False Confessions and Children

Researchers in the area of wrongful convictions have found that children are particularly susceptible to giving false confessions.[1] Once in custody, children’s psychological development, intellectual difficulties, and mental health issues make them vulnerable to coercive police interrogation tactics, which often leads children to falsely confess to crimes they did not commit.[2]

During interrogations, police often use the same coercive interrogation strategies on children that they use on adults.[3] This results in children not only being more likely to waive their Miranda rights than adults, but also being more likely to falsely confess to crimes than adults.[4] The most commonly used interrogation technique in the United States, the Reid technique, inherently coerces and deceives suspects.[5] This inherent nature of the Reid technique combined with children’s vulnerabilities and susceptibilities “has led to an unacceptably high rate of false confessions among juvenile suspects.”[6] According to the National Registry of Exonerations, thirty-four percent of exonerated children under the age of eighteen falsely confessed to a crime compared to ten percent of adults.[7] Other studies of exonerees have found that forty-four percent of children falsely confessed to a crime “compared to 13 percent of adults.”[8] As these studies show, children have a much higher likelihood to falsely confess to crimes when confronted with the same interrogation tactics used against adults.

Children with certain vulnerabilities, such as younger children, children with mental illness, or children with intellectual disabilities, also have higher rates of falsely confessing compared to other children.  For example, a higher percentage of children under the age of fourteen falsely confessed to a crime compared to sixteen- or seventeen-year-old children.[9] Research by the National Registry of Exonerations also showed a difference in false confessions between children with mental illness or intellectual disability and children without either disability. The vast majority (79 percent) of children under the age of eighteen who had a mental illness or intellectual disability falsely confessed.[10] While only about a quarter (27 percent) of children without a mental illness or intellectual disability falsely confessed to a crime.[11] These vulnerabilities result in many children waiving their Miranda rights without truly understanding “what they are giving up” and the potential consequences for waiving their rights, such as false confessions.[12]

[1] Ariel Spierer, The Right to Remain a Child: The Impermissibility of the Reid Technique in Juvenile Interrogations, 92 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 1719, 1723 (2017).

[2] Jason Mandelbaum & Angela Crossman, No illusions: Developmental considerations in adolescent false confessions, Am. Psych. Ass’n (Dec. 2014), https://www.apa.org/pi/families/resources/newsletter/2014/12/adolescent-false-confessions.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Spierer, supra note 1 at 1719.

[6] Id.

[7] Age and Mental Status of Exonerated Defendants Who Confessed, Nat’l Registry of Exonerations (Apr. 2022) https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Documents/Age%20and%20Mental%20Status%20FINAL%20CHART.pdf.

[8] Mandelbaum & Crossman, supra note 2.

[9] According to the National Registry of Exonerations, 78 percent of exonerated children under the age of fourteen falsely confessed to the crime. This compares to 54 percent of exonerated fourteen- and fifteen-year-old children and 27 percent of exonerated 16- and 17-year-old children. Age and Mental Status of Exonerated Defendants Who Confessed, National Registry of Exonerations (Feb. 2019) https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Documents/Age%20and%20Mental%20Status%20FINAL%20CHART.pdf.

[10] Age and Mental Status of Exonerated Defendants Who Confessed, Nat’l Registry of Exonerations (Apr. 2022) https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Documents/Age%20and%20Mental%20Status%20FINAL%20CHART.pdf.

[11] Id.

[12] M. Dyan McGuire, Miranda is not Enough: What Every Parent in the United States Should Know About Protecting Their Child, 2J. of L. and Crim. Just. 299, 303 (2014)

Texas Newborn Screening Program’s Benefits Vary for Families

Newborn Screening1 is done through a simple heel prick to get a blood sample followed by a lab analyzing the molecular weights of the newborn’s metabolites. The process is seemingly harmless to newborns, and can reduce disability progression and morbidity of serious diseases. As a resident of Texas, where life expectancy can be predicted from a person’s zip code, one can’t help but wonder if newborn screening provides equal outcomes for every baby screened. 2 

Why is equality of outcomes important? Newborn screening is a public health program aimed at reducing overall disability and morbidity of certain early childhood diseases, which is thought to save money throughout the population on healthcare expenses. If the uninsured and underinsured are not able to appropriately treat diseases found in newborn screening, this public health policy would be increasing inequality in child healthcare. Healthcare equality is important because it lowers the healthcare expenses of citizens that rely on subsidized insurance, increases overall population health, and promotes equitable quality of life. 

One problem faced by families after newborn screening is access to healthcare facilities.3 A newborn who is screened as likely to have a metabolic disease must undergo follow up examinations to actually diagnose them. In such a large state, access to specialty doctors varies greatly. Rural areas struggle to provide families with appropriate follow up care for diagnosis and proper facilities to provide treatment after diagnosis. Rural areas also have a harder time submitting samples due to their distance from testing sites in cities, meaning rural families may get results later than urban families. Rural pharmacies will take longer to get uncommon prescriptions or special formulas, or families may have to travel to a pharmacy which carries what they need. 

