Sentenced To Be Tried As An Adult Black Man

Onion -- Motor City Murder

onion-news-network-IFC-1Does race still matter in the juvenile justice system?  To start the conversation I’ve attached a link to a satirical television news video from the Onion — the story of a white teenage girl whose crime was so horrific that she was given the ultimate sentence: to be tried as an adult black man (with familiar consequences.  Not to suggest humor in racially disparate treatment and outcomes, but satire can start difficult discussions or to force us to consider uncomfortable truths.  Soon, we’ll turn to the statistics, the reasons for discrepancies along racial lines, and look to examples and avenues to strengthen different facets of the juvenile justice system.  For now, however, HERE IS THE LINK TO THE SATIRICAL BROADCAST ON THE MOTOR CITY MURDERER. You can also see some initial data in racial sentencing disparities on this link to THE SENTENCING PROJECT.

“Your Son’s Been Arrested.” (Now What?)

kid in handcuffsFirst the good news:  The 1.6 million juvenile arrests in 2010 — about 4,800 for every 100,000 children under age 18 — represents a 21% decline from 2001, and an even more dramatic drop from 1996, when there were about 8,500 arrests for every 100,000 children.  Many police departments and prosecutors now support station adjustments or diversion programs to try to minimize the long-term impact of a child’s involvement in juvenile court.  And our friend Judge Ciavarella of the infamous CASH-FOR-KIDS SCANDAL will never again decide the fate of an arrested child.

Now the bad news (beyond the fact that your child was just arrested — sorry about that):  Your child’s involvement in juvenile court can have repercussions lasting far beyond the end of any sentence he or she may receive.  As  much as we may want our kids to cooperative with adults — and as much as kids may think that telling adults what they seem to want to hear will get them out of a jam more quickly (which is why kids are notorious for making false confession), it doesn’t always work out that way.  You and your child should base your decisions with full knowledge of your rights, and understanding the potential consequences of your decisions,  The COLLATERAL CONSEQUENCES of a delinquency adjudication (a criminal conviction) can be severe and last long after the sentence has been completed:  preventing a return to school, harming future employment or professional licensing prospects, evictions, risking immigration status, losing driving privileges or perhaps even lifetime registration on a public offender list.

So what to do?  A REPORT prepared by the Children and Family Justice Center of Northwestern University Law School and the Illinois Children’s Mental Health Partnership — NOT to be a substitute for competent and affordable legal representation you should get (and the report provides links to legal and other resources, and lists questions you can ask of your attorney) — identifies the following rights and steps:

1,  Before An Arrest:  It’s been estimated that over 70% of children in the juvenile justice system have mental health issues.  Pro-actively reaching out for counseling, knowing where to call a crisis-intervention hotline or hospital in an emergency, and pursuing special services (see our prior post, SERVING OUR SPECIAL NEEDS KIDS: THE IEP) could help.  If a child’s behavior problems are caused by mental illness or there is medicine for sever behavior problems, alerting the police in advance, or telling the 911 dispatcher in an emergency, may increase your chances that the police will understand that your child’s actions could be caused by illness.

2.  Your Child’s Rights:  If arrested, your child has a right to remain silent, to a lawyer, to talk to a parent or guardian and to know why he or she is being held.  Your child should give his or her name, date of birth, address and how to reach a parent or guardian — and should tell the police that they do not want to talk until they have had an opportunity to talk to you.

3.  Your Rights:  Parents and guardians have a right to be notified of their child’s arrest or detention, a right to know why and where their child is being held, and a right to a lawyer for their child.  (The attorney, by the way, is your child’s lawyer, not yours).

4.  At The Police Station:  Tell the police you want to be allowed to see your child right away.  Don’t discuss what happened with your child (the discussion could be recorded) and don’t tell your child to tell the police what happened, even if he or she is innocent of any crime.  (Police are allowed to say things that are not true to try to get your child to talk).

