained on how to apply pressure to a wound.” Lester bled to death while the officers struggled to deal with the situation.

Donn Rowe, president of the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association, says that mentally ill inmates place a huge strain on the corrections facilities and their employees.

“It’s very challenging on our members,” he says. “They need much more attention than your average inmate population. It’s a very expensive and very demanding job to manage these people.”

The expense is high, to be sure. The average inmate in New York costs the state over $60,000 per year, according to a report by the Vera Insitute of Justice. That figure doesn’t take into account the extra resources that mentally ill inmates require. Experts say that funding mental health services for these inmates would cost less than imprisoning them and could help prevent many incarcerations in the first place.

According to a Bazelon Center report, the annual cost of case management for mentally ill people in Michigan is $2,165 per person. A more intensive program, the popular Assertive Community Treatment, costs the state $9,029 per person per year. In contrast, the average Michigan inmate cost the state over $34,000 last year.

But mental health services are dramatically underused. Over half of inmates with mental health problems never received treatment prior to incarceration, according to a Department of Justice report.

“We’re paying criminal justice and other costs, we’re investing there and we really should be investing in the services that could prevent that whole trajectory to begin with,” says Bernstein.

Not all mentally ill inmates’ stories end like Lester’s or Cruz’s. But the figures are too high to ignore. In 2010, 520 inmates committed suicide in local jails and state prisons. To the loved ones and advocates of these inmates, their deaths were avoidable.

“When Tony was on his meds, he was our Tony,” says Jones. “If he’d had access to care, he would have lived.”


Another Life, Another Petition: Christy Phillips is claiming her Innocence, please help her!


with 978 supporters
9,022 NEEDED
Justice for Christy Clinton Phillips CDC# W-94100

Justice for Christy Phillips CDC# W-94100 Petition by

    1. Delvin Nix

   Christy Phillips CDC# W-94100 is unjustly convicted and currrently housed at Central California Women Facility.

Christy was convicted in 2002 of an elderly woman’s murder that occurred in 2000,based on a coerced confession, and despite the lack of physical or forensic evidence and expert testimony of Christy”s multiple mental disabiblities, her age and the outrageous police misconduct against Christy during her confinement in the Rialto Police station and interrogation.

Barely 15 years old Christy was taken by Rialto Police, held overnight against her will denied her constitutional right to remain silent and to have a parent present during her interrogation. The Rialto Police officers used intimidation and isolation as part of there tactic to manipulate and pressure Christy into making a confession to a crime she originally reported.

Due to Christy’s youth, mental disabilities the lack of experience with the criminal justice system, Christy was an easy victim of police manipulation. Christy’s trial judge Gus Skorpos admitted Rialto Police Department violated Christy’s rights under Welfare and Institution Codes 637(a). The Rialto Police Department also violated Christy’s rights under the fifth amendment right to remain silent.

Christy’s sentence of life in prison is a direct violation of international law under article 37(a) and (article 6) the right tolife,survival and development (article 3) and (article 25) (article 40(1) of CRC) UNITED NATIONS, convention on the rights of the child, Forty-Fourth Sessions, Geneva 15 January-2 February-2007. Christy did not receive adequate representation at her trial. During a motion to supress the illegally obtained confession expert testimony was given by a clinical and forensic pyschologist testified about false confessions for the defense, but was forbidden by Christy’s public defender to explain the extent of Christy’s mental illnesses and her history of abuse to the jury…the role they played in Christy’s coerced confession to Rialto Police.

A full understanding of Christy’s mental condition during her interrogation and confinement at the Rialto Police Department was crucial information that jury and judge needed to hear in order to make an informed decision, the trial judge erroneously determined that Christy fully understood her Miranda Rights, that the confession was legally obtained despite testimony from Christy herself that she did not understand what was happening. That she did not want to be interrogated and has asked for her mother all through the night while being confined in the “lounge area” at the Rialto Police Department.

There was NO JUSTICE for Christy! Despite this outrageous injustice, Ms. Phillips who is now 27 years old has been rehabilitating herself by participating in groups, classes and workshops such as: Alternatives to Violence Project, CCCMS mental health delivery system, Child Abuse, Juvenile Offender Committee, Vocational Training and Church activities. Christy has completed bible school, and helps elderly and the disabled in her housing unit. Christy also studies law currently and wishes to help children upon her release.

Root Of Evil Allow Ms. Phillips day in court to present the overwhelming evidence of her innocence A.G. Kamala D. Harris.