Another barrier to healthcare equality for newborn screening lies in the educational materials offered to families.4 Healthcare providers are not always aware of the education materials provided by the health department, and thus may not offer them to families who are confused at the process. The educational materials are offered in English and Spanish, so families who do not know how to read one of these languages will require help with the materials. Doctors may hand the families the reading material instead of sitting down and talking with them. This would also affect parents who struggle with literacy. The educational materials are close to high-school level readings, which many people have not achieved. 

The barriers discussed apply to all areas of healthcare, not just newborn screening. In order for NBS and other healthcare initiatives to reach their full potential, there must be an organized effort to reduce barriers in healthcare equality.  

1. Texas Administrative Code §37.51 requires all babies born in Texas participate in Newborn Screening, with a religious exemption.

2. https://www.texashealthmaps.com/lfex

3. https://www.dshs.state.tx.us/lab/NBSgapsWeaknessSummaryReport.pdf

4. https://www.dshs.state.tx.us/lab/NBSgapsWeaknessSummaryReport.pdf

How the Juvenile Justice System is Broken: The Bullies in Blue Need the Boot

In the United States, the Juvenile Justice system is the collection of multiple state and local court-based systems that handle minors who come in contact with law enforcement, are accused of breaking the law, or are convicted of criminal offences.

According to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, in the state of Texas, out of the thousand school districts over three hundred of them have their own internal police department. According to Michael Antu, the Deputy Chief of the Commission, of the hundred and ninety-two law enforcement agencies that have been created in Texas since 2017, ninety-nine of them are school police departments. The uniformed police officers who are placed at schools across the country are known as “School Resource Officers” or SROs. Their job is to patrol the school and make sure that it is a safe environment for the students to learn and be, but how safe is it actually?

Many of the schools that have SROs look more like detention centers rather than schools. They are decorated with full-body metal detectors, detection wands, security cameras, and officers as the hall and premise monitors. How are students supposed to feel safe when right outside of their classroom door there is someone who is fully armed and legally allowed to use physical force on them? Students of colour, visible minorities, and physical and mental disabilities are affected the most by the people who are actually meant to keep them safe. They are penalized for every little thing; they are more likely than their white peers to be taken aside or out of class for misbehaving; they are more likely to be physically attacked by an officer; they are more likely to be assumed guilty. The list can go on and on, but the reality is that they have not done anything wrong except being a child. Yet, they are still more likely to go to into the system as a juvenile and again as an adult.

The main reason for SROs is to make sure that there is no illegal activity going on and to deal with it in an orderly fashion (if there is any). However, the ACLU office in Pennsylvania researched the impact of school policing and found that “There is no clear empirical basis for the claim that SROs reduce student crime rates” (Kupchik, 1). If there has not been a reduction in the student crime rates, can we really claim that SROs are actually useful? Or that they are properly doing their jobs? In fact, in an article published by Brookings, they mention that SROs “have been linked with increased arrests for noncriminal, youthful behaviour, [and] fueling the school-to-prison pipeline [program]” (King and Schindler).

The officers are not meant to be educators or reinforcers of the school rules such as dress code, skipping class, or having devices out, yet they still act like they have that authority. SROs flag students for every little thing, creating a file and putting them into the criminal justice system for horseplay or situations that could and should be handled by school educators and administrators. The police officers in schools are doing jobs that they are not trained or meant to do, it creates a concentrated policing site which often leads to the formation of school-to-prison pipeline programs. It should make you sick that school and prison are even in the same sentence, much more the fact that it is hyphenated. There are too many students affected by these programs. These school-to-prison programs are a gateway for these children right into the criminal justice system, it fuels mass incarceration. There are countless. Countless, stories that just prove that officers should not be in schools. The ACLU has an entire page and multiple testimonies from students who have been affected by the officers in their school. I recommend reading them to educate yourself, the link is posted below. Just note that their stories are disheartening.

  1. “Bullies in Blue: The Problem with School Policing.” American Civil Liberties Union, DuckDuckGo, https://www.aclu.org/issues/juvenile-justice/school-prison-pipeline/bullies-blue-problem-school-policing-infographic.
  2. Henning, Kristin. “Cops at the Schoolyard Gate.” Vox, Vox Media, 28 July 2021, https://www.vox.com/the-highlight/22580659/police-in-school-resource-officers-sro.
  3. King, Ryan, and Marc Schindler. “A Better Path Forward for Criminal Justice: Reconsidering Police in Schools.” Brookings, The Brookings Institution, Apr. 2022, https://www.brookings.edu/research/a-better-path-forward-for-criminal-justice-reconsidering-police-in-schools/.
  4. Kupchik, Aaron. “Research on the Impact of School Policing – FISA Foundation.” FISA Foundation, ACLU Pennsylvania, Aug. 2020, https://fisafoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Research-on-School-Policing-by-Aaron-Kupchik-July-2020.pdf.
  5. Méndez, María. “Almost 100 Texas School Districts Have Added Their Own Police Departments Since 2017, But Not Everyone Feels Safer.” The Texas Tribune, The Texas Tribune, 15 June 2022, https://www.texastribune.org/2022/06/15/uvalde-school-officers-texas-shootings/#:~:text=Today%2C%20there%20are%20309%20school,deputy%20chief%20of%20the%20commission.
  6. “What Is Juvenile Justice?” The Annie E. Casey Foundation, The Annie E. Casey Foundation, 13 Dec. 2020, https://www.aecf.org/blog/what-is-juvenile-justice.