5.  Police Options:  The police may issue a warning, issue an informal station adjustment (warning the child to improve his behavior), a formal station adjustment (a record is made and the police can set rules for the child to follow to keep the case out of juvenile court), or facilitate a police diversion (in which the child agrees to certain conditions such as counseling or drug treatment instead of going to juvenile court).  Alternatively, the police can issue a formal complaint and the case will proceed to juvenile court.

6.  In Juvenile Court:  Be on time.  Dress neatly (cover the tattoos and take off the jewelry).  Turn cell phones off.  Listen carefully.  Stay calm and respectful (rude or belligerent behavior will not help).  Juvenile court proceedings are supposed to be confidential, and open only to family members, court employees, crime victims and a few select others approved by the court.

7.  The Prosecutor:  The prosecuting attorney can determine that there is not enough evidence to proceed and dismiss the case, or decide to handle the case with a probation adjustment — setting conditions which, if followed, will result in a dismissal of charges.  Alternatively, the prosecutor can pursue charges through a juvenile petition.

8.  Pre-Trial Proceedings:  The judge will decide whether your child can go home, will be confined to home with electronic monitoring, or sent to a shelter, a residential treatment center or remain in juvenile detention until trial.  The judge may offer court supervision, potentially the last chance to have the charges dismissed.  The case could also be transferred to adult criminal court if the child is over a certain age and the charges are serious enough.

9.  The Trial, Sentencing and Beyond.  Your child has a right to a trial and, absent a plead agreement, the “adjudication hearing” will be held, after which the judge will determine guilt.  When a child is found guilty, the court holds a disposition hearing, where the judge will review a probation office’s social investigation report (another chance for you to tell the probation officer about any mental illness, substance abuse or other issues the court should consider).  The judge may place your child on probation, and if a condition of probation is violated, incarcerate your child.  If your child pleads or is found guilty, he or she also could be sent to a residential treatment center, a juvenile detention center or a youth prison operated by the state. Children sent to youth prison operated by the State of Illinois potentially can be held until they reach the age of 21.  Children found guilty have a right to appeal within 30 days of sentencing.

10.  Resources.  There are many statewide and local resources for mental health counseling, to provide legal assistance for those who cannot afford it, and — hopefully — to expunge your child’s arrest records (something we will cover in a future post).  Links to the report referenced on THIS WEBSITE will steer you to some of those resources.

Coming soon:  other challenges, resources, expunging arrest records and other opportunities.  Stay safe.

Serving Our Special Needs Kids — The IEP

Parent Guide to Special Education- English_Page_35_Image_0001keep_calm_and_call_a_special_ed_teacher_button-rb6afec58852d4584b95c17d2f816fa29_x7j3i_8byvr_512Special-Education-Acronyms-101Previously in the Youth Forum’s BIRTHDAY EDITION we identified how the delivery of services to special needs children can ultimately reduce dropout rates, teen pregnancies and juvenile and adult criminal conduct, while improving performance in school and strengthening college and labor force readiness.  Below are links to additional resources, including federal, State of Illinois and Chicago information sites, plus a link to an amazing resource for our Illinois friends: Equip For Equality and its Special Education Helpline.  Next time we’ll address some of the obstacles parents and children encounter in the process and share suggestions for best practices — your feedback, experiences and insight would be invaluable and appreciated.  For now, however, here is a brief summary on how the law at least is supposed to work:

Federal law, the Individuals WIth Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), gives all children a right to a free and appropriate education, including the right to appropriate special education services.  The federal government funds such services through grants to states. The Federal Office of Special Education administers, and the U.S. Secretary of Education oversees the states’ implementation of, the IDEA.  States make grants to local governments, develop performance plans on how they will implement federal law and report on their performance to the U.S. Secretary of Education.  In Illinois, it is the State Board of Education that monitors local compliance with state and federal law.  Illinois is required to provide a fee appropriate education, and ensure that children in the state with disabilities receive special education services.  Those services are provided by local educational agencies (which, in Chicago, is the Chicago Public School (CPS) system).  Thus, CPS receives federal and state funding, and is responsible to locate children with special needs, determine their eligibility for services, and provide them with special education services. The specific steps to secure special education services, summarizing information on the Department of Education’s website, are as follows:

Step 1. The child is identified as possibly needing special education and related services. School professionals, parents or others may ask that a child be evaluated for a disability (parental consent is required).  As well, the state (directly or through local governments)  must identify, locate, and evaluate all children with disabilities in the state through  “Child Find” activities.  The evaluation is to be completed within a reasonable time after the parent gives consent.

