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ACLU Lawsuit: Get an F, Go to Jail

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

We've all heard of kids getting grounded for bad grades, but sending them to jail sounds ridiculous.

In a federal lawsuit, however, the American Civil Liberities Union says Riverside County is criminalizing bad grades. According to reports, the local school districts are "funneling students into the criminal justice system."

The ACLU wants to dismantle the Youth Accountability Team, which is run by the county probation department. It puts "at risk" youth on six-month's informal probation to divert them from criminal activity.

"Pre-Delinquent Behavior"

In Sigma Beta XI, Inc. v. County or Riverside, the plaintiffs call the program "astonishingly punitive and ineffective." It targets students who are "defiant," "easily persuaded by peers," or "tardy to school." Using inappropriate language, talking back to teachers, or having bad grades also qualifies for the program.

The complaint says the program treats children like criminals. It quotes a former probation officer, who said the program is designed to get students into the criminal justice system by fingerprinting and photographing them.

"We can search their homes any time we want and work to obtain evidence against them so that when we can get 'em, we can really get 'em!," Debbie Waddell allegedly said.

According to the probation department, the program started in 2001 to "combat juvenile crime and delinquency.' It is working in 17 school districts in the county.

A Diversion Program

Typically, students are referred by school or law enforcement personnel. Offenders are often misdemeanants or other students who exhibit problems with:

  • Substance abuse
  • School discipline
  • Family conflict
  • Gang association

The county website says the program includes counseling for substance abuse, anger management and individual treatment. By completing a series of requirements over a six-month period, students can avoid criminal charges or punishment.

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