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L.A. School Police, District Agree to Rethink Court Citations of Students

This story originally appeared on iWatchnews.org by the Center for Public Integrity.

In the wake of critical news reports, Los Angeles school police and administrators have agreed to rethink enforcement tactics that have led to thousands of court citations yearly for young students in low-income, mostly minority neighborhoods.

The Center for Public Integrity and the Los Angeles-based Labor-Community Strategy Center each performed their own analysis recently of previously unreleased citation records obtained from the Los Angeles Unified School District Police Department, the nation’s largest school police force. The Center found that between 2009 and the end of 2011, Los Angeles school police officers issued more than 33,500 tickets to students 18 and younger, with more than 40 percent handed out to kids 14 and 10 years old. That was an average of about 30 tickets a day. A large portion of the tickets for younger children were for disturbing the peace, which can include a physical fight or using threatening or disruptive language.

Some parents and concerned juvenile-justice judges have questioned whether it’s appropriate for such minor indiscretions to be handled by police, rather than school authorities.

Arguing that heavy police ticketing of children is counterproductive, Manuel Criollo of the Labor Community Strategy Center said his group has met twice with L.A. Unified School Police Chief Steven Zipperman and Michelle King, a deputy district superintendent. A third meeting is expected to take place this month.

Criollo said Zipperman was surprised at revelations that children as young as 7 and 8 have been given court summonses, many of which include monetary penalties. Police and administrators agreed to discuss alternatives to ticketing for tardiness, disturbing the peace and “possession” offenses, which can include possession of cigarettes, lighters or magic markers that could be used for graffiti, Criollo said.

A spokesperson for L.A. Unified said in a statement that “LASPD is committed to reviewing the data and analyzing incident types in which alternative strategies can be feasibly developed, especially in areas such as truancy.”

During the week of June 18, the spokesperson also said, Los Angeles school police, “collaborating with other district offices and divisions, will begin to develop a timeline for working on identifying alternative strategies . . . Considering we are the largest school district in the state and second largest in the country, developing this timeline will take time and diligence. “

The Center’s analysis also showed that citations to middle-school students were highly concentrated in Los Angeles’ most heavily Latino and African-American neighborhoods. Los Angeles public radio station KPCC created a mapand also produced a report on the citations in collaboration with the Center.

In response to revelations about the volume of citations, district officials and police had previously maintained that court appearances would help students learn that fighting and other unlawful behavior would not be tolerated as adults.

“I’m not hearing them saying that now,” Criollo said.

A growing number of educational experts contend that introducing students to the criminal-justice system for low-level offenses actually pushes many away from school and increases the possibility of their dropping out. The areas where student ticketing is heaviest corresponds to neighborhoods where Los Angeles’ dropout rates have been highest. Criollo and others who want reforms suggested that a heavier police presence in lower-income neighborhoods leads to unequal police involvement in school life.

After an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, the Los Angeles district agreed last year to take steps to reduce the district’s relatively high suspension rates of African-American students. As part of its review of Los Angeles’ ongoing reforms in discipline policy, the civil rights office is also reviewing the district’s history of court citations.

Criollo said it’s hard to tell from records released so far how many tickets originate with school administrators deciding to involve police in a school matter and how many are the result of officers’ own decisions to issue citations.

Photo by Office of the Mayor of Los Angeles

Children’s Right to Attorney Not Universal, Washington State High Court Rules

A Washington state Supreme Court ruling Thursday upheld a state law allowing trial judges to appoint attorneys to foster children in cases where a court is considering removal from their family. However, the law does not require children to have an attorney, and the justices ruled 9-0 that the right to an attorney is not universal, according to The Seattle Times.

While children have a right to due process, trial judges “have the discretion to decide whether to appoint counsel to children who are subject of dependency or termination proceedings,” the justices wrote in their ruling.

"It is the child, not the parent,” the ruling continued, “who may face the daunting challenge of having his or her person put in the custody of the State as a foster child, powerless and voiceless, to be forced to move from one foster home to another.”

Children’s rights advocates were disappointed in the ruling, The Times reports, arguing the ruling departs from other decisions that have upheld children’s universal right to counsel.

Still, the ruling notes children would be denied attorneys only in rare cases.

Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Hornberger Advice: Juvenile Offenders Need Alternatives to Prisons

HornbergNancy Gannon Hornberger, executive director of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ), says research shows that it is important to "keep the kids out of heavy duty lockup as much as possible." In this video interview conducted by Leonard Witt, she says "Reclaim Ohio" is a project that saves money and has better outcomes than the bars and chains approach.