Step 2. The child is evaluated.  The evaluation must assess the child in all areas related to the child’s suspected disability. The evaluation results will be used to decide the child’s eligibility for special education services. If the parents disagree with the evaluation, they have the right to take their child for an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) and they can ask that the school system pay for this IEE.

Step 3. Eligibility is decided.  A group of qualified professionals and the parents evaluate the child’s need’s and decide if there is a “disability,” as defined by law.  Parents may challenge the eligibility decision.

Step 4. The child is found eligible for services.  If the child is found to have a “disability,” as defined by law, he or she is eligible for special education services. Within 30 calendar days after a child is determined eligible, the IEP team must meet to write an IEP for the child.

Step 5. The IEP meeting is scheduled.  The school system schedules and conducts the IEP meeting. School staff must contact the participants, including the parents who must be given the opportunity to attend.  School staff must tell the parents the purpose, time, and location of the meeting, who will be attending and that the parents may invite people to attend who have knowledge or special expertise about the child.

Step 6. The IEP meeting is held and the IEP is written. The IEP team discusses the child’s needs and write the student’s IEP. Parents and the student (when appropriate) are part of the team. Parents must consent to any special education and related services provided to the child, and the child is to receive services as soon as possible after the meeting.  Parents who do not agree with the IEP and placement may discuss their concerns with other members of the IEP team and try to work out an agreement. If they still disagree, parents can ask for mediation, or the school may offer mediation. Parents may file a complaint with the state education agency and may request a due process hearing, at which time mediation must be available.

Step 7. Services are provided. The school is to ensure that the child’s IEP is implemented.  Parents, the child’s teacher,s and service providers are to have access to the IEP, and each service provider should know his or her responsibilities for carrying out the IEP, including accommodations, modifications, and supports to be provided to the child.

Step 8. Progress is measured and reported to parents. The child’s progress toward the annual goals is measured, as stated in the IEP. The child’s parents are regularly informed of their child’s progress and whether that progress is enough for the child to achieve the goals by the end of the year. These progress reports must be given to parents at least as often as parents are informed of their non-disabled children’s progress.

Step 9. IEP is reviewed. The child’s IEP is reviewed by the IEP team at least once a year, or more often if the parents or school ask for a review. If necessary, the IEP is revised. Parents, as team members, must be invited to attend these meetings. Parents can make suggestions for changes.  If parents do not agree with the IEP and placement, they may discuss their concerns with other members of the IEP team and try to work out an agreement. There are several options, including additional testing, an independent evaluation, or asking for mediation (if available) or a due process hearing. They may also file a complaint with the state education agency.

Step 10. The child is reevaluated. At least every three years the child must be reevaluated to find out if the child continues to have a “disability,” as defined by federal law, and what the child’s educational needs are. The child must be reevaluated more frequently if conditions warrant or if the child’s parent or teacher asks for a new evaluation.

As you may have guessed, it doesn’t always work out as smoothly in practice as is outlined on government websites.  Next time, we’ll turn to some of the considerations, challenges and steps parents and other stakeholders can take to enhance their special education opportunities for their children.  Until then, there are links below to additional sources of information.











Signpost along the road to recovery.

Previously we shared information about THE JORDAN MICHAEL FILLER FOUNDATION to honor and support our friends who faced a devastating loss and are turning their grief into a source of support for others facing the growing crisis of heroin addiction.  The passage of time should not let our memories or commitment fade.  There will be a panel discussion on February 26 at 7-8 p.m. in the Gorton Community Center in Lake Forest (THE TRUTH ABOUT HEROIN IN LAKE COUNTY) with representatives from the Lake Forest Police Department, a substance abuse counselor, physician and recovering young person.  It is presented by LEAD (Linking Efforts Against Drugs) and the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office.  Additional information on the Foundation, LEAD and the panel discussion is included in the links — and there is now a WEBSITE FACEBOOK PAGE for the Foundation.  Thanks for sharing this with any parents, teens, or other stakeholders who could benefit or may be interested.  To your health.

HOW TO GET RICH IMPRISONING KIDS: Zero Tolerance and The Pennsylvania Cash-For-Kids Scandal

kid in handcuffs

Meet Mark Ciavarella.  Growing up in Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania, he had an early brush with the law.  Caught stealing a car as a teenager, he escaped jail time as the police returned him to his parents rather than press charges.  His father punched him in the face for his transgression. “I didn’t need the system to take care of my problems,” he observed years later. “My parents took care of my problems.”   Having had the good fortune to avoid jail time he went on to attend college and law school, and soon became a judge — the toughest and  worst Juvenile Court Judge you’ve ever met.  He ran his court with an iron fist and a simple philosophy about the children in his charge:  “I wanted them to be scared out of their minds.”  Scare them he did — and much more.  Children who appeared in his court didn’t have a chance (certainly not the chance he was given when caught stealing).  Kids as young as ten — more often than not without a lawyer and after just a five-minute “hearing” —  were routinely shackled and hauled off to jail for minor transgressions:  possessing a stolen scooter bought by the child’s parents;  mouthing off at a school bus stop, an 11 year old who called the police after his mother locked him out of the house, a 14 year old who wrote a satirical Myspace profile, and many more.  Kids were detained longer if their parents could not pay their detention costs.  Zero tolerance on crack.  But the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center’s investigation revealed  another loathsome inspiration behind Ciavarella’s sentencing decisions other than his hostility and incompetence.  Judge Ciavella made money off of his sentencing decisions. Lots of money.

Judge Ciavarella, it turns out, used his administrative authority to facilitate the closing of the county Juvenile Detention Center, and then paved the way for the development of a private, for-profit facility that would hold detained children — a facility that he had a financial interest in.  Judge Ciavarella and his colleague Judge Conahan were paid $2.8 million for their help in establishing the agreement between the court and the facility.  Ciavarella monitored the financial success of that facility and concealed his profits.  A federal jury convicted Judge Ciavarella and, in 2011, Ciavarella and Conahan were sentenced to prison for 28 years and 17 1/2 years, respectively.  As part of the fallout from this scandal, the Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice was established and issued a report containing dozens of recommendations that have been implemented ensuring meaningful representation of children, restricting the shackling of children absent a real danger, and requiring an on-the-record recitation of a child’s rights, among other reforms.  Convictions were overturned and the impacted children filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Ciavarello.  On January 10, 2014, a federal judge granted the children summary judgment, based partly on Ciavarella’s “enactment and expansion of zero tolerance policies dictating how probation officers were to handle violations of probation and other charging decisions.”  (We previously covered problems associated with zero tolerance school policies and impactful restorative justice models as an alternative approach ).  A documentary film on the Cash For Kids Scandal was just released.

One tragic post-script, out of many:  Edward Kenzaskoski was 17 years old, and a talented wrestler who hoped to earn a college scholarship, when he was arrested for the first time on a drug paraphernelia charge.  He landed in Judge Ciavarella’s courtroom and was sentenced to jail after which, friends and family member say, he began a downward spiral of depression and additional criminal problems.  He shot and killed himself at age 23, before Ciavarella was sentenced.  His father reportedly now claims to have framed his son in the hope that a trip to juvenile court might help him.

