Thursday’s Children & the Law News Roundup

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Feds:  Mississippi Officials Violate Juveniles’ Rights, The Washington Times

The Justice Department has targeted Mississippi in a federal lawsuit alleging that the due process rights of children “repeatedly and routinely” are violated when arrested for minor offenses, accusing officials of operating a “school to prison pipeline” that singles out blacks and juveniles with disabilities.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Jackson, Miss., names the state of Mississippi; the city of Meridian, Miss.; Lauderdale County, Miss.; and judges of the Lauderdale County Youth Court, alleging violations of the Fourth, Fifth and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

“The department is bringing this lawsuit to ensure that all children are treated fairly and receive the fullest protection of the law,” said Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez, who heads the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “It is in all of our best interests to ensure that children are not incarcerated for alleged minor infractions, and that police and courts meet their obligations to uphold children’s constitutional rights.”

State to Embark on New Approach to Children’s Services, Wicked Local

A new law revamping the way the state helps troubled and truant children will start to be implemented next month, the start of a three-year process to pull children who need help out of the court system.

During a ceremonial bill-signing in front of a packed room in the State House, Gov. Deval Patrick said that for too long the state has had a system that put troubled “children in front of judges, instead of putting them in front of solutions.” “This is a change which is about restoring the way we deal with children to the way children should be dealt with,” Patrick said.

The Legislature passed a bill in July that gradually shifts responsibility from the juvenile courts and the probation department to the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

The 40-year-old Children in Need of Services (CHINS) program is being overhauled and renamed, a change that supporters say will remove the stigma associated with being involved in the program.

Student, 17, Arrested in Jessica Ridgeway Murder, ABC News

A community college student has been arrested for the abduction, murder and dismemberment of 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway, Colorado police said today.

Austin Reed Sigg, 17, was arrested on suspicion of two counts of first degree murder, one count of second degree kidnapping and two counts of criminal attempts. Authorities expect he will be formally charged this week.

Sigg is a student at Arapahoe Community College, according to his arrest report.

Strong Challenge Fueled by Education Cuts, The Houston Chronicle

It would be hard to find two candidates running for the same seat in the Texas Legislature who have more striking similarities than state Rep. Sarah Davis, the Republican who won a narrow upset victory in 2010 in Harris County’s District 134, and her Democratic challenger, Ann Johnson.

Both are in their 30s – Davis is 36, Johnson 38 – both are lawyers and both are cancer survivors. Davis defeated then-state Rep. Ellen Cohen in her first run for public office. Johnson, the daughter of a former state representative and a retired civil judge, is running for the first time.

The similarities between the two women do not extend to their politics, and therein lies what could be an Achilles heel for Davis as she seeks re-election in the upscale district, which includes Rice University and the Texas Medical Center. In an area that takes great pride in its schools, she went along with her fellow Republicans and voted for major cuts in education funding.

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