Tuesday, March 19, 2019

California’s Department of Juvenile Justice: Violence & Neglect

juvenile justice
The new year brought a new California governor, Gavin Newsom, and with him a plan to move the Division of Juvenile Justice to the state’s Health and Human Services Agency. Transitioning juvenile justice away from the corrections departments may result in significant changes for the better, but only time will tell. This Governor’s announcement came just before the release of a report highlighting severe issues at the four juvenile detention state facilities.

Data from the Division of Juvenile Justice et al. indicates that the state’s 650 incarcerated youths are 20 times more likely to have experienced use of force by staffers, compared to adult prisoners, Mother Jones reports. Moreover, over the last three-years, beatings have increased dramatically, juvenile detention staffers have become more aggressive, and attempted suicides are on the rise.

Up until February 2016, the California juvenile justice system seemed to be doing relatively well in regard to its handling of youth offenders. The reason being is that a 2003 lawsuit settlement led to a court-appointed special master who monitored the division to ensure the DJJ was treating youth detainees humanely, offering adequate medical care, and providing rehabilitative programs. More than ten years of oversight led a state court judge to rule that the agency was compliant and the special master no longer necessary. In three short years, a lot appears to have changed.

Use of Force Jumps Three-Fold


The alarming report indicates that youths housed in juvenile detention facilities were 49 percent more likely to be assaulted, compared to the special masters final year of oversight, according to the article. Researchers found that nearly a third of detainees have experienced a violent incident each month; and, youths involved in riots rose 13 percent in the year following the end of court monitoring. 

Almost all young offenders interviewed for the report shared having witnessed or being subject to guard on inmate violence personally. DJJ use of force tripled in the year following the end of court monitoring. The analysis from the inspector general found that 45 percent of such incidents, including the use of pepper spray, were out of compliance with the agency’s policies.

State facilities saw three attempted suicides between August 2015 to July 2016. In the year following the end of the special master’s monitoring, there were ten attempted suicides. Youths interviewed for the report stated too often their medical needs were not taken seriously, and they were subject to long waits to receive care. In response to the startling findings, Ike Dodson, a DJJ spokesman, said in a statement to Mother Jones:

“While we acknowledge that the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) works with some of California’s most challenged youth, DJJ has been on the frontline of reforming the way juveniles serve their time through education, programs, effective treatment and mental health services.” 

We will continue to follow what comes of this report, but it seems likely some reforms will be on the horizon.


Orange County Juvenile Defense Attorney


Juvenile defense attorney Katie Walsh goes to significant lengths to ensure each of her client's cases stands out from the others. Aided by her previous experience as a juvenile prosecutor, she is uniquely equipped to advocate for families whose children are facing legal difficulties. Please contact us today to learn how we can help you obtain the best possible outcomes.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Expanding Ban On Willful Defiance Suspensions

willful defiance suspensions
School “disruption and defiance” is a subject we follow closely at The Law Offices of Katie Walsh. Disruption is probably self-explanatory; willful defiance is defined as: “disrupting school activities or otherwise willfully defying the valid authority of school staff.” In the State of California, a 2014 law prohibits K-3 out-of-school suspensions for the above type of offense.

Since 2014, several lawmakers have come out in favor of expanding the ban on disruption and defiance suspensions. Many experts contend that removing kids from classrooms for disrupting class fuels what has come to be known as the “school-to-prison” pipeline. Moreover, the data indicate that these types of suspensions disproportionately affect blacks and Latinos, LGBT students, and students with disabilities.

“When you look at the data on who is suspended, you can’t help but see the stark reality,” Sen. Nancy Skinner tells EdSource. “Boys of color, kids in special education, LGBTQ kids — kids who don’t fit all of our cultural norms — are targeted due to the implicit bias that we know is present in every institution we have.”

In many instances, students are acting up because of family issues at home or untreated mental health issues. Extricating a student from the classroom or school entirely, for lengths of time, is unlikely to address the underlying problems the adolescent or teenager is facing. Expanding the ban on specific types of out-of-school suspensions could lead to more kids getting support and guidance. Alternative means of discipline could help children learn to cope with their issues healthily rather than acting out for attention.

Arguments For and Against Disruption and Defiance Bans


Those against expanding the ban of willful defiance suspensions argue that it strips teachers of the power to keep order and that it infringes on the other (disciplined) students right to learn without constant distraction. The camp for expansion say that suspending students for merely acting up puts them on a course to more problems, Education Dive reports. The divergent opinions on this subject will soon be in the spotlight once again, owing that is to legislation re-introduced by California State Sen. Nancy Skinner.

Last October, former Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed Senate Bill 607; a bill that would have expanded “disruption and defiance” out-of-school suspensions to include K-8. Sen. Skinner always wanted the ban to include K-12, but she didn’t believe Gov. Brown would support; so, she settled for a bill narrower in scope. Even still, Brown rejected the proposal. Now, with Brown out of office, Sen. Skinner hopes that Gov. Gavin Newsom will support her cause.

Senate Bill 419: Pupil discipline: suspensions: willful defiance would ban out-of-school suspensions for “defiant and disruptive behavior” in grades K-12. The bill, until January 1, 2025, would prohibit the suspension of a student in any of grades 9 to 12, inclusive, for those acts. The five-year period (sunset clause) will give officials time to determine the effectiveness of alternative discipline measures with high-schoolers.

“The point of the evaluation is to make sure that the removal of this tool (suspensions) is not impacting classrooms or teachers in a negative way,” Skinner said. 

The Governor’s office has yet to comment on SB 419.


Orange County School Expulsion Attorney


Juvenile defense attorney Katie Walsh can help your family navigate the school discipline process. If your child is facing school expulsion, then please contact us at your earliest convenience. Katie Walsh will work tirelessly to safeguard your child’s rights and seek alternatives to school expulsion for your son or daughter.