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Prosecutors say Donald Schmidt is a psychopath. Maybe he is. They say he has serious difficulty controlling his dangerous behavior. That might be true, although he's been in custody for more than 20 years and has therefore had no opportunity to demonstrate volitional control in an unconfined setting. During that time, according to his public defender, Schmidt has earned a high school diploma, has served as a grief counselor, and has excelled in treatment.
Putting aside the ongoing debate over the wisdom of detaining people in what amounts to a correctional setting out of fear that they might cause harm if given their freedom, Schmidt's continuing detention by the State of California is particularly appalling because, at the age of 37, he is being held in juvenile custody.
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Remember the Pennsylvania judges that took $2.6 millions in payoffs from private detention centers for sending kids their way?
Today the Pennsylvania Supreme Court vacated hundreds of the convictions, and it's not done yet.
The state Supreme Court ruled that former Luzerne County President Judge Mark Ciavarella violated the constitutional rights of youth offenders who appeared in his courtroom without lawyers between 2003 and 2008.
''Today's order is not intended to be a quick fix,'' Chief Justice Ronald Castille said in a statement. ''It's going to take some time, but the Supreme Court is committed to righting whatever wrong was perpetrated on Luzerne's juveniles and their families.''
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The nine year old boy accused of murdering his father and his father's boarder has admitted the killings in juvenile court.
"Did you, on November 5 of last year, do something really dangerous or risky and, as a result, did somebody die?" Roca asked in Apache County Juvenile Court. Yes," responded the boy, who was accused of killing his father and another man.
The plea agreement is here (pdf).
As to why the DA backed off earlier plans to charge the child in adult court: [More...]
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About the 8 year old in Arizona who shot and killed his father and father's boarder: First the cops wanted to try him as an adult. Then, they learned of ledgers that the kid kept of every beating, and that the kid said when it got to 1,000, he would have had enough.
Susan Mernit at Huffington Post breaks down the gruesome and mathematical tally of the beatings -- and their impact on the boy.
It's another case of powerless children in our society with nowhere to turn to. This kid is going to have a unhealthy dose of PTSD as he gets older. Who will be there for him?
Check out Susan Mernit's article on the case today at HuffPo --she's outraged at the parent who was killed. Some snippets below:
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On Thursday, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturned the murder conviction of an Arizona man who confessed his guilt to the police when he was 17 after being interrogated for twelve hours in the absence of an attorney or parent. Considering the coercive nature of the persistent questioning and the boy's age, the court decided (pdf) the confession was involuntary and should not have been used as evidence. The decision represents a victory for the Constitution as well as his appellate lawyer, Alan Dershowitz.
The principle that the police cannot induce a confession by using coercive tactics to overcome a suspect's free will is particularly significant when the suspect is a juvenile. Children are easily influenced and therefore need greater protection to assure they make a voluntary choice to respond to police questioning. What, then, were the police in Apache County, Arizona thinking when they interrogated an 8 year old about the shooting of his father without arranging the presence of an attorney or adult relative to protect the child's rights?
That blunder may explain a prosecutor's decision to dismiss one of the murder charges he had filed against the 8 year old. A second charge is still pending. [more ...]
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An 8 year old boy in Arizona allegedly shot and killed his father and another man yesterday. Police want him charged as an adult.
As if an 8 year old has the mental capacity to understand the act of murder? It hasn't stopped Arizona prosecutors before:
Earlier this year in Arizona, prosecutors in Cochise County filed first-degree murder charges against a 12-year-old boy accused of killing his mother.
In the 8 year old's case, there are indications he may have been abused. Others say no reports are on records. Then, there's the interrogation of the boy. [More...]
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In Michigan, more than 300 juveniles have been sentenced to life without parole. More than 300 kids thrown away. Michigan should give them a chance to earn their freedom.
Michigan's notorious juvenile lifer law has brought international shame to the state and contradicted common sense, legal traditions and public opinion. ... Bills now before the Senate Judiciary Committee would prohibit life-without-parole sentences for juveniles and give those now serving those sentences a chance at parole after 10 years.
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Beth Evans discusses a problem in Wyoming that's prevalent throughout the country. States take different approaches to juvenile justice that range from harshly punitive to restorative or rehabilitative. But even within states, different counties seem to be enforcing vastly different systems of juvenile law.
A juvenile incarcerated in Natrona County is likely to be detained for a Minor In Possession (MIP)-alcohol related offense. A child in need of supervision (CHINS) in Laramie County is apt to end up at the nearby juvenile detention center. It’s not uncommon for Sweetwater County youth to be placed in a facility outside their home county, even though the County has its own juvenile detention center. And, in Campbell County, juveniles are sentenced to an adult jail that can’t insure sight and sound separation between adult and juvenile inmates.
