Jackson, Mississippi, Native Working to Change Culture of Suspension in Its Public Schools

Jackson Free Press

JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI — Juan Cloy remembers being suspended when he was at Provine High School in the 1980s. He and several friends got in a fight with some kids from the neighborhood at school. Everyone involved got suspended.

Of course, the idea of suspension is for kids to stay home, but none of the boys did. He and his friends went outside and walked around the corner to find the boys they got into a fight with in a car.

“One of the kids pulled a gun out on us,” he said. “… [T]here was no resolution. We never resolved that — ever. To this day it hasn’t been resolved, and this was in high school.”

Cloy, who worked as a law enforcement officer for more than 20 years at the Jackson and Canton police departments and the FBI, now is the Mississippi director of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a subsidiary of the Council for a Strong America. The organization signed a memorandum of understanding with Jackson Public Schools to work on discipline and the relationship between school resource officers and JPD.

Specifically, Cloy is working to help implement PBIS — positive behavioral intervention and supports — and restorative justice programs — like justice circles, which invite everyone to share their experiences and discuss situations openly instead of being suspended — throughout JPS.

Drawing on his suspension experience in high school, Cloy says the school’s discipline procedures and culture should help resolve conflicts — not just remove kids from school.

“People say they bring that stuff from the neighborhood to the school, and that’s true,” Cloy says. “But while they’re in our care in the schools, we should have some sort of system set up to help kind of diffuse that and figure out what’s going on.”

A culture problem

As a part of his work with Fight Crime, Cloy is focused on working with JPD to help the school district suspend and expel students less.

“Statistics show that a kid who is out of school for suspension or expulsion is more likely to end up in the back of a police car,” Cloy told the Jackson Free Press in an interview.

A new report from Fight Crime published this month shows that Mississippi has higher in-school and out-of-school suspension rates than the national average. Cloy focuses on Jackson Public Schools and the Biloxi School District in his work for Fight Crime.

JPS has a higher rate of out-of-school suspension than in-school suspension, indicating that administrators are using the latter less overall, opting to just send kids home instead.

Jackson, the second-largest district in the state, did not have the worst rate of suspension by a long shot, however. Philadelphia, Mississippi, schools have the highest out-of-school suspension rate in the state, the Fight Crime report shows.

JPS administrators have worked to use suspension data to change the district’s discipline policies and implement behavioral management systems like PBIS, which rewards students for positive behavior. The district also uses Tools for Life, which teaches younger students their “tools” for negotiating and interacting with others.

JPS Interim Superintendent Freddrick Murray says PBIS and Tools for Life are what helped drop the district’s number of discipline cases so far this year. At the end of October in the 2016-17 school year, 177 students were referred to the alternative school for discipline issues. This year, that number was 145.

Murray explained the discipline data to the new Better Together Commission, tasked with conducting a districtwide study and soliciting community input as a part of the third “takeover” option for JPS.

“Good leaders run good buildings, and so we have to make sure our principals are quality leaders and that they understand that they are responsible for the cultural climate of their building, and again, that doesn’t mean suspending every child, that means being able to adopt a culture,” Murray told the commission on Nov. 8.

Cloy agrees. He says he has seen a culture of suspension in his work with JPS so far. Last school year, students in JPS were suspended in some high schools for being out of class or dress code violations, while other students in different high schools receive in-school detention for similar infractions. More than 8,000 out-of-school suspensions were recorded in the 2016-17 school year in JPS. The district implemented a new code of conduct, with new discipline procedures this school year, in part due to that data.

“I just think suspension is a culture: You go home,” he told the Jackson Free Press. “And it’s a culture districtwide, so culture, as they say, is one of the hardest things to change.”

Freddrick Murray, interim superintendent of Jackson Public Schools

All about leadership

That doesn’t mean progress has not occurred in the district, however. Murray mentioned a JPS school he used to go into four years ago where discipline was an issue, but told the commission that it is very different today — and discipline is not an issue anymore. He said responsibility for the discipline goes to the school leader, the assistant superintendents and ultimately to him as the superintendent.

In the midst of a potential state takeover, Murray reorganized the district into four feeder patterns based on data, including on discipline. The district now has four area superintendents, and as a part of the reorganization, Murray removed and then hired 14 new principals for the current school year.

