Monday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

Another Chance for Mone’t: Program Keeps Troubled New York Youth Close to Home, The New York Times

. . . the premise behind Close to Home . . . Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed into law a year ago. Adolescents from New York City committing acts of delinquency — turnstile jumping, obstructing justice, fighting — no longer are sent upstate to institutions, places so isolated that families or lawyers found it difficult to visit. Instead, the young people have local options now, ranging from community probation programs to residential houses.

In the first eight months, with 400 youths in residential placement, there have been setbacks: 40 arrests . . . 15 young people were placed in secure detention centers to await trials, . . . There have been injuries to staff members and damage to property.

There have also been successes: 90 youths completed their sentences (an average of seven months), and nearly every resident is earning credits with the city’s Education Department, something that is impossible upstate.

Utah Soccer Referee Punched by Player Dies, Los Angeles Times

Portillo, 46, succumbed to injuries late Saturday that had put him in a coma for a week after police said a 17-year-old goalie punched him.  Authorities say the teen struck Portillo after the youth was called for a foul and issued a yellow card.

“The suspect was close to Portillo and punched him once in the face as a result of the call,” police spokesman Justin Hoyal said in a statement.  The suspect had been booked into juvenile detention on suspicion of aggravated assault. Hoyal said authorities would consider additional charges since Portillo’s death.

Activists Try to Get Rid of Juvenile Records Fee, East Bay Express

They contend that the [Alameda] county’s $150 fee prevents young peoiple from sealing court records involving minor crimes – and thus harms their ability to find jobs and housing later in life . . .

In most counties in California . . .  youths do not have to worry about their past problems haunting them later in life. In those counties, young people adjudicated of minor crimes can pay a $50 application fee to get their juvenile court records sealed permanently, and if they cannot afford the charge, the fee is waived entirely. Counties like San Francisco, Sacramento, and Los Angeles provide the service free to everyone.

But not Alameda County. It is one of six counties in California that charges the maximum fee — $150 — under state law. It is also one of just three counties that do not offer a waiver to people who cannot afford to pay . . .

Alameda County instituted the $150 fee three years ago in an attempt to increase revenues for the Probation Department, which has historically been underfunded . . .  In 2010, the year the fee went into effect, the number of people applying to seal their youth records in Alameda County dropped by half, and the number of applicants has remained equally low for the past three years, according to data obtained from probation.

The High Cost of Putting Teens in Prison, MetroWest Daily News

 Most states don’t treat 17 year olds as adult criminals. Massachusetts does, and faces federal sanctions because of it. T.J. Parsell’s crime was like lots of things teen-agers do: stupid, impulsive and dangerous . . . at 17, Parsell was, in terms of his psychological development, still mostly a child.  He sentenced Parsell to 4 to 15 years in an adult penitentiary.

“On the first day, I was gang-raped,” Parsell said this week at a conference in Newton. “After that, they flipped a coin to see whose property I was going to be.” He survived his time behind bars by being the sexual slave of a stronger inmate. “I deserved to be punished for what I did,” he said. “I didn’t deserve that.” . . .

Juveniles housed in adult prisons are six times more likely to be sexually assaulted, said Parsell, now an author, filmmaker and activist, and 36 times more likely to commit suicide.

Massachusetts, progressive in so many areas, is anything but when it comes to putting kids in prison. It’s one of just 12 states that treat 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system, no matter how minor their crimes. Massachusetts puts an estimated 500 17-year-olds into adult jails and prisons every year . . .

Want to turn a troubled kid into a hardened adult criminal? Lock him up with adult thugs, in a facility where he’ll get none of those things. Teens prosecuted as adults are 34 percent more likely to be arrested again than those tried as juveniles . . .

The “Justice for Kids” bill now before the Legislature would do just that, raising the state’s centuries-old age for adult criminal jurisdiction from 17 to 18. Pushed by state Rep. Kay Khan, D-Newton, and Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, the bill has failed to make it out of the Ways & Means Committee in past sessions, though its price tag – $20 million – is modest compared to the nearly $1 billion the state spends now on corrections.

This time, the bill may get a push from the feds.  In 2003, a diverse coalition of evangelical and civil liberties groups convinced Congress to enact the Prison Rape Elimination Act, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush . . .

Massachusetts must comply with that rule by August 2013 or face the loss of federal grant funding. Compliance through building segregated wings could be expensive, and advocates worry prisons and jails may comply by putting more 17-year-olds in solitary confinement – a brutal experience that causes psychological trauma. The simplest, and best, way to meet the federal standards is to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction . . .

Under state law, anyone 14 or older charged with murder must go into the adult system. That wouldn’t change.  What would change is that every year 500 Massachusetts kids would stand a better chance of surviving their brush with the law and growing into law-abiding adults. That’s not just humane for the kids, it’s smart policy.

