Friday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

Criminalizing Children at School, The New York Times

The National Rifle Association and President Obama responded to the Newtown, Conn., shootings by recommending that more police officers be placed in the nation’s schools. But a growing body of research suggests that, contrary to popular wisdom, a larger police presence in schools generally does little to improve safety. It can also create a repressive environment in which children are arrested or issued summonses for minor misdeeds — like cutting class or talking back — that once would have been dealt with by the principal . . .

In the mid-1970s, police patrolled about 1 percent of schools. By 2008, the figure was 40 percent . . .

The belief that police officers automatically make schools safer was challenged in a 2011 study that compared federal crime data of schools that had police officers with schools that did not. It found that the presence of the officers did not drive down crime. The study — by Chongmin Na of The University of Houston, Clear Lake, and Denise Gottfredson of the University of Maryland — also found that with police in the buildings, routine disciplinary problems began to be treated as criminal justice problems, increasing the likelihood of arrests.

Children as young as 12 have been treated as criminals for shoving matches and even adolescent misconduct like cursing in school . . .  federal data suggest a pattern of discrimination in the arrests, with black and Hispanic children more likely to be affected than their white peers.

In Texas, civil rights groups filed a federal complaint against the school district in the town of Bryan. The lawyers say African-American students are four times as likely as other students to be charged with misdemeanors, which can carry fines up to $500 and lead to jail time for disrupting class or using foul language.

Minnesota Law for Sex Trafficking Victims: Proposed Legislation Would Create Statewide Network of Housing and Services, StarTribune

State legislators who will soon decide the fate of funding for the program created by the 2011 “Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Youth Act” received a disturbing reminder of that fact this week.

For the past two years, a St. Paul sex ring operated by one family allegedly preyed on especially vulnerable women and children — some as young as 15, and some bipolar or mentally challenged — in what Ramsey County authorities described as “modern day human slavery.”

The four men and one woman charged Wednesday in connection with the ring used what is becoming the key tool of the trade — ads on adult-oriented websites such as Backpage.com — to traffic the women as far away as Ely, according to the criminal complaint filed by the county attorney’s office.

The Internet is increasingly used for trafficking in Minnesota, and victims are getting younger. It’s not unusual for 13-year-old girls and boys to be recruited into sex rings today, according to Jeff Bauer, director of public policy for the Family Partnership, a Minneapolis-based advocacy group.

The Safe Harbor legislation passed in 2011 changed state law to treat sex-trafficked children under age 16 as victims of the crime, not as criminals who could be sentenced to juvenile detention. That was an important first step.  The law also required the state departments of Public Safety, Human Services and Health to work with experts to create a prevention and support model for victims . . .

The $13.5 million budget request to create the statewide system should find bipartisan support at the Capitol. An economic cost-benefit analysis completed last year by the University of Minnesota and Indiana State University estimated a 30-year return of $34 for every $1 spent on early intervention, housing and health care.

The savings would come from lower public costs for administering to repeated physical injuries, sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancies, and fewer recurring criminal-justice expenses.

Housing is especially needed, since victims often come from broken homes and returning is not an option. For their safety, many also need to be relocated to secure housing in other parts of the state, away from traffickers who frequently try to reconnect. And victims often need specialized trauma treatment.

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