In Fight Crime’s work inside JPS schools, Cloy says Wingfield High School in Jackson is an example of a school that has implemented alternative and creative programming, from an arts program to jiu-jitsu to chess for students that help combat disciplinary issues. Other schools,  he said, are going day-to-day.

Cloy said he can tell when a behavioral system in a school is working.

“You can tell when a program is run, whatever the program is,” he said. “When the bell rings, and the students walk out of the classroom, you can tell who runs the building. You can tell what program is working and if there’s a program that’s being used.”

With autonomy, Cloy says, principals can work to adapt different behavioral interventions from PBIS to restorative justice practices (both proven to reduce suspension rates) effectively.

“Each school has to be treated differently, and certain principals have to be put in place and given full autonomy to run their schools and use their programs,” he said. “And if it doesn’t work, then you get a new principal.”

State reporter Arielle Dreher is a reporter for the Jackson Free Press, where this story also appears. Read more about Jackson Public Schools at and juvenile justice and alternative solutions at

The Long Wait: With Little Hope Left of Parole, Inmates Look to the Courts for Release

Injustice Watch

This is part of The Long Wait, a series exploring the Illinois Prisoner Review Board’s process for deciding on parole for a group of inmates who remain in prison for serious crimes committed before 1978.

The crime would send shockwaves through the Chicago police department for decades.

On a summer day in 1970, two Chicago Police officers assigned to the “walk and talk” team, meant to improve relations between police and the community at the Cabrini-Green public housing projects, were walking across a field when gunfire erupted. Surrounded by the high-rise buildings, snipers fired on the men, killing them both.

Police quickly built a case against two young men, who they said were members of street gangs. Johnnie Veal, then 17, and George Knights, then 23, were both charged with two counts of murder and tried together. While there was physical evidence presented against Knights, none directly tied Veal to the crime. Both insisted they were not guilty.

A court report from Johnnie Veal’s murders case from Aug. 14, 1970.

Both were convicted and sentenced to terms of 100 to 199 years in prison with the opportunity for parole. That has left them among the 121 men and one woman at the mercy of the Illinois Prisoner Review Board, which has consistently rejected their efforts to seek parole.

The board’s decisions, an Injustice Watch examination found, are often inconsistent and arbitrary. Veal is among a number of the prisoners who, finding the door to parole shut year after year, have turned to the courts in a desperate effort to win freedom.

Veal filed a petition last year in Cook County Circuit Court contending that because the parole board is not meaningfully considering his release, he has been illegally sentenced to life without parole — a sentence that the U.S. Supreme Court said cannot be automatically imposed under the Constitution on 17-year-olds. Earlier this year, as the board again turned away a parole request from Knights, board chairman Craig Findley commented, “I just don’t see how George Knights or Johnnie Veal could ever be released.”

Veal’s plea was rejected by Cook County Circuit Judge Rickey Jones in July 2016. He is appealing.

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled in 1996 that the board has “complete discretion” in deciding parole, and that unlike other states such as Wisconsin and Michigan, its decisions are not generally reviewable. The court noted that parole board decisions are “often based on subjective factors and predictions rather than objective factors.”

Prisoners in Illinois can only turn to the courts if the board fails to hold required parole hearings — whatever the outcome — or if the board acts in an unconstitutional way, such as denying parole based on a defendant’s race.

While evidence of a defendant’s innocence is critical in court, it tends to work against prisoners seeking parole. Prisoners’ refusal to acknowledge responsibility for the crime — even if they insist they are innocent — is often held against them in board deliberations.

In Veal’s case, a fingerprint of his co-defendant, Knights, was discovered on a box of bullets in a high-rise’s incinerator room after the shooting. Police traced the bullets to a store in Indiana, where Knights signed the purchase slip for the ammunition, according to court records.

A photo of the Cabrini-Green public housing projects in 2003.

But there was no physical evidence against Veal, according to court records, and no witnesses said they saw Veal commit the crime. The case against him was built on the word of several witnesses who testified that Veal made statements before and after the murders indicating he was involved.

Three boys, also gang members, were among the key witnesses against him. They each recanted after the trial.

