Thursday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

International Group Hails Florida Juvenile Justice Reformer, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

The woman driving the Florida Juvenile Justice Department toward a goal of “system excellence” is a 2012 winner of an international award that recognizes commitment to children’s justice.

“We’re trying to do a complete paradigm shift,” said Wansley Walters, Secretary of the Florida DJJ and one of eight recipients of the 2012 Juvenile Justice Without Borders International Award, presented by the International Juvenile Justice Observatory, a Belgium-based international organization that works in conjunction with the United Nations, the European Union and other groups.

“We’re trying to be proactive, not reactive,” she said.

Texas Posts Top High School Graduation Rates, But Why?, The Texas Tribune

With witnesses in a school finance trial testifying daily on the challenges facing public education in the state, and with a chorus of state leaders citing the failings of traditional public schools in calling for reform, some may be surprised to hear that by one measure, Texas schools appear to be doing quite well.

Preliminary data released by the U.S. Department of Education this week shows that Texas — along with five other states — ranks fourth in the nation for its four-year high school graduation rates. With an overall rate of 86 percent in the 2010-11 school year, the state follows Iowa, with 88 percent, and Wisconsin and Vermont, both at 87 percent.

Though the statewide average has climbed steadily in the past five years, that has not always been the case. The last time the Texas Supreme Court ruled on the state’s school finance system, in 2005, it warned of a “severe dropout problem,” calling the lagging graduation rates of blacks and Hispanics “especially troublesome.”’

Mass. Must Adjust Sentences for Murders by Juveniles, The Boston Globe

When the US Supreme Court struck down mandatory life sentences without parole for those convicted of murder while younger than 18, it left Massachusetts legislators with a repair job. There are currently 62 juvenile offenders serving life without parole under Massachusetts’ now-unconstitutional law. So that courts don’t end up revising sentences in an ad hoc fashion, Beacon Hill needs to provide legislative guidance.

The Supreme Court decision, passed down last summer, has been interpreted differently by different states. California and North Carolina have moved to give juveniles who were sentenced to life without parole a chance for parole after 25 years. Florida’s courts, however, interpreted the Supreme Court decision as applying only to future cases. This month, a Middlesex County judge declined to apply a mandatory sentence of life without parole, on the grounds it was now unconstitutional. The judge, Kathe Tuttman, called on the Legislature to clarify the situation. It should.

Prosecutors: Embattled Judge Ignoring the Law, Cincinnati.com

Judge Tracie Hunter isn’t following Ohio law because she is requiring prosecutors to give to defense attorneys documents they aren’t required to provide, a Tuesday court filing noted.

The embattled Hunter, a Juvenile Court judge for a few months after more than a year of litigation concluded she won a contentious 2010 election, didn’t immediately return Tuesday calls.

Ohio law requires prosecutors to give to defense attorneys documents such as police reports and others outlined in the law, so a defense can be prepared for the allegation. But Hunter made prosecutors provide additional documents, “work product” documents prosecutors say the law specifies they don’t have to give the defense, the filing noted.

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