Two Cities on Opposite Ends of the School Discipline Spectrum, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, and Drugging Foster KidsDecember 12th, 2014 by Taylor Walker
OAKLAND LEADING THE WAY ON RESTORATIVE JUSTICE
In 2007, an Oakland’s first restorative justice program was piloted at a middle school. That school improved student-teacher relations and reduced suspensions by 87%. Seven years later, nearly 30 schools in Oakland follow the restorative justice model, which fosters healing and conflict resolution between students and their teachers and peers. A forthcoming report shows that from 2011-2014, the Oakland Unified School District saw suspension rates drop by 40%, while academics and graduation rates improved.
Oakland is also dedicated to implementing restorative practices in the juvenile justice system. And families, communities, and police are working together to keep kids out of lock up.
In a guest commentary for the San Jose Mercury, Fania Davis, co-founder of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth, shares some of Oakland’s powerful restorative justice triumphs, as it sets an example for the rest of California, as well as the nation. Here’s a clip:
Inspired by the successes of New Zealand’s Maori-influenced Family Group Conferencing, Oakland’s Community Works West has launched a restorative diversion pilot that is dramatically reducing recidivism.
The Oakland-based National Council on Crime and Delinquency is helping other jurisdictions initiate similar pilots.
Insight Prison Project is launching an in-custody restorative program. RJOY is pioneering a restorative re-entry model. The North Oakland Restorative Justice Council paints murals, plants trees, and facilitates healing circles after youth homicides.
Residents and police are working together to keep children out of prison. Police, probation officers, youth and others are being trained in restorative justice.
Youth and police are sitting together in healing circles, creating new relationships based on increased trust and recognition of one another’s humanity. Given the epidemic of police killings the nation is now grappling with, our work with law enforcement offers hope.
BUT OVER IN GEORGIA…
In stark contrast to the situation in Oakland, over in Atlanta, 12-year-old Mikia Hutchings faced serious criminal charges for writing on the walls of a bathroom at school after her family was unable to pay $100 in restitution. Through a deal with the state to have the charges dropped, Mikia was placed on probation and had to do 16 hours of community service. Mikia’s white friend who wrote on the walls with her, saw no legal consequences. Her parents were able to pay the restitution, and the girl received a few days suspension. And Mikia’s not the only one.
The NY Times’ Tazina Vega has Mikia’s story, and more on Georgia’s serious racial disparity in school discipline. Here are some clips:
To hear Mikia Hutchings speak, one must lean in close, as her voice barely rises above a whisper. In report cards, her teachers describe her as “very focused,” someone who follows the rules and stays on task. So it was a surprise for her grandmother when Mikia, 12, and a friend got into trouble for writing graffiti on the walls of a gym bathroom at Dutchtown Middle School in Henry County last year.
Even more of a surprise was the penalty after her family disputed the role she was accused of playing in the vandalism and said it could not pay about $100 in restitution. While both students were suspended from school for a few days, Mikia had to face a school disciplinary hearing and, a few weeks later, a visit by a uniformed officer from the local Sheriff’s Department, who served her grandmother with papers accusing Mikia of a trespassing misdemeanor and, potentially, a felony.
As part of an agreement with the state to have the charges dismissed in juvenile court, Mikia admitted to the allegations of criminal trespassing. Mikia, who is African-American, spent her summer on probation, under a 7 p.m. curfew, and had to complete 16 hours of community service in addition to writing an apology letter to a student whose sneakers were defaced in the incident.
Her friend, who is white, was let go after her parents paid restitution.
Michael J. Tafelski, a lawyer from the Georgia Legal Services Program who represented Mikia in the school disciplinary hearing, and advocates for students say the punishment Mikia faced was an example of racial disparities in school discipline.
In response to the actions taken against Mikia, Mr. Tafelski said his office had filed a complaint with the Justice Department claiming racial discrimination and a violation of the Civil Rights Act. “I’ve never had a white kid call me for representation in Henry County,” Mr. Tafelski said.
“What kid needs to be having a conversation with a lawyer about the right to remain silent?” he said. “White kids don’t have those conversations; black kids do.”
According to Mikia, her only offense was writing the word “Hi” on a bathroom stall door, while her friend scribbled the rest of the graffiti. “I only wrote one word, and I had to do all that,” Mikia said in a recent interview. “It isn’t fair.”
BRINGING BACK THE JUVENILE JUSTICE AND DELINQUENCY PREVENTION ACT
A bipartisan Senate bill to reauthorize and update the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), which was first enacted in 1974 (and hasn’t been successfully reauthorized since 2002), was introduced Thursday.
The JJDPA gives states funding (into the millions) for compliance with these four requirements: do not detain kids for status offenses, work to reduce disparate minority contact with the justice system, keep kids out of adult facilities (with a few exceptions), and when kids do have to be kept in adult prisons, keep them “sight and sound” separated from adults.
The bill proposes important changes to the JJDPA. Over the course of three years, an exception to the rules allowing courts to detain kids for status offenses via a “valid court order” would be eliminated. The new bill also would require states to record and report data on issues like the solitary confinement of kids, the detainment of kids for status offenses, and how many offenses occurred at school.
Because the bill reauthorization was introduced by Senate Judiciary Committee members Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) toward the end of the Senate’s session, it will have to be reintroduced next year.
The Chronicle of Social Change’s John Kelly has more on the bill. Here’s a clip:
In exchange for compliance with those requirements, states receive no less than $400,000 in federal funds, and more populous states typically receive millions. Forty-nine states at least try to comply with the act; Wyoming is the lone holdout.
The bill introduced today would phase out over three years the “valid court order,” an exception that permits courts to jail children for status offenses, which include truancy and running away.
While judges are not permitted under JJPDA to detain a youth directly for a status offense, a judge can issue a court order to any offender instructing them not to commit a status offense.
If the juvenile then commits one of the listed offenses, it would be permissible under the federal law to detain them. In 2012 alone, the exception was used more than 7,000 times, according to the Coalition for Juvenile Justice.
The bill would also require states to report data on several controversial issues regarding youth in detention or confinement. Among the reporting requirements:
- Use of restraints and isolation in juvenile facilities
- The number of status offenses who are detained, the underlying reason for the detention, and the average length of stay
- The number of pregnant juveniles held in custody
- The number of juveniles whose offenses occurred on school grounds
THINK TANK: WHAT TO DO ABOUT PHARMACEUTICALS’ TARGETING OF DOCTORS TREATING FOSTER KIDS
Last month, part three of Karen de Sá’s powerful series on drugging foster kids exposed pharmaceutical companies’ flagrant targeting of doctors who treat kids in foster care. (If you haven’t, go back and read that story, and parts one and two, here.)
California Healthline put together a think tank that includes advocates, officials, and physicians to answer how California should deal with this issue.
Here’s what Kimberly Kirchmeyer, executive director of the state medical board, had to say (but do go read the other contributions):
The Medical Board of California takes the issue of inappropriate prescribing very seriously. The board is committed to consumer protection, and enforces this commitment through the education and oversight of its physicians. The board is currently working with the California Department of Health Care Services and the California Department of Social Services to identify physicians who may be inappropriately prescribing medications to foster children.
It is very important, for this issue and other cross-cutting issues, that state agencies collaborate and work together to share information that will allow each agency to take the necessary actions against their licensees. In addition, working together on a “united front” to tackle such an issue can provide more comprehensive solutions in order to continue to protect California consumers.
The board encourages any individual, agency, media or court official to notify the board and file a complaint if they believe a physician may be inappropriately prescribing. The board needs to be notified in order to investigate and take appropriate action against a physician’s license who is found to be inappropriately prescribing medications. It is critical for the board to be involved in this issue, as the board is the only state agency that can take the appropriate action against a physician’s license and his/her ability to practice.
The board is thoroughly committed to addressing the inappropriate prescribing issue by taking the appropriate action when necessary and providing and disseminating education to physicians, consumers and other state agencies.