Thursday, August 27, 2009

RAGE-Adoloscent Illiteracy

I received a phone call Monday from a gentleman from Minnesota. Since I have redirected my focus from politics to child abuse and juvenile justice issues; I have been in touch with people from an organization called Invisible Children ( and KARA (Kids at Risk Action). Bob, the gentleman from Minnesota, is an active member of these organizations. To say he is passionate about these issues would be a gross understatement. We talked about a number of topics but one issue was particularly important to Bob (not to minimize the others)-literacy. I confess the fact that this is a major contributing factor to juvenile crime had completely escaped me. After our conservation, I decided to look into this further. Suffice it to say: Bob “knows of what he speaks.”

I would like to begin with a quote from the State Superintendent of Wisconsin regarding literacy. (

“At its core, literacy is the ability to read and write. While this ability remains the nexus of literacy of adolescents, additional abilities are needed to maximize learning in all content areas. In Wisconsin, we must infuse this core with the ability to invent, design, create, compute, and communicate so that adolescents can make critical judgments, solve real-world problems, and become productive citizens who lead rewarding lives.”

While researching the correlation between illiteracy and delinquency, I came across a paper by Lois S. Mohr-Corrigan entitled "Illiteracy and Juvenile Delinquency." In this paper, a series of studies and interviews were used to help explain, not justify, how illiteracy can lead to frustration and anger in youths. “Aggression is one of many emotions harbored by illiterate adolescents.” Their inability to express themselves leads them to delinquency as a means to release their anger. Michele Kipke, a source cited in the paper, explains how the pressure of being accepted during adolescence can adversely affect an individual throughout the course of their life. “…once shunned as an outcast for not fitting in, those feelings can follow an illiterate person around for the rest of his or her life, affecting every facet with its negativity.” It is here that teachers and other school officials can provide support to those affected. School is often the starting point for future successes and failures.

After studying Criminal Justice in college, my interest in the various theories explaining juvenile behavior prompted me to purchase a number of books concerning the varying theories. One of the books I purchased is entitled "Child and Youth Security Sourcebook." “Effective schools convey the attitude that all children can achieve academically and behave appropriately, while at the same time appreciating individual differences…Students who do not receive the support they need are less likely to behave in socially desirable ways.” Once again, the significance of recognizing and dealing with illiterate students is magnified. I daresay we have failed to do either in an effective manner.

While President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act gave the impression that the government was taking a more active role in improving education; it did little for the illiterate. Encouraging states to elevate their testing standards may have benefited those proficient in reading and writing skills; it exposed those with learning disabilities and the illiterate. This may have proven to be advantageous if the schools were equipped to address these problems but that was simply not the case. In 2002, $24.4 billion was earmarked for the new project. A paltry $1.2 billion was allocated for basic reading programs in 2002 which was a considerable increase from the amazingly low $286 million available in 2001.

Attending to the special needs of illiterate students has long been the purview of school counselors. Perhaps a portion of the aforementioned $24.4 billion should have been diverted to the American School Counselor Association. “Although ASCA recommends a 250 to 1 ratio of students to school counselors (WOW!), the national average is actually 475 (2006-2007) school year.” ( In the state of Illinois, the ratio is 1172 to 1!! Only 4 states have managed to adhere to the 250 to 1 ratio. Is it any wonder that thousands of illiterate children are allowed to “fall through the cracks”? Research has consistently shown that poor academic achievement contributes to crimes committed by delinquents.

In my conversation on Monday; Bob expressed his frustration concerning the absence of rage regarding illiteracy. His desire for societal rage; rage akin to that prevalent during the civil rights movement, is understandable. My research has opened my eyes to the blatant disregard for thousands of youths. The fact that this apathy has led to the incarceration of so many has certainly infused a rage within me. I would like to close with a quote from Michael S. Brummer, Visiting Fellow at the U.S. Department of Justice.

