Weekly Roundup

My view: The Youth PROMISE Act shifts focus to the proactive, Alisa Lee, Deseret News, May 5, 2016

The ACLU identified under-resourced schools as school-to-prison pipelines, pushing kids from school systems into the criminal justice system at an alarming rate due to overly harsh disciplinary policies. The students’ arrests are often of non-violent offenses such as dress code violations, disruptions in class and truancy. These disciplinary policies disproportionally affect minority children who receive much harsher penalties than their counterparts. At a middle school in Utah, two Native American boys were caught drinking cans of Dr. Pepper they took without permission from the faculty lounge. Their punishment? The boys were referred to law enforcement for “theft.” A recent report from the University of Utah Law School’s Public Policy Clinic found Native American students are four times more likely to receive a disciplinary action than white students.

The growing costs of juvenile incarceration rates in recent years has prompted policymakers evaluate other means to combat crime than imprisonment. Research shows comprehensive, evidenced-based programs for youth that focus on prevention and intervention programs greatly reduces crime and save much more than the cost when the avoided law enforcement and social welfare expenditures are considered. For the last eight years, Representative Bobby Scott, has focused on a legislative fix to reduce and prevent juvenile delinquency and violence. The Youth PROMISE (Youth Prison Reduction through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support, and Education) Act was recently re-introduced by Scott in the House on May 1, 2015. The bill amends the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 to establish a PROMISE Advisory Panel to assist the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to assess and develop standards and evidence-based and promising practices to prevent juvenile delinquency and gang activity. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention will be funded to award grants to local governments to plan and assess evidence-based and promising practices for juvenile delinquency and criminal gang activity prevention and intervention. In addition, a national research center for proven juvenile justice practices will provide information about evidence-based practices for violence prevention and intervention.

Solitary Confinement Is Now Banned In Country’s Largest Juvenile Justice System, Carimah Townes, Think Progress, May 4, 2016

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors agreed to outlaw solitary confinement for young offenders doing time in the country’s largest juvenile justice system. That means 1,200 juveniles will be kept out of dirty and “deplorable” restrictive housing in 16 juvenile halls and camps, come September.

Criminal justice advocates and scientists have long considered solitary confinement a form of psychological torture that also causes damage to the brain. Supervisors Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl proposed the ban, citing atrocious conditions and research that says solitary reduces the likelihood of juveniles’ rehabilitation.

Young people who previously spent hours, days, and years in solitary described their experiences Tuesday, before the Board voted unanimously to eliminate the practice.

“We would be alone the majority of the time. No books to read. Nothing to write on. Just a mattress to sleep on,” 20-year-old Eddie Flores said of his experience. “I kept thinking, ‘What’s the point of changing if I’m just stuck in this room the whole time?’

Noting that he felt like a caged animal, another man in his early twenties testified, “Conditions were small concrete dirty room, the walls covered in dirt, dried up spit, the mattress was so ripped up it felt like I was laying down on a concrete or steel bars.”

To sever school-to-prison pipeline, bill would keep troubled kids in school, Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, CT Mirror, May 3, 2016

At the state-run jail for youths convicted of offenses not serious enough to land them in the adult criminal justice system, most high-school aged students are reading at an elementary grade level.

And research shows that student suspensions, expulsions and chronic absenteeism contribute to a downward spiral that often ends with involvement in the juvenile justice system.

Tired of hearing such stories, members of the State House of Representatives have unanimously approved legislation that aims to sever the school-to-prison pipeline by keeping children in school or providing a quality alternative education program when they get into trouble. The bill awaits action in the Senate.

Arrest of young kids not isolated to Murfreesboro Case, Jessica Bliss, The Tennessean, May 2, 2016

Shock reverberated through Middle Tennessee in April when Murfreesboro police arrested 10 elementary-age students for not stopping a fight that occurred off campus days earlier.

Lawmakers, church leaders and social justice experts across the country questioned the rationale behind handcuffing and booking children that young. They pointed to the scarring effects on the student and their peers, as well as the societal pattern of pushing kids, especially the most at-risk, out of classrooms and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.

