Friday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

Time to Have a Conversation About Race, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

Can we have an open, honest discussion about race? I’m not making a request to have such a conversation, what I am wondering is if it is possible. There are a lot of obstacles. Media coverage, through where most people get their information, doesn’t always contribute to the discussion.

In this era of 24-hour news and intense competition for stories, outlets are tempted to skew stories in ways that emphasize or deemphasize race, and not always in a consistent fashion. The inconsistency is pretty easy to understand though; it boils down to the bottom line. Readers and viewers translate to money, and controversy is more entertaining than facts.

The recent case of George Zimmerman was full of examples. Many liberals thought he should be found guilty of killing Trayvon Martin, while many conservatives thought he hadn’t done anything wrong. The media didn’t help. It is clear for instance that NBC editors  altered the 911 call in a way that made Zimmerman appear racist. For many on the right end of the political spectrum (which is predominantly white) this was evidence of a liberal agenda. Let’s remember, though, this same media’s coverage of blacks, especially males, has perpetuated dangerous stereotypes. This isn’t just on Fox News either.

In Harlem, the Peaceful Ruckus of a Basketball Tournament to Remember Trayvon Martin and Sean Bell, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

NEW YORK — The thousands strong, raucous crowd grew louder and louder with each thunderous dunk in the storied basketball courts of Halcombe Rucker Park on 155th Street in Harlem earlier this week. Children sprinted up and down the sidelines with unbridled enthusiasm, unable to sit still amidst the intensity generated by New York City’s top two streetball teams pitted against each other for the rights to the inaugural, gold plated, championship trophy.


However, as the spirited madness swept through the stands Tuesday night, Tobias Harris remained somber.

The 21-year-old rising star for the NBA’s Orlando Magic and former Mr. New York Basketball helped lead the Sean Bell All-Stars to a first-place finish in the first annual Trayvon Martin Invitational, an accomplishment that Harris said ranks amongst the closest to his heart.

Harris, a Long Island native and current Orlando resident, lives just 10 miles from The Retreat at Twin Lakes gated community of Sanford, Fla., where Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman on the night of February 26, 2012. Harris also spent most of his high school career at Half Hollow Hills West in Dix Hills, a 30-mile trek from Club Kalua in South Jamaica, Queens, where Sean Bell was shot and killed by NYPD detectives in the early morning hours of November 25, 2006.


Child Abuse in Army Families Rises 40 Percent.  What’s Being Done to Stop It, Children’s Rights

An investigation by the Army Times found 3,698 reported cases of child abuse and neglect in Army families last year, a staggering 40 percent increase from 2009. According to a Huffington Post report, the military has yet to come up with an explanation for the increase. Meanwhile, the cases of horrific child abuse and neglect keep mounting:

John E. Jackson, 37, a U.S. Army major and his wife, Carolyn, 35, were charged in May with “unimaginable cruelty to children,” NBC Philadelphia reported. The two allegedly abused their three adopted and three biological children, but the adopted kids bore the brunt of the torture.

According to the news source, the parents forced their kids to eat hot sauce, withheld water, broke the kids’ bones and told their biological children that such practices were a form of “training,” and that they should not tell anyone about the horrors they witnessed.Some of these cases are even unfolding on Army bases, as was the case with Pvt. Connell Williams’ family. Williams and his girlfriend killed one of her two children while living in Army housing:

It was there that Williams and his girlfriend starved Marcus, beat him with a bat and forced the little boy to march around wearing 50-60 pounds of gear, according to court documents obtained by the news outlet. Marcus died on May 5, 2011, weighing just 44 pounds.

The U.S. Army Family Advocacy Program offers seminars, workshops, counseling and intervention services to prevent such tragedies, and the Army is building child and behavioral health centers at major bases. However, significant obstacles stand in the way of more being done about this worsening problem.

Thursday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

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Sex-Trafficking Sting Shows Foster Children are Especially Vulnerable,

The FBI announced on Monday that a nationwide sex-trafficking sting rescued 105 sexually exploited teenagers, according to a Los Angeles Times report. The three-day sting covering 76 cities focused on underage victims of prostitution and resulted in 150 suspected pimps being apprehended. In San Francisco alone, officers rescued 12 juveniles and arrested 17 pimps.

