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March 7, 2008 permalink
In Texas social worker Malikah Marrus teaches children to remain silent when questioned by police. It is contrary to the nature of children, and rarely succeeds. And it is the wrong lesson. To really protect children, cops should teach kids to clam up when questioned by smiling social workers.
AND THESE ARE YOUR RIGHTS
- Right to remain silent
- Right to an attorney
- Right to confront witnesses against you
- Right to call witnesses in your defense
- Right to know the charge(s) against you
Feb. 14, 2008, 11:28PM
RIGHTS AND WRONGS
Programs teach legal rights to elementary school pupils
By SARAH VIREN, Houston Chronicle
So you're 10 years old, you toilet paper the neighbor's yard and the police come a-knocking. What do you do?
"Give your name, your age and then ask for an attorney and ask for your parent."
That's the advice doled out to a room of fidgety fourth-graders at Shlenker School, a private elementary school in Houston, during a presentation by the Southwest Juvenile Defender Center this week. Called "Why a Lawyer," it is one of several such programs taught in schools and detention facilities throughout the country by groups worried that children don't know their basic rights — including the right to remain silent.
"Kids are not mini-adults," said Malikah Marrus, a researcher for the Defender Center, based at the University of Houston. "Their impulsive behavior gets them to spill their guts right away."
Her lesson Tuesday began with a story about a 15-year-old boy named Gerald Gault. The Arizona teenager was arrested without notification to his parents, tried without a lawyer and later sent to a juvenile correctional facility for making an obscene prank phone call to a female neighbor. His case went to the Supreme Court in 1967, which ruled in his favor, finding that those younger than 18 have certain legal protections.
With the 40th anniversary of that decision last year, national organizations, including the National Youth Justice Alliance and the National Juvenile Defender Center, drafted education programs for children who could end up in similar predicaments.
"If you get arrested, a police officer might not tell you these rights, so I am telling you now," University of Houston law student Andrea Jaffe told the Shlenker students Tuesday.
A bit later Jaffe, playing the role of a police officer, set up a mock interrogation with Abbie Markowitz. After schooling the 9-year-old on the Fifth Amendment she started in:
"Your neighbor said you prank called him. Did you?" Jaffe quizzed.
"Well," the fourth-grader hesitated. "My name is Abbie, and I am 9."
Jaffe tried again: "I know you want to go home, and I want to go home. Did you call your neighbor? It's OK if you tell me."
Silence from Abbie. Eventually, Marrus jumped in, congratulating the girl.
"Abbie is the first child since we've done this who has not spilled her guts to the police officer," she said. "Thank you."
The program isn't all about getting fourth-graders riled up about their rights, however. Several times Tuesday, Marrus and other presenters warned the Jewish day school students about the consequences of breaking the law. They described the thinness of the mattresses at juvenile detention centers and threatened that perks such as Harry Potter books and the Superbowl game could be out of reach in juvenile lockup. It was enough to make a few shudder.
"If you, like, TP somebody's house, like your relative's house, can you still go to jail?" asked one boy, who later asked Marrus about the criminality of "Jolly Rancher-ing," a process by which, he said, children break windows using the hard candy. Another student sought advice on the legality of "bageling," when the food is thrown at passing cars.
On each account, Marrus warned them away from such mischief.
The social worker says she tailors her presentation to each campus. At Shlenker, the kids discussed destruction of property, while students at other schools sometimes bring up drugs and murder. The idea at each place is the same: help youths understand the juvenile justice system that locks up close to 100,000 of them each year, according to the last published federal count.
Since she started the program last year, Marrus has visited a handful of private and public schools in the area, including Spring Shadows Elementary in Spring Branch Independent School District and Lockhart Elementary in Houston Independent School District. Kipp 3D Academy, a public charter school, also taught a section on the Gault case last fall.
Shlenker, the school Marrus' daughter attends, was the setting for the trial run last fall. Southwest Juvenile Defender Center staff and interns met with fifth-graders, some of whom, Marrus said, had been caught toilet-papering houses. This year, the school invited them back to talk to fourth-graders, children just now old enough to enter the juvenile justice system.
"If kids know this ahead of time, then maybe we won't have as many problems," Marrus said.
Barbara Goldstein, head of school at Shlenker, said she believes children benefit from knowing the laws — even if it does get them a little uppity about their rights.
"I heard one kid telling his mom all about his rights," she said with a laugh.
Source: Houston Chronicle