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.

What the United States and Somalia Have in Common

photo courtesy of: http://ioneglobalgrind.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/12.jpg?w=390
photo courtesy of: http://ioneglobalgrind.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/12.jpg?w=390

photo courtesy of: http://ioneglobalgrind.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/12.jpg?w=390

The United States is one of the only countries in the world that sentences people to die in prison for crimes they committed prior to their eighteenth birthday.  In other words, the United States is unique in that it allows, and in fact sometimes requires, our justice system to sentence individuals to life in prison without the possibility of parole for crimes they committed before turning eighteen years old.  The 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child bans sentencing juveniles to life without the possibility of parole.  Besides the United States, Somalia is the only other country that has failed to ratify the treaty.  In many ways an innovative instrument, the convention is the first international treaty enacted to implement minimum standards for the protection of children’s rights, guaranteeing civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights to children.  Focused on the four general principles, non-discrimination, best interests of the child, right to life, survival, and development, and views of the child, the treaty recognizes the special vulnerabilities of children and acknowledges their ever-evolving capabilities.  While the U.S. has failed to ratify the Convention, it has adopted two of its optional provisions, Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, preventing governments from forcing children under the age of eighteen into compulsorily duty in the armed forces and Sale of Children, Child Prostitution, and Child Pornography, prohibiting the sale of children as well as child prostitution and pornography.  Additionally, in 1992, the U.S. ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which required rehabilitation to be the focus of juvenile punishment, however the U.S. has reserved the right to sentence juveniles to life without parole in extreme cases involving severe criminals and hardened crimes.

Utilizing the punishment much more often than anywhere else in the world, the practice gained the most support in the 1980s and 1990s when the country saw a spike in violent crimes committed by youth, garnering a wealth of media coverage, and causing politicians to adopt “tough on crime” policies in an attempt to quell public apprehensions.  According to a report by The Sentencing Project, there has been an increase in life sentences given across the board for all offenders, adults and youth alike, with individuals serving life sentences without the possibility of parole increasing by nearly 10,000 in just four years from 2008 to 2012.  By allowing individuals to be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for crimes they committed prior to their eighteenth birthday, the United States is neglecting to account for the vast differences that exist between adult and youth offenders, including but not limited to poverty, childhood abuse, and youthfulness in general, all factors that can contribute to the crime committed.  Placing rehabilitation at the center of juvenile punishments acknowledges the notion that youth are still developing physically, mentally, and emotionally and because they are continually learning, expanding, and growing, they are capable of benefitting exceptionally from rehabilitation, rather than incarceration.

With about 2,500 youth offenders currently serving life sentences without the possibility of parole, a change in attitude toward juvenile crimes is definitely needed, but has America recognized this need?  Two recent Supreme Court cases, Graham v. Florida (2010) and Miller v. Alabama (2012), may lend support for an answer in the affirmative.  In Graham, the Court stated that because of the cognitive, behavioral, and emotional differences between juveniles and adults, individuals under the age of eighteen at the time of committing a crime cannot be given sentences of life without the possibility of parole unless charged with homicide.  The Court in Miller determined that states cannot imprison juveniles under laws that mandatorily impose life sentences without the possibility of parole as a penalty for homicide.  Viewing the imposition of mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole on juveniles without considering age and other relevant factors as a violation of the eighth amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, Graham and Miller are steps in the right direction towards recognizing the extensive differences between juvenile and adult offenders. However, yet another question now surfaces.  Should the holding in Miller, with the potential of having life changing effects for thousands of already incarcerated offenders, be applied retroactively to the approximately 2,000 prisoners who are currently serving life sentences without the possibility of parole under statutes such as the one discussed in Miller?  Youth cannot be given life sentences unless their proceedings are transferred out of the juvenile justice system and into adult court, as no such sentence is available through the juvenile system.  To pose an even broader question, should juveniles ever be transferred to adult court in the first place?  With approximately 2,000 youth offenders convicted under statutes like those outlawed by Miller serving life sentences without the possibility of parole, many of them could potentially be given a second chance by applying the Miller holding retroactively or alternatively, could have benefitted from refusing the transfer of youth to the adult system in the first place.  Furthermore, as a nation, are there things we could be doing on the front end to reduce some of the societal indicators that have a tendency of being associated with youth committing crimes before they turn eighteen?  Some argue that by focusing energy and efforts towards the reduction of child poverty, protection from child abuse, expansion of access to mental health and other support services, and improvement in school quality youth might not end up in a courtroom confronting in a judge in the first place and therefore not have to face the possibility of one of the harshest sentences available, life without the possibility of parole.

Because of their age and continual ongoing development of their brains, youth, as a whole, are arguably more capable of maturing, changing, and growing through rehabilitative efforts than are adults.  Rather than automatically giving up on individuals who commit crimes prior to their eighteenth birthdays, when given the opportunity to rehabilitate by being guided through proper avenues, there is a likely chance that many youth offenders will be able to successfully reenter society.  In light of these notions, supporters of this view would likely advocate for the retroactive application of the Miller holding.  On the other hand, one might argue that the harm to society may be greater in general given the potential juveniles possess for high rates of recidivism.  Opponents and relatives of victims killed by juvenile offenders don’t believe that the youth deserve a second chance, in light of the fact that their victims aren’t afforded the same opportunity.  They would be hard pressed to argue that releasing any of the juveniles currently incarcerated and serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole would serve the overarching goal of protecting the public.

