Thursday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

International Group Hails Florida Juvenile Justice Reformer, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

The woman driving the Florida Juvenile Justice Department toward a goal of “system excellence” is a 2012 winner of an international award that recognizes commitment to children’s justice.

“We’re trying to do a complete paradigm shift,” said Wansley Walters, Secretary of the Florida DJJ and one of eight recipients of the 2012 Juvenile Justice Without Borders International Award, presented by the International Juvenile Justice Observatory, a Belgium-based international organization that works in conjunction with the United Nations, the European Union and other groups.

“We’re trying to be proactive, not reactive,” she said.

Texas Posts Top High School Graduation Rates, But Why?, The Texas Tribune

With witnesses in a school finance trial testifying daily on the challenges facing public education in the state, and with a chorus of state leaders citing the failings of traditional public schools in calling for reform, some may be surprised to hear that by one measure, Texas schools appear to be doing quite well.

Preliminary data released by the U.S. Department of Education this week shows that Texas — along with five other states — ranks fourth in the nation for its four-year high school graduation rates. With an overall rate of 86 percent in the 2010-11 school year, the state follows Iowa, with 88 percent, and Wisconsin and Vermont, both at 87 percent.

Though the statewide average has climbed steadily in the past five years, that has not always been the case. The last time the Texas Supreme Court ruled on the state’s school finance system, in 2005, it warned of a “severe dropout problem,” calling the lagging graduation rates of blacks and Hispanics “especially troublesome.”’

Mass. Must Adjust Sentences for Murders by Juveniles, The Boston Globe

When the US Supreme Court struck down mandatory life sentences without parole for those convicted of murder while younger than 18, it left Massachusetts legislators with a repair job. There are currently 62 juvenile offenders serving life without parole under Massachusetts’ now-unconstitutional law. So that courts don’t end up revising sentences in an ad hoc fashion, Beacon Hill needs to provide legislative guidance.

The Supreme Court decision, passed down last summer, has been interpreted differently by different states. California and North Carolina have moved to give juveniles who were sentenced to life without parole a chance for parole after 25 years. Florida’s courts, however, interpreted the Supreme Court decision as applying only to future cases. This month, a Middlesex County judge declined to apply a mandatory sentence of life without parole, on the grounds it was now unconstitutional. The judge, Kathe Tuttman, called on the Legislature to clarify the situation. It should.

Prosecutors: Embattled Judge Ignoring the Law, Cincinnati.com

Judge Tracie Hunter isn’t following Ohio law because she is requiring prosecutors to give to defense attorneys documents they aren’t required to provide, a Tuesday court filing noted.

The embattled Hunter, a Juvenile Court judge for a few months after more than a year of litigation concluded she won a contentious 2010 election, didn’t immediately return Tuesday calls.

Ohio law requires prosecutors to give to defense attorneys documents such as police reports and others outlined in the law, so a defense can be prepared for the allegation. But Hunter made prosecutors provide additional documents, “work product” documents prosecutors say the law specifies they don’t have to give the defense, the filing noted.

Friday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

Ind. Boy Could Risk Longer Prison Term if Retried, Associated Press

The case of an Indiana boy who was convicted as an adult at age 12 for helping kill a friend’s stepfather is raising questions about whether young suspects can fully understand the consequences of their offenses.

Paul Henry Gingerich was one of three juveniles charged in the 2010 killing of 49-year-old Phillip Danner in northeastern Indiana as part of a plot to run away to Arizona.

Gingerich’s attorney, Monica Foster, is challenging why her client was moved into adult court, saying a local court failed to consider the boy’s maturity. She asked the Indiana Court of Appeals Tuesday to send the case back to juvenile court, saying a juvenile trial represented her client’s best chance at rehabilitation.

School Discipline Policies Too Harsh, Senators Say, Houston Chronicle

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — State senators worried Tuesday that Texas has gone too far in imposing a zero-tolerance policy for bad behavior in schools, noting that minority students are bearing the brunt of the punishment and school police officers are writing too many tickets for insignificant infractions.

