Juvenile Justice system: rehabilitative or punitive? | TheUnion.com

Juvenile Justice system: rehabilitative or punitive?

other voices
Robert Weir

Regarding The Union's "Drug bust designed to bolster law enforcement and the district," first, I do not condone children using alcohol or drugs and especially selling drugs or alcohol on campus. It is not good for their developing brains.

District Attorney Cliff Newell said, "But it is important to keep in mind that the focus of the Juvenile Justice system is rehabilitative and not punitive." This statement could not be further from the truth.

These are the lasting punitive actions:

1. The children who are suspended from school cannot even transfer to another school because the district is blocking them until an expulsion hearing takes place. Even though some parents have waived the right to an expulsion hearing just so they could enroll their children back in school ASAP, the district still will not allow them to re-enroll until the hearing. By the time the district has the hearing, it will be too late in the school year for them to be enrolled anywhere. Because of lack of cooperation on the part of the school district, it looks like the students will have to repeat this semester. How is banning them from attending school rehabilitative? This was not a violent crime.

Teenagers make mistakes. Zero tolerance does not allow for humans to be human or teenagers to be teenagers.

2. A conviction of these kids means that none of these kids will be eligible for federal financial aid for college.

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3. A conviction of these kids may mean that none of these kids will be eligible for pursuing a career in the military or other federal and state jobs.

4. At least one student will lose his first real job, as the corporation that employs him will not allow someone to work for it who has a drug offense on his record. Further, none of the kids will be able to get a job after a conviction for a least two years as he will be required to submit that information on the his applications.

5. If the children receive the maximum penalty for this crime, (some of them sold as little as 2 grams of marijuana, actually off the school campus), two felony counts of four years each, they could conceivably not be out of prison until they are 24-25 years old. The power of the U.S. judicial system should not be underestimated.

6. The children who were arrested were held for four days in juvenile hall without due process and without a conviction. They were not a flight risk, and they were not a threat to others or themselves. They could have been released to their parents the same day. Who benefits from this action?

7. None of these kids will be able to graduate from NU or to finish school with their lifelong friends. They will now be placed in a school with at-risk kids.

8. The children will be on probation for at least one year; if they make one mistake (drink one beer), then they will be thrown into juvenile hall, and the full penalty could be reinstated. How does this rehabilitate them?

9. Parents and children are now on probation, even before going to trial or a conviction. The probation officer and/or police can search the parents' home at any time, day or night, without a warrant. The police state has arrived.

10. Parents will have to spend money they do not have hiring an attorney and then spend countless hours trying to educate their kids at home (all the children are now on home detention) — as well as time preparing a defense, meeting with the probation officer and court dates and hearing dates. Who is being penalized?

Whom does this action really serve? I submit to you that this action is not about rehabilitating these children at all. It is about "feel-good law enforcement" on the part of the Nevada Joint Union High School District, the ABC and the Nevada County Sheriff's Department. "Look at what we did. In just three short months, we were able to use our specially trained 21-year-old adult undercover officer to solicit to buy drugs and then snare these six children! We are getting the drugs out of school! Now, how about another grant?"

This action will result in essentially no change in the community or at NU. The reality is that the children who are using recreational drugs will continue using, and the real dealers will continue to be careful and only sell to people whom they already know. How much money did law enforcement spend? What are the short- and the long-term benefits from this action?

Teenagers make mistakes. Zero tolerance does not allow for humans to be human or teenagers to be teenagers.

To destroy a few teenagers and their families as an example to others is the real crime.

Robert Weir lives in Nevada City.

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