During my testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on The Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights last month, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), chairman and majority whip, asked me if I am in favor of police on school campuses. To the dismay of some of my friends who stand by my side in this fight to dismantle the "school-to-prison pipeline," I answered a qualified yes. Police on campus, I explained, must be specially trained in adolescent development, crisis intervention and fostering positive relationships with students.
Two days later, a deranged shooter entered the campus of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. killing 20 children and six adults.
Now, the aftermath debate includes placing police on every campus. This issue is reserved for my friends in the other branches of government, but as a judge I am concerned. If police are placed on campus without written protocols defining their role, the results will be disastrous -- just as removing existing police from campus can have unintended consequences.
These friends are adamant that the "simple" solution to dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline is the removal of police from campus. This "simple" solution assumes that police are the cancerous cause of the significant spike in the number of low-level offenses.
At first blush my friends seem to have a valid point—the greater the police presence, the greater the risk for arrest. This greater risk does not bode well for most kids because they are wired to do stupid things. Kids are under neurological construction and require the time for maturation.
This logic assumes that it's the police who have interest in arresting students for school fights, disorderly conduct, and disrupting public school. I have visited, along with my technical assistance team supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI), many localities from California to Massachusetts to Florida and as far north as Montana and North Dakota, and can positively state that the vast majority of campus police are frustrated with their role. They desire a mission statement with clear objectives, the first being that they are not disciplinarians to be used and abused by school administrators.
I have many police testimonies but will share a recent visit to Broward County, Fla. that is typical of my encounters with school police across the nation. The presiding juvenile judge in Broward County, Judge Elijah Williams, read my articles on school-justice partnerships and developed a stakeholders’ group to develop an agreement to reduce low risk school arrests.
Juvenile court judges are integral players in bringing stakeholders together to develop innovative strategies that can benefit children and the community. This convening power of the judge has proven a key factor in the success of replicating protocols similar to my court, now referred to as the "Positive Student Engagement Model for School Policing."
Broward County was no exception. Judge Williams invited me and Clayton County Police Lieutenant Francisco Romero to Ft. Lauderdale in September 2012 to present the model to the stakeholders. Lt. Romero, a veteran school resource officer, helped me implement our model in 2004. His experiences bring examples of positive student engagement, how developing a relationship with students opens the door of communication and, in turn, sharing of information that prevents weapons and drugs from entering the campus -- not to mention solving crimes in the community, including murder. (What kids hear over the weekend they bring to school on Monday!) Gathering police intelligence requires a positive relationship with students.
During the presentation, the audience of law enforcement displayed the typical stoic demeanor -- no expression. They are difficult to read and if I were a poker player I would refrain from playing with my law enforcement friends. When we concluded, Judge Williams took the podium and asked this question: "By a show of hands, how many would agree to a protocol that prohibits you from arresting a student for any non-violent misdemeanor offense, including possession, not sale.”
They all raised their hands!
The stoic looks were replaced by animated hand gestures with frustrated facial expressions. They spewed opposition to the disciplinarian role school administrators demand. A role oftentimes expected of police by virtue of their presence on campus. A role that has led to SRO's referred to as "Sorry Road Officers" or "Kiddie Cops."
These derogatory descriptions are false for the many trained school resource officers who have chosen to work with adolescents. I refer you to Mo Cannady, director of the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO). School policing is a specialized field of police work, no different than SWAT, narcotics, DUI Task Force and other areas requiring specialized training.
Any system that relegates a trained and certified peace officer to the role of student disciplinarian is exercising very poor administrative judgment. The disciplinarian role does not require someone with peace officer certification carrying handcuffs and a firearm. That would make them overqualified for the job. A misuse of police officers on campus will not protect the campus from another massacre. It will likely take the officer off the campus due to the high incident of misdemeanor arrests and allow for many to die in the wake of a deranged gunman's wave of bullets.
God forbid there is another shooting and the media asks this one question: "Where was your SRO when the shooting began?" The answer: "At juvenile court booking a kid for a schoolyard fight."