When it comes to the arrests of young children in Tennessee, what happened in Murfreesboro is not an isolated incident.

Last year, Tennessee law enforcement made 24,843 juvenile arrests. Of those, 1,960 were of children ages 6 to 12 — the same ages of the children arrested in the Murfreesboro case. The Murfreesboro police chief is expected to meet Monday night with community leaders to review a preliminary report on an internal investigation of the arrests.

Poetry Behind Bars: The Lines That Save Lives — Sometimes Literally, Colin Dwyer, NPR’s All Things Considered, April 30, 2016

Words Unlocked — an annual poetry curriculum and competition launched in 2013 by the Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings — draws submissions from students in juvenile correctional centers across the country. Poets in facilities from Alaska to Florida have sent in their work this year, according to CEEAS Director David Domenici, and the number of submissions has reached 1,000 and counting.



How to prevent preschooler shootings?

When we think of shooters, we don’t typically think of children toddling around with firearms. And yet, as the New York Times pointed out yesterday, 4 toddlers shot and killed themselves in a single week in April. As T.S. Eliot observed, “April is the cruellest month,” but so is May, June, July; there are approximately 2 preschooler shootings a week in the United States. The CDC reports that there were 33,636 total gun deaths in 2013, or 10.6 firearm deaths per 100,000 of our population. The U.S. has the most firearms per capita of any country in the world, and as Americans, we are 25 times more likely to die by firearm than citizens of other “high income” developed countries… and sometimes this happens at the hands of a three-year-old. Yes, that is the average age that children accidentally fire a weapon, according to the NYT article.

In our polarized politics, our population is split between perceiving guns as protective and viewing them as potentially injurious, threatening, and harmful. 2nd Amendment advocates and gun industry lobbyists have pushed for “campus carry” and “open carry” laws, while gun control advocates have lobbied for more stringent background checks and “safe storage,” or Child Access Prevention (CAP) laws. 27 states now have CAP laws on their books to hold adults criminally liable for negligent gun storage when a child is likely to gain access to a gun, or uses and causes injury with a gun. Massachusetts has gone so far as to require that guns be secured in locked storage, but as the NYT reports, this has not stopped unintended shootings by children.

The average 3 year-old who unknowingly pulls the trigger is not developmentally mature enough to take part in this national gun control and gun violence debate and certainly not capable of decisional balance. A three-year-old is capable of sorting objects, naming the colors, counting, pretend and fantasy play, and physically pulling a trigger — this is not Camus’ Stranger, who leaves us bewildered as to why he did it. Who is accountable, then, when a child pulls the trigger?

Children are actually sometimes charged for murder or non-negligent manslaughter, though it is thankfully a rare occurrence. Assessing proper mens rea in children is difficult, and surely competency to stand trial comes into play for serious crimes. However, the FBI did tally 14 cases of children under the age of 12 being prosecuted for such crimes in 2013.

CAP laws prosecuting parents seem to be the majority of states’ answer as to who should be held accountable for unintentional firearm deaths. According to Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, CAP laws were found to reduce said deaths for children under the age of 15 by 23%, a statistic from between 1990 and 1994 that is often repeated in the policy literature. However, the effectiveness of these laws should be more thoroughly studied, state-by-state. It is unclear how often CAP laws are actually applied, given that many police officers and magistrates may not want to hassle with charging a grieving parent with a misdemeanor crime. In Texas, an officer has to wait a week before arresting a parent who has lost a child due to an unintentional firearm offense. When we step back from our moral indignation over the reckless parent, these laws are construed by some as cruel and traumatizing (though not unjustified), which could be impacting their implementation. Like much of our criminal law underpinned by legal deterrence, having a punitive law on the books might also do little to reduce or deter these lethal occurrences.

