Weekly Roundup

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is linked to delayed brain development, The Washington Post

For the first time, scientists can point to substantial empirical evidence that people with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder have brain structures that differ from those of people without ADHD. The common disorder, they conclude, should be considered a problem of delayed brain maturation and not, as it is often portrayed, a problem of motivation or parenting. Read more.

Depression Strikes Today’s Teen Girls Especially Hard, NPR

It’s tough to be a teenager. Hormones kick in, peer pressures escalate and academic expectations loom large. Kids become more aware of their environment in the teen years — down the block and online. The whole mix of changes can increase stress, anxiety and the risk of depression among all teens, research has long shown.

But a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics suggests many more teenage girls in the U.S. may be experiencing major depressive episodes at this age than boys. And the numbers of teens affected took a particularly big jump after 2011, the scientists note, suggesting that the increasing dependence on social media by this age group may be exacerbating the problem. Read more.

School district chiefs: Proposed Medicaid changes would hurt poor children and students with disabilities, The Washington Post

A new survey of school district leaders across the country finds that they are deeply worried that Republican proposals to refinance Medicaid, if they become law, would hurt students who live in poverty and those with disabilities and in special education. Read more.

Student Discipline in Schools: Part of the Problem or the Solution?, Campus Safety

More and more school districts and local officials around the country are considering revising their student disciplinary policies.

The efforts reflect a change in the approach to fostering a positive school climate that has gained support as additional research has come out on the impact on certain punishments on children.

An increasing number of organizations have begun supporting alternatives to long-used methods of student punishment like expulsion, suspension, restraint and seclusion.

Most notably, the Department of Education has begun actively promoting school environments that are safe, supportive and conductive to learning. Read more.

Study: Listening to youths could improve justice system, TribLive

Allegheny County could improve its juvenile justice system — along with the lives of the region’s poorest and most vulnerable children — by doing more to listen to juvenile offenders, identify disruptions in their home lives and incorporate their input into policymaking, a report published Monday found.

The Pittsburgh Foundation announced the completion of an eight-month study that involved partnering with community-based nonprofits to interview 53 youths and young adults with former or active cases in the county’s juvenile justice system. Foundation officials expect the 31-page report’s findings to spur grantmaking opportunities and community partnerships. Read more.

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Making a Murderer: Children’s Susceptibility to Giving False Confessions

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During the last few months, many have watched the Netflix series Making A Murderer, which was released last December. The documentary project chronicles the story of Steven Avery, who was imprisoned for an incident with convictions in both sexual assault and attempted murder. After 18 years of being confined, DNA advances helped prove Avery’s innocence, leading to his exoneration in 2003. Two years later, however, Avery was arrested and eventually convicted for a different crime, the murder of Teresa Halbach. Making A Murderer follows the progression of that second crime and questions the validity of the criminal justice system.

A key component in securing Avery’s conviction for Halbach’s murder was the alleged confession of his then 16 year-old nephew Brendan Dassey. For his first interrogation, Brendan was pulled out of school. He was then questioned alone for hours by Department of Justice investigator Tom Fassbender and Calumet Sheriff’s Sergeant Mark Wiegert, without access to a parent or an attorney. Clips from several different interrogations of Brendan by those two individuals and an additional investigator, Michael O’Kelly, are included within the series. The snippets not only raise questions regarding the validity of Brendan’s confessions, but they also pose concerns about the examination tactics used on minors.

During the course of several interviews, the video clips reveal that Brendan changed his story several times. Sometimes he denied any wrongdoing, while other times agreeing to his participation in Halbach’s murder. Part of this wavering might be attributed to the investigators’ leading questions. An example is when Fassbender and Wiegert were trying to elicit an important detail of the murder: that the victim had been shot in the head. After continually asking Brendan what he and Avery did to Halbach, the investigator becomes more specific and asks what was done to her head. Brendan appears to be guessing at what he is supposed to answer, first offering that they punched her and cut her. However, after growing impatient, one of the detectives bluntly asks Brendan who shot her in the head. After Brendan blames his uncle, he is asked why he had not just stated that, to which he responds, “[be]cause I couldn’t think of it.”

At a separate interrogation with O’Kelly, Brendan is again pressed for details. Although he initially denies any wrongdoing, Brendan eventually begins to “cooperate.” During that time lapse between Brendan’s denial and confession, O’Kelly stresses that Brendan cannot be helped unless he tells the truth, asks whether Brendan wants to spend “the rest of [his] life in jail,” and emphasizes the need for Brendan to be sorry for what he did. Additionally, O’Kelly not only laid out photographs related to the crime on the table in front of Brendan, but he also instructed Brendan to draw pictures about what allegedly occurred during the crime. All of these actions, especially in the aggregate, create great pressure for a child to provide his “confession.”

One might contend that a 16-year old teenager is old enough to understand the repercussions of such grave admissions and thus will not divulge any false information. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Rather, young and even teen-aged children are more susceptible to giving false confessions than adults. In addition to being more vulnerable to succumbing to interrogation tactics, they are also more likely to want to please authority figures by telling them what they think they want to hear. Furthermore, many times children’s desire to go home or talk to their parent is leveraged against them. In one of his examinations, one of the interrogators begins by stating Brendan’s mom had told him her son would be honest with them and that Brendan should not “let [his] mom down.”

Other factors may further increase a child’s propensity to give a false confession. For example, a child’s ability to understand what is happening may greatly impact their willingness to participate. Kids who look exactly the same may have completely different capacities to understand the situation. Age alone does not accurately indicate a child’s comprehension. Children vary widely in their past experiences and their education, which can greatly alter their experience in an interrogation by limiting their comprehension of the interrogator’s vocabulary, for instance. Brendan reportedly has a below average IQ and had never been in trouble of any sort prior to this incident, indicating he was not likely to be savvy with questionings about alleged wrongdoings.

Fortunately, Brendan’s interrogations were videotaped and thus help illustrate the pitfalls of questioning children fairly. When undertaking this feat, it is not only essential to ensure that the child understands his or her Miranda rights—to remain silent and obtain an attorney—but it is equally important to question a child in a manner that does not impose unfair pressures.

Brendan Dassey’s case consequently serves as a reminder that although filming the questioning of a child is extremely important, it is an insufficient safeguard to guarantee that children are protected against self-incrimination or against giving false confessions that are later used against them for their prosecution.

Weekly Roundup

JuvenileJustice Fryarlegal

Russian Delegation Convenes in Reno to Tackle Juvenile Justice Issues, Nevada Business

The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ), the Nevada Division of Child and Family Services and the Child Assault Prevention Project participated in a roundtable at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Speakers discussed initiatives, justice systems and protective services offered to juveniles. The roundtable focused on the challenges encountered regarding justice and treatment programs involving families in crisis, gender-based violence, child protective services, victim’s rights, the school-to-prison pipeline and the effectiveness of juvenile and family courts through judicial education.

Department of Justice Finds Leflore County, Mississippi, Juvenile Detention Center School Violated Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, The United States Department of Justice

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division announced today that it has completed its investigation of special education services at the Leflore County, Mississippi, Juvenile Detention Center and found that the state of Mississippi violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) at the detention center school.