When Veal’s last parole request came before the board in 2014, one factor board members considered was his lack of remorse for the crimes, board minutes show. His supporters tried to justify Veal’s response, saying, “You cannot ask a man to admit guilt for something he did not do,” the minutes show.

The board’s repeated rejection of his parole spurred Veal to try the courthouse. “Time is of the essence,” he said in an interview from Hill Correctional Center. “Tomorrow’s not promised to me, so I’m trying to get the best I can get, to try to get to where I’m supposed to be with family and loved ones.”

In another police killing case, Ronnie Carrasquillo, who was sentenced in 1978 for shooting Chicago police officer Terrence Loftus, also filed a petition in the Cook County Circuit Court stating that he has no real chance at parole because the victim in his case was a policeman. Like Veal, Carrasquillo, who had turned 18 months before the crime, contends that the board’s routine denials have resulted in an automatic life sentence without parole.

Carrasquillo also argues in a separate petition that his hefty sentence was unfairly imposed by a corrupt judge to deflect the sharp public criticism he received months earlier after acquitting mob hitman Harry Aleman in a nonjury trial. At a September hearing on that petition, Carrasquillo’s trial attorney, Glenn Seiden, testified that an FBI agent later made comments to him suggesting a link between those cases.

More than a decade after Carrasquillo was convicted, Wilson committed suicide after the FBI confronted him about evidence that he had taken a $10,000 bribe to acquit the mob hitman. “Only a corrupt judge would have sentenced a teen-aged boy under these circumstances to a draconian sentence of 200-600 years,” Carrasquillo’s petition states.

While Carrasquillo and Veal, among other prisoners, try to overturn their verdicts arguing they were unjustly convicted or sentenced, such evidence carries little weight in their separate proceedings before the Prisoner Review Board.

Legally, the board is required to focus solely on whether an inmate is an acceptable risk for release, said the board’s legal counsel, Jason Sweat. Because inmates have already gone through trial and sentencing, speculating on the quality of trial evidence, Sweat said, is not up for consideration.

Claims of innocence have not always been an obstacle to parole.

In late 2005, the board paroled Duffie Clark, who was convicted in 1971 of slaying two youth on Chicago’s South Side. Clark’s attorney, Dana Orr Williams, said in prior years Clark had not received any votes in favor of his parole. He only was released once she presented information sowing doubt in the evidence of his guilt.

Williams said she thinks her argument and the questions she raised about Clark’s guilt resonated with the board members who voted in his favor. Parole was granted despite his refusal to be contrite, she said, which “did not go over well” with all members of the board. Williams said Clark “wasn’t going to cop to something he didn’t do.”

In other cases, board members cite that lack of contrition as they deny parole. Carrasquillo has long contended he did not intend to shoot the police officer, who was in plainclothes at the time, causing then-board member Angela Blackman-Donovan to comment that Carrasquillo “won’t own up to it,” according to meeting minutes from 2013. She then voted against his parole.

Old photographs show Ronnie Carrasquillo with his family during prison visits. They sit on the mantle in the home of Deyra Mercado, Carrasquillo’s half-sister.

Sitting in a visiting room recently in Dixon Correctional Center, Carrasquillo discussed his plans for a life outside prison. If he is ever released, he would be starting a life when most others his age would be nearing retirement.

He recognizes the struggle to win over the board members.

He has more faith, he said, in being released through the courts than the parole board. “They see me as a lifer,” he said of the board members. “It’s that simple.”

Injustice Watch co-director Rob Warden, who co-authored the book “Greylord,” is being called as an expert to testify about me=dia coverage of Judge Frank Wilson, on behalf of Carrasquillo’s petition. As a result Warden played no role in reporting or editing this series.

This article was written by and originally ran in Injustice Watch.

California Youth Crime Plunge Challenges Conventional Thinking

Unlike economists, if all criminal justice experts were laid end to end, they actually would reach a conclusion: there’s no way today’s young people could possibly have lower rates of murder, rape, other serious offenses, and all-around criminality than the sainted youth of the 1950s.

Just look at the sweeping changes in American childhood: widespread family breakup beginning in the Sixties; escalating poverty levels since the 1970s; the rise of gang and drug cultures in the Eighties; widespread, vastly more explicit popular culture in the 1990s; soaring drug abuse, crime, and imprisonment among their parents’ generation; and defunded schools, services, and programs.

