Florida Juvenile Murderers May Face 50-year Minimum Sentences

This week, Florida’s state Senate Criminal Justice Committee approved a bill that could establish new minimum and maximum juvenile sentencing standards within the state. Under Senate Bill 1350 (SB 1350), juvenile offenders convicted of murder may be given a minimum sentence of 50 years behind bars, while young people convicted of non-murder offenses would have maximum sentences of 50 years. The bill, approved by a 4-2 vote, also leaves room for judges to give life sentences for juvenile offenders charged with murder, pending outcomes from a review that takes into consideration several factors, including the nature of the offense and the offender’s mental competence. Upon rejecting a life sentence, SB 1350 would require state judges to impose the 50-year minimum sentence. According to The Ledger.com, the proposal has the backing of both the Florida Sheriffs Association and state prosecutors.

Juvenile Court Judges Latest to Express Concern over Armed Security in Schools

Youth advocates have worked to reduce police involvement in school discipline

The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges is voicing concern over the push to put armed police or guards into American schools following the Newtown school massacre of 20 first-graders and six staff last December. On Tuesday, the Reno, Nev.-based group posted an excerpt of a letter sent to Vice President Biden, who has been leading a month-long effort to gather ideas for more effective gun restrictions and improved school safety. The White House is reportedly poised to reveal some recommendations Wednesday at a midday press conference. In its letter to Biden, the NCJFCJ expressed strong misgivings about the prospect of communities putting armed guards in schools – which could become even more likely if federal dollars are offered to help schools make that choice. Published reports indicated Biden’s task force was considering such a plan, which has also been pushed by Sen. Barbara Boxer, a liberal Democrat from California.

Gun Rights, Gun Control and a Local Push to Tax Guns and Their Ammo

Ambitious and certain to draw criticism, President Barack Obama’s plan to rid the nation of the most powerful weapons on the market and attempt to arrest mass and everyday shootings was expected by Congress Wednesday, marking a sharp turn in a decades-long fight to curb America’s gun violence. As the debate was playing out in Washington, several local and national leaders gathered at the University of Chicago Tuesday evening to discuss guns and policy, with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whose city holds the dubious “murder capital” title, among the group and pushing sweeping gun control legislation that cracks down on assault weapons. Also on the panel was Democratic political consultant David Axelrod, who this week said that the National Rifle Association’s recent assertion that Congress would not enact the sort of change that Obama and others were pressing, was off base. In fact, he said, real legislation will squeeze through the legislative process and signal real change in the nation’s laws and gun dialogue. Also in attendance was the head of the University of Chicago CrimeLab, who noted that while the United States has managed to improve its count of more common crime – property theft, etc.

School Discipline Reform Groups Question Proposals for Armed Security

Initiatives emerging from shootings may conflict with efforts to reduce police involvement in school discipline

As the White House considers proposals to allocate federal money for armed guards in schools, prominent school-discipline reform groups have issued a report denouncing the idea as a misguided reaction to the Newtown school shooting. “Placing more police in schools has significant and harmful unintended consequences for young people that must be considered before agreeing to any proposal that would increase the presence of law enforcement in schools,”says an issue brief released Friday by the Advancement Project, Dignity in Schools and other organizations. The Advancement Project, founded in 1999, has offices in Washington D.C. and California, and has worked with school districts and states to adopt alternatives to school suspensions and expulsions. Dignity in Schools is also devoted to working with school districts, advocating fewer school suspensions and less involvement of law enforcement in school discipline. The groups called on the White House and Congress, before they act, to consider how the school-discipline climate changed after more police were introduced to schools in response to the Columbine school shootings nearly 15 years ago in Colorado.

Texas Students Must Wear Tracking Badges or be Transferred, Judge Says

A United States district judge in Texas ruled Tuesday that students who refuse to wear identification badges with tracking chip technologies might be transferred to other school districts. Judge Orlando Garcia ruled that a student attending classes at a Northside Independent School District campus would face transfer out of the magnet school unless the student begins wearing the identification badge by Jan. 22. The 15-year-old student said wearing the badge, which contained a tracking chip allowing administrators to physically track her whereabouts while on campus, violated her religious beliefs. However, the judge denied a request that would have halted her transferal, saying her decision was a “secular choice, rather than a religious concern.”

