Thursday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

When Bullying Goes High-Tech, CNN

Brandon Turley didn’t have friends in sixth grade. He would often eat alone at lunch, having recently switched to his school without knowing anyone.

While browsing MySpace one day, he saw that someone from school had posted a bulletin — a message visible to multiple people — declaring that Turley was a “fag.” Students he had never even spoken with wrote on it, too, saying they agreed.

Feeling confused and upset, Turley wrote in the comments, too, asking why his classmates would say that. The response was even worse: He was told on MySpace that a group of 12 kids wanted to beat him up, that he should stop going to school and die. On his walk from his locker to the school office to report what was happening, students yelled things like “fag” and “fatty.”

“It was just crazy, and such a shock to my self-esteem that people didn’t like me without even knowing me,” said Turley, now 18 and a senior in high school in Oregon. “I didn’t understand how that could be.”

Centre Debunks Theory of Reducing Age of Juveniles under Juvenile Justice Act, Jagran Post

Government has no plan to reduce the age of juveniles under the Juvenile Justice Act (JJA), Women and Child Development Minister Krishna Tirath informed the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday.

Replying to a question on suggestions for amending the Act, she said, “We are not yet ready to reduce the age of juveniles.” She said in a meeting held by the Ministry of Home Affairs with Chief Secretaries of state governments and Directors General of Police on January 4 a suggestion was made regarding lowering of age of juveniles from 18 years to 16 in the wake of the Delhi gang rape case in which a juvenile is an accused.

“However, the Committee on Amendments to Criminal Law under the Chairmanship of Justice J S Verma (Retd), in its recommendations submitted on 23.1.2013, has not supported the suggestion regarding reduction of the age of the child in conflict with law.

A Grown-Up Approach to Juvenile Justice Reform, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

Connecticut’s juvenile justice system has seen tremendous reform in the past 10 years. As a new report by the Justice Policy Institute points out, we’ve diverted kids from the juvenile system, provided better services for those inside it and kept kids out of the adult system.

These reforms have been accompanied by a declining youth crime rate and a decreasing burden on taxpayers. So many people deserve credit for these advances, including enlightened public officials, inspired funders and tenacious advocates. But what made them so successful?

They acted like grown ups.

Teenagers often make decisions impulsively on the basis of strong emotions without thinking through the consequences of their choices. Unfortunately, adults sometimes make decisions in the same way, notably when it comes to crime and delinquency. That’s why “get tough on crime” policies that have no effect on public safety – or a negative effect – are so often popular.

Parents of Transgender First-Grader File Discrimination Complaint, CNN

A transgender rights group announced Wednesday that it has filed a discrimination complaint in Colorado on behalf of a first-grader who was born a boy but identifies as a girl.

The filing stems from a decision announced last December by officials at Fountain-Fort Carson School District that Coy Mathis could no longer use the girls’ bathroom at Eagleside Elementary.

Mother Kathryn Mathis said she and her husband were shocked.

“We were very confused because everything was going so well, and they had been so accepting, and all of a sudden it changed and it was very confusing and very upsetting because we knew that, by doing that, she was going to go back to being unhappy,” she told CNN. “It was going to set her up for a lot of bad things.”

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.

Thursday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

Ohio: Court Reverses Custody Ruling for Lesbian’s Former Partner, Pink News

A court in Ohio has reversed an earlier decision to allow access to the biological daughter of a lesbian’s former girlfriend, now saying that she has no right to custody.

Following a long legal battle, Maggie Gross had found she was entitled to access the daughter, now 7, of her former partner, Jennifer Herrick, at Franklin County Juvenile Court.  The Franklin County Court of Appeals ruled that the custody ruling no longer applied because the man Ms Herrick had married after breaking up with Ms Gross had adopted the child.

Foster Care: Why the Debate Over Open Court Matters, The Washington Times

Under discussion is whether child welfare hearings should be open to the press.  Currently, most courts are presumptively closed, which means that journalists are barred unless an exception is made by the presiding judge.

Proponents claim that by allowing the media access to the proceedings foster care youth will be better represented and protected.

Opponents caution that open hearings can lead to the “outing” of foster care youth and details of their lives when they are entitled to privacy.

Texas School Discipline: Making the Grade?,

These [zero tolerance] draconian policies often remove students from the education system altogether and instead use the juvenile justice system as a method of imparting discipline. Given the high rates at which zero-tolerance policies are applied—60 percent of Texas students have been suspended, expelled, or placed in an alternative educational setting—we would expect to see dramatic gains in school safety.

But that isn’t the case. And at the high costs for current disciplinary practices—in one year, Texas schools spent $327 million on security and monitoring and an additional $232 million on alternative education programs for disciplined students—Texas taxpayers are getting a poor return on their investment.

Texas schools should begin transitioning away from the inflexible policies that failed to correct student behavior or increase the safety of Texas schools. Instead, tiered discipline systems can provide sufficient local control while increasing the number of students who can safely stay in school and receive their full education.

L.A. Schools Moving Away from Zero Tolerance Policies, Los Angeles Times

A new partnership among Los Angeles city, police and school officials aims to support — rather than punish — students, offering counseling instead of citations.

According to a recent report from The Jackson Free Press, conditions at a Hinds County, Miss. youth detention center have not improved, despite a federal settlement agreement from earlier this year that sought to address and improve the facility’s problems.In August, Leonard Dixon, a Michigan-based juvenile-justice expert, filed a federal court complaint alleging that the Henley-Young Juvenile Justice Center has not complied with the provisions of a settlement that would provide juvenile detainees with mental-health evaluations, counseling sessions and improved rehabilitation options, among other services, The Jackson Free Press reported.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and Disability Rights Mississippi filed the original class-action lawsuit that instigated the settlement agreement in 2011. The lawsuit further alleged that juveniles were often subject to verbal and physical abuse from staffers.

Hard Penalties Mulled for Drivers and Youths in Japan, Daily Yomiuri Online

Justice Minister Makoto Taki announced after Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting that the Legislative Council will soon discuss a plan to establish a quasi-dangerous driving charge to toughen the penalty for reckless driving resulting in death or injury.

Taki also said he would refer a proposed amendment to the Juvenile Law to the council at its general meeting, which is scheduled for Friday. The main pillar of the amendment focuses on raising the maximum jail term for juvenile delinquents.