Consider also the fact that there are 6 million more American teenaged youths in 2011 than in 1990, with the fastest growth in racial groups with higher arrest rates. The rapid growth and increasing racial diversity of youth populations is a development two influential crime authorities branded “deadly demographics.” They forecast in 2003 that the United States would endure a skyrocketing youth and young-adult crime epidemic bringing well over 10,000 murders annually.

Yet, falling crime numbers were debunking scary predictions. Now, the FBI’s latest 2011 data  shows youth arrests plummeted to lows not seen since the mid-1960s for robbery, assault, and drugs, and the lowest rates ever reliably recorded for homicide, rape, property offenses, and misdemeanors. Given that before the 1970s, many juvenile crimes were not recorded due to lack of fingerprint records or were masked under general labels like “delinquent tendencies,” the modern crime decline is even more dramatic.

In 2011, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report shows that youths accounted for just 4.1% of homicides and 9.5% of violent crimes. There are now considerably more violent crime arrests, including 40% more murders, among 40-49 year-olds than among juveniles under age 18—an eventuality conventional authorities never anticipated.

By prevailing theories, California would seem especially unlikely to experience a youth crime drop. Yet, as the state’s juvenile teenage population transitioned from 80% white in 1960 to 73% of color (Latino, Asian, African, Native, and other nonwhite American) by 2011 and suffered substantially higher poverty, new figures from the California’s state Criminal Justice Statistics Center show juvenile crime decreased more rapidly than it did nationally.

California juvenile arrest rates rose to a peak in 1974 and have generally plunged since to levels 50% lower today than in the 1970s. The drop in both felony and misdemeanor crime occurred among all races/ethnicities and both sexes.

Around 25% of the youth crime decline from 2010 to 2011 is attributable to a new law that reduced simple marijuana possession to an infraction. The remainder appears to reflect a real decrease in youth crime.

In fact, among California’s diverse youth population, rates of homicide, rape, and crime of all kinds have now fallen to levels substantially lower than those of a half-century ago. These trends should send a shock wave through the criminal justice establishment. Even with more sophisticated data and analytical techniques, no one predicted this.

Certainly, many crime authorities, such as the National Crime Victimization Survey, Monitoring the Future, and public health statistics, have acknowledged that standard measures show youth offending has been dropping rapidly for two decades. Unfortunately, many attribute the decline to unproven factors, such as more policing, demographic change, and various programs and campaigns.

For examples, we now know the 1990s “Boston miracle”—greatly reduced juvenile murders—occurred in most cities (San Francisco’s drop was even more impressive), including ones with no coherent anti-violence strategies. Studies generally find get-tough policing, including curfews and stronger sentencing, are not effective. In fact, the numbers of California juveniles confined and detained also have fallen to all-time lows in recent years, as have curfew arrests.

Emotional quips, anecdotes, generalizations of rare events, and radically expanded definitions designed to exaggerate supposedly “new” negative youth behaviors, such as bullying, sexting, dating violence, girls’ violence, and supposedly biodetermined “risk taking,” need to become as unacceptable to inflict on young people as they are to apply to other groups in society. We may even see a startling reality emerging: when their socioeconomic disadvantages are figured in, modern youth may be no more “crime prone” than older adults. From President Obama to academic halls to the local news, it is time to abolish prejudicial terms like “youth violence” and move beyond equating young people with crime.

The Myth of the Young, Black Male: A More Subtle Racism

John Last 1When I was a kid, around 10 or 11, I loved fantasy novels, especially The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. I read these books over and over, and with my friend Michael would act out the various scenes of the books. We would run around the yard with toy swords and trash can lids for shields, battling monsters until it got too dark to play any longer.

One day we were pretending we were wizards, casting spells and dispensing vague wisdom to our imaginary comrades. As part of our costumes we made hoods out of pillow cases, and were blithely going about our business when my dad came home. He looked at us playing, and yelled for us to take those hoods off at once. Then he told Michael to go home, and he made me come inside and sit down for a lecture.

I was confused, and only became more so as he talked about prejudice and racism and the history of the South. He told me about his own upbringing, and about how blacks were treated in his small town. He told me about his time in the military, and how it changed his views of race. He was disturbed that Michael and I had been pretending we were in the Ku Klux Klan. I did not know what the Klan was, and was surprised to hear about it.