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A quarter century of "tough on crime" political rhetoric has in many states spilled over into the juvenile justice system, based on illogical platitudes like "commit an adult crime, do adult time." With the exception of a few status offenses like truancy, every crime is an "adult crime" in the sense that it can be committed by an adult. That's no reason to pretend that a 14 year old has the same maturity or reasoning ability (pdf) as an adult.
The "lock 'em up" strategy that prevails in our adult criminal justice system has infected the juvenile justice system, as well. Fortunately, as a New York Times editorial recognizes, there are more productive alternatives than shipping children off to juvenile (or adult) prisons where they'll be warehoused with minimal effort to rehabilitate.
One proven way to prevent borderline young offenders from becoming serious criminals is to treat them — and their families — in community-based counseling programs instead of shipping them off to juvenile facilities that are often hundreds of miles away from home. ... In addition to saving young lives, the community-based programs cost a lot less: $20,000 per child per year versus as much as $200,000 for holding a child in a juvenile facility.
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Congress is investigating grants awarded by the Justice Department to fight crime. Murray Waas, Brian Ross and Anna Schecter have the details. Of particular concern are the funds awarded by the Justice Department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
One $500,000 grant was given to a golf group. A former staffer says the anti-crime funds are given to programs with the "right" connections.
A key witness will be a former employee of Flores' office, Scott Peterson, who says the grants were awarded based more on politics than merit. "This is cronyism, this is waste, fraud and abuse," Peterson told ABC News in an interview aired on Nightline Monday night. Peterson says the money for the golf program is one of a number of grants awarded to lower-ranked applicants rated in rankings compiled by Justice Department staff members.
"It's a lot of our taxpayer money that's supposed to go for some of our most vulnerable children," Peterson said.
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Further evidence that the country is finally coming to its senses: the punitive approach to juvenile justice that fails to recognize the difference between children and adults is giving way to a philosophy that reduces recidivism without damaging kids.
About a year ago, New York City started an alternative sentencing program called the Juvenile Justice Initiative. Instead of locking kids up in residential "treatment" centers or detention facilities, nonviolent offenders are sent home where a therapist provides intense intervention to restore order to the family. The program "helps parents learn how to supervise and manage their adolescents so that they act responsibly instead of engaging in dangerous behaviors," according to a city official.
After a year, there is evidence that the program works:
The city said that in the year since the program began, fewer than 35 percent of the 275 youths who have been through it have been rearrested or violated probation. State studies found that more than 80 percent of male juvenile offenders who had served time in correctional facilities were rearrested within three years of their release, usually on more serious charges.
The program takes kids who are a drain on society and makes them productive, saving huge tax dollars in the process: [more...]
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A lead story in the New York Daily News this morning:
A 5-year-old boy was handcuffed and hauled off to a psych ward for misbehaving in kindergarten - but the tot's parents say NYPD school safety agents are the ones who need their heads examined.
....Dennis - who suffers from speech problems, asthma and attention deficit disorder - never went back to class at Public School 81 in Queens after the traumatic incident.
Neither the school nor the NYPD are commenting. The matter is under investigation.
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Things are looking up at a juvenile detention center in Chicago, thanks to an order transfering authority from Cook County to the court.
The... children and teenagers, most of whom are awaiting trial, will have the chance to spend 12 hours a day, for 12 days, playing games: chess, basketball, even competing in a spelling bee, instead of watching endless hours of daytime television and missing home.
In addition to gifts outside their cell doors,
Today, teens hang blinking lights, sparkly garland and ornaments as they compete for best window display and a pizza party reward. Staff members try to make sure that every child gets a call from family on Christmas Eve. In turn, kids are given cards to send home. And good behavior is rewarded with microwaveable White Castle hamburgers.
The changes are the work of court-appointed national juvenile expert, Earl Dunlap:
The power of the key has turned into the power of due process," he said.
There are more and more articles these days questioning the wisdom of life without parole for juvenile offenders who commit violent crimes.
A recent sampling from this weekend:
- Juveniles Do Hard Time for Harsh Crimes
- Mom Hopes Incarcerated Son Will Be Freed
- 9 Year Old's Murder Changed Law in New Hampshire and Fit for Society?
- Kentucky Court Faces Challenges to Life Without Parole for Juveniles
And from last week,
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What's the proper response to a child that steals two cookies? Can it really be calling the police to issue her a citation?
Police cited a [14-year-old female]Bethlehem middle school student for stealing two cookies worth 50 cents from the cafeteria at the request of one of the student's parents, school officials said today.
True, she was on suspension for having stolen candy from a teacher's desk, and it was her parent who asked the school to call in the police, but this doesn't seem to me to be appropriate intervention.
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