Tuesday’s Children & the Law News Roundup

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For Children and Families, It’s a Poorly Mixed World, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

A poorly mixed world indeed. It is hardly surprising that Americans spend the largest percentage of their income on housing and that residential areas are now segregated not only by race and ethnicity but also by socioeconomic class. In 1970, 66 percent of us lived in middle-income neighborhoods; in 2008, the percentage had dropped to 43. At the same time, the numbers of those at the furthest extremes of poverty and wealth have increased by 60 percent. As a result, we are much more likely than 40 years ago to reside in areas where the majority of our neighbors – whether rich or poor – are from the same income class.

This means that children like Daniel are next door to other struggling families, all too overwhelmed to help each other. It also means that children like mine rarely encounter peers who do not have an over-abundance of material goods, blinding them to their own privilege.

Young killer did the crime, but should he pay a lifetime?, Houston Chronicle

He is serving a 99-year sentence for murder, a crime he committed when he was 15. At the time, Juan was barely old enough to shave and not old enough to drive…

University of Houston law professor Ellen Marrus doesn’t know Juan. She believes, however, that teens should have lawyers with them when they are questioned by police. (At present, magistrates meet with juveniles and explain their Miranda rights before they are interrogated. Both Juan and Beatrice admitted their guilt when they were separated and grilled, two on one, by experienced officers.) “Common sense tells us children don’t understand (their right to remain silent) even if they say they do,” Marrus said. She doesn’t believe in trying teens in adult court, either. They are not mini-adults, she says, but children who are still developing physically and emotionally. And she opposes long prison sentences for teens. Even the maximum 40-year sentence in the juvenile justice system is too much, Marrus says. In a perfect world, says Allen Tanner, Juan’s former lawyer, his client would have been placed in a hospital or treatment facility, not a prison. Marrus defines the heart of the problem so matter-of-factly it’s easy to miss: “Until we can be sure all children are treated the way we want our own children to be treated, it’s not a just system. It’s broken.”

Should kids go to jail for skipping school?, People’s World

The economics of truancy enforcement are boldly on display in Texas’ courts. From 2005 to 2009, truancy cases filed by public schools in the Lone Star state grew annually, from 85,000 to 120,000. Truancy courts are the traffic courts of public education, processing hundreds of parents and students daily in assembly-line fashion – even during summer months. The Dallas courts alone handle an average of 35,000 cases a year, and their revenue is eye-popping: just over $2 million in FY 2009 and nearly $1.8 million in FY 2011.

Truancy court was founded in 2003 because the problem of unexcused absences was overwhelming the juvenile court system; now Dallas has five truancy courts, each with its own judge and staff. “They’ve developed a whole system in Dallas that has to feed itself to justify its existence,” said Deborah Fowler, deputy director of the legal advocacy group Texas Appleseed.

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