Other sources:







The Ongoing Challenges of Juvenile Sexting

From the Indiana Juvenile Justice Blog — the Ongoing Challenges of Sexting

Indiana Juvenile Justice Blog

A 2008 survey, Sex and Tech: Results from a Survey of Teens and Young Adults, found that 20% of teens of 33% of young adults had sent or posted nude or semi-nude pictures of video of themselves. Sexting is defined as “sending sexually explicit photographs or messages via mobile phone.”   Schools are reaching out to law enforcement for assistance, and some of these cases are finding their way into juvenile courts for delinquency proceedings.  An example from December 2013 at Avon High School is detailed here.  A newer issue, with girls in particular, is taking photographs of each other in public restrooms partially disrobed while using the restroom and then sharing these partially nude photographs with others.  Sexting: Risky Actions and Overreactions by Art Bowker and Michael Sullivan from the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin gives an overview of the sexting issue and potential responses.

In Indiana, a…

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Proven Success Reducing School Violence And Dropout Rates

selconfwordle1Last week we identified the risks to our most vulnerable students from zero tolerance discipline codes — more suspensions, more dropouts and more youth incarceration, all disproportionately impacting minority and special needs students — and the Department of Education’s efforts to support more effective and less discriminatory policies. (THE YOUTH FORUM:  FROM ZERO TOLERANCE TO RESTORATIVE JUSTICE).  Today, we consider a solution:  Umoja Student Development Corporation’s Restorative Justice model creates the conditions for students and teachers to restore conflicts and reduce disciplinary infractions through social, emotional and behavioral skills that leave teachers better positioned to delivery high quality instruction.  Based in Chicago, Umoja focuses on the school as a strategic arena for the prevention, intervention and interruption of the vicious cycle of community conflict, violence and retaliation.  Umoja utilizes a whole school Restorative Justice model, which includes strategic planning with administrators and school leaders on restorative justice, discipline and behavior systems; a peace room which serves as a hub for restorative practices and interventions; a disciplinary intervention curriculum which teaches social-emotional and leadership skills; professional development for teachers and school staff; and Community Builders: an intensive summer internship for students designed to develop student voice and leadership in Umoja’s partner schools.

AND THE RESULTS SO FAR?  Since UMOJA introduced the program into Manley High School in the 2010-2011 academic year, dropout rates have been reduced by 85% and out-of-school suspensions have dropped 30%.  In just one year of programming at Foreman High School, drop-out rates were reduced by 13% and higher level discipline referrals, mostly related to violence, dropped 15%.  In just the first year of the program at Sullivan High School, there were 36 first quarter out-of-school suspensions compared to 472 total last year.  Restorative Justice programming has demonstrative success.  It should be supported and emulated.  In contrast, zero tolerance has served to strengthen the school to prison pipeline, further removing our most vulnerable children from the education so critical to any hope so many of them will have for a meaningful future.  In Illinois, one of every four African American public school students was suspended at least once during the 2009/2010 school year – the highest rate in the country.  We can do better.  We and our children deserve nothing less.

For more information, see the informational links below and UMOJA’s response to the new federal discipline guidelines.




(Full Disclosure:  I am a UMOJA Director)


The epidemic of youth heroin addiction has just become too immediate, too real and too harmful.  So today’s post is dedicated to our friends and our community who now grieve from a tragic loss — and who courageously wish to turn their loss into hope for others.  To quote others more impacted and knowledgeable than I am:  The Jordan Michael Filler Foundation – Saving our Children from Heroin, has been established to take Jordan’s fight out from behind closed doors and into the spotlight, creating awareness of this horrible addiction through scientific research, legislative reform, increased public awareness, and treatment to children whose families cannot afford it.  1.7% of Americans age 12 or older try heroin. 23% become addicted (Nat’l Institute of Drug Abuse). The number of heroin users has increased 60% in the past decade. The average dose of heroin costs $9 and, according to NIDA, “is now often one of the first drugs tried by youths interested in experimenting.”  As our friends emerge from the shock of their loss, they come together with determination to save others from the devastation of heroin by creating the Foundation.  With all of our love and support.  Donations can be made  to The Jordan Michael Filler Foundation; c/o Lisa & Tom Aronson; 2421 Shadow Creek Lane; Riverwoods, IL 60015.  Here is a link to the WEBSITE and here is link to the FACEBOOK PAGE for the Foundation.  Additional information from the National Institute of Drug Abuse is below.  Thank you.