Tuesday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

Juvenile Justice secretary meets with Capitol protesters, Tallahasee.com

Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters listened to the personal stories of several activists who have resided in Gov. Rick Scott’s office since Tuesday of last week.

While the group, mostly comprised of members of social activists the Dream Defenders, is adamant about working to abolish Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, they also have a developed focus on other laws that they say adversely affect the youth in the state.

They had the chance to outline what they would like to see from Walters in her capacity as the DJJ secretary.

Protesters are also working to remove zero tolerance laws where youth are suspended from school for minor offenses and stopping the school to prison pipeline that they say often push youth into prison with adults.

 

Governor directs juvenile justice chief to meet with protesters, Miami Herald

Gov. Rick Scott met Monday with his juvenile justice secretary, Wansley Walters, and directed her to meet with a group of student protesters who occupy part of the state Capitol for a sixth straight day
in opposition to Florida’s self-defense law.

Scott met with Walters at DJJ’s Tallahassee offices on Monday morning and they emerged to speak to reporters afterward in a hastily-called media availability.

Scott  met with the protesters last Thursday night in his office and rejected their request that he call a special legislative session to repeal the self-defense law, known as “stand your ground.” The law is widely perceived to be at the heart of George Zimmerman’s decisions on the night he fatally shot an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin, during an encounter in Sanford in February 2012. Zimmerman was found not guilty of second-degree murder.

“I believe in our stand your ground and our self-defense laws in our state,” Scott said. “But I appreciate the fact that they expressed their concerns.” The governor reiterated his suggestion that the young protesters should focus their concerns on state legislators who passed the self-defense law in 2005.

 

Michigan juvenile lifers: Joint hearing scheduled on proposed changes to unconstitutional state law, MLive

LANSING, MI — State lawmakers are expected to hear testimony next month on proposed changes to Michigan’s “juvenile lifer” law, which was deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court more than a year ago.

Chairs of the House Criminal Justice and Senate Judiciary committees have scheduled a joint session on August 14 for testimony — but not a vote — on bipartisan legislation to update state law in response to the ruling.

Michigan law gives prosecutors broad authority to seek adult charges against minors convicted of certain crimes, including first-degree murder. If convicted, those minors face mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision released in June of 2012, said that such mandatory sentences amount to an unconstitutional form of cruel and unusual punishment that fail to acknowledge the potential for character and cognitive development in young people.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — More than a quarter of offenders in West Virginia’s juvenile detention facilities are actually young adults.

State law keeps many juvenile offenders in the custody of the Division of Juvenile Services system until they’re 21 years old. That might need to change, said Denny Dodson, deputy director of the division.

“We either need to change the code or have separate facilities . . .” Dodson said in a recent interview with the Daily Mail.

There’s no policy to keep adult and juvenile offenders separate in the facilities. At one point, advocates said it was good to mix offenders of different ages, Dodson said.

“We took some heat in trying to keep them separate. Obviously, we’re taking some heat for not keeping them separate now.”

A judge recently called the idea into question during a hearing about safety at the Harriet B. Jones Treatment Center, a juvenile corrections facility for sexual offenders and others.

 

The Prison Rape Elimination Act Has Been Law for 10 Years; Time to Make It Policy, Takepart.com

Ten years ago this week, Congress unanimously approved the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) to end sexual violence behind bars.

The law arrived too late for Rodney Hulin, whose mother, Linda Bruntmyer, testified before Congress in 2002 about the brutal rapes of her son in adult prison and his suicide as a result.

In a grievance letter to prison officials, 16-year-old Rodney wrote, “I have been sexually and physically assaulted several times, by several inmates. I am afraid to go to sleep, to shower, and just about everything else. I am afraid that when I am doing these things, I might die at any minute. Please, sir, help me.”

 

Wednesday’s Children and the Law Blog

Scholar Finds Flaws in Work by Archenemy of Comics, The New York Times

Wertham, a German-born American psychiatrist, stirred a national furor and helped create a blueprint for contemporary cultural panics in 1954 with the publication of his book“Seduction of the Innocent,” which attacked comic books for corrupting the minds of young readers.

