Accidental Jail Sentence - After it was revealed that a 13-year-old Atlanta boy spent 43 days in Fulton County jail for shoplifting candy bars, Fulton County Juvenile Court Administrator Michael Wilson said the juvenile system is taking steps to ensure that no child will fall through the cracks again. The child was arrested and assigned to the Department of Family and Child Services (DFCS). But nobody from the department came to the jail to get him, and the boy spent the holiday season (Nov. 29 to Jan. 11) locked up. Wilson said probation officers and intake staff will now be responsible for daily checks on all juvenile inmates. Also, improved communication systems between the courts and DFCS should be up and running by May 1.
Guns Out, Knives In - Boston police say that tougher gun laws in Massachusetts seem to have boosted knife sales. Boston Police Sgt. Eric Bulman told The Boston Herald that the use "of knives in violent crime - especially among younger individuals - appears to be going up." City Councilman Daniel Conley has proposed banning knife sales by street vendors, who often sell cheap knives to kids.
'Boyfriend Bill' - Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack signed a bill in February making all people living in a child's household responsible for the child's well-being. The so-called "Boyfriend Bill" subjects live-in grandparents, boyfriends and relatives to prosecution under child endangerment laws previously reserved only for those who had custody. Lawmakers proposed the bill after two-year-old Shelby Luis was beaten to death at home. The state brought an endangerment case against her mother's live-in boyfriend, but the case was dismissed because the boyfriend did not have custody of the child. The boyfriend was later acquitted of murder and sexual abuse.
Bypass onto the Info Highway - A study reported by Consumer Reports in February said many Internet filtering software packages fail to keep kids off of sites touting tobacco, alcohol or illicit drugs. Six reviewers found that most software packages allowed one of every five objectionable sites to be viewed, while AOL's "Young Teen" parental controls blocked just over 85 percent of objectionable material. While the report recommended CyberPatrol, Cybersitter 2000, Net Nanny, Norton Internet Security and Cyber Snoop as the best for non-AOL users, CR Senior Editor Jeff Fox warned that adults "should not rely solely on filtering software to be a babysitter."
75,000 New Americans - On March 6, approximately 75,000 children born outside the U.S. woke up as American citizens, thanks to the Child Citizenship Act, passed by Congress last year. The bill automatically grants citizenship to any foreign child adopted by Americans. This comes as a relief to parents who adopted foreign children, and then had to navigate a lengthy and antiquated process to get citizenship for those children. "This is as much about promoting adoption as it is reducing barriers," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. William Delahunt (D-Mass.).
Just Learn Shorthand - Florida recently dropped charges against a 17-year-old student at Navarre High School for recording a chemistry lecture without the teacher's consent, according to The Washington Post. The state brought charges February 5 after the teacher, Shelaine Goss, filed a complaint, but were dropped after the prosecutor acknowledged that the wiretapping law applies only when the person being recorded has a reasonable expectation of privacy - not the case in a lecture to 30 students. The student, Asher Zaslaw, said she taped the lecture because she was having trouble with the class.
Zero Tolerance Intolerable to Lawyers - The American Bar Association voted in February to oppose "zero-tolerance" disciplinary policies in schools, saying they do not take into account the circumstances of an event or the history of the youth. The 400,000-member ABA recommended that schools establish strong policies against gun possession, but also mirror the principles of due process in considering the nature of the incident and student on a case-by-case basis.
Fighting a Life Sentence - Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) said he is willing to consider clemency for 14-year-old Lionel Tate, recently convicted of murdering a six-year-old girl and sentenced as an adult to life without parole. Tate's lawyers are seeking an expedited clemency hearing that could put his case before the clemency board in June. The lawyers are also preparing to appeal the conviction.