“The link between academic failure and delinquency is strong…Schools are apparently contributing to the delinquency problem by continuing to provide traditional programming that…leaves many students, after six years of instruction, unable to read accurately, fluently, and effortlessly with comprehension…What brings about the delinquency is not the academic failure per se, but sustained frustration which results from continued failure to achieve selected academic goals.” Derived from Brummer’s book "Retarding America: The Imprisonment of Potential."

Monday, August 24, 2009

Brandon Hein and the Murder-Felony Rule

While perusing through the latest edition of Newsweek, I came across an op-ed entitled WRONG PLACE, WRONG TIME. The piece dealt with the plight of Brandon Hein, a young man who has been in prison for close to 14 years. Young Hein was sentenced in 1995 under the murder-felony rule that is only recognized in 24 states today. Reading this story brought me back to my days of studying Criminal Justice at Colorado Tech University. I recall, at the time, that I felt that the rule was inherently flawed in several ways. The penalty for being found guilty of felony-murder is limited to two options; death or life without the chance of parole. Though his sentence was commuted by Governor Schwarzenegger earlier this year; Brandon will still not be eligible for parole for another decade. A young man, who killed no one, will end up spending at least 24 years behind bars.

For those unfamiliar with Brandon’s story; I will do my best to summarize the events that led to his incarceration. On May 22, 1995, Brandon and a couple of his friends had been drinking and were in search of some marijuana. When they stopped by an acquaintance’s home to purchase the marijuana; a fight broke out between one of Brandon’s friends and one of the boys selling the marijuana. Unfortunately; a knife was introduced into the fight and the death of one of the dealers resulted. This occurred in Agoura Hills, CA; close to the site of the famous O.J. acquittal and the Menendez brothers’ hung jury. It’s also important to note that the youth who was killed was the son of a police officer.

I would like to clarify that I am in no way defending the actions of any of the youths. The problem I have is the American concept of the punishment befitting the crime. In cases where the murder-felony is invoked; the prosecution is at a distinct advantage since intent, a major component in any other murder case does not need to be established. Simply put: Anyone who is in the company of someone who commits a crime where a murder occurs is automatically charged with felony-murder. In this case; the crime was an apparent attempted robbery of an illegal substance. It is little wonder that 26 states do not have this rule. Had the tragedy not happened; I highly doubt the police would have been involved at all. I digress.

From the U.S. Supreme Court case Enmund v. Florida (1982):
“Neither deterrence of capital crimes nor retribution is a sufficient justification for executing petitioner. It is unlikely that the threat of the death penalty will measurably deter one such as petitioner, who does not intend to kill. As to retribution, this depends on the degree of petitioner’s culpability, which must be limited to his participation of the robbery.”

I am aware that judicial jargon is often difficult to decipher but let’s concentrate on the final line. “As to retribution, this depends on the degree of petitioner’s culpability, which must be limited to his participation of the robbery.” Aside from the fact that the robbery was of an illegal substance; Brandon’s sole participation was the robbery itself. While many, if not most, Supreme Court decisions are deemed to be precedents-Enmund v. Florida has been completely ignored.

To further highlight the injustice of Brandon’s case, let’s take a look at the sentencing guideline for 1st degree murder and its definition. In California, the sentence for 1st degree murder is 25 years to life. This leaves open the possibility of parole-Brandon’s doesn’t it. 1st degree murder is defined as: “An intentional killing by means of poison, or by lying in wait, or by any other kind of willful, deliberate and premeditated action.” First of all; Brandon’s sentence, even with the Governor’s commutation, is more severe than someone found guilty of premeditated murder. Second; by definition, 1st degree murder is FAR more heinous than anything Brandon did.