The raids, executed by nearly 4,000 total officers, highlighted the vulnerability of foster children to child sex traffickers:

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the information clearinghouse that tracks missing child reports in the United States, 60% of runaways who are victims of sex trafficking had been in the custody of social services or in foster care.The center assisted the FBI in the raids as part of the Innocence Lost Initiative, which has rescued more than 2,700 sexually exploited children over the past decade. According to the center’s officials, foster children are especially at-risk of being targeted by sex-traffickers.

Parental Alienation, The National Law Review

Parental alienation is a type of abuse by one parent who “programs” the child or children of the marriage to denigrate or “target” the other parent in an effort to undermine and interfere with the child’s relationship with that parent.  This syndrome is often a sign of the offending parent’s inability to separate from the couple’s conflict and focus on the child’s needs.  Rather, the offending parent uses the children in his or her war against the other parent.

Parental alienation deprives children of their right to be loved and to show love to both of their parents.  The alienating parent (and often other family members) mentally manipulate or bully children into believing a loving parent is the cause of all of the their or the family’s problems; therefore the other parent must be the enemy, be feared, hated, disrespected and avoided.  Hatred is not a normal emotion for children, rather it must be taught.

Lawmakers Call to Arm Prison Rape Victims with Legal Aid, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

Julie Biehl, director of the Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern University, panned one glaring contributor to Illinois’ soaring rates of sexual abuse in youth prisons: the lack of advocacy on the part of incarcerated children.

“Although the public is not aware of this,” she said, “Illinois does not provide attorneys for incarcerated youth.”

Without legal representation, young people “have no one to turn to whom they trust” in matters ranging from unwanted advances from prison staff to guidance in parole hearings that have the potential to determine the course of their lives, Biehl said at a hearing by the state’s Restorative Justice Committee this week at the James R. Thompson Center downtown.

“Imagine for a moment you’re a teenager,” Biehl continued. “You’re incarcerated. You may be learning disabled; you may be traumatized; you probably don’t read at your grade level. Your release, your re-incarceration and your discharge from parole is at the discretion of the correctional officers. Maybe… you’ve been raped. There is no one to advocate exclusively for your rights, safeguarding your welfare and telling your story.”

Missouri Legislators Threaten to Override Veto of Juvenile Sex Offender Registration Bill, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

Legislators in Missouri say they may make a move later this fall to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s recent veto of a bill that would have removed juveniles from public sex offender registries.

In an interview with The Missourian, Republican state Rep. Dave Hinson said the bill had strong support in the state legislature, which swept through the House earlier this year with unanimous approval before passing out of the Senate after a 28-4 vote.

However, the bill was subsequently vetoed by Nixon, who said the legislation would not protect victims’ rights or uphold public safety.

[Youth Report] In Atlanta, An Exploration of the New Family Normal,

I visited Atlanta for the first time in April 2013. Coming from the San Francisco Bay Area, I felt simultaneously at home in the diversity of the city and far away in the humid, hustling winds of the south. Everything about Atlanta spoke of a long, deep-rooted history of families, success, poverty, change, fusion, evolution and culture.

Dani Planer is a young photographer based in the heart of the South’s biggest, bravest city. In 2010, at the age of 14, Dani created (with co-producer Devin Black) a poignant and quietly provocative series of photos studying urban decay in Atlanta. The series, ‘Abandoned Atlanta,’featured on Bokeh and later at the Joseph R. Bankoff Gallery at the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta, brought us inside the architectural graveyards of bygone buildings, eras and policies.

Now, Dani turns their work from place to people, examining different Atlanta families and their relationships. Like the population of the city they live in, the families are ethnically and structurally complex, diverse in their backgrounds and make up. Yet each photograph relays a common familial bond that extends beyond the confines of race and culture.

Juvenile Injustice: $350 to Defend A Child,

Three hundred fifty dollars. That’s the amount Los Angeles County pays a private attorney to represent a child charged with crimes when the public defender has a conflict of interest and can’t handle the case. That $350 has to cover all legal work, even when the child is charged with a serious crime such as murder or rape. About 11,000 kids a year end up being represented by such appointed counsel.

Here’s how it commonly works. Let’s say two 15-year-olds are caught with a six-pack of beer and charged with illegal possession of alcohol. Because they may have incentives to testify against each other, the rules of legal ethics require that different law firms represent them. So, typically, one would be represented by the public defender while the other’s case would be contracted out to an attorney earning a total fee of $350.

