Teaching Intro to Juvenile Law in Street Law

 

Being a Street Law instructor involves teaching teenage youth. This is a group of people whose laws if charged as a juvenile is separate from adult law. Many may not know, where some may. Regardless of the importance of teaching the youth about the processes and procedures of their “separate” laws, typically based on policy or precedent, can be important to developing their advocacy skills.

An important aspect to teach the students in Street Law is about representation by a lawyer for a juvenile defender. First and foremost, if ever questioned by a police officer when being detained for a possible crime or suspect to one ask for representation. Typically, when telling the students about asking for a lawyer in the street law course many students are curious to know when to know to ask for a lawyer when being questioned by an officer. The response to this, is the person who is being questioned needs to ask the officer, “am I free to leave?” If the officer responds no, then that is when you may ask for a lawyer.

This typically leads to Miranda Warnings and students’ rights at school. To be able to teach Miranda is very important in knowing one’s rights when being questioned by law enforcement. When teaching the students about Miranda Warnings, usually the lesson will involve the difference between casual conversation, reasonable suspicion, and probable cause. There are many activities done with the students during this lesson to understand the actions that lead to custody and know when Miranda Warnings should be read to them.

When discussing how to get representation, an important policy to bring up with the students from Texas is the Fair Defense Act which “requires each county’s juvenile board to adopt a plan for the appointment of counsel to youth whose families are unable to afford counsel and sets out basic guidelines for the appointment process.” To know that there is a strong possibility of help when coming from a low-income or socioeconomic background can be reassuring with getting representation.

Another important aspect of juvenile defense that can be taught in Street Law is about representation when it comes to mental health disorders. The importance has to do with the rehabilitation of the juvenile towards their actions if they are the culprit of their alleged crime. It is important that the juvenile defense lawyer gets this information and if the juvenile defender fails to ask, it is important for the juvenile to tell the lawyer. This may be a step that is possibly forgotten from time to time and is imperative to help the charged juvenile. When there is a possibility that the charged juvenile has a mental health disorder, once it is told to the lawyer then it may be important to get an evaluation. The outcome of this evaluation will help the court make a better decision towards the charged juveniles’ well-being and the juvenile’s rehabilitation efforts if convicted of the crime.

Juvenile Law is very broad and can be applicable in many situations for teenagers and youth. For them to understand their basic constitutional rights can help in many different situations. Teaching this lesson will empower youth to advocate for themselves in many situations.

Being Aware of the School-to-Prison Pipeline Many Minorities Fall Victim to

Rehabilitation efforts are key to addressing the school-to-prison pipeline. Resources are of the essence when it comes to these situations. Yet, there is a lack of these resources when it comes to the criminal justice system seeping into the educational environments. The result of this causes children to be removed from their education and directed into the prison system.

Throughout the United States in 2000, there were over three million school suspensions and over 97,000 expulsions.” The punitive actions taken on these children show them that they are “bad children,” which can build a belief with themselves that they don’t belong in an educational environment. These punitive actions are not positive actions taken to aid children, yet they are more negative and escalate the bad behavior the children are having. In many cases, there are educators and guidance counselors who want to help these troubled youth but the resources at their exposure are not enough to provide the help these children need. Additionally, many of these children have disabilities that are not addressed as stated, “in some states such as Florida and Maine, as many as 60% of all juvenile offenders have disabilities that affect their ability to learn.” The children’s need for help is high, yet their needs cannot be met with the level of resources that is available to them.

Minorities, specifically Black children are hurting the most from insufficient resources when it comes to the school-to-prison pipeline. As stated, “in 2000, African Americans represented only 17% of public school enrollment nationwide but accounted for 34% of suspensions.12 Likewise, in 2003, African-American youths made up 16% of the nation’s overall juvenile population but accounted for 45% of juvenile.” These disparities are part of an ongoing racist, stereotype system that has been in the US for hundreds of years. Moreover, the quality of education in many Black neighborhoods is poor and places many of these Black children in unfortunate situations. The situations the Black children face may lead them to be treated unfairly. History has shown that minorities have been victims of unequal educational opportunities and educational funding. The inequality from this has led to the suffering of many children to misbehave or skip school. When these actions are taken by these children the punitive consequences are then handed to them, where it creates a cycle of continued misbehavior. That cycle then results in many of these children being placed in prison at a young age and never having the chance to be rehabilitated to do better for themselves and their families.