I consider the case of Brandon Hein to be both appalling and embarrassing for the entire judicial system. While Americans sit in judgment of Iran, China, and North Korea regarding their inhumane treatment of prisoners and their judicial system in general; an 18 year old young man has been forced to spend the most important years of his life in a maximum security prison. In order to reduce the budget woes of the state; California has announced that they intend to release 40,000 prisoners over the next two years. If Brandon Hein is not among the 40,000 released; the entire California legislature and its judicial system should be ashamed of themselves.

For anyone interested in learning more about Brandon; visit http://

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Tragic Story of Dae'von Bailey

The recent arrest of Marcus Fisher in Las Vegas, the murderer of 6 year old Dae'von Bailey, has brought the failure of the Department of Social Services to the attention of citizens nationwide. Fisher had been pursued and is now being charged with the murder of Dae'von Bailey on July 23rd. This article will address the apathy (fiscally rationalized)prevalent and how easily and often, neglected and abused children are allowed to fall through the cracks. What you will discover is that, all too often, these tragedies could have been avoided simply by people doing their jobs. You will also see how budget cuts in many states have resulted in the deaths of children who are forced to live in similar conditions that Dae'von lived in.

Fisher was arrested on August 19th after evading police since the murder. His arrest was the result of a manhunt that involved members of the LAPD, Las Vegas PD, and the U.S. Marshall's Service. I think it's important to note that this multi-agency task force was created in a matter of days. The irony of this will become clear as the details of young Dae'von's story is unveiled.

"In the months before he died, Dae'von told adults at school that Fisher had punched him in the stomach and had slammed his head into a bathroom sink. He repeated the complaints to social workers who interviewed him and to medical professionals who examined him for injuries. But he was sent back twice to his violent home."

There is definitely enough blame to be placed concerning this horrible story. There are also a number of questions that need to be answered. The question that I have is: Why is it possible for law enforcement agencies to coordinate efforts to apprehend a single person when schools, social service agencies, and the medical community are unable to share information that would have saved the life of a young boy?? Much of the blame for the inefficiency of the DSS can be placed on the fact that these agencies are often the target for budget cuts. California, a state deeply affected by the present economic climate, has proposed to slash $3.3 billion from the system.

"According to research from 2008, 14 children who died under the protection of child welfare agencies in L.A. were neglected because of 'breakdowns in the system in which some agencies knew about potential abuse but failed to share their information with other agencies. In other cases, investigators found that poor decisions by social workers had contributed to their deaths.'"

Though budgetary problems contribute to the allowance of neglect and abuse perpetrated against children; it does little to excuse the death of Dae'von and others. The L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services had received an estimated 12 complaints of abuse concerning Dae'von; many of which were reported by the school. Despite these complaints, the agencies involved were unable to effectively work together to remove Dae'von from an obviously dangerous environment. Yet, after the murder; a multi-agency task force was quickly formed (no problem with coordination there). Is it too much for us ask that people do their jobs?

Information for this article was derived from the following sources:,0,3577922.colum?track=rss

Saturday, August 15, 2009

If You Build It; They Will Come

For the past seven months, I have devoted my writing to the political arena. This is a volatile area under normal circumstances but with the advent of health care reform; the debates have become more heated and frustrating. Liberals and conservatives have both established their positions on the topic and unwavering would be an accurate description of these positions. The problems lie with the distortion of the intent of the bill by the conservatives and the ever-changing promises being made by President Obama. Sarah Palin’s allegation of the existence of “death panels” and Obama’s willingness to deal with the special interest groups he promised to avoid has fueled an already blazing fire.

My original objective when I began blogging was to be somewhat of an advocate for the need of reform in the Juvenile Justice system. Looking through the nearly 50 articles I have written; I became aware that only one of them dealt with the system and its need for reform. The present political landscape coupled with my detraction from my original goal has induced me to redirect my focus. A blatant case of exploitation and corruption was brought to my attention by a fellow blogger and friend. This story, which continues to unfold, has certainly caught my attention and will be the topic of this article.