See subheads and time split guide below the video.



Time splits to help guide you through the video:

  • Introduction 00:00
  • Conference theme: Developing sentencing alternatives to harsh punishment 00:30
  • Research shows that normal settings for sentences work best 01:20
  • Settings built on relationships is better than bars and chains 02:10
  • Reclaim Ohio is best practice example; cuts lockups and saves money 3:04
  • Grant Offers Juvenile Court Drug Training Program

    The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, The U.S. Department of Justice, and the Office of Justice Programs offers the 2011 Best Practices for Juvenile Courts Training Grant. The objective is for  juvenile drug courts to better serve kids who are involved in substance abuse, co-occurring substance abuse, and mental health trauma. This will be accomplished by using the Sixteen Strategies of Effective Juvenile Drug Courts as a framework to help build competency, performance and the capacity of the juvenile drug courts nationwide.  The Deadline for this is June 6, 2011 @ 11: 59 EST.


    Grants to Improve State Courts

    Grants that improve the administration of state courts are offered in the State Justice Institute (SJI) Grants. SJI was established in 1984 to improve the quality of justice in state courts and to help improve the coordination between state and federal courts. The goal of this grant is to come up with innovative and efficient solutions to common issues that all courts face. SJI offers grants for projects, technical assistance, and curriculum adaption, partner, strategic innitiatives and training grants. The Deadline for all of these grants is May 1, 2011.

     

    Can You Sue a 4 year old? Yes, You Can.

    The New York Supreme court has redefined the legal age of accountability. This comes from an October 1, 2010 ruling from Justice Paul Wooten who determined that it is possible for a 4 year old to be negligent. As a result, there is a negligence suit against a 4 year old child. The details are laid out in the New York Times,

    Two years ago Juliet Breitman and Jacob Kohn, both four at the time, were racing their bicycles on a sidewalk. The bicycles had training wheels. Juliet ran into an 87 year-old woman, resulting in a hip fracture that required surgery. Three weeks later, the woman died. The woman’s family then sued both children and their mothers.

    Juliet’s lawyer, James P. Tyrie argued that Juliet should not be sued. He based his arguments on the fact that her mother was supervising the little girl, and he cited a 1928 court case as precedent.  The court case states that kids under the age of four are considered unable to commit the act of negligence.

    Justice Wooten disagreed. He found the fact that Juliet was being supervised irrelevant, citing the word too vague to hold any meaning.  He also stated that it didn’t matter that the mother was present because Juliet knew the difference between right and wrong. It would have been different if her mother had encouraged her. The 1928 precedent was also thrown out because Juliet was three months shy of turning five at the time of the accident. Justice Wooten pointed out that there is no “bright line rule” for children over the age of four.

    Most Juvenile Cases Involve Younger Teens

    There were 1,666,100 delinquency cases processed across the nation in 2007.  54% involved children younger than 16.   27% involved girls, and 64% involved white youngsters.   For a wealth of data check out  The National Juvenile Court Data Archive and its annual report on  Juvenile Court Statistics 2006-2007

    Juvenile Justice and Adolescent Treatment – More Resources for Your Toolbox

    Here's several useful tools and resources on best practices in juvenile justice, mental health, substance abuse treatment, and juvenile brain research:

    • A brief but useful overview of best practices in juvenile justice from The Future of Children, covering model programs in prevention, community-based interventions, and institutional settings. Aimed at state-wide reform. (This link courtesy of Youth Today.)
    • We can do better at identifying and treating youth in the justice system with mental health issues, according to this blueprint for change compiled by the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice. Reclaiming Futures sites will closely identify with the blueprint's "Cornerstones": Collaboration, Identification, Diversion, and Treatment. Check out the model's principles, too - they're great.
    • Still wondering how to implement Balanced and Restorative Justice? Fear not. The Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (ICJIA) compiled separate guides to implementation for defense attorneys, prosecutors, judges, detention staff, probation officers, law enforcement, and juvenile corrections officers. (Just for grins, check out the ICJIA's 32-foot-tall balloon of McGruff the Crime Dog.)
    • The creators of Motivational Interviewing, William Miller and Stephen Rollnick, published an article in February 2009 on "10 Things That Motivational Interviewing Is Not." [I can only link to the abstract, I'm afraid, but the full text can be downloaded for a fee.]

    http://blog.reclaimingfutures.org/?q=juvenile_justice_resources