News Briefs for July-August 2002

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DARE Slashed in Hometown: The Los Angeles Police Commission has threatened to cut DARE, the substance abuse program that was founded in L.A., from 119 officers to six. Due to increased emergency calls and gang uprisings, the LAPD has already reassigned DARE officers to narcotics and other special units. Only 71 of the assigned 119 officers currently run the program, with 48 of those already reassigned to other divisions. The six remaining officers would run DARE only in law enforcement-run magnet schools.

Juvenile Death Penalty: Could the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last month that the execution of mentally retarded convicts is unconstitutional affect people convicted of committing murder when they were juveniles? Jennifer Brewer, a lawyer for 26–year-old death row inmate Christopher Simmons of Missouri, said she will apply the ruling to her appeal of his death sentence. “I think a lot of the things that the ruling says – the fact that the mentally retarded act on impulse rather than pursuant to a plan – also applies to juvenile offenders,” Brewer told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Another 26-year-old convicted as a youth – Napoleon Beazley of Texas – was executed in late May.

50 Years, Not Death: A 16-year-old faces up to 50 years in prison for a shooting rampage at Santana High School in Santee, Calif., last year. Charles Williams pleaded guilty last month to two counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder.

Smoking Age Up?: Drawing the ire of big tobacco companies, a bill was introduced in California last month to raise the state smoking age from 18 to 21. About 5,000 youth under 18 try tobacco for he first time each day, according to State Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D), sponsor of the bill.
Zippers Down: Pennsylvania recently announced that Zippers brand gelatin shots will not be sold in the state. Critics of the product, which contains about 12 percent alcohol, said the packaging is too similar to regular gelatin snacks and is “enticing” to underage drinkers. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board said the packaging made it difficult for shop keepers to readily identify Zippers as liquor products. The shots come in different flavors, which critics say offer youth a tasty alternative to beer and straight alcohol.

Job Shortage: The percentage of teens seeking summer employment may hit a record low, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Summer youth employment steadily decreased throughout the 1990s and last year reached a 30-year low, as only 50 percent of 15- to 19-year-old teens were in the labor force.

Teach For America Draws More: In the same year President Bush called on America to put “talented teachers in troubled schools,” Teach For America received 14,000 applications for its 2002 corps, tripling the number received in 2001. Teach for America recruits recent college graduates and places them in rural and urban schools for two-year assignments.

Same-Sex Adoption OK: The Swedish Parliament has granted same-sex couples the right to adopt, joining the Netherlands as the only European countries with such a law. But the change may have little impact, because no other countries will put children up for adoption to gay couples and only 16 Swedish children were put up for adoption in 2000.

School Cracks Down on Student Sex:
The Milton Hershey School in Pennsylvania said it will improve its screening of potential students and increase adult supervision in an effort to stave off student sexual misconduct, which has been an ongoing problem. The school’s board of managers committed $1.2 million to implement new strategies, which include denying admission to children who have a history of sexually abusing other children. About 1,200 youths, ages 4 through 15, live at the 92-year-old school, which had assets of $4.6 billion in 2000.