The new school detention, where kids make the rules and a prison pipeline ends

Destiny (picture)

Photograph: Picture Partners / Alamy

Destiny was in eighth grade when, in the middle of an altercation with another student, she grabbed a teacher’s jacket and threw it out of a classroom window.

She was enrolled at the Lyons Community School in Brooklyn, New York, where almost every kid is black or Latino and living in poverty. Only 5% are meeting standards in math and reading.

New federal data shows that across the United States, schools with demographics like these tend to respond to bad behavior with aggressive force. Principals put students as young as four years old into isolation rooms or suspension, kicking them off campus for days or even weeks at a time. School-based police officers – in New York City there are more of them than there are school psychologists or social workers – sometimes respond to offenses as trivial as talking back to a teacher with physical restraints or even arrest.

But Destiny was not isolated, suspended or arrested. She wasn’t even sent to detention. Instead, wearing gold hoop earrings and a t-shirt with a big pink heart, she appeared, a little jittery, before a “justice panel” of four teenage peers. They listened to Destiny’s side of the story (she didn’t know the jacket belonged to the teacher, she said) and determined her punishment: a face-to-face apology to the teacher, two days of community service cleaning up her classroom during lunch, and a follow-up conference with the peer panel to discuss what she had learned from the incident.

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Super-ASBOs will make it super-easy to ban just about anything

I meant to post this ages ago but I forgot. I was reminded when I posted this earlier: Peers set to block law on being annoying in public.

On the independent:

You remember ASBOs, right? The New Labour measure to ostracise unprivileged teens, harass prostitutes and stop a pensioner being sarcastic. You’ll be glad to know the government is passing a shiny new update. They’ll be in law by Easter: Super-ASBOs will make it super-easy to ban just about anything.

Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (catchy) can be slapped onto anyone who “on the balance of probabilities…engaged or threatens to engage in conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person.” Tell the future? Check. Massively subjective? Check. Fines and jail-time? Check. Can last forever? Checkmate.

This super-ASBO is a serious threat to free demonstrations, especially to students engaging in peaceful protest. A loud, non-violent, legal march could be seen as potentially annoying, especially if (say) your poster reads ‘GET OUT TORY SCUM’ and the annoyee in question is Conservative. You don’t need to be breaking a law – breaking wsiind is enough to land you an IPNA if Officer A finds your wind offensive. If that sounds like exaggeration, remember the Oxford student fined for calling a police horse ‘gay’.

It’s difficult to stress how ambiguous the law’s wording is. I can get annoyed by commuter flatulence, by certain types of music, by babies screaming. Should I be able to ban them? The law is so wide that even the former head of public prosecutions – the lawyer the Blair government used to fight terror – has warned of ‘shockingly low safeguards’ for protesters, street performers and corner-preachers. ‘The danger in this Bill is that it potentially empowers State interference,’ Lord MacDonald continued. [Rest.]

Peers set to block law on being annoying in public

The criminalisation of young people (in the main) continues apace, then. On the BBC:

A group of peers will try to block a law under which courts could stop people being annoying in public later.

Ministers want to replace anti-social behaviour orders in England and Wales with injunctions to prevent nuisance and annoyance.

Courts could impose these on anyone engaging – or threatening to engage – in “conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person”.

But the Reform Clause 1 group calls the plan a “threat to free speech”.

Members of the cross-party group say the new power is so wide it could be used against buskers, carol singers, street preachers and political protestors. Rest: BBC.


In case any of you, like me, couldn’t believe their eyes when they first read this, it is actually all true. Affluenza (the notion that the rich can be forgiven for being feckless and irresponsible because they’re so, well, rich) is A Thing now. I don’t know if that’s the correct definition of the term, by the way, but it might as well be. (And I’m more sure that it’s a not a condition from which most of us are going to suffer any time soon.)

Now, I’m not one for a punitive or disproportionate system of justice but even I must draw the line at this sort of reasoning. I say “reasoning” but there’s very little of that apparent here. Afflenza in the case above is the idea that the filthy rich and young can’t be held responsible for their destructive (even life-ending) actions because they’ve never been before and can’t, therefore, be expected to know what’s right and what’s wrong. It’s all the parents’ fault, apparently, for not holding them to account for anything thus far. That argument may work well for a toddler who’s never before been reprimanded for poking her baby brother in the eye but it works less well for a drunk 16-year-old brat who mowed down five other people when he was off his head. Yeah, I’m judging. I assume he’s been to school, made some friends, read a book, or at some point in his 16 years had a conversation with another sentient being? If so, I’m also assuming that he’s developed some sort of critical faculties which can help to guide his actions.

The first issue here is not Couch’s (he’s the drunken 16-year-old brat) lack of responsibility or the extent of his blameworthiness; rather, this is what the critical criminologists talked about many years ago when they criticised the justice system for being – in simple terms – for the interests of the rich and against the interests of the poor. The second – and more pressing – issue is that established criminal justice systems (in any form, in any location) are far from perfect and the US system is no different. How offenders navigate that system is unequal and inequitable, however. Ordinarily, Ethan Couch would have received a heavy custodial sentence for his actions (deservedly or not and effectively or not) but that was deemed inappropriate in this case. A local paper quoted the presiding judge as saying:

“She is familiar with programs available in the Texas juvenile justice system and is aware that he might not get the kind of intensive therapy in a state-run program that he could receive at the California facility suggested by his attorneys. Boyd said she had sentenced other teens to state programs but they never actually got into those programs.”