It's not good enough if the SRO calls a road officer from the street to transport the student--it now cuts down the response time for a robbery, burglary, or serious assault in progress.
Major Miguel A. Martinez of the Hallandale Beach Police Department in Broward County, Fla. summed it up: “If the only tool is a cop – than every problem is a crime.”
SRO's were removed from the middle schools in my county to cut costs after the economic downturn. The arrest of middle school students drastically increased. Administrators simply called 911 and got a road officer, untrained in adolescent development.
Be careful what you ask for. You just might get it.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Twenty-year-old Edward Ward, a sophomore on the honor roll at DePaul University, tried to describe to U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.), the only senators left in the room by the time he spoke on Capitol Hill Wednesday, what it was like to grow up in his neighborhood on the west side of Chicago.
“When I was 18, I witnessed a complete stranger's killing mere feet from me in a neighborhood restaurant," Ward said before the Senate subcommittee. "I was stopped by the police a few years ago. I saw them train their guns on me until I could show them the item in my hand was only a cell phone.”
Things didn’t get much better at high school, Ward said. “My school environment was very tense. The halls were full of security officers whose sole purpose seemed to serve detention. I felt constantly on alert – afraid to make the smallest mistake. I felt I couldn't go to them for general security issues because first I would be interrogated.”
More than 400 people crammed into hearing rooms in two separate U.S. Senate office buildings to hear lawmakers, educators, federal and court officials, and Ward testify about how punitive disciplinary measures at schools were funneling children into the criminal justice system, often for minor offenses like truancy or dress code violations, and at much higher rates if they were minorities.
This was the first-ever Congressional hearing on the subject, according to Dignity in Schools, a coalition of parents, educators and students advocating for the end of zero-tolerance policies in schools. Ward, who also works as a community organizer, is a member of the coalition.
Although many of his classmates wanted to succeed academically, they were hobbled by financial struggles at home and the responsibility of caring for siblings, Ward said. A classmate was suspended for being late to school, he said, even though she was tardy because she couldn’t leave her little brother alone at home until her parents returned from work.
There were lots of instances where his classmates were suspended or expelled for minor offenses that should have merited “a stern warning or a reminder,” Ward said. When they were suspended, they often disappeared for days -- weeks if they were kicked out of school, he said.
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Learn more about school discipline reform trends at the Juvenile Justice Resource Hub HERE.
“We have a discipline crisis in this country that must be ended,” said Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the civil rights group The Advancement Projectand another witness at the hearing.
“Police are arresting youth for things like talking back. That’s now ‘disorderly conduct.’ Writing on desks is now vandalism.”
At the same time, racial disproportionality in school discipline can be such that, within the same school district, a five-year-old African-American girl who set off a fire alarm was suspended for five days, while a white ninth-grader who committed the same offense was suspended for just one day, testified Deborah Delisle, the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education at the U.S. Department of Education.
Held by the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, the hearing drew so much public interest that it was shifted to a 260-seat room, the largest available, in the Hart Senate building.
Other witnesses at the hearing included U.S. Reps. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Danny Davis (D-Ill.); Melodee Hanes, the acting administrator of the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; Mike DeWine, the attorney general for Ohio; and Judge Steven Teske, chief judge at the Clayton County juvenile court in Georgia. (Judge Teske is a frequent op-ed contributor to the JJIE.)
By the time the hearing was to start, the first room was full. A mass of young people, many wearing Dignity in Schools t-shirts, was still lined up in the hallway outside, waiting to get in. Capitol Hill staffers soon escorted them three floors up in an adjacent building to a 150-seat “overflow room” equipped with a live video feed.
But that room soon ran out of seats too.
OJJDP’s Hanes told the senators that millions of children were suspended or expelled every year for minor infractions like truancy, classroom disruption or dress code violations. Fifteen percent were suspended 11 or more times, she said, and those were the kids who were more likely minorities and who were likely to end up in the juvenile justice system.