Two judges in Pennsylvania have pleaded guilty to a litany of charges leveled against them in U.S. Federal Court. These are the result of an investigation prompted by Bob Schwartz, president of the Juvenile Law Center. For those interested in reading more on the investigation; visit The sordid details of the investigation were reported to the public by Amy Goodman of DEMOCRACY NOW. According to Goodman; Schwartz chose to begin the investigation after receiving a number of complaints regarding the excessive sentencing practices of judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan.

Schwartz’s investigation led him to cases dating back to 2003. The two judges have “pleaded guilty to taking bribes for placing youths in privately owned jails.” It is estimated that the two received a staggering $2.6 million. Along with the bribery charges; they are also charged with wire fraud and income tax fraud (tough to declare bribery revenue). What I find equally, if not more detestable is the allegation that both Ciavarella and Conahan were complicit in facilitating the construction of these detention centers.

During my research, I found an article by John Schwartz of the New York Times on a web site aptly called: PEOPLE YOU’LL SEE IN HELL. In the article, Schwartz details the ease in which these sentencing practices were allowed to go unnoticed. By doing so; he touches on some of the flaws inherent to the entire system: Flaws that I will be addressing in a future article. Due to the seriousness and magnitude of this injustice; the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania assigned a Special Master, Senior Judge Arthur E. Grimm, to the case.

"The special master had submitted an 11-page report that there was routine deprivation of children's constitutional rights."

Due to Judge Grimm’s findings, hundreds of juvenile records were ordered expunged by the Supreme Court.

Goodman of DEMOCRCY NOW had the opportunity to interview two of the juveniles sentenced by the judges. Jamie Quinn, a first time offender and 14 years old at the time, was charged with simple assault and harassment. This incident revolved around an argument Ms. Quinn had with a friend that resulted in a “slap.” Despite the fact that no injuries were reported; Jamie was ordered to serve a 4 month sentence at PA Child Care; one of the privately owned detention centers Ciavarella and Conahan received bribes from and assisted in their securing funds to be constructed.

The other victim of this travesty that was interviewed was Kurt Kruger, another first time offender. Kruger was deemed to be a “lookout” for his girlfriend who was shoplifting. According to reports; Kruger had moved out of his home due to problems between Kurt and his father. Because of this, he never received notification that the court had chosen to go forward with the charges. He believed they had decided to ignore this frivolous charge because his girlfriend (the one who actually shoplifted) was never summoned to appear. When Kruger missed his scheduled hearing; an arrest warrant was issued. After his arrest, without the benefit of counsel, he was sentenced to by Ciavarella in a 90 second hearing!

Perhaps the most troubling case (not to minimize the others) involved 15 year old Hillary Transoe. Hillary was charged with harassment for posting a parody of her high school Vice President on her MySpace page. She was sentenced to 3 months in one of the detention centers. Three months for a parody?? Wow-considering some of the things I pulled in high school; Ciavarella or Conahan might have sentenced me to life! These are just a few examples of the injustices perpetrated by these judges between 2003 and 2008. An increasingly large number of civil suits have been filed as a result of these discoveries.

As I mentioned previously; there are a number of constitutional rights that are habitually ignored in our Juvenile Justice system. Given the fact that hundreds of records have been expunged due to the revelations brought to light by this investigation; it is only natural to question how many lives have been irrevocably damaged. As a condition of their guilty plea, Ciavarella and Conahan have agreed to an 87 month sentence in a federal prison. I’m sorry; that’s not good enough for me. I would like to see them spend 87 months for every life they ruined because of their pathological greed.

One of the things I plan to address in a future article will be the change in focus of the juvenile judicial system. The long accepted approach of counseling and rehabilitation has been replaced by a more punitive guideline. While health care reform is dominating the attention of our legislators and society; juvenile justice reform has been all but ignored for decades. Bringing this to the attention of as many people as possible is my new objective. I can only hope that people are more receptive to new ideas and possible solutions to juvenile justice than they have been to health care reform.