And that’s the kicker. These days we can all roll our eyes at the children of the 1% evading justice (or, at the very least, evading enough justice) and complain about a system that is clearly biased towards the rich (it ain’t right but it ain’t going away), but we can’t now surely continue to ignore the children of the other 99% who can’t buy their way out of a system that doesn’t work and into a system that might. For those children, it’s the usual spell in juvy and the predicable cycle of the recidivism.

In a best case scenario, Ethan Couch will probably get all of the help he needs now – within or outside of the system – to mend his ways but whatever happens to him, I’m sure he’ll be fine. The several other young people who didn’t get so lucky in their court trials last week will not have the same outcomes. It’s a bad day for justice when an ineffective system is acknowledged but we’re told that the only way to do any better is to give up some cold hard cash.

Young people in custody live with daily violence, says report

The lobby group Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) have released a report on children’s experiences of violence in custody.

The report concluded that violence is an “everyday” occurrence in custody, and that custodial staff are sometimes violent to inmates beyond the realms of their job description.

The report was lead by a group of five young people who were currently, or had previously, lived in custodial settings. The group interviewed a mixed group of 22 young offenders, between the ages of 13 and 18, and of all ethnicities.

[Read more: judgeandjuvie]

Britain’s still locking up children

The report published today by HM Inspectorate of Prisons into the government’s first “family friendly” detention facility for parents and children awaiting forced removal from the UKis a mixed bag. The chief inspector of prisons, Nick Hardwick, describes the unit – Cedars, near Gatwick – as an “exceptional facility”.

But there is also plenty of criticism in his report. Hardwick highlights the unacceptable force used against a pregnant woman in a wheelchair and flags up force used on six of 39 families placed in the facility. He adds that children became very distressed during removals, and says it was not possible to measure the psychological impact of that process on them. Incidents of self-harm along with shortcomings in healthcare and training were also pointed out.

What this report does not do is address two of the continuing controversies surrounding the detention of children for immigration purposes. But its publication is a timely reminder that they are a long way from resolution.

[Read more: commentisfree]

Children behind bars: US young offenders

A 12-year-old juvenile in his windowless cell at Harrison County Juvenile Detention Centre in Biloxi, Mississippi, operated by Mississippi Security Services, a private company. There is currently a lawsuit against MSS that forced it to reduce the centre’s population.

[All photographs and words taken from the book Juvenile In Justice, by Richard Ross. See the complete project and follow the blog at]

[More here: guardian]


Youth justice and Government cuts

Government cuts affecting today’s youth are one of the areas we at Judge and Juvie are looking to explore as we blog about youth justice.

As we focus on what the law actually means for youth in the UK, how government is looking to change that law and what that means for policing on the ground, Judge and Juvie also wants to consider the ways cuts affecting youth change what goes on in our justice system.

Along with cuts to youth services by local authorities, young people have been and will continue to be affected by cuts in education,  health, charities, legal aid  and other indirect factors brought about by austerity measures. While it is undeniable that cuts mean times will be tougher for young people, we want to look at where cuts affecting youth justice have been made, and what experts, people working with children, and youth themselves have to say. Human stories not sob stories.

[More on judgeandjuvie]

Predicting young criminals

This is an article worth reading (including the comments). [Read more: crimetalk]

The film Minority Report (2002) tells the story of a “pre-crime unit” who predict the criminals of the future, and before they commit the crime punish them. Law enforcement officials intervene and prevent the crime from taking place. The “potential offender” is then punished for the act they were going to commit. Of course, this is not real-life and seems far-fetched. However, this way of thinking does resonate with current practice models in youth justice.

All too often, young people are judged on what they are thought capable of doing rather than what they have done in respect of deviant/criminal behaviour. This article explores the impact of this type of practice with (potential) young offenders and draws upon the now somewhat unfashionable labelling theory to contend that intervention can cause more harm than good.

Justice Department Report on Sexual Assault in Juvenile Detention Minimizes Violence


Trigger Warning for discussions of sexual violence against youth in juvenile detention. The Department of Justice has just released its Report on Sexual Victimization in Juvenile Correctional Facilities (pdf). While presenting an excellent opportunity to meaningfully engage with the widespread problem of sexual abuse in juvenile detention, as Just Detention notes in its response to the report, the DoJ instead decides to largely minimize the extent of the epidemic. Just Detention writes:

The Department of Justice has squandered an opportunity to address the rampant sexual abuse of detained youth, choosing instead to minimize this crisis. In the executive summary of its new “Report on Sexual Victimization in Juvenile Correctional Facilities,” the Department’s Review Panel on Prison Rape claims that a recent study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) “indicated that violent sexual assault in juvenile facilities was relatively rare and facility staff, for the most part, did not victimize juvenile offenders.” “In fact,” said Lovisa Stannow, Executive Director of Just Detention International, “the BJS estimated that almost one in eight kids behind bars had been sexually victimized during a 12-month period, the vast majority of them — 80 percent — by staff whose job it is to keep them safe. Many endured repeated abuse, often more than ten times, and frequently by multiple perpetrators. I simply don’t understand how that is ‘rare.’”


How can we end the serious violence affecting black youngsters?

How can we end the serious violence affecting black youngsters?

Thirty young people last year died as a result of serious youth violence in the capital. Many more have been injured, and it is impossible to measure the human cost of these facts in terms of fractured families, missed opportunities and wasted young lives. Against this backdrop, the London Serious Youth Violence Board was formed, drawing its membership from agencies working across the capital, to reduce both the threat and fear of serious youth violence.