Thank you

Letters of support: Christy Phillips W-94100 C.C.W.F. P.O.BOX 1508 512-15-2up Chowchilla, Ca.93610. Listen to Christy’s interview   Christy’s defense fund at:

My Blog InCaseofInnocence

Justice for Christy Clinton Phillips CDC# W-94100

Christy Phillips Charged At 16 For A Crime She Did Not Commit
Christy Phillips is currently serving a life sentence for a murder she didn’t commit.
At the age of 15 Christy found herself charged and tried as a ADULT for a crime she initially reported. Christy’s conviction is based solely upon a coerced confession (NO PHYSICAL OR FORESIC EVIDENCE ties her to this horrific crime).Where, despite Christy barely being 15 years of age at the time of her arrest, Rialto Police Officers used (TERRORIST OPERANDI) training… involving isolation and intimidation tactics to manipulate and (ULTIMATELY) coerce Christy to confess to a crime she didn’t commit.
Christy’s youth, mental disabilities, and lack of experience with the criminal justice system made her an easy candidate for such manipulation. During Christy’s trial expert testimony confirmed Christy suffered from multiple mental disabilities at the time of her interrogation by Rialto Police.

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Texas Tribune: The Texas Tribune: Call for a New Execution Date Revives Race Debate

Some lines from this important article:

Death row inmate Duane Buck, Texas Department of Criminal Justice photo

Enlarge photo by: Texas Department of Criminal Justice
Death row inmate Duane Buck, Texas Department of Criminal Justice photo

Updated noon, Feb. 18: The Harris County district attorney’s office agreed Monday morning at a hearing in a state district court to give attorneys for death row inmate Duane Buck 30 days to file with an application, asking the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to review his sentencing trial. The application, said Kate Black, one of Buck’s attorneys, will include arguments that Buck was unfairly sentenced to death after testimony suggested that he was more likely to be dangerous because he is black. If the state’s highest criminal court rejects the application, the district attorney’s office will again move to set an execution date. …

Glenn Langohr: “If/when You believe in Redemption for Prisoners…”

English: Okinawa Prison Riot 日本語: 沖縄刑務所暴動
English: Okinawa Prison Riot 日本語: 沖縄刑務所暴動 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
If you believe in redemption for prisoners and If you are interested, please find the attached an interview about a prison riot I was in. It is the deepest look into prison life in California ever seen.  

For Glenn Langohr’s complete list of books in print, kindle and audio book in the UK
For Glenn Langohr’s complete list of books in the US
See a front page story in the O.C. Register on me~ I have 8 books in print, kindle and audio with over 200 Five star reviews and some well recognized sources.I also speak as a guest Lecturer at Criminal Justice classes about solitary confinement and prison conditions. Here’s one of my youtube videos Here’s my facebook page~
Thanks, God bless, 


Can Murder Be Tracked Like An Infectious Disease?

December 6, 2012

Morning Edition

[4 min 50 sec]
December 6, 2012

If I asked you to think of a murderer, what’s the image that springs to mind?

If you’re like most people, you’ll probably think of an evil psychopath, or someone bent on revenge. Perhaps you’ll see a criminal mastermind, who eliminates rivals on his way to riches. Or a strung-out drug addict, who kills because she needs money to get high.

All of these images have something in common: As a rule, we tend to associate murder with the behavior of individuals who behave in aberrational ways.

“We think of individuals who commit homicide as being unlike the rest of us,” said April Zeoli, a public health researcher at Michigan State University‘s School of Criminal Justice. “They are crazy, or substance users, or had a bad childhood. There is some reason specific to the individual that they are committing homicide.”

Zeoli recently decided to test that theory using the lens of public health research: When scientists study the outbreak of an infectious disease like AIDS or the flu, they don’t ask what it is about specific individuals that made them sick. They look for broader patterns, knowing that illness in any individual stems from a process of contagion.

Along with colleagues Jesenia M. Pizarro, Sue C. Grady and Christopher Melde, Zeoli asked whether homicide might follow the same principles of contagion.

“We looked at homicide as an infectious disease,” Zeoli said in an interview. “To spread, an infectious disease needs three things: a source of the infection; a mode of transmission; and we need a susceptible population.”

The researchers studied every homicide that occurred in the city of Newark, N.J., over a period of a quarter century, from January 1982 to September 2007. In all, Newark had seen 2,366 murders in that period, a rate of homicide some three times as high as that of the general U.S. population.

The researchers tracked down the time and location of every single murder. They plugged the data into a software program that has previously been used to track infectious diseases: When you put in the geographical location and the time of infection of each victim of the infectious disease, the program creates a model that shows how the epidemic is spreading — and where it might go next.

“We hypothesized that the distribution of this crime was not random, but that it moved in a process similar to an infectious disease, with firearms and gangs operating as the infectious agents,” the researchers wrote in a paper they published in the journal Justice Quarterly.

