ACLU Sues County For Allegedly Criminalizing Kids Over Bad Grades

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Kids in a California district are being treated as criminals simply for being kids. Now, the ACLU is suing the district over the practice.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is taking legal action against Riverside County officials after it was reported that local police threaten to prosecute kids just for being kids.

Children going to public schools in the California county are at risk of being targeted by cops who believe that academic performance, bad grades, or normal childish behavior is a good predictor of delinquency. The ACLU claimed that this approach is giving officers the idea they can treat kids like criminals.

The program concerning the ACLU and local parents is known as the Youth Accountability Team (YAT).

Run by the county’s probation department chief, YAT works with about 400 kids and teenagers yearly from 17 school districts in Riverside. Schools refer them to the program for what they believe to be “pre-delinquent” or “delinquent” behavior. Yet when cases are reviewed one by one, it’s clear that the requirements to be part of the program are poorly defined and oftentimes absurd.

One sixth-grader, for instance, was sent to YAT partially because school staff said he had used the “race card” against them.

A 13-year-old who was also forced into the program was flagged by police when he kicked an orange through an officer’s legs. After he was handcuffed and taken to the principal’s office, his privacy was violated when they checked his backpack without a warrant and found some marijuana inside.

To the ACLU, this approach is destroying Riverside kids by "feeding [them] in to the school-to-prison pipeline." But according to YAT’s mission, the program “[provides] a collaborative and integrated multi-agency approach to rapid and effective intervention with at-risk youth and less serious juvenile offenders by providing necessary services to youth and their families.”

In a press release, the ACLU stated that YAT is just another example of police meddling with school-aged kids’ behavior in a damaging way.

"Diversion programs, particularly community-based ones, can serve as positive alternatives to placing juveniles in detention facilities," the ACLU explained. "However, when these programs take the place of school- and community-based interventions for non-delinquent behavior, they do more harm than good. What's more, they can violate a child's constitutional rights along the way."

The lawsuit states that YAT violates both the child’s privacy rights, because it leads to unreasonable searches, and the child’s right to freedom of expressive association. If that wasn’t enough, the ACLU adds, this program also impacts minority students the hardest.  

It’s terrifying to think that kids are being criminalized for being kids. And what’s worse, this approach is fully sponsored and backed by a local government. Hopefully, this lawsuit will manage to both help the kids who have already been targeted and others who would have the same fate if this lawsuit hadn’t been filed.

Children deserve better.

 

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