Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘juvenile justice

Lawsuit Challenges Texas Practice of Incarcerating Schoolkids Who Can’t Pay Fines for Misbehavior

with one comment

The Texas Tribune reports on an ACLU class-action lawsuit challenging Hidalgo County’s practice of issuing tickets to schoolkids, then incarcerating them if they can’t pay:

ACLU officials say they have heard anecdotal reports across Texas of young people jailed for failure to pay school-related fines — which in some school districts are issued by the thousands — but that the practice seems commonplace Hidalgo County, where an estimated 150 people between 17 and 21 years old have served time for unpaid fines, largely for minor school-related offenses. Issuing criminal citations for relatively mundane school misbehavior has drawn fire from advocates, who term the practice part of the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

Incidentally does anyone know more about this practice of issuing tickets, with monetary fines attached, to public school students who misbehave? Is this done anywhere outside of Texas? I’ve never heard of it before, but I also don’t follow education law very closely.

Written by sara

July 29, 2010 at 7:57 am

From Inmate to Lawyer—to Judge? Former Prisoner Might Be Appointed to the Massachusetts Bench

with one comment

My mom forwarded me an article from this weekend’s Parade magazine about a very interesting Massachusetts lawyer—and possible judicial appointee—who, unlike most lawyers and judges, has experience as a prisoner: “If appointed, [Rick] Dyer would likely be the first judge in U.S. history to bring with him not only a record of drug abuse but also a personal understanding of what it’s like to be homeless, on welfare, and behind bars.” An article from the Mass Lawyers Weekly, copied at the Massachusetts Criminal and Juvenile Defense Blog, has more information about Dyer’s background:

With multiple felony convictions on his record, Dyer made his living back in the day as a common thief. His criminal record includes entries in Brighton, Framingham, Brookline, Natick, Orleans, Marlborough, Waltham, Roxbury and Boston Municipal Court for operating under the influence, breaking and entering, use of a car without authority, disorderly conduct, driving without a license and larceny of motor vehicles. “I could start almost any car there was,” he recalls. “I made attempt after attempt to try to get straightened out, and when I couldn’t do it, I always went back to what I knew best, which was getting high, stealing cars and selling them.” …

With financial assistance from the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Services, Dyer attended Boston State College, graduating with honors in 1978. By then, he was clean and had begun volunteering at the Northeastern University School of Law Prisoners’ Rights Project, working alongside the likes of Nancy Gertner (now a federal judge), Jonathan Shapiro, Harvey A. Silverglate and John G. Flym. Those people, Dyer says, encouraged him to take the next step and apply to law school. After receiving a round of rejections the first year, Dyer applied again and was admitted to Northeastern. (Officials at other law schools, such as the University of Pennsylvania, told him they could not accept him out of concern that he would sue if he were not admitted to the bar.) He graduated in 1983, only to come up against an unforgiving Board of Bar Overseers, certain members of which were concerned that his criminal record would make him unfit to practice. But with the help of Judge [Chick] Artesani … and others he had met along the way, Dyer applied for and received a governor’s pardon [from Michael Dukakis] on July 6, 1983.

In the almost 30 years since he was admitted to the bar, Dyer has remained clean and built a practice focusing on criminal defense, including juvenile defense.

Written by sara

June 28, 2010 at 8:35 am

Well, Today’s the Day…

leave a comment »

… the DOJ’s deadline, imposed by Congress in 2003, for adopting national standards for eliminating prison rape. Unfortunately, the DOJ will miss the deadline. Pressured by what The Hill calls the “prison industry” — although, of course, the “prison industry” is ostensibly not an industry but a sector of our democratic system of government — Attorney General Eric Holder is delaying the promulgation of any regulations. In the words of Congressman Frank Wolf (R-Va):

The longer you delay, the more people will be raped in prison. It’s unconscionable that [DoJ] officials are blocking it now. I don’t know what Holder’s problem is.

Written by sara

June 23, 2010 at 6:06 am

“‘I Was Scared to Sleep’: LGBT Youth Face Violence Behind Bars”

with one comment

That’s the headline of this Nation article by Daniel Redman of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. The article makes the important point that for many incarcerated LGBT youth, their problems began long before they arrived in jail:

LGBT kids are often targeted for sexual assault. A 2009 Department of Justice report shows that across the country, LGBT youth are twelve times more likely than straight youth to report being sexually assaulted by a fellow inmate. In Louisiana alone, 10 percent of all youth–gay and straight–reported abuse by a staff member. Krystal reports that she was propositioned twice by guards when she was 14. When she refused, she was verbally abused and called a “bitch.”

An LGBT youth’s problems with the law frequently begin at home. “LGBT youth are more likely to be arrested than straight youth because they’re more likely to be pushed out of their homes,” says Dr. [Marty] Beyer. And “family rejection is a direct pipeline to the juvenile justice system,” says San Francisco State University researcher Caitlin Ryan of the Family Acceptance Project. While only 3-10 percent of Americans are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, LGBT youth make up 15 percent of the prison population. Indeed, one-quarter of all LGBT youth are kicked out of their homes or run away. Compared to their heterosexual peers, incarcerated LGBT youth are twice as likely to report abuse at the hands of family members, homelessness or state-ordered foster placement. A shocking estimated 20-40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT.

As always, to learn more about sexual violence in America’s prisons, visit the website of Just Detention International, which is packed with information, news updates, and suggestions for how you can take action.

