Justice

Justice

publik16 / flickr

In 1978, a group of teenagers in Wayne County beat, stabbed, and killed another young person named Dennis Rhodes in order to steal his bike. 

One of those young people, Jeffrey Dunbar, was tried and sentenced as an adult. Dunbar was sentenced to life without parole. 

This decision is only one year younger than I am. It seems utterly unremarkable in its treatment of a juvenile as an adult.

flickr/the_justified_sinner

There were four children, brought to the U.S. under falsified records. They came to live with a man in Ypsilanti. He said he brought them to the U.S. to give them an education, and improve their lives. The children said the man beat them regularly. He beat them with whatever he could get his hands on: a broomstick, a toilet plunger, an ice scraper, even a phone charger. They were beaten and deprived of sleep whenever they failed to do their "chores."

The Detroit Free Press carried the story of how federal prosecutors tried to get the man put in prison on charges of "forced labor" – basically, modern slavery. And of how his conviction on that charge was overturned. Forcing a child to do "chores," and even beating them when they failed to do so, isn't enslavement, the federal appeals court decided. It's just plain child abuse. 

Today, the man, Jean-Claude Toviave, was charged with child abuse, this time in state court, rather than federal court. 

The four children may yet see justice served against the man who allegedly brought them to the U.S. to a life of torture and abuse. But the case highlights the flaws in a justice system still struggling to keep up with the heinous and often hidden crimes associated with human trafficking. 

flickr/uneditedmedia

Before Mike Brown, before Kajieme Powell. Before Eric Garner. Before John Crawford. Before Ezell Ford. Before Sean Bell. Before Ramarley Graham. Before Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Malice Green and Keenan Ellsberry. Before Derek Copp. Before even Amadou Diallo, Rodney King, or any of the other names you might have heard.

Before any of these people were shot, or beaten or choked by police, citizens have questioned the use of force by police officers in America. 

We know that the ability to use force when necessary is central to the role of a public police officer. But who keeps track of when and why police officers use force?

It turns out, it's incredibly difficult for average citizens to find out. Police departments don't report how often they use force. Most of what we learn comes from the extreme cases that make the news

For a more representative picture, we have to rely on the work of outside researchers. 

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

This is a story about second chances.

When a teen commits a crime it goes on their permanent record, which can lead to all kinds of disadvantages down the road. When they go to apply for a job, for example, they’ll have to admit they broke the law. But a diversion program out of Wayne County gives some low-level, first-time offenders a way to admit their guilt and keep their record clean at the same time. 

Let’s meet the defendant

Chloe (not her real name) was with her friend at J.C. Penney. Her friend stole a bunch of stuff while they were there; Chloe stole a $30 bracelet. They both got caught before they could run out of the store.

Since shoplifting is a misdemeanor and because this is Chloe’s first ever run-in with the law, she’s decided to take her case to Teen Court. This particular teen court is affiliated with the Detroit Public School district. But there are dozens of teen courts around the state and more than 1,000 across the country.

In order for teen court to work, the defendant has to admit up front that she broke the law. Then it’s up to a group of high school students – a literal jury of her peers – to come up with an appropriate sentence.

"Hopefully they teach me something and hopefully they learn from my mistakes and stuff" says Chloe. "And I hope I leave there feeling relieved that I finally got to talk about it."

Matt Katzenberger / flickr

The Michigan Supreme Court has ruled a practice by the state's child welfare system is unconstitutional. 

Yesterday the State Supreme Court struck down a 12-year-old rule they said violated the constitution because it allowed the state to punish both parents for abuse or neglect of a child for whom only one parent was responsible, even when parents were not living together.

A person's right to raise their child without interference from the state – their "parental rights –" is constitutionally protected.

"Before, the state could put a child in foster care for what just one parent did," says Vivek Sankaran, who argued the case against the state. "Now the state has to make findings against both parents before it can take a child away and put them in foster care."

Lester Graham

Update 9:06 p.m.

The appeals court ruled this evening the ban will continue to be in place while the case makes its way through the courts.  

Original post 6:40 p.m.

A decision is expected as soon as tomorrow on what exactly is happening with Michigan's same-sex marriage ban.

April DeBoer, left, and Jayne Rowse with their three children.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Tomorrow, a federal court will hear arguments in the Michigan case, DeBoer v. Snyder. The case challenges the constitutionality of the state's ban on same-sex marriage, and the ability of same-sex couples to adopt children together. 

No matter how it turns out, the case for and against gay marriage will probably run along a well-trodden path.

Mindsey Mohan / flickr

The Michigan Senate will vote on Senate Bill 319 any day now.

Under the bill, which is expected to pass, about 350 juveniles sentenced to mandatory life without parole will not have a chance at parole.

mattaz / flickr

In 2012, the US Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional.  That doesn't mean it's impossible for a young offender to get a life sentence, it's just not automatic.

Zak Rosen / Michigan Radio

The school-to-prison pipeline is a nationwide pattern of students being pushed out of schools and into the criminal justice system.

Groups like the ACLU argue young people, especially African Americans, are suspended and expelled from school at disproportionate rates, and research suggests that once they’re expelled, those students are more likely to end up in prison.

Now, a group of people most affected by the school-to-prison pipeline are working to end it.  


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