Before that, I did not really know what racism was, because it was not modeled for me by my parents. I was blissfully ignorant of how immersed I was in a society where race was a huge factor in how people were evaluated. The day I had that talk with my dad in a small south Georgia town was in the summer of 1977 or 1978. Racism was still a strong force there.

Now, in the spring of 2012, racism is still with us, though perhaps in a more subtle fashion. The case of Trayvon Martin is receiving a lot of scrutiny, and how it will play out is unknown. What is certain though is that many in our society view a young, black male as inherently suspect. As a class these youngsters are perceived as more prone to crime and other antisocial behaviors. He was suspected by his killer of being high on drugs and up to no good. There is debate about his appearance, and questions about the photos used to represent him in the media. But the bottom line is that how he was dressed, how tall he was, or whether he had gold teeth doesn’t matter.

This myth about young black men is not borne out by the facts though. As Mike Males, a researcher at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, notes in a recent op-ed in Politico, “The latest figures from the FBI, Bureau of Justice Statistics and public health agencies show that among black youth, rates of robbery and serious property offenses are the lowest in more than 40 years. Rates of murder and rape are now lower than when nationwide crime statistics first appeared in 1965 — and those were far less complete than today’s. Assault rates are lower than when this crime statistic was expanded to include domestic violence and new offenses a quarter-century ago.”

No one argues that violence and crime are not problems in this segment of the population. They are still more likely to be victims of violence, and are definitely overrepresented in contact with law enforcement, convictions, and incarceration. But these facts do not make up the totality of their reality. By far the majority of these youngsters will not commit a crime, nor will they be victimized. Most of them are not drug dealers or addicts. Most of them are not anti social. Yet this is the stereotype that they live with, and that is perpetuated by the media and politicians.

As Males points out, it is not just conservatives who are painting this picture. The president himself, in a 2008 speech, “deplored African-Americans’ ‘epidemic of violence’ that he blamed on an ‘entire generation of young men in our society.’”

And it is not only Fox News that uses this image to titillate. CNN's show "Deadly Lessons," accused African-Americans of perpetrating “a growing culture of violence, especially among young people,” a culture described by one commentator as “a generation of folks that do not value life.” Even Geraldo Rivera’s recent comments about how dangerous it is to wear a hoodie are based on a twisted view of who young black men really are.

So, let’s take a deep breath and look at the facts. Let’s not greet each young black man that we meet with fear or suspicion. It is overwhelmingly likely that he is someone you will want to know. Let’s start making room for that in our lives. It is 2012, and far overdue.

UPDATE: Trayvon Martin’s Parents Want Their Son’s Killer Arrested for Murder, Dismiss Self-Defense Claims

Trayvon Martin (left) and George Zimmerman (right)

[UPDATE, March 23, 2012:] President Obama today waded into the growing national controversy surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin, commenting, "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," the The New York Times reported. Obama dodged questions about whether George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot Martin, should be arrested for the killing, saying he didn't want to impede any possible investigation by the U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder.

At a rally Thursday in Sanford, Fl., the orlando suburb where Martin lived, Rev. Al Sharpton, with Martin's parents at his side, called the case a civil rights issue, according to an Associated Press report.

"We cannot allow a precedent when a man can just kill one of us ... and then walk out with the murder weapon," Sharpton said. "We don't want good enough. We want George Zimmerman in court with handcuffs behind his back."

In response to the controversy, beleaguered Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee announced Thursday he would temporarily step down, CNN reports.

"I am aware that my role as a leader of this agency has become a distraction from the investigation," he told reporters. "It is apparent that my involvement in this matter is overshadowing the process. Therefore, I have come to the decision that I must temporarily remove myself from the position."

[Original story] The parents of a slain Florida teen are calling for the arrest of the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed their son, claiming he is getting away with murder. During an interview Wednesday on NBC’s “Today” show, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton said George Zimmerman followed their son because he was black and dismissed his claims to have shot in self-defense.

“I strongly feel he needs to be arrested, because a crime was committed," Tracy Martin told Matt Lauer. "My son is murdered, my son is not with us no more. Nothing can bring him back."