Tony Fabelo, an Austin-based criminal justice consultant, told a joint committee meeting of the Senate Criminal Justice and Education Committees that a study following students from seventh grade to high school graduation showed that 83 percent of black male students and 70 percent of black female students statewide faced at least one disciplinary action.

The cases involved students being written up for poor behavior at school officials’ discretion — not for major violations that would mandate disciplinary action, Fabelo said.

He said students with special needs of all races were far more likely than others to face disciplinary action. Still, black students in Texas were 31 percent more likely to be involved in cases of discretionary violations but 23 percent less likely to face mandatory expulsion, refuting any suggestion that black students simply behaved worse than students of other races, according to Fabelo.

Sexual Trauma Marks Girls’ Path to Juvenile Justice System, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

When Crystal Contreras was seven and living in Los Angeles, her mother put her in the care of someone Contreras saw as a father figure. Instead, he pressured the little girl for sex. For the next three years, until she was 10, the man raped her regularly, often creeping into the house at night without her mother’s knowledge.

“I never said nothing to my mom,” Contreras told JJIE.org during an interview in July. “I was scared he would kill her or hurt her or hurt the animals that I had. I felt like I was protecting her. But what I did – I started acting out.”

Contreras, now 21 and in college, completed a five-year term at a juvenile detention facility in California last year, she said. Her history of sexual trauma echoes the stories of tens of thousands of girls who find themselves in the juvenile justice system, a history that advocates and professionals in the field say the states and federal government must take into account when designing rehabilitation programs to meet girls’ needs.

Monday’s Children & the Law News Roundup

Rules Aim At Law Guardians and Conflicts of Interest, Times Union

On Oct. 17, Karen Peters, the new presiding justice of the Appellate Division‘s Third Department, ordered restrictions that prohibit the law guardians from holding full-time jobs with “any government agency” within the 23-county department unless they receive special written permission from the lawyer’s employer, Family Court and the Appellate Division.

Known officially as “attorneys for children,” law guardians belong to selective lists that allow them to earn $75-an-hour from the state, whether in court or at home. Collectively, they earn hundreds of thousands of taxpayer-funded dollars to legally represent children in custody cases or matters such as juvenile delinquency or Persons in Need of Supervision (PINS) cases.

Lawsuit Alleges Juveniles Being Held on Parole Violations by ‘Kangaroo Court’, Chicago Tribune

A proposed class-action lawsuit alleges that hundreds of Illinois youths are imprisoned each year on often technical parole violations and held unconstitutionally through a “kangaroo court” system that inhibits their access to an attorney and other legal rights.

According to the suit, parole officers frequently persuade juvenile offenders accused of violating parole to waive crucial preliminary hearings by falsely telling them it will help get them home sooner. By the time full hearings are held, the juveniles have languished in custody for weeks, the suit alleges. Lawyers for the Northwestern University School of Law’s MacArthur Justice Center called those final hearings “a sham” anyway because the juveniles — many of whom have learning disabilities, mental illnesses and limited educations — are denied basic due process.

Lawmakers Might Consider Rehabilitation Alternatives for Juvenile Delinquents, Morris News Service

ATLANTA — Forget boot camps, “scared straight” and other so-called tough-love programs for teaching discipline, instilling fear or boosting self-esteem in juvenile delinquents.

Experts say repeated studies have shown they don’t work, and so now a high-level commission is considering moving Georgia toward what experts say does work in getting troublemakers onto the path of lifelong, law-abiding citizenship: rehabilitation.

Thinking about corrections has swung back and forth over the past 200 years between “lock ’em up” and “teach them to become contributing members of society.” Georgia triggered a previous swing toward rehabilitation and more humane treatment of adult inmates with the 1932 publication of the scathing autobiography “I’m a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang.”