How Advanced is the Reading Level on Your Juvenile Forms?

When drafting documents for juvenile court that will be distributed to the child and his or her family, it is important to consider the family’s reading abilities — especially that of the child who is the subject of the hearing.  For instance, one cannot reasonably expect to defend that a child knowingly and voluntarily waived a constitutional right if the document was written as if the audience were a high school, college, or law school graduate.

Documents that are drafted can be evaluated for readability through a Flesch Reading Ease test and a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test.  When using Microsoft Word for a PC, the directions are here.  For Microsoft Word 2008 for Mac, directions are here.

According to Begin to Read, “85% of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate.”

The U.S. Department of Education, National Institute of Literacy gathered literacy data for adults in 1992 and 2003.  From a summary of that data:

  • Percent of U.S. adults who can’t read — 14%
  • Number of U.S. adults who can’t read — 32 million
  • Percent of U.s. adults how read below the 5th grade level — 21%
  • Percent of prison inmates who can’t read — 63%
  • Percent of high school graduates who can’t read — 19%

This blogger was unable to find a readability standard for documents issued by the State of Indiana.  An example of such a standard is from Oregon, where the Department of Administrative Services uses a 10th grade reading level.  The federal government has issued Federal Plain Language Guidelineswhich directs the writer to ascertain the audience and write to that audience’s level.

Posted in Adolescent Development, Court Proceedings, Education, School-to-Prison Pipeline, Schools/Education | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Happy Labor Day!

Labor Day is a “yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country,” according to the U.S. Department of Labor.  Here is a tribute to all of the judges, probation officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, service providers, and youth advocates who labor to ensure that the juvenile justice system is just and that our children receive the services needed to become contributing members of society.

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Interim Study Committee on Corrections and Criminal Code September 22, 2014 Meeting Agenda

The Interim Study Committee on Corrections and Criminal Code has released their agenda for the September 22, 2014 meeting during which the juvenile justice system will be the primary focus.  Topics include:

  1. The availability of juvenile indigent defense
  2. Concerns relating to racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system
  3. The status of the Indiana Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative
  4. The use of risk assessment techniques in juvenile delinquency dispositional determinations and case planning
  5. The application of restorative justice principles in juvenile delinquency cases
  6. Recent United States Supreme Court decisions related to juvenile justice
  7. Law enforcement training regarding juveniles
  8. Education and training for juvenile court judges

The meeting will start at 9:00 a.m. in State House, Room 404, 200 West Washington Street, Indianapolis, Indiana 46204.

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$1.1 Million Grant for At-Risk Youth in Indianapolis

The U.S. Labor Department announced an award of $73,654,300 in YouthBuild grants to provide academic and occupational skills training for at-risk youth, including one program in Indiana.  The programs are “non-residential, community-based alternative education program that provides classroom instruction and occupational skills training to youth ages 16 to 24 who have been in the juvenile justice system, are aging out of foster care, have dropped out of high school or are otherwise at-risk of failing to reach key educational and career milestones.”

“The classroom training component leads to a high school diploma, general education development or other state-recognized equivalency diploma. The occupational skills training component provides YouthBuild participants with industry-recognized certifications in construction or other in-demand occupations, such as health care and information technology. Leadership development and community service are also key elements of the YouthBuild program, helping to ensure that participants maintain a connection to their communities through public service and volunteerism.”

EmployIndy received $1.1 Million to continue the YouthBuild Indy program.

While there is much to be applauded with this grant, it is yet another benefit to those children and young adults who reside in Indianapolis, Marion County only.  We must continue to strive to expand these types of programs so that all of our youth — no matter their geographic location — have the opportunity to benefit from programs that are government funded.  The kids in the other 91 counties deserve a chance too.

Posted in Education, School-to-Prison Pipeline, Schools/Education | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Juvenile Expungement Presentation and CLE

Get the Facts – Expunging Juvenile Records

  • Wednesday, September 3, Noon-1 p.m. (1 CLE Credit Pending)
  • Indiana University McKinney School of Law Courtroom, 530 West New York Street, Indianapolis, Indiana 46202
  • Pizza and Refreshments Immediately Follow
  • Email Anna Travis ( to register

Moderator:  Fran Watson – Clinical Professor, IU McKinney School of Law

Panelists:  Scott Angstadt – Deputy Chief Juvenile Probation Officer, Tippecanoe County, Gary Chavers – Chief Magistrate, Marion County Superior Court, Juvenile Division, and Dan Schroeder – Marion County Public Defender Agency, Juvenile Division