The family’s attorney, Benjamin Crump, who also appeared on “Today,” suggested Zimmerman, a 28-year-old white Hispanic, had not been arrested because of his race.

“It's crazy that this family has to wait for grand juries and stuff when, if it was the other way around, they would have arrested their son on the spot," Crump said.

The Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Monday announced they were opening an investigation into Martin’s death. On Tuesday, local authorities said a grand jury would hear evidence in the case next month.

Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense has brought a seven-year-old Florida law called Stand Your Ground, and 20 similar laws around the country, back to the spotlight, The New York Times reports. The Florida law gives the benefit of the doubt to a person who claims self-defense, even if the killing takes place away from their home. It also allows someone who feels they are in imminent danger to “stand their ground” and not retreat to protect themselves, even if it would seem reasonable to do so. The National Rifle Association lobbied heavily for passage of the law despite opposition from law enforcement.

At a news conference Tuesday, Crump, the attorney representing Martin’s parents, said Trayvon Martin was speaking to his girlfriend on his cellphone in the moments before he was shot, The Times reports. According to Crump, as Martin walked home from a convenience store, he told his girlfriend he was being followed. Martin then asked, “Why are you following me?” Crump said. Martin’s girlfriend told Crump she heard another voice asking, “What are you doing around here?”

According to Crump, the conversation rules out Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense.

After calling 911 to report a suspicious black male, Zimmerman confronted Martin, despite warnings from the 911 dispatcher to remain in his car. Zimmerman says Martin attacked him and that he fired in self-defense.

Law Enforcement Learns the ‘Social Media Beat’

Photo illustration: Clay Duda/JJIE.orgIt’s no secret: Social media has redefined the way people communicate, especially among the under-30 crowd. Now, law enforcement agencies are catching on and increasingly incorporating social media into their arsenal of crime-fighting tools.

Over the past few months a series of high profile social-media-turned-criminal acts have made headlines -- from flash mobs turned violent on the streets of Philadelphia to Atlanta house parties taped off as homicide scenes -- and law enforcement has taken note.

Some agencies have been quick to recognize the potential of embracing social media. The Department of Homeland Security, for example, has run a “Social Media Monitoring Center” since early 2009; Correction officials in California have worked directly with Facebook to thwart inmates from accessing social profiles while behind bars; And police in New York formed a special unit to monitor social channels for gang-related and other potential criminal acts.

In an age of status updates and geotagged tweets, sometimes it’s as simple as waiting for a criminal to make a sloppy post. But not every area of law enforcement has been swift to adopt the relatively new technologies. For them, there’s still hope.

A number of resources, conferences and workshops have been popping up around the net and the country.

Near the end of the month, experts and officials from across the United States will descend on Dallas for the fourth Social Media the Internet and Law Enforcement (SMILE) conference. The three-day mash up of lectures, workshops and Q&As will focus around the central theme of public order.

According to conference organizer Lauri Stevens, there’s just too much to cover in three days. Each SMILE conference, now the fourth since early 2010, focuses on a subject within the industry -- from cyber bullying to investigations and public order.

“If law enforcement, as a whole, can understand what can be accomplished with these tools they can reduce crime, improve their relationship and put the community back in community policing,” Stevens said.

The Dallas Police Department, co-producer of the SMILE conference, has used social media in a number of communicative and investigative capacities, according to Lieutenant Scott Walton, Unit Commander for Media Relations.

Recognizing the potential of the medium, Walton said the department is always open to improvement and essentially has to be, in order to use it effectively.

“It’s such a growing area of communication, to keep up you have to be looking for the next way to use the technology,” Walton said. “It’s really becoming more important every day.”

Since founding the IACP Center for Social Media barely a year ago, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) has seen an increase in interest from members of the law enforcement community.

Program manager Nancy Kolb said it’s important for law enforcement to be aware of social media’s impact.

“Social media isn’t going away,” said Kolb. “It’s not a fad. It’s something law enforcement needs to understand and be able to use for investigation and in terms of communicating with their community.”

The Center plans to offer a number of social media workshops at this year’s IACP conference in Chicago, Oct. 22-26.