Georgia to Lock up Fewer Young Offenders, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Deal signed House Bill 242, adding Georgia to the list of states making sweeping changes aimed at slowing the ballooning costs of incarceration while also steering petty offenders away from a life of crime . . .

The Legislature passed a similar bill dealing with adult offenders. Both measures enjoyed broad support, with fiscal conservatives worried about soaring costs allied with criminal justice reformers who think stringent sentencing hasn’t worked. And both had Deal’s backing . . .

Once the youth law takes effect Jan. 1, so-called “status offenders” arrested for minor offenses won’t go into the criminal justice system at all. Instead they will be sent to social services programs equipped to address the underlying reasons for their trouble, often found in their home lives. Teenagers accused of misdemeanors and low-level crimes like drug possession will not be sentenced to a juvenile prison. Instead they will be diverted to community-based programs.

Those who commit designated felonies will be separated into two categories. Crimes in which no one is hurt will mean no more than 18 months locked up plus another 1 1/2 years of intensive probation. Designated felons who harm someone could be locked up for as many as five years . . .

Georgia taxpayers will save $85 million over five years and avoid building two more juvenile facilities, Deal said.  Advocates also expect a drop in the state’s 65 percent recidivism rate for juvenile offenders . . .

Ohio, the first state to take such an approach with RECLAIM, has cut its juvenile inmate population from 2,600 to 550; consequently four facilities were closed.

New York City’s Close to Home program launched last September and officials expect to see a 62 percent decline in the number of kids the courts order locked up.

California credits its community-based programs for reducing the number of juveniles locked up from more than 10,000 in 1996 to 1,000. Last year, the state spent $93.4 million to defray the cost to counties for the program.

Even as Texas closed or consolidated seven facilities because the number of juveniles in custody had dropped by 62 percent, state officials also recorded a 27 percent decline in in juvenile crimes over four years, according to the Texas Public Policy Institute . . .

[Gov.] Deal Signs Bill to Improve Child Safety, Clayton News Daily

Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law House Bill 350, requiring Georgia’s 6,000 child care facilities to undergo national fingerprint-based background checks for employees.

Coupé Works to Protect City’s Most Vulnerable, Memphis Daily News

As supervising attorney over both the Judge’s Action Center and the Office of Advocate for Noncustodial Parents at Memphis-Shelby County Juvenile Court, Tom Coupé works to ensure that the most vulnerable members of society are being fairly and equally represented.

“The Judge’s Action Center started as an outreach to the public to assist them with any questions or concerns they have about the court,” Coupé said . . . Coupé and his team of two attorneys help people prepare petitions and pleadings for Juvenile Court to help the judge or magistrate to better understand what the concern is and what is trying to be accomplished.  “We don’t represent them in court, but we’ll assist them with the creation of the pleading and advise them on what that pleading will contain and what it means,” he said . . .

Juvenile law is extremely specific and there is not a lot of crossover between what’s happening in the adult world of the Shelby County Justice Center . . . and Juvenile Court. There are other attorneys he’s spoken with who tend to have a secondary opinion of juvenile law, calling it “kiddie court.”

In Honor of Law Day, Organization Wants to Spread Word About “Youth Court” Diversion Programs, Corrections.com

To celebrate Law Day — an annual event, celebrated May 1, that is sponsored by the American Bar Association (ABA) — the ABA teamed up with Global Youth Justice (GYJ) in an effort to help youth courts across more than 40 states launch 250 websites.

According to the Global Youth Justice website, more than 1,400 juvenile justice programs utilizing youth or student courts have been set up worldwide. By 2020, GYJ aspires to have more than 1,800 youth and student courts established in all 50 states, with more than 200,000 young offenders annually referred to such juvenile diversion programs.

LGUs Urged to Fully Implement Juvenile Justice Law, Philippine Information Agency

An official of the National Youth Commission cited the need for local governments to fully implement the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act or Republic Act 9344Undersecretary Leon Flores, III, chair of the National Youth Commission said that often it is not the fault of the child to commit a crime.

“We have to look at his environment, the family situation and the juvenile justice system is one of the intervention programs to keep them away from criminal activities. The child must be provided opportunities to be productive,” he said. Flores said children in conflict with the law must be given a chance instead of sending them to jail.

Flores claimed there are also parents who push their children to commit crimes. “So we should go before the parents or the criminal syndicates behind them,” he said.

Flores said local governments must be resolved to implement the law and its programs . . . Flores disclosed that one of the interventions set this May is to register all out-of-school youth so that they will be included in the integration program of the Department of Education . . .

House Bill (HB) 6052 had been passed by the lower chamber on third and final reading. It seeks to amend Republic Act (RA) 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Law by declaring that a child charged with murder, parricide, homicide, kidnapping, rape, robbery, drug trafficking or other offenses punishable by more than 12 years in jail shall be presumed to have acted with discernment.

Flores also cited the need for the youth to be involved in sports. He said that through sports, children will learn the values of teamwork and discipline and most of all respect for others and oneself.

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