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.

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