“We have learned that the minute a child sets foot in the juvenile justice system, their chances of becoming an adult offender go up 50 percent,” Hanes said. “As soon as they enter the juvenile justice system, their chances of completing their education, of getting a job, their chances of life, diminish significantly.”
The costs to taxpayers are significant as well, Hanes pointed out: It cost $10,000 a year to educate a child, and $87,000 a year to lock a child up.
“Research has clearly indicated that children exposed to violence in the home or in school or in the community, those children suffer trauma. The evidence is conclusive that those children don’t do as well,” Hanes said.
Ward said his classmates' experience bore that out. “A lot of youth from where I come from, they face huge struggles, huge difficulties,” Ward said. “We have to take into account the situations students face outside school to understand their actions when they’re in school.”
Any discussions of solutions had to include young people themselves, several witnesses said. “We can’t arrest our way out of this issue,” Dianis of the Advancement Project said. “Young people have to be part of this conversation.”
Solutions included developing greater consensus among experts about best practices, greater collaboration on research and data between federal agencies and better guidance for school districts and states on practices that maintain students’ rights. Other solutions proposed were greater public education on the necessity for appropriate responses to delinquent behavior, more training for police officers in crisis intervention and greater awareness on the part of the public and law enforcement on how to handle those from diverse social, medical and economic backgrounds.
“We’re basically using our criminal justice system as a substitute for a public health system and an education system,” Franken said during the hearing. “This is a bipartisan issue. There is no question about that.”
Senate hearing photos courtesy of U.S. Senator Dick Durbin. Photo by Kaukab Jhumra Smith.
The federal Department of Justice (DOJ) is suing the Mississippi county, city and judges who they say systematically ignore youthful defendants’ rights, resulting in a well-beaten path from school to incarceration.
“The department is bringing this lawsuit to ensure that all children are treated fairly and receive the fullest protection of the law,” said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the DOJ Civil Rights Division, in a written statement on Oct. 24.
The suit is being brought against the city of Meridian, Lauderdale County, the two judges of the county Youth Court and the state of Mississippi.“It is in all of our best interests to ensure that children are not incarcerated for alleged minor infractions, and that police and courts meet their obligations to uphold children’s constitutional rights,” he wrote.
The DOJ published preliminary accusations against the now-defendants some 10 weeks ago, threatening a lawsuit if the Mississippians did not cooperate.
Meridian and Lauderdale’s attorneys countered that the DOJ investigation was cursory, and that the DOJ had asked for confidential records that the Mississippi judges could not legally provide.
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Learn more about school discipline reform trends at the Juvenile Justice Resource Hub HERE.
“It is disappointing that the local and state government agencies involved in the administration of juvenile justice in Lauderdale County have not worked cooperatively with the Justice Department to resolve these violations,” said Gregory Davis, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi, in the same Oct. 24 written statement.
The department is holding a conference call about the suit on Oct. 25 to give more details about the investigation and complaint.
A similar set of complaints has been brought by the DOJ against the youth court in Memphis and Shelby County, Tennessee. In that case, the courts have agreed to make changes and are negotiating with the federal government on better practices, thereby evading a lawsuit.
In 1991, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette published an article on the state’s juvenile justice system bearing the ominous headline “Stacked in centers, youths in trouble fall through the cracks.” The story also featured comments from a consultant, who said – two years prior – “too many youths who could better be served in community-based treatment were being inappropriately and unnecessarily held in state confinement.”
Over the next seven years, matters only worsened for the state’s juvenile justice system. In 1998, The Democrat-Gazette published a five-part series entitled “Juvenile Justice: The War Within” detailing the failings of the state’s juvenile incarceration sites. Three years after the series was published, two juveniles at the Alexander Youth Services Center – the state’s largest juvenile incarceration facility – committed suicide within a span of six months. A year later, the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice conducted an investigation of the facility, determining that the conditions at Alexander were so substandard that the constitutional rights of detained youth were being violated.
