Kids and justice

A fascinating new study from the University of Manchester finds children may have a sense of justice at a very early age.  An article by Sindya N. Bhanoo in the New York Times reported:

Children as young as age 3 will intervene on behalf of a victim, reacting as if victimized themselves, scientists have found.

“The children treated these two violations equally,” said Keith Jensen, a psychologist at the University of Manchester in England and an author of a new study appearing in the journal Current Biology.

With toys, cookies and puppets, Dr. Jensen and his colleagues tried to judge how much concern 3- and 5-year-olds had for others, and whether they had a sense of so-called restorative justice.

In one experiment, when one puppet took toys or cookies from another puppet, children responded by pulling a string that locked the objects in an inaccessible cave. When puppets took objects directly from the children themselves, they responded in the same way.

In another experiment, when an object was lost or stolen, children tried to right the wrong by returning the object to the puppet it belonged to.

“Their sense of justice is victim-focused, rather than perpetrator focused,” Dr. Jensen said. “The take-home message is that preschool children are sensitive to harm to others, and given a choice would rather restore things to help the victim than punish the perpetrator.”

New book: Children, Sexuality, and the Law


9780814723852_FullIn the newly released book Children, Sexuality, and the Law, Professors Ellen Marrus and Sacha M. Coupet take on the challenging and often taboo subject of the way our legal system treats children and sex. The text approaches the subject through diverse perspectives of psychology and legal theory, dealing with issues like adolescent consent and First Amendment expression. Children, Sexuality, and the Law is the first book of its kind, and takes the conversation beyond traditional thought of children as victims of adult sexual deviance, exploring the concept of children as “agents and rights holders in the realms of sex, sexuality, and sexual orientation.” You can find the full review and order the book at


Federal Government Investigates Dallas Truancy Courts

Photo by Christina Ulsh


Photo by Christina Ulsh:

Photo by Christina Ulsh

Late last March, the Department of Justice announced a federal investigation of the Dallas County Texas Truancy courts.  Based on preliminary investigations, the Justice Department estimated that in 2014, Dallas County prosecuted over 20,000 children for missing class.  Punishing students for truancy may be understandable, but in Dallas students can be arrested in front of their classmates, sent to court, and charged outrageous fines.  The Justice Department is investigating the processes used by the Dallas court.  Reports indicate students with valid excuses for missing class are still being charged and fined by the court, with no chance to explain. KERA News in Dallas reported on one student at a school in East Dallas, who after a schedule change was counted truant from one class when she was sitting down the hall in a different class.  She was arrested in front of her mother and fined $200, all with no attorney and no real chance to explain to the judge.

The Justice Department is concerned that those children being prosecuted are part of a school-to-prison pipeline. Former Attorney General Eric Holder explained in the press release:

“This investigation continues the Justice Department’s focus on identifying and eliminating entryways to the school-to-prison pipeline, and illustrates the potential of federal civil rights law to protect the rights of vulnerable children facing life-altering circumstances.  As the investigation moves forward, the Department of Justice will work to ensure that actions of Dallas County’s courts are appropriate; that our constitutional protections are respected; and that the children of Dallas County can receive the meaningful access to justice that all Americans deserve.”

The investigation was triggered by complaints filed by Texas Appleseed, Disability Rights Texas and the National Center for Youth Law.  One of the disputed practices in Dallas County is the practice of arresting students at school in front of their classmates. As Deborah Fowler, the deputy director of Texas Appleseed (one of the three advocacy groups that filed the complaint with DOJ) poignantly said,  “It’s really hard for me to see how arresting a child at school promotes engagement in education.”