Written by sara

June 21, 2010 at 12:21 pm

DOJ Releases Survey Results on Conditions in Juvenile Jails

leave a comment »

Less than half of youth in state custody (whether residential placement or a juvenile detention center) report having access to a lawyer. That and other statistics are available in the new report, “Conditions of Confinement: Findings from the Survey of Youth in Residential Placement,” published by the DOJ’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. The study is based on a survey of a representative sample of youth in custody, so keep in mind the limitations of self-reported data as you read the report. Here are some other data points that may be of particular interest to readers of this blog:

  • Notice of rules: 75% of youth report they received a copy of the rules in their facility, 90% feel the rules are fair, and 75% feel they apply equally to all residents.
  • Grievance process: 19% say they don’t know how to file a complaint, and 20% say they are concerned about retribution if they do.
  • Fairness of punishment: Half of youth report that staff impose punishment without cause, over one-third think that staff use unnecessary force, and less than one-third say punishments are fair.
  • Solitary confinement: Almost one-fourth of youth report being placed in solitary confinement as punishment. Over one-third report being isolated in some way (either sent to their room with no contact with other residents, or placed in a separate lock-up). Of those who were isolated, over half say their isolation lasted longer than 24 hours.
  • Physical restraint: Over one-fourth of youth report that staff have used some form of restraint on them, whether handcuffs, wristlets, a security belt, chains, or a restraint chair. Just 4% report being placed in a restraint chair and 7% report being pepper sprayed. These last-resort restraints may have effects beyond the individuals on whom they’re used: 30% report living in a unit where one or more residents was pepper sprayed, and 29% report living in a unit where one or more residents was placed in a restraint chair.

On Reading Graham: Justice Stevens and Thomas’s Ahistorical Historical Assumptions

leave a comment »

Graham v. Florida is, not surprisingly, getting a lot of coverage around the legal blogosphere today. In addition to my earlier links, check out the coverage at Solitary Watch and California Corrections Crisis. Rather than rehash what other blogs have more capably covered, I wanted to highlight one point of disagreement between Justices Stevens and Thomas, which may be of minor import legally speaking, but of great interest to me as a student who divides her time between the law school and the history department.

Justice Stevens, in his brief concurrence, accuses Justice Thomas of embracing a “static” view of the Eighth Amendment in which “cruel and unusual” means forever and always whatever it meant at the time of the founding. Thus, says Justice Stevens, it would be A-OK with Justice Thomas for a state to execute a 7-year-old for stealing $50. I noted above that this point of disagreement is of minor legal import because (pace perhaps Justice Thomas?) the Supreme Court has held in other cases that it’s unconstitutional to impose the death penalty for non-homicide crimes and for crimes committed by juveniles, and moreover, I can’t imagine any state today would actually try to execute a 7-year-old for petty theft. But the putative disagreement is fascinating for another reason, insofar as it betrays some ahistorical assumptions that both Stevens and Thomas seem to be making about history.

Justice Stevens is referring to this footnote in Justice Thomas’s dissent:

Read the rest of this entry »

Supreme Court Rules on Juvenile LWOP, Federal Civil Commitment of Sex Offenders

with 2 comments

The Supreme Court issued two rulings today in cases whose facts implicate big-picture questions about crime and punishment, although the precise legal questions at issue in both — and therefore the import of these opinions — are narrower than those big-picture questions. In Graham v. Florida, a divided court held that a life-without-parole (LWOP) sentence for a juvenile convicted of burglary violates the Eighth Amendment. In United States v. Comstock, the court held 7-2 (with Scalia and Thomas dissenting) that the federal government’s civil commitment program for “sexually dangerous” offenders does not exceed Congress’s constitutional authority. You can access links to the opinions and related documents at How Appealing, legal analysis at SCOTUSblog, and an interesting perspective on how PR concerns may have driven the Court’s treatment of these cases over at Sentencing Law & Policy (where you can also find lots more commentary from Doug Berman on these opinions, including several posts on Graham).

Note that, as Lyle Denniston observes at SCOTUSblog, Graham does not require or even necessarily contemplate the actual release of juvenile LWOP prisoners. Rather, Justice Kennedy’s opinion for the Court holds merely that these prisoners must be afforded “some meaningful opportunity” to present a case that they have matured and are fit to re-enter society. However, Justice Kennedy was quick to make clear, “[t]hose who commit truly horrifying crimes as juveniles may turn out to be irredeemable, and thus deserving of incarceration for the duration of their lives.” There is a lot going on in this sentence alone — a lot of assumptions and value judgments — that merits further unpacking.

I’d also note that insofar as juveniles have now won a right to a parole hearing, we might question how meaningful of a right that really is (notwithstanding the “some meaningful opportunity” language) given that in many states, parole hearings have become a sort of charade in which the prisoner can never actually win release, because the parole board routinely denies parole eligbility based solely upon the facts of the underlying crime, which is the one thing that the prisoner, of course, can never change. I am not too familiar with how parole works in Florida, which is home to most of the country’s juvenile LWOP prisoners, but I’ve blogged previously about challenges to rubber-stamp parole boards in Virginia and Michigan. After I’ve had a chance to read the opinions more closely, I’ll blog again about any notable prison implications I see, but for now, hopefully the above links and impressions will get readers started in learning and thinking about these opinions.

%d bloggers like this: