Bryan ISD Investigated for School-Based Ticketing Due To Disparate Impact on African-American Students

From NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund:

In a letter sent to LDF, the U.S. Department of Education has confirmed it will investigate a complaint  that we and Texas Appleseed filed which challenges the “disparate impact” that Bryan school district’s practice of issuing criminal citations for minor misbehavior has on African-American students, who are ticketed at four times the rate of their peers.

“This investigation sends a strong message to school districts around the country that the government takes seriously allegations that police are criminalizing children in school instead of keeping them safe,” said Rachel Kleinman, Assistant Counsel with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

“We are pleased that OCR is pursuing this important issue and look forward to working with the Department of Education and the Bryan school district to find more positive approaches to improving student behavior and keeping more children in class and out of the court system,” said Texas Appleseed Deputy Director Deborah Fowler.

Ann Boney, President of the Brazos County NAACP, said, “We are pleased that we will move forward with this issue and begin developing a positive approach that will benefit all concerned parties.”

African-American students comprised only 21% of the Bryan district’s student population in 2011-12, but received 53% of all tickets issued last year for Disruption of Class and 51% for Disorderly Conduct-Language (profanity). While the Texas lawmakers passed legislation this spring ending school-based ticketing in most cases, school districts can still file formal complaints and send students to court for the same types of minor misbehavior.

“In a very real sense, districts like Bryan are using law enforcement as a disciplinary tool, leading students into the school-to-prison pipeline,” said Senior Attorney Michael Harris, with the National Center for Youth Law. “But research shows these matters are far better handled by educators and parents.”

We are asking OCR to require Bryan ISD to provide additional training for school police officers in adolescent behavior, conflict resolution and de-escalation techniques. We are strongly encouraging implementation of nationally-tested programs shown to reduce disciplinary problems and boost academics—such as School-Wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports. Our complaint also proposes:

  • Revisions to the Bryan Student Code of Conduct to establish graduated consequences for misbehavior that minimize missed class time and reserve suspension, expulsion, and police responses to student misbehavior to only those incidents that pose a safety risk;
  • Required campus-based quarterly reporting of data on ticketing and school-related arrests, by type of incident disaggregated by race; and
  • Intervention services for students who receive multiple Class C citations and/or disciplinary referrals and who are at risk of educational failure.

It is a common practice in Texas for school districts to bring in the criminal system to handle issues with students that many people should be dealt with internally. The school-to-prison pipeline in Texas is used way too often and it is about time the Department of Education notices. Hopefully this investigation will lead to the elimination of this disparate impact practice.

Defending with Education

This past summer I was fortunate enough to intern for the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office Juvenile Division.  There are so many wonderful things they do for their clients, but one of the most impressive things they offer is their Legal Education Advocacy Program.  Lauren Brady Blalock is the Education Lawyer for the program, and has provided the following program description:

The San Francisco Public Defender’s Office Juvenile Division is the recipient of a federal Block II Grant, which was awarded to fund the establishment of the Legal Educational Advocacy Program (LEAP). The Program is staffed by an education attorney and a youth advocate, who work as a team to address the myriad of education issues facing youth involved in the juvenile justice system. The program serves over 100 individual clients each year, all of whom are clients of the Public Defender’s Office. The attorney and youth advocate address issues such as special education, truancy, school discipline, academic achievement, and school safety. By assisting students to receive much needed services in a safe and appropriate school setting, the LEAP team is able to address issues that would ordinarily lead to these students being remanded into custody, sent out a placement outside of their communities or sent to juvenile hall for violations of probation. Program evaluation also indicates that the clients themselves have a more positive experience both in school and in court after participation in LEAP.

Education is an often overlooked tool for juvenile defense attorneys.  By implementing programs like San Francisco’s LEAP, attorneys are able to identify and address a child’s specific needs, and have alternative venues for resolving cases.  Even outside of the Public Defender’s Office, defense attorneys should become familiar with available area schools and education programs that could better serve their clients.  Making sure that a client’s education needs are properly met can often alleviate behavioral concerns.  Also, once a child’s needs are identified and a proper plan is in place, children are able to achieve more and can develop a positive outlook towards school.  Defending children requires knowledge of several areas of law.  I encourage child advocates to make education a priority when representing their young clients.

Featured image courtesy of http://drlindagalloway.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/chalk_304851_7.jpg.

The Future of Mandatory Life Sentences for Juveniles

photo courtesy of: http://www.familylawyerva.com/images/PA_Juvenile_Landing_Page_Picture.jpg

From the Editorial Board at The New York Times:

Young people are different. The Supreme Court has delivered that message repeatedly over the last decade in limiting or flatly prohibiting the most severe criminal punishments for those under 18 at the time of their crime.

In 2005, the court banned the death penalty for juveniles. In 2010, it outlawed sentences of life without parole for juveniles convicted of crimes other than homicide. And, in a 2012 case, Miller v. Alabama, it said juveniles may never receive a mandatory sentence of life without parole, which prisoners refer to as “the other death penalty.”

Each ruling, relying on the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, has found that young people are “constitutionally different” from adults, and, therefore, must be punished differently.

In each case, the court was silent on the question of whether its ruling applied retroactively to inmates who had already been convicted. The just answer would surely be yes, and courts have largely agreed, making those first two juvenile justice rulings retroactive. But some states insist that the ban on mandatory life without parole does not apply to offenders who have already been sentenced.

In the Miller case, the court required lower courts to make “individualized sentencing decisions” for juvenile defendants because juveniles are not as morally culpable as adults, and they are more capable of changing over time. If the ban on mandatory life without parole is retroactive, more than 2,000 prisoners would be eligible for a new sentencing hearing. So far, whether these individuals can get a new hearing depends on where they live.

Courts in Michigan, Iowa and Mississippi have ruled that the ban applies to previously sentenced juveniles. The Department of Justice takes that position as well. Yet the Minnesota Supreme Court and one federal appeals court have taken the opposite view.

On Sept. 4, the Louisiana Supreme Court took on this question in the case of Darryl Tate, who was 17 when he held up two men and killed one of them in 1981. Mr. Tate’s lawyers argue that he is entitled to a new sentencing hearing under the Miller rule, because the United States Supreme Court allowed such a rehearing in another juvenile life-without-parole case decided at the same time as Miller.

Critics fear that allowing resentencing would increase violent crime. But courts may still impose life without parole, provided that the judge first gives proper consideration to the mitigating effects of youth. The Alabama Supreme Court set out guidelines last week that require a court to consider 14 factors, including a defendant’s age, emotional maturity, family environment and potential for rehabilitation before issuing such a sentence.

Ideally, life without parole would never be a sentencing option for juveniles. The Supreme Court’s own logic suggests this, even if it was not willing to go that far. After the Miller case, three states entirely eliminated juvenile life without parole, joining six other states that had already banned the sentence, and lawsuits on the retroactivity issue are pending in several states. As lawmakers and courts deal with this issue, they should remember — as the Supreme Court has declared — that adolescents are not adults, and that principle should apply regardless of the date of a conviction.

This editorial hits the nail on the head. Children are different; it is common sense. They continue to mature and can change in ways that adults may not be able to. Hopefully many of the lawsuits currently pending will result in states opening up their courts to retroactive sentencing hearings for prisoners sentenced to mandatory life without parole as juveniles.