This compensation system has created profound inequalities in the legal services provided to children.

Legal Aid for Youths an Issue for Colo. Lawmakers, The Denver Post

DENVER—At least half of the indigent juvenile offenders in Colorado don’t get legal representation, experts told state lawmakers who began studying the issue Tuesday for possible legislation next year.

State and national experts told the lawmakers that an estimated 50 to 75 percent of juveniles have their cases resolved, sometimes agreeing to pleas, before ever having legal counsel. Lawmakers this year created the legislative committee to study the issue.

“If your child’s liberty is at stake, they should have access to counsel,” said Patricia Puritz, the executive director of the National Juvenile Defender Center, which released a report in January on the legal representation Colorado provides juvenile offenders. Puritz told lawmakers that lack of representation is a problem nationwide that has not gotten enough attention.

“It’s the result of really benign neglect, more than willful obstruction,” she said. Her group’s report was conducted over 18 months, collecting data from 12 counties across 11 judicial districts. She said the rate of indigent juveniles who lack representation could be as high as 75 percent, while the executive director of the Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition put the figure at closer to 50 percent.


Tuesday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

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Nevada High Court Upholds Law Requiring Registration for Juvenile Sex Offenders, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

In a narrow 4-3 decision, the Nevada Supreme Court upheld a state law requiring the registration of certain juvenile sex offenders, even though all seven of the court’s justices had written previously that the law may not be an effective crime deterrent.

The majority opinion was penned by Justice Michael Douglas, who wrote that the law, which took effect in 2007, “easily passes rational basic review.” However, Douglas also wrote that he had questions as to whether the law commendably serves a public safety purpose or aides juveniles in the rehabilitation process.

“Of upmost concern,“ Douglas wrote, “it does not appear from the legislative history that the Nevada Legislature ever considered the impact of the bill on juveniles.”

The decision overturns a ruling issued by a juvenile district judge in Clark County, who invalidated the law. Under the law, juveniles over the age of 14 who have been adjudicated delinquent for sexual offenses must register with local law enforcement officials, who may then share the offender’s information with public groups.

OP-ED: House and Senate Committees Gut Funding to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the Juvenile Justice System, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

This past week, the House and Senate Appropriators approved substantial reductions in juvenile justice funding, including critical funding to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system. The House bill contains only $20 million for all states to implement Title II of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. The Senate bill recommends $50 million. Both are well below the president’s proposed $70 million.

We shouldn’t let them make these cuts and here’s why:

The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) was established in 1974 to provide federal standards for the custody and care of youth in the juvenile justice system. Title II of the law, which articulates core protections for system-involved youth to help states ensure young people are treated fairly and humanely, was updated more than 20 years ago with the “Disproportionate Minority Confinement” (DMC) provision. This provision requires that states, as a condition of receiving federal funds, identify and address the disproportionate confinement of youth of color in the juvenile justice system.

MY WHOLE FAMILY IS DRUG ABUSERS AND CRIMINALS, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

“I’m from Johnson County. I’ve been here 4 months. I’ve been in seven times. First charge was damage to property—aiding and abetting (fleeing from cops) when I was 12-years old. My Mom came to see me. She comes every weekend from Lawrence. It’s about a 30-45 minute drive. She’s unemployed. Dad works in Olathe and visits every weekend. He works at a warehouse. I have two brothers. One is 15—in jail at Douglas County- battery and grand theft auto. The 13 year old is on ISP (intense supervised probation.) I have a 19-year-old sister who is finished with her term for shoplifting … and a 10-year-old sister – no trouble. My whole family is drug abusers and criminals. My Mom is four years recovered — clean from crack and alcohol. My Aunt did a year in Federal [prison] in Texas … for driving with a child in a car while intoxicated. This is my first LONG stay. I have been to ACT (Adolescent Center for Treatment) for rehab … It’s around the corner. Out patient rehabilitation when I was 13-14. I was on probation for battery. Assault is when you defend — battery is when you initiate. I was in junior high and living with my dad because my mom was in rehab. Then I moved in with my mom in Lawrence. I attended another middle school … kicked out for possession of narcotics with intent to distribute … Weed, meth, pills. I was 14.