Sunday, June 04, 2006

Juvenile Justice and Schools

There has been a lot of concerns raised lately about the SAISD Code of Conduct and the actions of peace officers on campus. In keeping with the Concho Info tradition, here are some of the references and facts we have found in looking into this issue.

Texas Family Code Title 3: Juvenile Justice is the law and sets the standards for the school district and law enforcement when dealing with children from 10 to 17 years of age (to 18 in some cases see FC 51.02(2).) Those under 10 can't be prosecuted for crimes. One of the first statements in the General Provisions is that the code is there to

"(6) to provide a simple judicial procedure through which the provisions of this title are executed and enforced and in which the parties are assured a fair hearing and their constitutional and other legal rights recognized and enforced."

Those include the rights of the children and their parents. Other necessary resources can be found at the Attorney Generals Publication Page. Pay particular attention to the School Crime and Discipline Handbook and the Juvenile Justice handbook. You also need to look at the Parent Handbook/Code of Conduct from SAISD although the code is being revised and the new version isn't online yet. Even a cursory reading makes some things clear.

First, children still have constitutional rights. Their protections against self incrimination do not include the familiar Miranda warning we may be familiar with. Part of that is because they have to be receive a warning from a magistrate (with no law enforcement officers or prosecutors present) before any statement or confession can be recorded or used. Children also have the right to an attorney, even a court appointed one, just like adults do.

Parents also have rights and must be involved. Officials must PROMPTLY NOTIFY the child's parent or guardian when a child is taken into custody (taking a child into custody is not legally the same as an arrest and should not show up as an arrest in their record.) Parents also have the right to personal, private communication with their child at the juvenile processing office.

It appears that the police have some leeway in handling minor offenses. They have the option of issuing a warning notice (basically the equivalent of a traffic ticket) and that notice is then sent to the parents and filed for further action. There is nothing that requires taking a child into custody for an offense that would normally be punished by only a fine.

From the basics I have covered here it seems that the school district and the local police probably need to do some work on their procedures and get better at communicating with parents.

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