The second part of the Children’s Policy and Law Initiative of Indiana’s (CPLI’s) 2014 Fall Lunch CLE Series will take place at the Indiana University McKinney School of Law Courtroom on Wednesday, September 3 from noon to 1pm with pizza and refreshments to follow. A moderated panel will discuss the collateral consequences of a juvenile adjudication, the expungement processes in various Indiana counties, potential public policy issues and areas of need for increasing the effectiveness of expungement programs in Indiana. Details about the CPLI Pro Bono Expungement Fair opportunity to be held on October 18, 2014, will also be discussed. Law students and the public are admitted free. Panelists and attorneys who attend will be in the lobby afterward for networking with law students.

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SRO’s and Provocation Infraction Tickets

Kim Kilbride with the South Bend Tribune has written a detailed article about the practice of some South Bend school resource officers who write infraction tickets for Provocation pursuant to I.C. 35-42-2-3.  In Ms. Kilbride’s investigation, the use of these infraction tickets was most common in the largest lower socioeconomic, predominately African-American school in the St. Joseph County.

The infraction tickets are handled in “adult” civil court because the juvenile court specifically does not have jurisdiction over infraction cases (I.C. 31-30-1-2(1)).  Children who are cited into court for infraction cases routinely appear alongside adults charged with a variety of traffic-related and other infractions.  The infractions come with court costs and possible fines.

The juvenile confidentiality laws do not apply to the infraction court appearance or the case in total.  Therefore, the infraction history is open for anyone who searches for it.

Perhaps most troubling, for several years, if the infraction ticket was not paid, the information was submitted to the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles for an indefinite suspension of the child’s driving privileges, including the ability to get a learner’s permit or driver’s license.  However, this procedure is only proper for infraction tickets that are related to traffic offenses.

This investigation reveals yet another long-term impact of the choices of so many of our schools to use school resource officers and their authority to issue infraction tickets and arrest students, rather than depending upon the normal school disciplinary policy to address adolescent behaviors except in the most exceptional circumstances.

The post SRO’s and Provocation Infraction Tickets first appeared on the Indiana Juvenile Justice Blog.

Posted in Adolescent Development, Crimes, Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC), Education, Law Enforcement, School-to-Prison Pipeline, Schools/Education | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Questioning the Validity of Using Risk Assessment Tools

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has recently criticized using risk-assessment tools as part of determining a sentence or disposition, such as the Indiana Risk Assessment System (IRAS) in criminal cases and the Indiana Youth Assessment System (IYAS) in delinquency cases.  In his speech to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers on August 1, 2014, he stated:

“…[L]legislators have introduced the concept of “risk assessments” that seek to assign a probability to an individual’s likelihood of committing future crimes and, based on those risk assessments, make sentencing determinations. Although these measures were crafted with the best of intentions, I am concerned that they may inadvertently undermine our efforts to ensure individualized and equal justice. By basing sentencing decisions on static factors and immutable characteristics – like the defendant’s education level, socioeconomic background, or neighborhood – they may exacerbate unwarranted and unjust disparities that are already far too common in our criminal justice system and in our society.

Criminal sentences must be based on the facts, the law, the actual crimes committed, the circumstances surrounding each individual case, and the defendant’s history of criminal conduct. They should not be based on unchangeable factors that a person cannot control, or on the possibility of a future crime that has not taken place. Equal justice can only mean individualized justice, with charges, convictions, and sentences befitting the conduct of each defendant and the particular crime he or she commits. And that’s why, this week, the Justice Department is taking the important step of urging the Sentencing Commission to study the use of data-driven analysis in front-end sentencing – and to issue policy recommendations based on this careful, independent analysis.”

Support for U.S. Attorney General Holder’s position includes this New York Times op/ed piece, Sentencing, by the Numbers by Sonja B. Starr, which advocates that the “punishment should depend on what the person did, not on who he is or how much money he has….Evidence-based sentencing also raises serious constitutional concerns. The Supreme Court has consistently held that otherwise-impermissible discrimination cannot be justified by statistical generalizations about groups, even if those generalizations are on average accurate. People have a right to be treated as individuals, and individuals often do not conform to group averages.”

A risk assessment summary is part of every pre-sentence report and pre-disposition report in Indiana.  For an overview of the IYAS and IRAS process, go here.

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