While the findings of Wertham (who died in 1981) have long been questioned by the comics industry and its advocates, a recent study of the materials he used to write “Seduction of the Innocent” suggests that Wertham misrepresented his research and falsified his results.

In a new article in Information & Culture: A Journal of History, Dr. Tilley offers numerous examples in which she says Wertham “manipulated, overstated, compromised and fabricated evidence,” particularly in the interviews he conducted with his young subjects.

Drawing from his own clinical research and pointed interpretations of comic-book story lines, Wertham argued in the book that comics were harming American children, leading them to juvenile delinquency and to lives of violence, drugs and crime.

“He had cases in which juveniles that suffered problems or took part in transgressive acts or broke the law, and he would find that they read comics,” said David Hajdu, the author of “The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America.”  Even so, Mr. Hajdu said, “It does not prove causation.”

Kids’ Suspensions Renews Debate on Zero Tolerance, The Pittsburg Post Gazette

Waiting in line for the bus, a Pennsylvania kindergartner tells her pals she’s going to shoot them with a Hello Kitty toy that makes soap bubbles. In Maryland, a 6-year-old boy pretends his fingers are a gun during a playground game of cops and robbers. In Massachusetts, a 5-year-old boy attending an after-school program makes a gun out of Legos and points it at other students while “simulating the sound of gunfire,” as one school official put it.  Kids with active imaginations?  Or potential threats to school safety?

Some school officials are taking the latter view, suspending or threatening to suspend younger children over behavior that their parents consider perfectly normal and age-appropriate — even now, with schools in a state of heightened sensitivity following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in December . . .

Texas principal Mark Terry, president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, said most principals whom he knows are “not big supporters” of zero tolerance policies because they discount professional judgment.

But when discipline policies do provide leeway, he said: “I would hope that principals would, No. 1, use discretion and common sense. And if you do make a mistake, apologize and say, ‘Hey, that was a boneheaded move.’  “Our sensitivities are just too high, and we need to back off a little bit and take a look at what our real safety plan is.”

Prison Data, Court Files Show Link Between School Truancy and Crime, Chicago Tribune

Of 182 boys and young men recently locked up in Illinois’ three medium-security youth prisons, at least 135 used to miss so much school that they were labeled chronic truants. Nearly 60 percent couldn’t even read at the third-grade level when they were booked in.  At the largest of the three facilities, the Illinois Youth Center St. Charles, all but nine of the 72 youths had dropped out of school entirely by the time they were incarcerated.

These figures, calculated by the Tribune from newly obtained state prison data, serve as a grim reminder that absence from school in the early grades is often the first warning of criminal misconduct that can destroy young lives as well as burden society with the costs of street violence, welfare and prison.

The records underscore the stark consequences of a crisis in K-8 grade truancy and absenteeism in Chicago that officials long ignored but have promised to address in the wake of a Tribune investigation that found tens of thousands of city elementary students miss a month or more of school in a year.

The prison data consist of raw numbers, but behind them is a ragged parade of youths whose cases fill the docket in Cook County Juvenile Court. One 2011 court report noted that a 15-year-old boy accused of selling $10 and $20 bags of heroin from an abandoned South Side building “is not attending any school at this moment.” In fact, he had disappeared from Chicago’s public schools two years earlier, court records show . . . 

“We are all aware of the tremendous impact truancy has had on the school kids of Chicago. It is not surprising that so many of them end up here,” said Cook County Circuit Judge Michael Toomin, presiding judge of the Juvenile Justice Division.

Many absent grade schoolers came from single-parent households racked by intense poverty, substance abuse or mental illness, juvenile court records show. Some youths switched schools every year as their families fled foreclosure and debt, while the elementary schools in their South Side and West Side neighborhoods had few resources to retrieve missing students or even connect with their relatives.