Bryan ISD Investigated for School-Based Ticketing Due To Disparate Impact on African-American Students

From NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund:

In a letter sent to LDF, the U.S. Department of Education has confirmed it will investigate a complaint  that we and Texas Appleseed filed which challenges the “disparate impact” that Bryan school district’s practice of issuing criminal citations for minor misbehavior has on African-American students, who are ticketed at four times the rate of their peers.

“This investigation sends a strong message to school districts around the country that the government takes seriously allegations that police are criminalizing children in school instead of keeping them safe,” said Rachel Kleinman, Assistant Counsel with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

“We are pleased that OCR is pursuing this important issue and look forward to working with the Department of Education and the Bryan school district to find more positive approaches to improving student behavior and keeping more children in class and out of the court system,” said Texas Appleseed Deputy Director Deborah Fowler.

Ann Boney, President of the Brazos County NAACP, said, “We are pleased that we will move forward with this issue and begin developing a positive approach that will benefit all concerned parties.”

African-American students comprised only 21% of the Bryan district’s student population in 2011-12, but received 53% of all tickets issued last year for Disruption of Class and 51% for Disorderly Conduct-Language (profanity). While the Texas lawmakers passed legislation this spring ending school-based ticketing in most cases, school districts can still file formal complaints and send students to court for the same types of minor misbehavior.

“In a very real sense, districts like Bryan are using law enforcement as a disciplinary tool, leading students into the school-to-prison pipeline,” said Senior Attorney Michael Harris, with the National Center for Youth Law. “But research shows these matters are far better handled by educators and parents.”

We are asking OCR to require Bryan ISD to provide additional training for school police officers in adolescent behavior, conflict resolution and de-escalation techniques. We are strongly encouraging implementation of nationally-tested programs shown to reduce disciplinary problems and boost academics—such as School-Wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports. Our complaint also proposes:

  • Revisions to the Bryan Student Code of Conduct to establish graduated consequences for misbehavior that minimize missed class time and reserve suspension, expulsion, and police responses to student misbehavior to only those incidents that pose a safety risk;
  • Required campus-based quarterly reporting of data on ticketing and school-related arrests, by type of incident disaggregated by race; and
  • Intervention services for students who receive multiple Class C citations and/or disciplinary referrals and who are at risk of educational failure.

It is a common practice in Texas for school districts to bring in the criminal system to handle issues with students that many people should be dealt with internally. The school-to-prison pipeline in Texas is used way too often and it is about time the Department of Education notices. Hopefully this investigation will lead to the elimination of this disparate impact practice.

Baby Veronica Returned to Adoptive Parents

From Randi Kaye and Leslie Bentz at CNN.

The 4-year-old girl at the center of a lengthy, high-profile custody dispute between her Native American father and her adoptive parents has been returned to the couple, an attorney for the biological father said Monday.

Earlier in the day, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Dusten Brown, the girl’s father, must return the girl, named Veronica, to Matt and Melanie Capobianco, who live in South Carolina.

The Capobiancos adopted Veronica at birth in 2009 and have been involved in a custody battle since then with Brown, who lives in Oklahoma.

According to an earlier written statement from the family after the court announcement, their “long legal nightmare” is over.

“Matt and Melanie cannot wait to bring Veronica home and begin the healing process as a reunited family,” the statement said.

Brown is a registered member of the Cherokee tribe and invoked the Indian Child Welfare Act to gain custody of Veronica.

His attorney, Clark Brewster, said Brown handed Veronica over Monday night.

The Cherokee Nation Attorney General also issued a statement late Monday night in response to the news, praising Brown for the “peaceful and dignified” transfer of Veronica to her adoptive parents, and saying the 4-year-old would “always be a Cherokee citizen.”

“Although this is not something any parent should ever have to do, we could not be more proud of the dignity and courage with which [Brown] carried himself,” the statement read.

A family court judge had ruled in Brown’s favor in late 2011, and he took his daughter to Oklahoma. The Capobiancos had fought since to have Veronica returned, arguing federal law does not define an unwed biological father as a parent.

In June, a divided U.S. Supreme Court sided with the Capobiancos, who are white, but Brown had refused to hand over the child.

The little girl at the center of the recent U.S. Supreme Court case is finally back with her adoptive parents after over 2 years of litigation. The Supreme Court had ordered for the biological father to return the girl to her adoptive parents, but he had refused to. This case could potentially change the future of Indian Child Welfare Act cases. Hopefully the future for baby Veronica will be less litigious.

Photo courtesy of Britannica Blog.

The Future of Mandatory Life Sentences for Juveniles

photo courtesy of: http://www.familylawyerva.com/images/PA_Juvenile_Landing_Page_Picture.jpg

From the Editorial Board at The New York Times:

Young people are different. The Supreme Court has delivered that message repeatedly over the last decade in limiting or flatly prohibiting the most severe criminal punishments for those under 18 at the time of their crime.

In 2005, the court banned the death penalty for juveniles. In 2010, it outlawed sentences of life without parole for juveniles convicted of crimes other than homicide. And, in a 2012 case, Miller v. Alabama, it said juveniles may never receive a mandatory sentence of life without parole, which prisoners refer to as “the other death penalty.”

Each ruling, relying on the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, has found that young people are “constitutionally different” from adults, and, therefore, must be punished differently.

In each case, the court was silent on the question of whether its ruling applied retroactively to inmates who had already been convicted. The just answer would surely be yes, and courts have largely agreed, making those first two juvenile justice rulings retroactive. But some states insist that the ban on mandatory life without parole does not apply to offenders who have already been sentenced.

In the Miller case, the court required lower courts to make “individualized sentencing decisions” for juvenile defendants because juveniles are not as morally culpable as adults, and they are more capable of changing over time. If the ban on mandatory life without parole is retroactive, more than 2,000 prisoners would be eligible for a new sentencing hearing. So far, whether these individuals can get a new hearing depends on where they live.

Courts in Michigan, Iowa and Mississippi have ruled that the ban applies to previously sentenced juveniles. The Department of Justice takes that position as well. Yet the Minnesota Supreme Court and one federal appeals court have taken the opposite view.

On Sept. 4, the Louisiana Supreme Court took on this question in the case of Darryl Tate, who was 17 when he held up two men and killed one of them in 1981. Mr. Tate’s lawyers argue that he is entitled to a new sentencing hearing under the Miller rule, because the United States Supreme Court allowed such a rehearing in another juvenile life-without-parole case decided at the same time as Miller.

Critics fear that allowing resentencing would increase violent crime. But courts may still impose life without parole, provided that the judge first gives proper consideration to the mitigating effects of youth. The Alabama Supreme Court set out guidelines last week that require a court to consider 14 factors, including a defendant’s age, emotional maturity, family environment and potential for rehabilitation before issuing such a sentence.

Ideally, life without parole would never be a sentencing option for juveniles. The Supreme Court’s own logic suggests this, even if it was not willing to go that far. After the Miller case, three states entirely eliminated juvenile life without parole, joining six other states that had already banned the sentence, and lawsuits on the retroactivity issue are pending in several states. As lawmakers and courts deal with this issue, they should remember — as the Supreme Court has declared — that adolescents are not adults, and that principle should apply regardless of the date of a conviction.

This editorial hits the nail on the head. Children are different; it is common sense. They continue to mature and can change in ways that adults may not be able to. Hopefully many of the lawsuits currently pending will result in states opening up their courts to retroactive sentencing hearings for prisoners sentenced to mandatory life without parole as juveniles.