Photo illustration: Clay Duda/

FBI Releases iPhone App to Help Locate Missing Children

A missing or abducted child may be one of the most frightening possibilities a parent can imagine. And in those first moments of panic, when every second counts, providing an accurate description of the missing child to authorities is critical. That’s where the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) first smartphone app intends to help.

The app, “FBI Child ID,” is free for iOS devices such as the iPhone or iPod Touch and stores important identifying information about your child such as height, weight and hair color. Using the camera on the handheld device, parents may also snap a picture of their child. The FBI has also included an email function to share the information.

Parents can also use the app to educate themselves on how to handle the first days after abduction. Two information sections are included, the aptly titled “The First 24 Hours” and “The Second 24 Hours.” The app also has a large, red button that directly dials 911, the first call that should be made in cases of missing or abducted children.

Critics have pointed out that, while the FBI states your child’s information is stored locally and not sent to the FBI (or anywhere else), the lack of password or pin protection for the app may worry some security-conscious parents. Also, the app is only available for Apple iOS products. Users of Android, Blackberry or other smartphones are not able to download the app.

FBI Probing Possible Civil Rights Violation of Teen

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.

Contact Anniston Star staff writer Cameron Steele at 256-235-3562.

Sex Abuse in Detention: Numbers are Low, But Still Troubling

The FBI did some extensive research on sexual victimization in juvenile facilities across the country and found that violent sex assaults are relatively rare, but the numbers are still disturbing.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) published Sexual Victimization in Juvenile Facilities Reported by Youth, 2008-2009. The report found that out of about 26,000 kids in both state and privately run facilities, 12.2% (3,220) said they experienced sexual violence. Here’s a breakdown:

  • Youth-on-youth sex abuse incidents: 2.6%.
  • Youth-on-youth incidents involving force: 2%
  • Staff-on-youth sex abuse incidents: 10.3%
  • Staff-on-youth incidents involving force: 4.3%

And here’s a surprising find: Facilities that housed only girls had the highest rates of youth-on-youth sex abuse (11%), while detention centers that housed only boys had the highest rates of sexual misconduct involving staff (11.3%).

The study found two detention facilities had remarkably few reports: Ft. Bellefontaine in Missouri had zero incidents and the Rhode Island Training School had only one. These facilities are considered successful because they’re small, focused on rehabilitation and have a variety of avenues for kids to report sex abuse.

For the full report, click here.

Former Hall County School Bus Driver, Minister Sentenced To Six Years For Child Pornography

A former Hall County school bus driver and self-described “Patriot Preacher” will spend the next six years behind bars for distributing, receiving and possessing hundreds of images of child pornography. Senior United States District Court Judge William C. O'Kelley handed down the sentence Friday to John Cooper Spinks, 41, of Oakwood, Georgia. His punishment also includes 20 years of supervised release and a $2,000 fine. There is no parole in the federal system. “As a school bus driver, this defendant was in daily contact with the children of Hall County,” said United States Attorney Sally Quillian Yates. “While he was entrusted with our children by day, he was later searching for, downloading, and distributing sexually exploitative images of children at his home computer.”

Hall County Schools spokesman Gordon Higgins told The Gainesville Times that Spinks had driven for the school system since 2006. His routes included McEver Elementary, West Hall Middle and West Hall High. Spinks had also passed a criminal background check and, according to Higgins, was regarded by transportation officials as a good employee before his arrest. Spinks, according to the newspaper, also was vice president and chaplain of Christian Men for America, which organized three “God and Country” rallies last year at Hall County churches. Gubernatorial candidate Nathan Deal (along with former candidates John Oxendine and Eric Johnson) was among the invited speakers to those rallies. Spinks was formerly a senior pastor with Center Grove Baptist Church in Pendergrass, where he reportedly preached from February 2008 until June 2009, according to his Website.

According to Yates and information presented during the guilty plea hearing on June 18, Spinks distributed images of child pornography over the internet to an undercover law enforcement officer who he encountered in a chat room named "#baby&toddlerlove." In January 2010, Spinks was again found in a chat room known for trading images of child pornography. On March 25, 2010, federal agents executed a search warrant at  his home and seized a laptop computer and several other pieces of electronic media. Spinks later admitted to agents that he had searched for, downloaded, and viewed images of child pornography and that he had distributed child pornographic images over the internet. Special agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation investigated the case.