The analysis showed that homicide spread through Newark very much like an infectious disease. The value of tracking murder in this fashion, Zeoli said, was not just to let police know where murder was happening — police already track hot spots and direct resources to those areas — but to make predictions about where homicide might spread next, based on the path of the epidemic.

Zeoli said that the model could make specific predictions about how and where homicide would spread in the future — information that could prove very valuable to police and other city officials.

Studying homicide via a broad public health lens, Zeoli added, also allowed researchers to identify positive outliers: “We actually had some areas within Newark that were resistant to homicide, despite being surrounded by areas with high homicide rates. So we need to investigate why those little islands exist.”

To use the language of infectious disease research, Zeoli said, once researchers figure out what makes some neighborhoods “resistant” to homicide, despite having the same risk factors as areas with high homicide rates, policymakers could apply those insights to “inoculate” other areas in order to prevent homicide from spreading.

In my opinion NO, human behaviour is more directed by COPYING the behaviour of parents, teachers, peer-groups…there is a psychological but a socological aspect to see!

misss. county jails kids …


Children at N.Y. Zoo (LOC)
Children at N.Y. Zoo (LOC) (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)

In Meridian, Miss., it is school officials – not police – who determine who should be arrested. Schools seeking to discipline students call the police, and police policy is to arrest all children referred to the agency, according to a Department of Justice lawsuit. The result is a perverse system that funnels children as young as ten who merely misbehave in class into juvenile detention centers without basic constitutional procedures. The lawsuit, which follows unsuccessful attempts to negotiate with the county, challenges the constitutionality of punishing children “so arbitrarily and severely as to shock the conscience” and alleging that the city’s police department acts as a de facto “taxi service” in shuttling students from school to juvenile detention centers. Colorlines explains:

Once those children are in the juvenile justice system, they are denied basic constitutional rights. They are handcuffed and incarcerated for days without any hearing and subsequently warehoused without understanding their alleged probation violations.

Those Voters & the Death Penalty

GET UPDATES FROM Gabriel Daniel Solis

California‘s Death Penalty Vote: It’s Time to Reconsider “Justice”

Posted: 11/15/2012 6:14 pm
On Election Day, 52 percent of California voters cast ballots to keep the death penalty.

Such a small margin suggests that voters may be inching closer to abolishing capital punishment in the state. Advocates ran a well-coordinated, anti-death penalty campaign that offered compelling moral, legal and fiscal arguments that did not take hold of the electorate. So why did the majority vote to keep the death penalty?

Some commentators have noted that voters’ decision to keep the death penalty was based more on their conception of “justice” than these other arguments. They suggest that the vote indicates a belief that “justice” for a murder victim can be only achieved when the murderer’s life is taken away — an “eye for an eye.”

The notion that justice for a crime equals the most extreme punishment is a commonly held conviction in the United States. For example, when President Obama pledged that “justice will be done” in response to the recent attacks on the U.S. Mission in Libya, the automatic assumption was that he meant that those deemed responsible would be killed.

Unfortunately, public and media discussions of crime ignore the widespread and devastating effects of crime — including the actual crime and the punishment itself — on society beyond the victim and the perpetrator. Such a discourse cultivates a narrow conception of justice that ignores the societal reverberations and total human costs of policies like the death penalty and mass incarceration.

For example, in our country there are countless families broken with loved ones sitting in prison cells and on death row. Many of these prisoners have serious mental illnesses, which may have contributed to their crimes, yet continue to suffer without adequate treatment. Other prisoners continue to endure untreated psychological trauma, themselves victims of physical, emotional or sexual abuse.

The current criminal justice system does not recognize or take into account the stories of these individuals beyond the crime. As a result, their suffering becomes invisible.

A complete concept of justice should more fully consider and understand the suffering of all those affected by crime. Justice should not be narrow, but expansive. It should consider all the contributing factors and consequences of crime and violence. It should go beyond simple reactionary instincts to punish, but instead focus on shared humanity and shared suffering. Justice should never be satisfied with incomplete narratives about crime that lead to harsh punishment, but should instead always strive toward fairness, equality and inclusion.

Those seeking to reform the criminal justice system should work to educate the public about the stories of all those who suffer at the hands of the criminal justice system. The public, the media and lawmakers can then begin to understand the effects of the instinct to see justice as simply punishment. These stories will reshape the concept of justice.

The vote in California to keep the death penalty — and other unsuccessful efforts to reform the broken criminal justice system — provides an opportunity to reflect on how the country can reconsider its collective understanding of justice.

Gabriel Daniel Solis is a Research Associate in the Justice Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.