As you get older, your conscience and reasoning capabilities develop and mature, a concept that lends support to the notion that juvenile offenders can particularly benefit from rehabilitation efforts.  The state has a legitimate and compelling interest in protecting society and the juvenile offender alike.  Life sentences without the possibility of parole send a message to society that authorities are “tough on crime” and arguably, are utilized to act as a deterrent to prevent future crimes.  But considering that the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for regulating impulse control and emotional response, doesn’t stop developing until one’s mid twenties, can juveniles really be held accountable for weighing short term risks and long term consequences in the same way adults are?  Juvenile offenders, like all offenders, must be held accountable for their behavior and must face consequences for their actions, but is condemning them to die in prison through life sentences without the possibility of parole the best way to handle it?

Monday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

photo courtesy of: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-iRsHfg1ysDs/Tib08lZl16I/AAAAAAAAAHI/WmFjnHI5R5g/s1600/gun+violence+alg_stop_sign.jpg

Man Wanted in Custody Case Returning to Oklahoma, www.abcnews.com

The father of a Cherokee Indian girl mired in an adoption dispute was ordered to leave an Iowa National Guard base and return to Oklahoma, an Iowa Guard spokesman said Sunday.

Brown, who is Cherokee, is charged with custodial interference involving his 3-year-old daughter, Veronica. A South Carolina couple has been trying to adopt Veronica since her birth in 2009; they raised her for two years.

The issue has been clouded by the Indian Child Welfare Act, which prompted a court in 2011 to favor the girl living with her father. But in June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that South Carolina courts should decide who gets to adopt Veronica.

The girl’s biological mother, Chrissy Maldonado, is not Indian and supports the adoption. She has filed a lawsuit against the federal government claiming the Indian Child Welfare Act is unconstitutional.

More recently, a South Carolina judge finalized the couple’s adoption and approved a plan to reintroduce Veronica to the couple, Matt and Melanie Capobianco. Brown didn’t show up for the first scheduled gathering Aug. 4, prompting the charge.

Several American Indian groups are also pursuing a federal civil rights case, saying a hearing should be held to determine if it is in Veronica’s best interest to be transferred to South Carolina.

Cherokee Nation spokeswoman Amanda Clinton has called the move to charge Brown “morally reprehensible” and “legally questionable.”

The attorneys for Veronica’s adoptive parents and her birth mother argued in a joint statement Sunday morning that not only is Brown committing a felony, but anyone who hides the child from law enforcement or stands in the way of the court order to turn her over — including the Cherokee Nation — also should be considered lawbreakers.

In US, a Youth is Killed by a Gun Every Three Hours, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

More than 18,000 young people were killed or injured by a gun in 2010, according to a new report released by the Children’s Defense Fund, “Protect Children Not Guns 2013.”

According to the report, approximately 2,700 young people, up to 19 years old, lost their lives in 2010 to gun violence, the equivalent of one death every three hours and fifteen minutes, averaging 51 deaths every week.

Using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers found that gun violence was the second leading cause of death for young people, only automobile accidents claimed the lives of more children and teens. The report’s authors also found that African-American youths were twice as likely to be killed by a gun than killed in a traffic accident.

Despite representing just 15 percent of all children and teens, the report said black youths made up 45 percent of all young people killed by firearms in 2010. Not only are African-American youths 4.7 times more likely to be killed with a firearm than white young people, black children and teens were approximately 17 times more likely to be the victims of a firearm-related homicide than white youths.

Older teens represent an overwhelming majority of firearm-death victims. Researchers said nearly nine out of 10 firearm-related injuries or deaths among young people in 2010 occurred among youths ages 15-19, according to the authors of the report. Black males in their mid- to late-teens were found to be the most at-risk group overall, and individuals in the demographic were 30 times more likely to be the victims of gun-related homicides than white males in the same age range.

In 2010, nearly three times as many young people in the U.S. were wounded by firearms than the number of U.S. soldiers injured in Afghanistan during the same year. Since 1963, the report stated, more than 160,000 young people have been killed by firearms in the United States — triple the total number of U.S. soldiers killed in action in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq combined.

“We also need policies that support consumer product safety standards for all guns, public funding for gun violence prevention research, and resources and authority for law enforcement agencies to properly enforce gun safety laws,” she concluded. “We can — and must — raise our individual and collective voices and demand our political leaders do better right now to protect children, not guns.”

DoD Responds to Child Abuse Crisis, www.navytimes.com

Faced with an epidemic of child abuse across the four services, the Defense Department is establishing a child abuse working group, according to a Pentagon spokesman.

“The Department is in the process of establishing a Prevention and Coordinated Community Response to Child Abuse, Neglect and Domestic Abuse Working Group,” said DoD spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen.

The working group is part of the Pentagon’s effort to strengthen “awareness and prevention efforts to protect children and apply resources to prevent incidents of child abuse, neglect and domestic abuse,” he said.

DoD is under pressure from two powerful members of the Senate Armed Services Committee who have pressed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel for child abuse statistics and a plan to reverse the trend.

The senators’ inquiry was sparked by an Army Times investigation that found 29,552 cases of child abuse in the Army alone between 2003 and 2012. The abuse led to the death of 118 Army children; 1,400 of the cases included sexual assault.

The number of Army cases has spiked 28 percent between 2008 and 2011. The Air Force is also reporting a 25 percent increase in cases of child abuse and assault between 2008 and 2012.

In all services except the Marine Corps, the number of cases has continued to climb. The Marine Corps cases dropped by 5 percent between 2011 and 2012 and have dropped significantly in fiscal 2013. But the number of Marine child abuse deaths has risen.

Between 2008 and 2012, there were 5,755 cases in the Air Force, 267 of them sexual, resulting in 16 deaths.

The Marine Corps figures for 2011 and 2012 showed 1,591 cases, 47 of them sexual, with six deaths. There have been four deaths this year.

The Navy reported 3,336 cases between 2009 and 2012, with a decline in 2012. But figures for the first half of 2013 show the number of cases climbing again. Among Navy families, 42 children were killed between 2008 and 2012.