A way to fight the school-to-prison pipeline is to investigate ways schools discipline their children. Create better practices for the troubled youth to help them understand their skills and abilities. Being able to lift someone’s spirits can go a long way. Additionally, provide the children with better guidance by having a counselor, building a success plan, providing mediation/after-school programs, and anything that will bring a smile to the children’s faces. Many times, troubled youth just need someone to talk to about what is going on in their life, and to have someone at times needed to have that conversation can be valuable to the child’s future success.

On October 21, 2021, from 4-5 pm the University of Houston is having a free virtual seminar titled “Disrupting the School-to-Prison Pipeline.” You can RSVP here: https://cloudapps.uh.edu/sendit/l/TfPadoe0dATtluDVszZAwQ/vuj6ArX8eJiymXcuifQ9Yg/nKHYspsdU75Esbp7LuY763LA

John Ligon – From Being Down To Persevering, When Others Don’t See It But You

In the wake of justice, John Ligon had finally received what he believed would happen – a release from prison without parole. Why would someone wait 68 years for this?

John Ligon was the son of sharecroppers from the state of Alabama. John dropped out of school before he was middle school aged. John’s family relocated to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania when he was 13 years old. At this time his family wanted him to go back to school. John was new in town and lacked the education most teenagers had at the time. In 1953, when John turned 15-years old, he was charged in Pennsylvania for being part of a group of teenagers involved in a spree of robbery and assaults that led to the murder of two individuals. John admits to being part of this teenage group that did those crimes. Yet, John denies ever killing anyone. John states that the murders had the front pages of newspapers claiming the group he was in had been called “The Head Hunters,” but he denies that group ever being a gang. These convictions led to a life in prison without the possibility of parole.

During this period the United States was a world leader for imprisoning juveniles without the ability to get parole. Until 2016, the state of Pennsylvania had the most juveniles serving life sentences. Around sixty percent of this prison population had been from Philadelphia, one of the nation’s poorest big cities, and a high percentage of them were Black. The cost to lock up John for so long was $3 million, excluding the cancer treatments he received. John is currently in the remission phase. He is an example of the high expense to incarcerate elderly prisoners due to their demand for health needs; despite them likely being less of a danger to society.

Interestingly enough, John mentions he is a stubborn person, stating “I was born that way.” Yet, he wanted the freedom to be able to go anywhere he wanted without having to check in with no one. This is important as John did get an opportunity to get released on parole after the U.S. Supreme Court banned mandatory life terms for minors who were convicted of murder in 2012. Yet, John wanted a life without a parole officer, stating “with parole you got to see people every so often. You can’t leave the city without permission from parole. That’s part of freedom for me.” Even at that time, many prisoners wanted John to not think that way and told him that this is his opportunity to be out in the free world. Even a former juvenile lifer, John Pace, who is now a reentry coordinator for the Youth Sentencing and Reentry Project counseled John and told him, “if you want to fight, fight when you get out.” John knew how he wanted to live life once he was able to get freedom— that was not it.

John had a dedicated lawyer to help him with the ability to live that life of freedom he desired. Bradley Bridge, a public defender, was John’s lawyer of 15 years. He had a mission to release John on the terms John sought. This took gathering as much information about John’s background as possible, locating all school transcripts and prison records that spanned over the entire time John was incarcerated. Bridge argued that John’s sentencing was part of cruel and unusual punishment, specifically stating that “… if this went to trial today, Joe Ligon would be found guilty of robbery, aggravated assault, or attempted murder, and he would have gotten a sentence of five to 10 years.” During this time, in 2016, John was then eligible for parole but opted out to spend four more years in prison. Even at that time, the judge explained to John “I do not want you to die in prison.” Yet, John wanted to do whatever it took to be free from any type of sentencing tied to the convictions he received as a 15-year-old.

After the four additional years spent in prison, John eventually got what he wanted and was released from prison. John had 10 plus city organizations in Philadelphia assisting him in getting John a foster-care-like accommodation with a family who opened their home to him after his release. Additionally, John was able to get the Philadelphia Office of Homeless Services to work on compensating John’s living expenses he would be able to receive that first year. Moreover, John was given a benefits specialist to work on John being able to receive Social Security after that year ends. The support John received was tremendous and assisted in his ability to live the life he knew he would be able to after his release.

The reason John waited those extra years to be released from prison was to show that the fight to live a life you wanted is attainable. The daring obstacles John mostly put on himself was his choice. He knew he could get released with parole earlier than his actual release date, but that is not what he wanted. Even when public opinion and others close to John told him a viable way out if it was not what he wished for he kept surviving and advocating for what he believed in. John even mentions “we’ve been to hell and back,” so why not get what you wish for. John is a true story of perseverance.