The school district, the 4th-largest in Texas, began using radio frequency identification (RFID) chips in student identification badges last fall.

TV Series Brings Neighbors Together to Help Family in Crisis

Back in the fall of 2011, kids bullied Alycin Mabry so severely that her mom decided to home school the Atlanta 14-year-old. At the time, her mom Annise Mabry saw homeschooling as the shining answer the family needed. But today, Mabry says, it’s clear that their struggle was far from over. “Maybe two or three months into the online school, Ali started to become more and more isolated,” Mabry said. “I just couldn’t get her out of the room.

Felony Charges Dropped Against Young Undocumented Student at Heart of Immigration Debate

A nearly three-year legal battle has come to an end for a young undocumented immigrant whose 2010 arrest sparked a national debate over U.S. immigration policy, particularly the right of undocumented immigrants to attend public universities. Thursday, a Cobb County, Georgia, judge dismissed a false-swearing charge against the now 23-year-old Jessica Colotl stemming from her arrest on March 29, 2010. A Kennesaw State University (KSU) police officer stopped Colotl, a KSU student, for a traffic infraction on campus. She was arrested the following day after failing to produce for authorities a valid driver’s license. Colotl’s case has been widely publicized nationally, drawing renewed attention to the use of 287(g) programs, which allow local police agencies to enforce immigration law and detain suspected undocumented immigrants.

Richard Ross Brings Photographs, Message to NYC’s Vera Institute of Justice

NEW YORK – Photographer Richard Ross can’t pin down the moment he found his calling. It could have been on the concrete floor of the Harrison County Juvenile Detention Center in Biloxi, Miss., where he sat photographing a 12-year-old inmate in a yellow prison jumpsuit as he gazed at graffiti of spaceships and aliens scribbled on the wall of his tiny, decrepit cell. Maybe it was the young inmates trying to sleep on the floor of the intake room of a Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Los Angeles. Or the facility for young female offenders in California where the administrator told him all 88 residents were victims of sexual abuse. It could have been his visit with Ronald Franklin, who ran away from home at 13 after his mother tried to kill him, got involved in an armed carjacking and ended up in a Miami juvenile detention center where he waited four years without a trial.

Illinois Enacts Law Against ‘Epidemic’ of Human Trafficking

By  Maryam Jameel and Natalie Krebs 

Illinois strengthened its legal arsenal against human trafficking this weekend when Gov. Pat Quinn signed House Bill 5278 into law. The new legislation aims to provide further protection and services for trafficking victims while also allowing prosecutors to crack down on pimps and other offenders. The law applies to both minors and adults, and shares a number of similarities with the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, passed in 2000. The TVPA and its subsequent reauthorizations created new categories of human trafficking crimes and provided protections and benefits for human trafficking victims. Similarly, the new Illinois law extends the statue of limitations for offenders and broadens the definitions of “serious harm” and “involuntary servitude.”

The signing came a day after the American Bar Association’s Juvenile Justice Committee hosted a panel to address the “epidemic” of juvenile sex trafficking in Chicago. While authorities confront traffickers for their offenses, it can be equally difficult to work with trafficked youth, many of whom don’t consider themselves victims of sexual abuse.

Idaho Juvenile Corrections Employees Allege Staffers Had Sex With Incarcerated Youth

Last month, several Idaho Department of Juvenile Corrections (IDJC) employees filed a revised whistleblower lawsuit alleging staffers at the Nampa Juvenile Corrections Center had sexual relations with incarcerated youth. Six additional staffers were added as lawsuit plaintiffs after attorney Andrew Schoppe – who filed the first lawsuit on behalf of seven employees in a U.S. District Court in Boise a week prior – was contacted. The staffers claim that events similar to those alleged in the original complaint have transpired at the detention center, stating that management failed to take action when incarcerated juveniles had sexual relations with one another. In the lawsuit, Schoppe said that staffers may have even had sexual relations with members of the incarcerated population. “In at least two mind-boggling incidents, female IDJC staff members are believed to have been involved in unlawful sexual relationships with male juvenile offenders in their custody,” the filing reads.