By 2007, state officials decided it was time to completely overhaul Arkansas’ juvenile justice system, culminating with the enactment of state Senate Resolution 31, which authorized a comprehensive study with the intent of reducing “reliance on large juvenile correctional facilities” within the state.
Five years later, however, Arkansas has seen a drastic reduction in juvenile commitment rates – as well as average time of incarceration for youths – after the implementation of several reform policies, which emphasize community based treatment alternatives to residential lockup. According to several analysts and activists, Arkansas’ system overhaul could be the wave of the future in dealing with juvenile justice matters, especially considering the limited budgetary resources for many states.
Earlier this year, a report entitled Arkansas Youth Justice: The Architecture of Reform was released, analyzing the state’s successes in implementing sweeping juvenile justice reform measures. The report -- co–authored by Pat Arthur, a former senior attorney at the National Center for Youth Law, and Christopher Hartney, a senior researcher at the National Council on Crime and Delinquency – notes that since a series of reform plans were introduced in 2008, a number of Arkansas’ longstanding juvenile justice ailments have considerably lessened.
According to the new report, commitments to state custody in Arkansas have decreased almost 20 percent over the last four years, with the average length of stay for juveniles in residential treatment programs declining from 216 days in 2008 to an average of just 175 in 2011 – a reduction of almost 19 percent. Additionally, the report finds that the number of beds at the Arkansas Juvenile Assessment and Treatment Center – which was formerly called the Alexander Youth Services Center – has decreased by 30 percent, currently housing 100 beds as opposed to 143 four years ago.
Perhaps most noteworthy, however, is the drastic decrease in the state’s rate of “dual jurisdiction” commitments to detainment facilities. In 2009, the report finds that approximately 60 juveniles who were also wards of the state were incarcerated in detention centers – a rate that dropped by almost 75 percent in 2011, with only 16 documented “dual jurisdiction” detainees within the state. The report also says that recommitments have dropped considerably since 2006, with the rate of recidivism plummeting by 27.8 percent by 2009. An additional 15 percent drop was noted in the report, covering a time span of 2009 to 2011.
Isami Arifuku, a senior researcher at the National Council on Crime & Delinquency, helped conceptualize the project, as well as examine the report’s preliminary data.
“I think one of the most impressive things is the fact that Arkansas decided that this was something they wanted to address and they developed a plan for doing it,” she said. “I think one of the biggest things that happened were things like the determination -- the setting of the goals -- to decrease reliance on commitments in the sentencing of young juveniles.”
In 2008, Arkansas’ Director of the Division of Youth Services Ron Angel led the drafting of a new reform policy program that aimed to increase the use of community-based support programs for juveniles, while simultaneously decreasing the number of youth in state lockup. The Arkansas Division of Youth Services Comprehensive Reform Plan 2009–2014 was completed and approved in the summer of 2009, with financial backing from organizations such as the JEHT Foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies and the Public Welfare Foundation.
“There had been problems at Alexander with the contractor that was running that operation,” Angel said. “There had been allegations of neglect, allegations of kids being given too much medication and there was a general concern about the quality and conditions of confinement.”
Angel said that upon becoming director of the state’s Department of Youth Services, he began consultations with members of various juvenile justice reform groups, including the National Center for Youth Law. At the time, he said that the Division of Youth Services had “no policies” in place.
“I basically opened the door for advocate groups, and let them take a look and give me advice on how we might make changes that would be better for the youth that we had in our facilities,” he said.
Angel said that one of the first major challenges he faced as the state’s DYS director was convincing people that the number of incarcerations at the Arkansas Juvenile Assessment and Treatment Center were actually decreasing. Furthermore, a temporary backlog resulted in an increase in juvenile detention center placements as reform measures began.
“I think the system wasn’t used to being efficient in finding placement, in finding treatment and getting the kids moved into more appropriate treatment,” Angel said. “As I told the DHS director, if we don’t do it, and we don’t do it wisely, then we can run into problems.”
The number of beds at the Arkansas Juvenile Assessment and Treatment Center soon dropped from 133 to 120, a vital first step according to Angel. “I felt like it was overcrowded, which fosters an unsafe atmosphere,” he said. “We are currently at 100, and I am in the process of reducing that facility another 30 beds and bringing it down to 70.”
A May 2008 report, entitled Juvenile Justice Reform in Arkansas: Building a Better Future for Youth, Their Families, and the Community served as the framework for many of the state’s infrastructural changes.
In addition to noting several problematic areas of the state’s juvenile justice system – among them, system fragmentation, inadequate risk and needs assessments and a lack of community-based resources – the report also outlined a communication strategy that would prove pivotal to the program’s success.
“I think there’s been a tremendous change in the state of Arkansas,” Angel said. “I went around and started visiting with the juvenile judges of the state to determine what they perceived to be their needs to provide services to youth rather than commitment.”
Angel said he feels as if there’s been a “general understanding and acceptance” of the role neurological development plays in the behavior of youth, which has influenced how many judges and citizens think about juvenile justice issues in the state.
“The best way to treat youth, any of the youth, is to keep them close to home,” he said. I think all the studies have proven this. I think that many of our youth can become institutionalized if we depend on residential placement for treatment.”
The state of Arkansas has seen a reduction in commitments for the last four years, Angel said, resulting in additional funding for community treatment services from Gov. Mike Bebee.
“We were able to take money out of our residential budget and put it into community-based budgets,” he noted. “I think in the next four years, as long as we show that we can reduce our dependence on residential, we can continually reduce the number of kids in our programs and we can focus on those cases that need in-depth treatment.”
Arifuku praised the state for its reform programs, which she said reduced “the actual time that youth served from the time they are placed in commitment to actual release” while promoting administrative polices that do not lead to an increased public safety risk.
“A lot of the data is similar to what’s happening across the country, which is the number of commitments are going down,” she commented. “Overall it’s down in many jurisdictions. The ups and downs in terms of arrests and the number of commitments which result are [on] much more of a steady downward trend.”
According to Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention statistics, Arkansas placed 729 juveniles in residential placement in 2010 – a decrease of more than 10 percent from state data from five years prior. That same year, 29 states placed higher numbers of juveniles in state facilities and detention centers.
Angel said that the results of the state’s reform policies were apparent.
“We’re down 19.6 percent in kids committed to the Division of Youth Services,” he concluded.
“If you put money into community services and reduce dependency on residential service, it’s going to save the taxpayers’ dollars, it’s going to be better for the kids and I think it’s just a better way of doing business.”
Newly collected data from the Department of Education shows that minority students are disproportionately subject to harsher disciplinary actions in public schools than their peers and offers insight into opportunity gaps for public school students around the country.
More than 70 percent of students involved in school arrests or law enforcement referrals were black or Hispanic, according to the report. Black students were three and half times more likely to be suspended or expelled than white peers, the New York Times reported.
The Civil Rights Data Collection’s 2009-10 gathered statistics from 72,000 schools, serving about 85 percent of the nation’s students from kindergarten through high school.
While the disciplinary data is probably the most dramatic, the statistics illustrated a range of racial and ethnic disparities. Finding included:
- Black students made up only 18 percent of those enrolled in the schools sampled, however, they accounted for 35 percent of those suspended once, 46 percent of those suspended more than once and 39 percent of all expulsions, according to the Civil Rights Data Collection’s 2009-10 statistics.
- Over 70 percent of the students involved in school-related arrests or referred to law enforcement were Hispanic or black.
- Black students were three and a half times as likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers.
- In districts that reported expulsions under zero-tolerance policies, Hispanic and black students represent 45 percent of the student body, but 56 percent of those expelled under such policies.
“For the first time we have an incredible new source of data that tells us where opportunity gaps are in ways we’ve never seen before as a country,” Russlynn Ali, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education, said in a telephone briefing with reporters on Monday. “In recent years we have more data than ever before on identifying the achievement gap and where it exists.”
The department has gathered information on civil rights and education since 1968, yet the Bush administration suspended the project in 2006. Since then, the data collection has been reinstated and expanded to include referrals to law enforcement, The New York Times reported.
The Civil Rights Data Collection is being released in two parts. This afternoon Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, along with Aliwill will announce the results at Howard University. Afterward, data will be publicly available at ocrdata.ed.gov.
Check back for expanded coverage and updates.
On a day of celebration and remembrance, young visitors to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center in Atlanta told the JJIE what the man and his work from four decades ago mean to them and the world today. We asked: "Why do you think the work of Martin Luther King is important to us today?" These are their responses.
Photographs by Jenni Girtman.
FBI Probing Possible Civil Rights Violation of Teen:
New Comcast 'On Demand' Show Seeks To Find Missing Children:
Juvenile Justice Journeys (series launching Monday, April 18):
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Ryan Schill, JJIE Reporter
Clay Duda, Social Media Strategist
The Anniston Star is reporting that a federal civil rights lawsuit has been filed against a Calhoun County, Ala., Sheriff who is accused of running a program that put juveniles into close contact with hardened criminals in a manner that is similar to the "scared straight" programs.
The Star quotes experts as saying the way Sheriff Larry Amerson operated the program runs contrary to federal and state law.
The suit was brought by the father of a juvenile identified as J.B. It alleges that at one point during a recent visit by J.B., a deputy and an inmate verbally and physically abused him, pushing him and hurling racial slurs at him. The suit says that Amerson later came to speak to the boy. The Star obtained a copy of a video of part of that conversation, showing Amerson "grabbing and holding down a boy dressed in an orange-striped inmate jumpsuit. The boy, whom the suit identifies as J.B., is shackled and has his hands cuffed behind his back during the incident," wrote The Star's Cameron Steele.
The FBI is probing potential civil rights violations related to a video that shows Calhoun County, Ala., Sheriff Larry Amerson using manual force against a juvenile male.
The FBI has launched a preliminary investigation to “gather facts” about whether Amerson’s actions, which were recorded by a surveillance camera, were a violation of the boy’s civil rights, an FBI spokesman told The Star Friday.
The spokesman, Paul Daymond, said the FBI cannot disclose when the investigation began or what sparked it.
“In general, what triggers a civil rights investigation, that could be a newspaper article, that could be a victim coming forward, it could be a number of things,” Daymond said.
The video was first published by The Anniston Star after a source requesting anonymity gave it to the newspaper Wednesday. It shows the sheriff using physical force against a juvenile who is handcuffed and shackled in a room at the Calhoun County Jail.
With Congress in deficit reduction mode, large crime fighting grants that Georgia depends on could be on the chopping block. The National Criminal Justice Association is following the proposals, and one plan with dramatic implications comes from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C. This prominent group recommends eliminating “all Justice Department grants except those from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Institute of Justice, thereby empowering states to finance their own justice programs” for an annual savings of $7.3 billion.”
If the Bureau of Justice Assistance is eliminated, for example, Georgia could lose close to $14 million in federal grants annually, including $4.7 million that goes directly to police and sheriff departments across the state. And that's just one program in jeopardy
Here’s a list of some of the other nationside safety, youth development and education programs the Heritage Foundation wants to cut. The list and the language is from Heritage.org:
- $298million Eliminate state grants for Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities.
- $7.3 billion Eliminate all Justice Department grants except those from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Institute of Justice, thereby empowering states to finance their own justice programs.
- $30 million Eliminate the duplicative Office of National Drug Control Policy.
- $26 million Reduce funding for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division by 20 percent because of its policy against race-neutral enforcement of the law.
- $4 million Eliminate the State Justice Institute.
- $4.3 billion Eliminate failed federal job training programs.
- $2 billion Eliminate the ineffective Job Corps.
- $86 million Eliminate National Science Foundation spending on elementary and secondary education.
- $2.3 billion Eliminate Federal Communications Commission funding for school Internet service.