It’s not that we shouldn’t hold parents accountable for preschooler shootings and deaths, but it might also behoove us to more rigorously assess the effectiveness of our prevention strategies at the state level and the frequency with which they are actually being administered. The law shouldn’t just speak to accountability but also to preventing these deaths. It could be that CAP laws are highly effective in some states but not in others, due to the way they are being implemented. It’s imperative that we hold ourselves accountable, ensuring that our policy, data, and possibly bolstered public health initiatives, keep pace with our predilection for firearms.

Image from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/gun-deaths-children_us_566f1e4ee4b0e292150ec036

Weekly Roundup

New Federal Policies for Education of Homeless Children Take Effect Next Year; Decision Impacts Every School District Nationwide, National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, April 5, 2016

“WASHINGTON, April 5, 2016 /PRNewswire/ — Today, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) announced that key policies related to homelessness in the recently enacted “Every Student Succeeds Act” (ESSA) will take effect on October 1, 2016, one school year earlier than other parts of the law. This decision means that revised policies and practices must be in place in school districts across the country to ensure the identification, enrollment, stability, and success of homeless children and youth.


Key components of the new law include:

  • Designating appropriate school personnel with training to identify, enroll and support homeless students;
  • Increasing school stability for homeless children and youth, so they can stay in their same school throughout their homelessness when it is in their best interest to do so;
  • Improving graduation readiness by ensuring college counseling and access to documentation for financial aid;
  • Assisting young homeless children to access early childhood programs; and
  • Authorizing more funding to support school district efforts to identify and serve children and youth experiencing homelessness.”

Student suspensions can add to a downward spiral, data suggest, Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, The CT Mirror, April 6, 2016

“Students need to be at school to learn, but new state data show that many children expelled or suspended because they act out are among those likely to miss the most school and perform less well academically.

‘Students receiving disciplinary sanctions are experiencing substantial attendance and performance issues,’ reads a presentation prepared for the State Board of Education’s Wednesday meeting. ‘Suspensions and expulsions may exacerbate academic deterioration. Receipt of even one suspension is associated with higher likelihood of academic failure, school dropout, and involvement in the juvenile justice system.'”

In the World:

Revised Child Law, Pioneering Child Rights, Viet Nam News, April 2, 2106:

“The revised Law on Child Protection, Care and Education will be voted on this Tuesday, during the ongoing final meeting of the 13th National Assembly. Much attention has been focused on raising the legal age of a child in Việt Nam from 16 to 18. Việt Nam News spoke to child specialists about this issue.


Using 18 as the age to define a child does not mean that 18 must be legislated as the age for all matters relating to children. Recognizing that children develop and grow over time, national laws can set different ages at which children are considered capable of making decisions or taking part in certain activities. For example, national laws may say that a child is able to drive a motorbike at the age of 16, is considered criminally responsible at the age of 14, and can engage in light work at the age of 15.  However, in recognition that they are not yet fully mature, all children under the age of 18 are entitled to special care and protection. Both parents and the Government continue to owe a special duty to children until they reach adulthood.

By defining a child as one under 18 years old, Việt Nam can extend protection of rights to cover all children, and avoid the risk that children aged 16-18 years fall through the gaps.”

End of China’s one-child policy is slowly giving ‘ghost children’ identities, Nathan Vanderklippe, The Globe and Mail, April 3, 2016

For two years since her second child was born, Eva Kuang debated how to make her son legal.

Because he was born in contravention of China’s one-child policy, local authorities demanded that she pay a $60,000 fine before they would assign him a hukou household registration. Without that, he would have no right to function legally in his own country and be denied vaccinations, health care, education and employment.

China ended its one-child policy this year, but “ghost children” like Ms. Kuang’s son remained, stuck in a system that demanded heavy penance for bearing illegal children. Even at the age of 2, he had already felt the weight of being different: He could not travel with his mother, who also warned that he might not be able to attend kindergarten.

That suddenly changed last week, as authorities in Beijing quietly began to strip away one of the last vestiges of a decades-long policy responsible for untold hardship in China – allowing Ms. Kuang and others like her to give their children legal status without first paying punishing fines.